Stinky car stumps multiple mechanics

So for the last few weeks my car (2001 Subaru Outback Sport) has had a sweet smell coming from the front passenger side. I’ve checked under the hood multiple times, can?t see a leak and can?t see anything obvious. So I call the Subaru service center and they say ?oh it?s got to be a coolant leak, bring it in and we?ll fix it?. I bring it in and they tell me ?it?s not a leak, but we do see that the passenger side CV joint needs fixing and that could be causing it.? So they fix it and tell me they?ve cleaned it all up and there was grease on the exhaust so it may smell for another few days, but then it will go away. Fine. I take the car home still smelling the sweet smell. A week later I?m still smelling it, though not quite as bad. So I call them up and they say ?bring it in again and we?ll look at it again?. He said ?we?ll look at for no charge, and we can do a special high pressure test to see if there is a slow leak that only happens when the car is warmed up.? He also admitted they SHOULD have done this test the first time I was in. But the explanation of what it could be makes sense. That would return it to the coolant leak theory and how the high pressure leak only occurs after the car is warmed up and doesn?t show as an obvious drip somewhere. So I bring it in again.

They call me and say they couldn?t find any type of leak at all even after multiple technicians and supervisors looked at it and they did the special tests and drove it and left it running to make sure it was warmed up and everything. They admit again they should have done these test the last time I was in. They also admit that when the CV joint was fixed last time and the tech SAID he had cleaned the grease off the exhaust that it hadn?t been done and this time they had cleaned it all up and that should eliminate the smell. OK? So I drive home again. At this time they didn?t charge me anything.

My concern is this. The smell doesn?t smell like hot grease. It smells like a bad flowery cleaning fluid or something. The next few days the smell is still there as strong as ever. If they?ve cleaned off the grease I shouldn?t still be smelling this right? Or does it again have to burn off or something? Also are we breathing toxic fumes whenever we drive? We notice it most when the car is idling or as we get out of the car after having driven it. It?s not going into the car through the vents as near as we can tell, but it?s definitely something under the hood that we can smell on the front passenger side.

I talk to some friends who suggested their mechanic. My friend’s husband thinks it might be a busted heat core. I call their mechanic and says he thinks it’s an antifreeze leak of some kind and he’ll look at it. I bring it in and he couldn?t see anything, but he did smell it and did believe it was the antifreeze and probably the engine heater core. The only way to confirm it would be to take apart the engine, which would be $200-$250. Once he got in there he could see if it was the heater core. If it was the heater core the total bill would be about $950 (ouch). He double checked the cylinder gaskets and they were fine. If it had been them then that is closer to a $2000 job.

I called him later in the day and he says ?Tracy, just come and get your car.? I asked if he was able to fix it. ?No, I can?t find anything wrong with your car. We looked all over and there is nothing leaking, nothing wrong with the heater core, and there is nothing we could find that would be causing it.?

Here?s the best part. He said ?I have to feel good about what I do. I didn?t fix anything, so I?m not going to charge you for anything. Just come and get your car.?

I mean he takes apart the engine and control panel and all sorts of stuff and spends HOURS on this, and even though he said it would cost $250 just to look at it and see if he could find anything, he doesn?t charge me anything. Subaru charged me $54 just to look at it. I only got a lecture on how I was 2000 miles behind on my last oil change.

This guy has my business for life.

But I still have a stinky car. Any ideas?

What about a prankster? friend or family member, all it would take is a couple of squirts around motor or exhaust, witch can be done from under or threw fender.
Heater core would come threw vents.

“Subaru charged me $54 just to look at it. I only got a lecture on how I was 2000 miles behind on my last oil change.”

I’m glad that you have found a low-priced mechanic, because if you are consistently 2,000 miles late with oil changes, you will be having lots of engine repair issues in the near future.

VDC and the mechanic are both right about the oil change.

My best shot is this. The fresh air intake for the car probably sits at the base of the windshield on the passengers side. It is probably buried underneath a bunch of trim and other such pieces. If you were to disassemble all of that stuff, the whole area around the intake is probably gunked up with all sorts of things. Among those things might be something persistently aromatic. Our noses can be pretty sensitive to some kinds of smells so it doesn’t have to be a lot of something. If something was in there (even from a prankster) you’d smell it in the car, esp at idle and if you popped the hood & sniffed around on the pass. side. I would thoroughly clean that area and see what happens.

Now how stupid would all those mechanics feel if the smell was only the smell of the windshield wiper fluid when being used?