That "roasted popcorn smell" could have been roasted acorns...if parked under an oak tree.

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Oct 01, 1998

Dear Tom and Ray:

I was listening to your NPR radio show a few weeks ago and heard a woman ask
about a smell "like burned or roasted popcorn." She thought it was coming from
her car's exhaust. You were correct, I think, in telling her that it was not
coming from her exhaust, but from under her hood. You were wrong, however, I
think (it had to happen sometime!) in telling her that it was probably spilled
oil on the engine.

You should have asked her if the smell started in the late fall or winter, and
if she parks her car outside at night near any oak trees. My husband and I have
two cars we park outside near lots of oak trees. More than once, we have smelled
a "roasted popcorn" smell coming from our car, and it has always turned out to
be the same thing -- roasted acorns. The little squirrels that live in our trees
stash several dozen acorns up under the hood on the engine block. These nuts
slowly roast and give off this rather pleasant, but odd, smell. I'll bet that's
what your caller was smelling. -- Christine

TOM: You may well be right, Christine. We should have asked the caller if the
neighborhood squirrels were singing any Mel Torme tunes.

RAY: You mean like "Acorns roasting on an open engine ... "

TOM: Exactly. We'll keep this in mind, Christine, for any future roasted-nut-
related inquiries. Thanks.

* * *

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