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Brake-like Smell In Engine Compartment

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Old 11 Apr 2014, 02:06 pm
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Location: western Pennsylvania
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Default Brake-like Smell In Engine Compartment

Hello all,

Earlier today, my wife and I were out in her 2003 GT Turbo (Auto-Stick, 130,000 miles and change). Turned it on after it sat for about an hour, turned on the air to defrost window level after we had been sitting in the car for about 5-10 minutes to let the windows "un-steam" as it was raining (we were sitting in the car for a short while in a phone call before turning the engine on). Once we got moving, about 1/2 mile down the road, we heard a scraping or groaning-type noise seeming to come from underneath the engine. Originally thinking one of the front calipers may have been sticking, I tapped the brake hard, but the noise didn't immediately go away. Then my wife turned off the blower motor to hear the noise better, but didn't hear the noise any more after that.

During the 3 mile drive home from the store where we were, we tried turning on the A/C itself, and then the non-A/C blower to see if we could recreate the sound, but could not -- only got a slight short-lived smell very similar to what we smelled for a while after we had the evaporator and heater core replaced last September (due to an A/C leak at the evaporator - figured to replace the heater core at the same time since they were there anyway) we pulled into the garage, popped the hood, and experienced a "brake overheating" smell that seemed more potent at the top of the engine. From what I could see, there wasn't anything "out of place" in the engine compartment itself, and the portions of the belts that I could see looked fine. FYI, A/C compressor was replaced back in 2010. Engine temp gauge looks fine, right down the middle, never overheated.

Anyone have any thoughts to what in the engine compartment could smell like brake, and/or if overheating brake smell could travel up the compartment to seem like it's coming from the top center of the engine?

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Old 11 Apr 2014, 02:24 pm
quicksilverdon's Avatar
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Location: Felton, Delaware
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Default Re: Brake-like Smell In Engine Compartment

My guess - the clutch for the air conditioning compressor.
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Old 12 Apr 2014, 07:29 am
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Join Date: Feb 2014
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Default Re: Brake-like Smell In Engine Compartment

I agree sounds like a/c clutch. You need to run the a/c and watch the clutch. Should engage and cycle one in a while. So watch and listen it might show what's going on.
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Old 13 Apr 2014, 09:06 pm
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Join Date: Jan 2013
Location: western Pennsylvania
Posts: 7
Default Re: Brake-like Smell In Engine Compartment

Thanks, guys... definitely makes sense... I ran around town yesterday, running just the blower for a while, then turned on A/C... no really cold air coming out (wonder if I got a leak... AGAIN?), but repeated this a second time and heard the nasty groan the second time I engaged the A/C... looks like the car is destined for the mechanic this week...

Thanks again for the quick & helpful direction!

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Old 13 Apr 2014, 09:12 pm
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Default Re: Brake-like Smell In Engine Compartment

The brake smell you are describing is technically called "metal fume" or "welding fume". It's an aerosol of very small metal particulate. And it's created when metal is heated and/or ground together.

Under the hood, some of the likely culprits may be the idler/tensioner pully bearing. Alternator bearing or AC clutch. From what you described as happening, the AC compressor may be trying to lock up. When you turn the AC on, the AC clutch engages but then spins metal to metal since the compressor either will not turn or is very hard to turn.
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