What is that "fishy" smell?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Apr 01, 1991

Dear Tom and Ray:

I have an '88 Chevy Corsica that has developed a "fishy" smell inside the car. I think it has an odor like antifreeze. I haven't noticed any leaks, and everything seems to be working OK. Do you have any suggestions?

TOM: Well, Joyce, when I detect a fishy odor in my car, it's usually because my brother left another half-eaten anchovy pizza under the back seat. So I'd check for that first.

RAY: But if you don't find any pizzas, it probably is antifreeze. Antifreeze can smell like fish, and it CAN leak into the car through the heating system. Antifreeze flows through the engine and removes excess heat so that you don't have an engine meltdown. Then, it delivers that same heat to your tootsies when you turn on the heater.

TOM: It does that by flowing through a little radiator behind the dashboard called the heater core. And if only a tiny bit of antifreeze leaked out from the heater core, you'd smell it pretty strongly since the heater blower would send it right through the vents and into your nostrils. It might even be strong enough to overpower two or three ripening anchovy pizzas.

RAY: Ask your Chevy mechanic to check the heater core and the heater control valve. If you're lucky, it'll be either a loose clamp or a bad hose. If it's anything worse, and you've led a good, clean life, it'll be covered under warranty.

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