There's a hole scorched in my Intrigue!



Hi guys,

First off, I’m a huge Car Talk fan- thanks for the years of laughs and information. I’m driving a 2002 Oldsmobile Intrigue, which has served me faithfully and has never had a major complaint- went over a pothole a few years back and had to get the alignment readjusted, but everything else has been perfectly kosher. I parked it outside a friend’s house yesterday afternoon and came back to find my car filled with smoke and a nice big, scorched, melty hole in the carpeting/floor directly behind the glove compartment, on the passenger’s side- you can put your fist through it! My gentleman friend, who is something of a car afficionado, put forth the theory that the heater core got some kind of gunk or lint or excess carpeting touching it, which started smouldering. I’m somewhat inclined to agree with this, as yesterday was the first nippy day in glorious New England this fall and I had been driving around all day running errands with the heater on full blast for the first time since last winter. My question to you is: could there be any alternate explanation that I would have to worry about? I started it (a somewhat stupid move in retrospect- in my defense, I was somewhat panicked) and everything works okay- it’s mostly cosmetic damage, in my thoroughly unprofessional opinion.

Secondly, my question is- is there any way I could get the hole fixed for less than a grand?! I called my local Olds dealership and they quoted me $700 for the carpet plus the labor to put it in… I’m a college student, and while this is obviously going to get fixed no matter what (I can’t imagine driving around with a HOLE behind your glove compartment is very safe) I’m having something of a cash flow problem at the moment (I’m a waitress) and this isn’t going to be pretty on my credit. Nothing else is damaged- some drips and dregs of melting car-stuff fell onto the floor and scorched some holes there, but thankfully I had the floor mat out and those can be covered pretty easily. I just need 1.5 square feet or so to cover the gaping hole on the top side of the footrest (if that makes any sense).

Thank you so much in advance!


I don’t think the heater core gets hot enough to start a fire. Engine coolant, which runs through the heater core, runs just a bit over 200 degrees fahrenheit, and I don’t think this is enough to ignite the carpet or any of the interior plastics.

Could there have been some other debris in the heater core, such as nesting material from a mouse?

The only other thing I can come up with is an electrical short, but I’d think something major would have ceased to function if that were the case. Does the blower (heater fan) still work? If that overheated it could get hot enough to start a fire, but I still don’t think it was the heater core itself.

When you put your fist through this hole in the carpet, where does it go (your fist, not the hole)? There isn’t a hole in the metal floor, is there?

Whatever was burning, you have to find it and make sure it won’t happen again.

As far as repairing the carpet, I’d cut out the burned part and replace it with the closest matching remnant I could find at my local discount carpet store. Or get the carpet from a junk yard and replace it myself, but that’s a big job. I certainly would not spend $700 for car carpet.

Can you file a claim with your auto insurance provider.


The carpet costs about $100 and you can order it from J C Whitney or Hot Rod magazine or some other one. Supermarket trip is due anyway.


No, not the heater core. The hot water inside simply doesn’t get hot enough to start a blaze. My guess is a short in the wires underneath the carpet. There shouldn’t be any wires there, they should run down the side. But maybe something weird happened to the wiring anyway. Do you have those electric seat warmers?

Check with your insurance agent. You are probably insured for fire, theft, and comprehensive, which means they will cover full repairs less deductible.

If the insurance company weasels out, simply cover the area with a carpet remnant. First check underneath for wiring.


If the catalytic converter is on the passenger side of the car, it may have overheated and this would cause the problem you describe. I would have a good mechanic check this possiblility and if this is the cause, you need to find out why the catalytic converter overheated.


The floor and firewall are constructed from sheetmetal. No small interior smoldering fire will make a hole through this metal. It’s more likely that the hole already existed from rust damage. If there’s a rust hole in the sheetmetal big enough to put your fist through, there may be an exhaust component on the other side that could heat the carpet padding enough to start it on fire. This should be looked into immediately as you have a significant fire hazard. Exhaust fumes can also enter the cabin through a hole like this.

If this is what happened, it can be fixed fairly cheaply once the cause of the heat is understood and corrected. A small section of sheetmetal can cut to size, formed and then glued (to prevent water and fumes) and riveted to the floor pan and a scrap piece of carpet can be placed over the burned section.


You are right on target. I had this problem in my 1978 Oldmobile Cutlass. When I drove the car, I would get the same odor that one gets when ironing clothes. I pulled up the right front floor mat and found that the floor pan had rusted away and the catalytic converter was scorching the carpet. I riveted in some sheet metal, sealed it well, and covered it with a layer of fiberglass. This was 7 years ago and the patch seems to have held.


Exciting picture update! (Okay, maybe not so exciting, but a little grotesque. My poor car…) Taken with a cell phone, sorry for the horrendous quality.

The pictures make the hole look bigger than it actually is- I’m going to say it’s the size of a grapefruit or so. The hole is NOT in the metal floor; the partition between the underside of the dash and what I’m assuming is the back of the engine compartment interior (that’s not a fun thought) is made of something that looks like a thin sheet of plastic (?) with carpet over it. I agree with the person who said they don’t think it was electrical; I drove it around the block today and everything seemed fine, although I’m obviously going to get it checked out before I start driving it regularly again. What it looks like to me, even less than actual flames, is that something in the interior of the engine got intensely hot and melted its way through that area behind the glove box. The carpet itself is filthy (I remind you, college student… heh) but there are no burn marks or anything to indicate the problem lies anywhere but that specific area.

As far as insurance goes, I may be SOL. I, being a waitress and English major (neither of which expect me to make a lot of money in the near future) have the cheapest coverage I can legally drive with- liability ONLY. I’m going to contact them, but I’m not holding my breath.

Thank you SO much for the help, everyone.


Any enemies? It looks like a chemical meltdown. I know for a fact that swimming pool acid, available at many stores, will melt right through Automotive carpet. I spilled some in my car. It’ll probably go through other plastics as well. Could have been poured in the fresh air intake. It’s a thought anyway.


No, no enemies- at least none that would do this to my car. There was a definite funky burned smell in the air as well.


That looks like one of the hush panels to me. A plastic panel designed to hide the components above it and reduce interior noise. The blower motor and a number of electrical devices may be located directly above that panel. Anything getting hot enough to melt that plastic is cause for concern. You should have a professional or someone you trust take a look before it destroys the entire car.