Burning smell when climbing hills - help!

Dear Friends:

I bought an '07 Camry this year, and subsequently moved into the Berkeley Hills in California - waaaay up into the hills. Getting home requires driving at a steep incline - with some stop signs and curves - for about five minutes. Every time I get out of the car, there’s a burning smell coming from the rear passenger-side wheel well. I’ve asked the mechanics at SF Toyota about this on several occasions. First they thought the brakes needed adjusting. No change. Then they thought I had a plastic bag stuck under the car - no such luck. Then they test-drove the car but couldn’t duplicate the smell - however, they are located across the Bay Bridge in SF, which has hills, but short ones. There’s no way to mimic the drive to my house.

Now they’ve decided that it’s just the engine overheating from the strain of the hill - and that it’s perfectly safe. I have a hard time accepting that anything burning inside the guts of my vehicle is safe. What do you think?

Thanks very much,


Depends. If it smells of fresh baked cookies/bread then I wouldn’t mind it.

Is it just climbing the hills, or are you also going down hills, and using the brakes? Over-worked brakes will create a bad burning smell, but not necessarily damage them. You did mention lots of curves and stops. I’m leaning to that theory.

I’m not a fan of brake systems in a lot of newer cars. What I’ve seen are brake systems that look smaller with every new model. This tendency is causing some, like the OP, to start showing signs of brakes having to work harder. I’m just guessing that this is in an attempt to reduce the unsprung weight of the cars, and the weight overall. I just question the reduction of safety in doing this. Many new cars require rotor replacements with every new brake job. I remember cars from the '90s and earlier with rotors that lasted through a few pad changes. Even some of my beloved clunkers from the late '70s and '80s had rotors that could be turned 3 or 4 times before needing to be replaced. Those days are long gone.

Just a rant.

I would take a rough guess and say that if the car is a stick shift, the clutch may need to be adjusted. That would only be if the car was not an automatic. Since the car is really new, the clutch may be just getting broken in and that is the cause of the smell.Good luck with the problem if this is not related to your car.

This smell is not normal, however if you bought the car new there may be machine oil residue and labels that may be cooking from the cat converter and exhaust heating up. A long, unusually large strain at slow speeds could generate more heat in the exhaust system than normal. If it is this, it should go away within a month.

It’s important to keep your copies of the shop orders, just in case.

Seems like you need a new dealer. An '07 vehicle should have no problems with what you describe. It is not acceptable for an engine to ever “overheat” (it will eventually kill the engine). But, a hot engine should indicate on the temperature gauge (and turn on the check engine light or something), and would be very noticable if you popped the hood.

On the other hand, its very difficult to diagnose a problem with vague symptoms like burning smell if they can’t duplicate it.

In either case, I’d take it to somebody else who can actually test the car under the same conditions.

The muffler on your vehicle sits directly behind the passenger side rear wheel well. And I think what’s happening is, when you climb these steep hills, the engine is running a little hotter. This creates higher exhaust gas temperatures which is causing the fiberglass insulation in the muffler to burn off the oil used in manufacturing.

Give it some time, and if the smell goes away, that’s all it was.


thank you. I will take it to a local Toyota shop that can drive it up the same hill I climb.

Its normal. I have a Honda pilot that does the same thing. Someone suggested change your Transmission fluid. I did that with no luck. Then they said the engine oil might have leak well there is no leak. What I have concluded from my own analysis is that from time to time when you don’t drive the vehicle in high RPM there is some carbon dust deposit on the back side of the valves and that keeps collecting until you drive a very steep hill or when the engine is really hot and the pressure is high then these carbon deposits with the intense heat starts melting and thats the smell that comes through the cabin. But its not something to worry about because its good for your engine values to have good air intake and maximum output cleans the valves.

Abdul , if you look at the right side of the screen you will see that this thread has been inactive since 2008. The person never returned to give a final update .

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there really should be an auto-lock on these threads or something, maybe after 6 months of inactivity