Why does my car smell like gas?
May 20, 2011 6:40 PM   Subscribe

Why does my Subaru Forester smell like gasoline, and how can I make it not smell like gasoline?

For the last couple of weeks I've been occasionally noticing a gasoline smell around my 2000 Forester. It's not the same problem TWPL had in this thread; even in Wisconsin it's not cold this time of year, and I've actually been noticing it more on hot days. There's no smell inside the cabin, but when I get out of the car after driving for a while, i catch a whiff of gas outside the right side of the car, where the tank is. I've sometimes also smelled it in the hatchback. The smell isn't strong and it seems to dissipate completely within a few minutes. But it's definitely there; both my wife and I have noticed it, about three times each.

OK, obviously, "take the car in to your mechanic." I already did. They checked the fuel tank and found no leaks. He said if gas vapor was getting into the cabin, the "Check Engine" light would come on; it hasn't. But any suggestion of gasoline floating freely around my car makes me leery about driving it. What's my next move? Is there something else I should ask my mechanic to look at specifically? Is it safe to keep driving and see if the problem goes away? How likely is my car to, like, abruptly catch fire under these circumstances? (Last two questions are related, obviously.)
posted by escabeche to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total)
Maybe your tank is releasing gas fumes? Perhaps there is a leak in the tank somewhere.
posted by dfriedman at 6:41 PM on May 20, 2011

The fuel filler necks (both the rubber isolator and the metal nozzle receptacle itself) are prone to degradation with time on pre-2001 Foresters. I would start checking there.
posted by jet_silver at 7:13 PM on May 20, 2011

Did they check the hoses and all the seals? I would definitely get a second opinion.
posted by radioamy at 7:40 PM on May 20, 2011

Your car's fuel system (scroll down for a nice illustration) apparently has an activated carbon canister designed to capture gas fumes from the tank and send them to the engine at an appropriate later time.

Tom and Ray often attribute your problem to a need to replace that canister.
posted by jamjam at 7:43 PM on May 20, 2011

Haven't got time to search, but isn't this a known problem with some Subies? Memory says a problem with the fuel lines (probably joints/flexible joiners) ... but memory is fallible sigh
posted by GeeEmm at 7:53 PM on May 20, 2011

I just had a leaky fuel injector replaced on my Intrepid -- it made my car have a faint gassy smell, with nothing dripping from the car. There's plastic parts in the injectors that wear over time and can leak a little, onto the top of the warm engine, which evaporates and makes the smell. It's so little that it's unlikely to cause a fire, but it's a sign of worse things unless you get it replaced.
posted by AzraelBrown at 8:50 AM on May 21, 2011

Really, no holes in the fuel line OR tank itself? My 2001 Forester's tank rusted through. Note that this is much more a live possibility if you live somewhere where they have to salt the roads a lot. Which you probably do, if you own a Subaru. (She checks: yes, Madison, WI.)
posted by kestrel251 at 2:09 PM on May 21, 2011

I had a similar problem in my 2002 Outback that turned out being a gasket that had gone bad and ruined my exhaust. (I was not as timely as I could have been in getting it fixed, because I am an idiot.) I would catch a whiff of gas after driving, or occasionally when waiting at a light. I'm nothing resembling a mechanic, but if it hasn't been checked it could be a similar exhaust-related problem.
posted by lhputtgrass at 7:14 PM on May 21, 2011

4-Working Safely with Gasoline:

Does gasoline have an odour threshold (at what level can I smell it)?

0.12-0.15 ppm (recognition); 0.06-0.08 ppm (threshold)

Is the odour of gasoline reliable as a warning property?

GOOD - TLV is more than 10 times the odour threshold.
posted by jamjam at 11:28 AM on May 22, 2011

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