I drive a 2006 Toyota Sienna. When driving with the heater on I often smell sulfur. This is more common when I am driving up a hill, but if I turn the heater off, the smell goes away. What causes this smell and how can I repair it?

1 Answer 1


When you turn the heater off, are you turning the thermostat down, turning the vent fan off or both? Are you closing the vents? Do you smell the same thing with the AC on?

Depending on the answers, here are some possibilities:

  1. Leaking gear lubrication (which can smell like sulfur) combined with a bad seal in the ventilation system (or an intake that catches a whiff). Check for drips under the car: they should have the same smell. If they're there, look for leaks around the transmission or differentials.

  2. Hydrogen sulfide from the catalytic converter, again getting picked up by the ventilation system. If so, this is possibly a bad cat.

Following up on the comment: are the side vents passive only? Are they taking in air from the same channel? Also, when you run the AC, are you running on recirculated cabin air or taking in air from the outside?

As far as leaks go, you could try putting newspaper under the car when you park it. That will likely expose a drip that would otherwise go unnoticed.

  • When I turn the heater off, it is turning the entire AC system off, which on that vehicle closes the center two vents, but the side vents remain open (you can feel air passing through them at all times). I do not smell the same thing with just the AC on. I will check for anything leaking when I get home tonight, but I do not recall seeing puddles underneath where I park at any point recently.
    – MaQleod
    Apr 22, 2011 at 14:03

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