What could that smell be?

"A customer complained that his brakes smelled like they were burning when he got to Rossland from Trail."

Sometimes the symptoms don’t fit the problem. Sometimes the symptoms don’t even make common sense.

The last few winters brought us just such a problem. The solution was not a repair so to speak. It was an explanation. I have never got down to the science of the problem.

A customer complained that his brakes smelled like they were burning when he got to Rossland from Trail. Now burning brakes is not something to take lightly as overheated brakes will fade (loose stopping power).

Everyone knows the smell of burning brakes. So definitely the questions that follow are brake questions.

How do the brakes feel? Does the pedal feel solid? Yes. Does the vehicle stop well? Yes.

Well, let them cool off and check them again. If they function well, still bring the vehicle down (carefully) and we will inspect them.

A complete inspection of the brakes shows no apparent problems. A road test reveals normal temperatures and performance. So what is up?

Yes. So what is up? We don’t know.

Another customer complains. Same complaint.  Burning brakes in Rossland.  Are they burning when you get to Trail. No, no problem there. Okay. This is weird.

Another similar complaint. Okay time for a more serious investigation. Road test to Rossland. Hey, smells like burning brakes especially around the back of the vehicle. Touch the wheels. They are cold like they should be. Where is that smell coming from?

Believe it or not the exhaust smells like burning brakes maybe burning rubber. Not exactly but very close to it.

The complaints have continued.  Only in the winter. Only after driving up hill.

Our conclusion; it is something in the fuel.

In case you did not know it, gasoline is blended differently for winter than summer. Winter fuel must be more volatile. In order to ignite the air fuel mixture in an engine cylinder the fuel must turn to a vapor from liquid. Cold temperatures require a lighter fuel that vaporizes at lower temperature.

We have assumed that winter fuel has a certain additive that produces this smell.  Driving uphill requires a richer mixture.

This increases the exhaust temperature, particularly the catalytic converter.  We assume there is a reaction in the converter with the additive that produces the smell.

Do we have proof? No. Just a lot of complaints.

Are we right about this? I have decided to do some investigation.

My early investigation results are in.

There are many suggestions that the smell is more towards burning rubber and it is the result of winter road salt burning off the exhaust system.

Maybe it is the result of the new salt brines that are sprayed on the road. This salt solution then sprays up under the vehicle onto the hot exhaust and burns off.

Is this a better explanation? I am not sure. If you know the answer drop me an email.

Trail’s Ron Nutini is a licensed automotive technician and graduate of mechanical engineering from UBC. E-mail: nutechauto@telus.net

Just Posted

Castlegar walk raises thousands for local Alzheimer’s support

Castle Wood Village fundraiser shows astounding support in community, organizers say

IRM reports small sulphuric acid leak at Waneta reload

IRM states a small volume of less than one cup and three dime-sized drips were leaked from carrier

Columbia Basin RDI: Exercise Your Right to Vote

Voter turnout statistics from the Columbia Basin Rural Development Institute

New farmers in Columbia Basin supported by land matching program

New and young farmers in the Basin are receiving support and services from a dedicated land matcher

Columbia Basin Trust offering business accelerator program

Trust seeking motivated companies for customized support and mentorship program

Live bear cam: Let the fishing begin

Watch bears in Alaska’s Katmai National Park catch their dinner live.

Hockey league gets $1.4M for assistance program after Humboldt Broncos crash

Program will help players, families, coaches and volunteers after the shock of the deadly crash

Canada has removed six out of 900 asylum seekers already facing U.S. deportation

Ottawa had said the ‘overwhelming majority’ had been removed

Appeal pipeline decision but consult Indigenous communities, Scheer says

The federal appeals court halted the Trans Mountain expansion last month

B.C. electric vehicle subsidy fund drains faster than expected

Province adds another $10 million to incentive fund

‘I’ll never forgive you:’ Victim impact statements at hearing for Calgary killer

Curtis Healy was found guilty of first-degree murder Friday in the death of Dawns Baptiste.

Man accused of mailing bomb to his brother in B.C. has died

Leon Nepper was found in ‘medical distress’ at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre on Sunday

It’s shaping up to be quite a finish in CFL’s West Division standings

The Calgary Stampeders (10-2) are first, four points ahead of the Saskatchewan Roughriders (8-5).

Most Read