I know there’s a hundred or so posts about smelly cars, but I’m stuck trying to figure out what’s wrong with my husband’s 2005 Corolla. I think it’s mold, but I’ve never smelled mold before so it’s kinda hard to say.
It smells musty, and it gives me headaches so I hate riding in this car. It’s kind of an all over smell, that hits you as soon as you open the door, so I don’t think it has to do with the AC unit- it doesn’t get any better or worse with it on. Also, does not smell like cat pee, I saw a lot of that while browsing.
If it is mold, I’m not sure how it sticks around- the car lives in Arizona, so it’s gets a nice heat bath every day. Shouldn’t that bake the spores away?
Mold spores are resistant to just about anything, but it’s not the spores that cause problems, it’s when the spores find someplace damp to start germinating. To have mold in the cabin, you would need moisture, such as from a leaky window or sunroof. You could also have mold in the ventilation system, if the drain for the A/C evaporator is plugged with debris, allowing water to stand in the system.
But as you’re not sure what the odor is, I would suggest taking the car to a detail shop that would have experience identifying and removing odors. Depending on the source, they might have to send you to a mechanic or a body shop, but you first need to determine what the smell is. Non-mold smells could include dead varmints (mice, lizards, etc), spilled food (got kids?) or who knows what else.
This may be tough to do in Arizona, but I would try running with no A/C for a couple of days and run just the fan to clear out any potential mold. Also check if there is some other source of moisture in the car. It could be something simple like a spilled bottle of water that soaked into the carpet or a leak in the sunroof (if you have one). Good luck.
Before heading to the shop, try this for a few days. Get a bottle of Lysol or Pine-Sol and carry it in the car with you. Before starting the engine each time, pour a few drops into the fresh air intake. It ought to be the slots in the cowl just below the wipers. You don’t even need to open the hood.