If your car smells like antifreeze, it could mean that the vehicle’s heater core is leaking. The heater core is responsible for circulating warm air in the car’s passenger cabin. It works by drawing heat out the antifreeze/water mixture and then siphoning it through the cabin. When the heater core develops a leak, it begins circulating air with an antifreeze odor and eventually fails altogether.

Why Does Your Car Need Antifreeze?

Antifreeze is a chemical that lowers the freezing point of water. It typically has a pungent, fruity smell. Your car’s heater core stores a mixture of antifreeze and water in order to regulate the temperature inside the passenger cabin when circulating air. When it begins to leak, you may notice the antifreeze smell inside or outside your vehicle.

An exterior antifreeze leak isn’t as serious a problem is it may seem like. If the leak isn’t severe, then you can simply top off the liquids regularly and keep driving. Interior leaks, however, can damage your car’s upholstery—the coolant can corrode your carpet and padding. If the coolant is sufficiently hot, it may even turn to steam, causing a lasting odor and fogging up the windows.

How to Replace a Broken Heater Core

Heater cores are not located in an easily accessible location on most cars. They need to be located next to the car’s ventilation fan, which is usually located on the firewall of the vehicle, behind or under the engine. StreetcarDirectory.com suggests that while flushing clogged heater cores can improve efficiency, replacing the unit is usually a better option.

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