The Mystery Odor, A Detective Story

Fowl car odors can be hard to find and make driving intolerable!
Photo Credit: Don Stec

by Don Stec

I received a call from an Insurance Claim Adjuster, he said.  “Don, we have a vandalized vehicle we would like you to look at.  He explained; a smelly liquid was poured inside on the seats and carpet.  We have had the vehicle interior detailed twice and the smell keeps coming back.  We suspect there is something dead inside.  Would you be willing to investigate the cause?”  “Do you suspect a body or a critter I asked, half joking?”  “Oh, we are sure it’s some small animal because the detail shops have not been able to find it.” I said, “You realize the interior may have to be removed from the vehicle to find the source of the odor, and some of the interior may have to be replaced.” He replied, “If you are willing to look into it we would be grateful.  The vehicle is almost new. The cost, no matter how high, would be less than to total the vehicle.”  

The vehicle was delivered to Coachmaster and it was immediately observed the odor was extremely strong for several feet outside surrounding the vehicle.

The vehicle, a newer SUV, having been detailed inside, was very clean.  We decided to leave it outside in the sun with all the doors and hatch open for a few hours to let the odor dissipate.  At the end of the day we parked it in the shop for the evening.

The following morning, I opened the front door to the shop and the odor was throughout the entire building.  A helper wore a charcoal respirator to block the stench while he drove the vehicle outside.  We wanted to make sure all the moisture had evaporated from the detailers work -- and to get the smell out of the shop.

At the end of the day we got out our secret weapon. An O-zone producing machine.  We have had great success with this machine in the past.  O-zone is diatomic oxygen, formed by electrical discharge.  It is a powerful bleaching and oxidizing agent.  It is used to purify and deodorize air. “A sterilizer.”  We placed the running machine in the closed SUV and left it all night.  If the source of the odor (the decomposing material) was removed by the detailers, there should be no odor in the morning.  If the decomposing material is still there… the odor will remain.

The next morning the odor was still there, but noticeably less.  That meant the source was still in the vehicle. We pulled out the seats, the carpet and the center console.  After a few hours exposed to fresh air, the seats smelled noticeably fresher.  The carpet odor was not as strong but it would require more attention.  However the carpet padding still smelled distinctively stronger.  We ordered new carpet padding.  Then we sterilized the entire floor, hand washed and towel dried it.  We also deodorized the carpet, steam cleaned it and hung it in the sun to dry. Letting natural oxygen work its magic.

Now, with all of the obvious items smelling better we closed the vehicle again and left it in the sun for a few hours…the odor remained.   Since the upholstery was not installed we could now pinpoint areas of the interior body that were producing odor.  The interior door panels smelled at the glass openings and were removed.  Inside the doors we could see a liquid had been poured through the glass channel.  It was sticky and smelled of decomposition.  We cleaned, sterilized and washed the inside of the doors including the class and door mechanical assemblies.

Out into the sun again.  A few hours later, we opened the doors to find the odor still there, but greatly lessened.  This was getting to the point of mass frustration.  We had gutted the entire interior of the vehicle except the dash board.  

As we stood there in the hot Redding sun, I suggested, “Turn on the air conditioner.”  PHEW, even with the doors all open the odor came blasting out of the AC ducts.

Needless to say, we had to pull all the duct work out from under the dashboard, clean and sterilize it  Inside we found chicken skin, body cavity fat and the sticky body fluids we were by now, all too familiar with.

Another test of the vehicle in the sun produced no odor and we felt confident to assemble the vehicle.  The console was one of the last things to install.  As they started to place the console in the vehicle, I asked, did we inspect that?  Almost the last piece to install and it too contained the sticky “foul” smelling liquid. Though only a few drops, but enough to require sterilization.

The next sun test with the vehicle completely assembled, proved we were successful.  The following morning it still had no odor.  We placed the O-zone machine inside and left it for a few hours.  When we opened the vehicle later it smelled as fresh as an “April shower”.

There are many spray can products on the market for odor control, but mostly only mask the smell.  In-other words their fragrance is stronger than the odor they cover.  There are only a few that advertise they “eliminate the odor”. On mild unpleasant odor they may be acceptable. However, if the source of the odor is not removed it will remain.     

Coachmaster Collision repair* -- founded in 1969 is the best equipped body and paint shop in the North valley. Specializing in “Total Body Alignment.” Contact Alan Gordon for an estimate on your vehicle. Call 530-243-1310 or visit the business at 6851 Eastside Road, in Redding California. *Click here if you are using a smart phone or other mobile device.