Have you ever noticed a distinct, strong ammonia smell coming from the exhaust of your car?

If you have, you are not alone. In fact, this is one of the most common vehicle-related questions I get. After all, when one of your vehicle’s most crucial components starts to emit a weird and off-putting smell, it is only natural to take heed.

Today, I’m going to tell you why your exhaust fumes may smell like ammonia, what that means for your car’s performance and your immediate safety, and what you could potentially do about it. Let’s look at

Why Does Your Exhaust Smell Like Ammonia?

If your car’s exhaust smells like ammonia it is because the hazardous fumes produced by your vehicle during the engine’s normal combustion process are no longer being cleaned and transformed before they exit through the car’s tailpipe.

Ammonia is a compound gas made out of Nitrogen and Hydrogen atoms that has a very distinct sharp and pungent smell.

The smell of ammonia can be best described as the smell of paint thinner or a mix of concentrated urine and strong sweat. Because ammonia can be used to manufacture a variety of household cleaning products, many people associate the smell of these products with gasoline odor.

Direct inhalation of ammonia can result in a variety of adverse side effects such as respiratory distress, chemical burns, organ damage, and, in extreme cases, death. In other words, ammonia is a serious business.

So, if your exhaust smells like ammonia it is important to identify the root cause and do something about it.

Car Parts To Check If Your Exhaust Smells Like Ammonia

Catalytic Converter

One of the most common reasons why your exhaust smells like ammonia is that the car’s catalytic converter has gone bad.

This happens because the catalytic converter is one of the principal components in a vehicle’s emission control systems. One of the main functions of the converter is to convert harmful ammonia molecules that are produced by the engine’s combustion into less harmful by-products.

Catalytic Converter smells like ammonia

So, if the catalytic converter fails, you will end up with an overabundance of ammonia in your car’s exhaust, leading to a strong smell.

Fuel Injectors

The second most common reason why a car’s exhaust smells like ammonia is that the fuel injection system is clogged.

If your vehicle’s fuel injectors become dirty or clogged, they will lose their capacity to properly mix your fuel with the air needed to combust.

When the fuel-to-air mixture falls out of an adequate range, an increase in the number of ammonia molecules in your exhaust can be observed.

Coolant Leakage

The third most common reason behind an ammonia smell from the exhaust can be a leak in your vehicle’s coolant.

When coolant leaks into the exhaust system it mixes with the various exhaust gasses and produces ammonia by converting ammonium ions in the coolant liquid to ammonia molecules.

Check for a Coolant Leak

If you smell ammonia coming from your car and both your fuel injectors and catalytic converter are working as intended, it may be possible that you have a damaged hose, a cracked engine block, or a leaking radiator.

What To Do If You Smell Ammonia In Your Exhaust

If you notice a distinct smell of ammonia coming from your car’s exhaust, it is extremely important that you take your vehicle to a licensed mechanic who can check the various components mentioned above for proper operation.

Inhaling ammonia directly can lead to a number of health issues, the severity of which will depend on the gas concentration and the total length of your exposure.

Have your mechanic check your catalytic converter, your fuel injection system, and your coolant system to find the most likely cause behind a strong smell of ammonia coming from your exhaust.

In the meantime, try the following tips to reduce the smell of ammonia until a final solution is found.

take your vehicle to a licensed mechanic if your exhaust smells

Tips To Reduce The Smell Of Ammonia In Your Car

If your exhaust smells like ammonia, you can try the following tips to minimize the smell until you have your car checked by a mechanic and a more lasting solution is found.

  • Change your air filter: A dirty air filter will lead to a build-up of pollutants inside your engine, so if you start to smell ammonia coming from your exhaust, change your air filter to minimize the number of potential ammonia molecules which can contribute to the pungent smell.
  • Promote Ventilation: Make sure to keep your car ventilated whenever you use it to keep the ammonia levels as low as possible. Keep your windows and vents open when possible, and use the car’s AC system to circulate fresh air when open windows are not an option.
  • Use an odor eliminator: use an air freshener or odor eliminator to reduce the smell of ammonia inside your vehicle until a mechanic can provide a more lasting solution. I’m partial to this Whole Car Air Refresher & Odor Eliminator Spray from Meguiar (from Amazon).

Last Words

Smelling ammonia from your vehicle’s exhaust is a matter that should not be taken lightly. After all, inhaling ammonia can result in potentially serious health complications.

Thankfully, if your exhaust smells like ammonia, there are 3 likely reasons to blame. Have a mechanic you trust check your car’s catalytic converter, and fuel injection system, and perform a coolant leak detection.

Once identified, the root cause of the ammonia odor coming from the exhaust is likely easy to correct.

Last update on 2024-04-03 at 05:03 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API