Smelly car, smelly car
November 27, 2006 7:45 PM   Subscribe

My six-month old Scion had smelled like moldy laundry ever since I turned on the heat this Fall. What is going on and how can I fix it or more precisely, how can I get Toyota to fix it?

This has been going on for about a month now and it's driving me crazy. Ever since I turned on the heat in October, my new Scion XB (the boxy one) has has this very strong, sharp, moldy smell that makes driving it really unpleasant. At first I thought that maybe a tomato or pepper had fallen out of the bag and was rotting under a seat. So I took everything out of the interior that I could (junk, floor mats, the cargo liner, etc) and cleaned everything but there was nothing smelly there.

So I took it to my Toyota dealer and they at least acknowledged that the car does smell but couldn't find anything wrong and just detailed the interior and sprayed some deodorant in there and sent me home. They said that it wasn't the heater and I'd probably just picked up something and that it would fade in a few days. Well it's been two more weeks and the car is still stinky.

Could there be some sort of mold or bacteria growing in the heater system that is causing this? I love my car but this situation is making it undriveable and I need to fix it. What do I tell Toyota to convince them that this is something that the car is doing and not something that I did? And that they need to figure out how to fix it?
posted by octothorpe to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
A mother of a carsick toddler told me that she de-stinkified her car using an ion sanitizer, whatever that is. She left it running in the car all night and killed off whatever ick was growing on her child's car seat.
posted by selfmedicating at 7:56 PM on November 27, 2006

Does the smell get worse when the heat is on?
posted by tremolo1970 at 8:27 PM on November 27, 2006

Best answer: If you happen to have a 2005 Scion tC, there's a TSB on the catalytic converter for "rotten egg smell" [scroll down to Reliability].

The more common reason for car vent funk is indeed bacteria growing inside, especially if you've been using the a/c all summer. Try spraying an odor eliminator (not an air freshener, which just temporarily covers scents up) such as Oust, Lysol or that stuff made by Meguiars into the fresh air intake (which is usually under the windshield wipers on the outside of most cars).

You might want to have the shop check if your A/C drain hose is clogged: this is the tiny hose that is the source of the water you might notice dripping from under your car on a hot day after you've used the A/C. If it gets clogged, water will accumulate in your car's ventilation system and quickly grow a bacteria colony. They can easily blast it clear with a shot of compressed air. Also, pop open your hood and check that the fresh air intake vents (again, near the base of the windshield) are not covered in leaves or other debris.
posted by jamaro at 8:34 PM on November 27, 2006

Response by poster: Does the smell get worse when the heat is on?
Yea, it seems to but I couldn't convince Toyota of that.
posted by octothorpe at 9:10 PM on November 27, 2006

I used Nok Out disinfectant a couple days ago on my Honda. After major windshield leakage this spring, the air coming out of its vents smelled badly of mildew, worse with the heat on. As directed, I sprayed the Nok Out into the fresh air intake under the windshield. It seems to have done the trick, thank God. (No, I don't work for them.)
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 9:13 PM on November 27, 2006

Maybe a dead mouse or other animal in the intake air duct. Happened to 2 of my neighbors
posted by jorlando at 9:19 PM on November 27, 2006

my friend's car smelled like super bad moldy laundry because the seal on his back window was bad and water was slowly leaking into the seats.
posted by stray at 9:23 PM on November 27, 2006

Its rotten water in the A/C My dad's new Honda is like that too. You might want to run the A/C in conjunction with the heater for a while.
posted by joelf at 10:51 PM on November 27, 2006

My first thought was a leaky heating coil, giving up the lovely aroma of anti-freeze/coolant. YUCK!
posted by Goofyy at 11:26 PM on November 27, 2006

Could there be a possibility of rotting leaves? Sometimes leaves find there way into the blower unit.
posted by scooters.toad at 4:33 AM on November 28, 2006

Best answer: this thread ("creating your own interior air filter for the xb") at might help in the long run. bet you didn't realise that all scions are shipped without cabin air filters installed. open out your glove compartment (pictures & instructions provided) & see for yourself.

i'd post this question at scionlife if i were you (i'll do it for you in the morning if you like, but i just don't have time right now, sorry). i reckon somebody there will get to the bottom of it, as it were, before somebody here does (not that i don't love & appreciate & not infrequently stand in awe of the power & logic of metafilter, you understand); it's a fantastic site for scion owners.

octothorpe, xb owner, allow me to introduce you to

again, sorry i don't have time right now to post to, or search, the forums there - you can't be the first to have had a smelly car. the above thread just happened to be one i had bookmarked. best wishes.
posted by n o i s e s at 6:52 AM on November 28, 2006

After running the a/c for the summer, I spray Lysol disinfectant into my intake grills with the vents on full blast (not recycling the air). I imagine that it helps kill any residual mold that has grown in the moist environment.

I use 5 second bursts about 5 times in each of the grills, giving it time to "dry" between bursts.
posted by parilous at 7:15 AM on November 28, 2006

Yes, it could be mold. I've heard the guys on Car Talk discussing this problem before. Couple things I've found that they mention as possible causes and fixes...

Clogged A/C drain line

Mold killing sprays
posted by MrToad at 8:01 AM on November 28, 2006

As MrToad says, Click and Clack have discussed this before. They've mentioned ozone treatments for growing uckies in the climate control system. However here's the part you need to pay attention to:

how can I get Toyota to fix it?

Don't take no for an answer. Call back, tell them it still smells and make an appointment to bring it in. If they refuse to make an appointment or fail to resolve the issue then ask them for the name and number of the person who handles unsatisfied customers for their region; don't take the information for someone from their dealership - they have a regional manager who deals with these things.

Here's the thing to remember: dealerships aren't owned by the car manufacturer. In the US it's flat-out illegal for the manufacturer to sell directly to you. There's some individual or consortium who owns that dealership and pays for the land, building, employees and parts. They run the service department and Toyota/Scion has a cost schedule on which they reimburse the dealership for expenses incurred in dealing with your problems.

Consequently, the dealership wants to resolve your warranty issues as quickly as possible so they can collect their payment from Toyota and spend time doing work they get paid full ASE rate on. If they can't get paid for your issue at all then they certainly don't want to deal with it.

Thankfully there's a regional rep to deal with these kinds of things. S/he has the latitude to approve repairs that might not otherwise be permissible and to push the dealership into resolving your problem. It's in the dealership's interest for you to be happy enough to buy from them again. It's in the rep's interest to keep you happy with Toyota. Leverage that.
posted by phearlez at 11:53 AM on November 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

I know someone who has a Lexus who had this same problem and it was an a/c thing. They, too, had to take it to the dealer (Toyota) several times. I think they ended up cleaning vents or something else to the a/c system. This one smelled like dirty socks, it was gross.
posted by jdl at 6:40 PM on November 28, 2006

Response by poster: Well, I didn't really do anything and I guess that a wintertime of running the heat killed off whatever was causing it. So far it hasn't come back.
posted by octothorpe at 3:52 PM on October 4, 2007

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