Vinegar Smell In Car - How to Get Rid of It

You enter your car and feel a strange smell assaulting your senses. It reminds you of vinegar because of its acidic nature. A drive with the windows down can dispel the smell, but it doesn’t always work.

You should first identify the actual reason and then fix the issue. It could be anything from a dingy AC to food under the seat. Or, it could be a sign of a severe problem like a gas leak or battery leakage.

Let’s read more about how to get rid of the vinegar smell in your car. But reasons first!

Reasons for Vinegar Smell in Car and Possible Fixes

Moldy Car Interiors

Mold grows in humid and moist conditions. Since the car’s doors and windows are often closed, it’s the perfect place for mold to grow and spread around. The humidity inside the car will cause a musky smell and activate moldy growth on the damp surfaces.

Too Much Condensation

Condensation occurs when the AC or condensate drainage system is not working properly. Possible causes include a faulty air conditioner, air filter, broken drain line, clogged drains, rusty condensation pan, or a burn-out pump. When the condensation pan overflows and leaks water, it causes excess condensation inside the car.

Dingy AC Vents/ Defective AC

In many instances, the car’s air conditioner causes a sickening smell in your car. But mold and bacterial growth don’t happen in a day. It occurs when the AC vents are not cleaned for a long time. Furthermore, where you live also affects how soon mold can grow in the AC.

Gas Leak

Fuels contain additives called methyl mercaptan that has a skunk-like smell and is dangerous to health. It’s not something to worry about unless there’s a gas leak. The smell will enter the car’s interiors through the air conditioner and cause a bad acidic smell.

Battery Acid Leak

An aged battery, overcharging, and freezing temperatures are the main reasons the battery gets damaged. The fumes from the acid will enter the car through the air conditioner. Acid leakage has a strong sulfuric smell, which is hazardous to everyone inside the car.

Moldy Evaporator Coils

The air filters, evaporator coil, and fins will be worn-out and damaged over time. Excessive or irregular use can be the reason. Dirt and debris can accumulate in these parts and lead to moldy growth.

Old & Unchanged Transmission Fluid

Old transmission fluid also causes a foul smell in the car. This problem is prevalent only in fuel-based cars. The transmission fluid starts leaking over time and smells like a rotten egg.

Bacterial Growth in Air Handler

The air handler’s task is to circulate air inside the car. The air that comes through a moldy air handler will smell like dirty socks.

Defective Fuel Pressure Sensor

The fuel filter and pressure sensor regulate the fuel consumption of your car. The pressure sensor also controls overheating and clogging. A defective fuel pressure sensor causes a rotten egg smell in the car. You have to replace the fuel pressure sensor to fix the problem. Inspect and clean the fuel filter as well.

How to Fix Vinegar Smell in Car

Ignoring the acidic smell inside your car can lead to major issues. While driving with the windows closed and the air conditioner on, you breathe in polluted air and risk health trouble. If the cause is internal damage in the car, it may lead to accidents and injuries.

1. Regular Maintenance and Air Freshener

Car maintenance isn’t limited to lubricating the components and washing the exteriors. Pay attention to the interiors as well. If you live in humid regions, allowing proper ventilation and keeping the car clean on the inside is even more important. Keep the windows and doors open until the car is free of any foul smell. Let the car’s interiors breathe fresh air and push out the stale scent. Make sure you do this in a relatively dust-free area.

Place an air fresher on the AC vents. Many models and scents are available in the market. Be careful when choosing something new/ different. Read the product description to avoid air fresheners with chemicals or allergens. Be doubly careful if you have kids or elders.

2. Inspect and Repair Car AC

Before going for a ride, especially if your car hasn’t been driven for a while, it’s vital to clean the AC vents, ducts, filters, coils, etc. In some instances, the car has only a slight smell but causes allergic reactions like sneezes, cough, breathlessness, watery eyes, etc.

It’s a sure sign of bacterial and moldy growth in the AC or other parts of the car. A good wash and airing should solve the problem. Don’t drive or use the AC until you get rid of the moss collected in its components.

Invest in foam brushes and use a non-toxic cleaning solution. Make sure to insert the foam brush into individual vent slats and be thorough. Homemade cleaners are a safer choice as they contain harmless ingredients.

3. Clean the Air Vents/ Filters/ Coils

Seasonal changes can create a mess inside your car due to changing temperatures. The car will collect the water droplets as the dropping temperatures outside will make it hard for water to evaporate. This water will interact with the debris inside the car and lead to mold. A defective AC will also cause a bad smell inside the car. Inspect the components and replace the damaged parts.

Clean the air conditioner vents periodically. Leave the car doors open for a few minutes to allow proper ventilation. Don’t spray harmful cleaning agents as you’ll have to breathe the air that comes from these filters.

You can prepare a cleaner that doesn’t give you allergies. Vinegar and warm water solution (in an equal ratio) will work. Yes, use natural vinegar to get rid of the vinegar smell in your car. After cleaning, keep the doors open so that the smell can leave the car.

4. Remove Food/ Drinks from the Car

Leftover food particles under the seat or in the nooks and corners will rot inside the car. Decomposed food causes fungi and releases a funky smell like vinegar. Check all areas inside the car, including the floor mats. Try not to eat or drink when sitting in the car. It can be challenging to find where the food particles disappear. Your car can smell bad if you leave sweaty used gym clothes on the seat.

If you’re used to eating inside the car, you should take the time out to remove all the food particles as soon as possible. Don’t leave opened food cartons inside a closed car. The smell will seep into the seats, mats, linings, etc., and will start to stink in a few days.

5. Wipe and Vacuum Seats

It is essential to perform this step regardless of whether the car smells like vinegar. Remove the dirt and debris from the seats. Vacuum it twice and wipe it using a microfiber cloth. Prepare an eco-friendly car cleaner and dip the microfiber cloth in it when wiping the seats, steering, side panels, window linings, dashboards, gearbox, etc. The aim is to eliminate sweat, dirt, and bacteria that cause a foul smell in your car.

6. Install Catalytic Converter

A catalytic converter converts harmful gases like hydrogen sulfide into harmless gases like sulfur dioxide. But when it is damaged or removed, you’ll breathe in the harmful gases with an acidic smell.

It is present on the underside of the car, between the muffler and the exhaust manifold. Catalytic converters are often stolen in some places, so be alert. Your car might be missing this vital component altogether if you left it out in the open at night. Replacing it with a new one is a must.

7. Baking Soda

A simple trick is leaving a bowl of baking soda inside the car. Close the windows and doors and let them sit overnight. Baking soda will absorb the bad smell inside the car. Throw it away the next morning. Keep the doors open for a while to allow cross-breeze. The lingering smell will also vanish.

Remember that the vinegar smell will reappear if you don’t identify its exact reason.

Final Words

Getting rid of the vinegar smell inside your car is not a big issue. A spray of air freshener will do the job. But it’s crucial to identify the reason and fix the problem to prevent the smell from reappearing the next day.

Take good care of your car and its components. Clean the AC and its parts once a week or two. Prevent moisture from building inside the car by allowing ventilation. Drive with the windows down whenever possible. Consult our list if you’re confused and solve the problem with ease.