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Stinky Fish Smell

I bought a 2003 toyota highlander recently and it is in great shape except for the fact that on occassion it smells like fish. I thought the smell was coming from the wiper fluid that was maybe rancid from the car sitting around at the lot. My husband disagrees and put alcohol in something. It still smells on occassion.

Does anyone know what to do?

Where is the smell coming from?

“Smell like fish” is rather vague. Is the smell inside the car, outside, or under the hood? Front, rear, top, bottom?

What are the specific conditions during which you notice the odor?

If the friction materials in brakes and clutches gets overheated the smell is sometimes described as fishy. Perhaps your brakes should be inspected for a sticking caliper/wheel cylinder/parking brake mechanism.

Other than that, as mcparadise noted the description is pretty vague.

Not helped at all by this cryptic statement: “My husband disagrees and put alcohol in something”

Well, here in Minnesota anyway, it’s not entirely uncommon for someone’s jackass friends to think it hilarious to hide a dead fish in someone’s truck. Grumpy Old Men got it wrong though - you don’t just toss it on top of stuff, you conceal it. One guy I heard of tied it to the back of the brake pedal so that it would squish and get extra smelly every time the driver stopped. My friends are aware that their lives are forfeit if they ever do this, but perhaps the previous owner of your truck wasn’t able to be so convincing with his friends :wink:

I’d start by trying to locate where the smell is coming from and work from there.

In addition to the other responses, could be stagnant water in A/C drain, could also be something had spilled on one of the carpets (or seats) by a previous owner.

Thank you for your responses. 99% sure it’s not a fish. The smell is coming from the vents. It happens after I run the windshield wiper and sometimes when the airconditioner or heater has been running. I did a little more research and read that it could be the fuse box melting. Sorry about my vagueness - I’m just not sure where he put the alcohol. If it is stagnant water in the AC drain - can that be emptied out easily or does a mechanic have to do it?

I’ll bet it’s air conditioning mold. There are products that can eliminate the smell but a good preventer is to turn off the A/C in the last 2 blocks before you get home and let the fan dry out the vanes. The condensation from the A/C allows mold to build up and it can take on any variety of smells depending on the kind of mold.

You might also check that the drain is not clogged–pretty simple for any mechanic. Some cars, don’t know if yours is one, also suffer from odors if the cabin air filter gets wet. This would also be emitted through the vents.
There are products available that you spreay into the ventilation system to abate mold. Alcohol is not one of them. Perhaps your husband meant “this car stinks, I’m going for a drink”? That is putting alcohol in something.

I like that service plan :wink:

Just turn the air on high, bi-level, and spray a whole can of lysol in the intake vent under the wiper blade. That’ll kill any mold that’s growing in the vents.

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Before you spray lysol change out the cabin air filter, if you have one… there could be the remains of a dead rodent there and spraying with lysol will not help.

Entirely possible