By on October 9, 2013

Paul writes:

Sajeev –

My wife has a 2009 CRV EX-L with a bit over 100,000 miles on it. Its a great car in great condition and seems to have quite a bit of life left in it. Lots of highway miles in a short period of time have been easy on it. But there are two issues:

1) Every time I get in it I smell a very strong musty odor.
2) My wife swears it doesn’t exist.

I have done all of the typical things (shampooed carpets, wiped down the interior, changed cabin air filters) but they only seem to last a few days before it returns. My two issues really lead to two separate questions. First, anything else I can do? Second, should I even bother doing anything? It doesn’t bother her and we typically take my car when we go somewhere together. I am not sure the marital strife that comes from a perceived judgement of how she keeps her car is worth trying to solve something doesn’t bother the main driver.

Thanks for your time.

Sajeev answers:

Yes, perhaps a husband shouldn’t imply his wife is a magnet for funky smells. That’s probably not the right move, unless your accusations include dancing to P-funk. Listen to me: I totally “get” women. They have no problem when a man accuses them of being smelly/filthy if you know how to shake ‘yo thang at the same time.

And when she kicks you out of the house, do something about that problem in the garage.

Pull the seats, the console, etc and yank the carpet: reinstall the seats and let your wife bring on the funk while you experiment. Flip the rug upside down, soak the padding in Fabreeze (or similar) and air dry for several days.  Or throw out the padding, air dry and see if the CRV’s interior is nicer after being carpet free for a few days.  If the smell is isolated to the carpet but you have no faith in your repair, consider replacing via the local junkyard, LKQ (or similar) online, or the aftermarket.  That might be $100-300 well spent.

If the carpet isn’t the problem, maybe the seats are soaking in something more foul than fun-kay?  If so, you got bigger problems.  Ditto the possible funk in the HVAC box, which can be fixed without disassembling the dashboard.

But I will remain positive and hope it’s just something spilled on the carpet that went deep into the padding.  Off to you, Best and Brightest!


Send your queries to [email protected]com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice. 

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30 Comments on “Piston Slap: My Wife’s Funky Ride?...”

  • avatar
    Mr Imperial

    Definately check your owner’s manual, which may give tips about the smell-your A/C system may not be draining, causing water to build up and promote mold growth.

    Clogged A/C drain or drain line would be my thought.

  • avatar

    There are a couple of areas that you could attend to. Odours can get into the headliner as well as the carpet & upolstry. Do the Febreze thing on that as well. I have had good luck with washing the carpet in a baking soda solution,let dry,and vacuum. Another way is to sprinkle the baking soda all over the carpet and leave it on for a few days, then vacuum off. Or do both. This worked for me on milk spilled on the carpet. Another place for funky is mould in the AC evaporator. There are products available to deal with that. You expose the inlet to the cabin fan and spray away. Yes, also check the drain(s) for the AC evaporator, but that tends to lead to water sloshing about that you can hear. Don’t forget to clean other surfaces such as the armrests, where skin particles can accumulate.

    Have you investigated what it is that your wife is doing that may be causing the smell?

  • avatar

    I agree with the clogged drains diagnosis, but all this, “well, first you do this, then you do that…” No – first SHE does this then SHE does that. I HAVE a car, and it smells fine.

  • avatar

    It could just be you. My beloved detects the piquant aroma of cat urine everywhere she goes. In fact, I intend to inscribe ‘It smells like cat piss in here!’ on her tombstone. You might just have to trade yourself in.

  • avatar

    Wow this one is SUPER easy and boy do I have a solution for you!

    1. She doesn’t smell it. There’s only one surefire cure for a lack of female nasal discretion and by god it just happens to be pregnancy. So the recommended DIY fix here is fire away and knock her up. She will definitely detect the musk but you may need to wait 2 months or so, kind of like how you let PB blaster set in before yanking on the rusty part. However there may be side effects (if a little Qadhafi running your life can be considered a side effect.)

    2. If you have already attempted DIY fix #1 and succeeded then I know exactly what the musk is. Dry rotted formula and breast milk is caked all up in the cracks within your rear seats! This fix here is less fun than in situation #1, but has fewer side effects. The seats need to come out btw to get it out properly.

    3. The third option is dead (looooong dead) mice etc… stuck somewhere in the vehicle. Good luck on that one, they like insulation and tight spaces.

  • avatar

    Check every nook and cranny, especially the hatch, for a missing box of frozen vegetables. No kidding. Years ago, a box of frozen spinach slid out of a grocery bag and got nestled in some damned place in the trunk of my Impreza. A few days later, there was a nasty, musty smell pervading the whole car that I just couldn’t get rid of. Until I found that box of (not anymore) frozen spinach hiding in some little corner.

    Sad but true…

  • avatar

    I have noticed that if one manually sets the HVAC system to recirculation mode and leaves it there for extended periods it will promote a musty smell. Switch it to use fresh incoming air for a few days and see if that helps. I’ve gotten to where with my older vehicles I make sure they’re switched to external air and run long enough to ensure the dampers flip around before shutting them down.

  • avatar

    Buy a GPS tracker.

    Understand that this will not end well.

  • avatar
    Domestic Hearse

    A long gone Infiniti J30 just stunk. Musty barnyard of a smell. I did the whole fumigation routine on the car’s interior. As it turned out, the problem was the HVAC system…and mold growing therein. The dealer fixed it, but really, once the mold spores are out and about, the stench never truly leaves. It’ll be growing in cracks and crevices far away from your soapy brush and rags despite your best efforts.

    You smell it and she doesn’t: Some people have high sensitivity to mold. You may be mildly to severely allergic to it, while her immune system doesn’t register mold at all. Get tested by an allergist. And if the HVAC does turn out to have a mold problem, and you are allergic, time to trade-in the Honda.

  • avatar
    wreath and crest

    If it is coming through the ventilation system, you can also spray Lysol,or better yet Frigi fresh through the air intake(usually under the hood below the passenger side wiper).This will help with any mold spores,pollen,etc.

  • avatar

    Moldy – musty smells from the AC is very common. Spraying the proper stuff into the fresh air intake, like others here have said, will let you know you found the problem which could be a plugged drain. Sajeev—How about piston -slap follow ups, that could be just as interesting as the original articles which I do enjoy.

  • avatar

    I had a sunroof drain tube leak in my ’02 Beetle. Satan’s Own Mildew set up shop in the car and it positively REEKED…uninhabitable. Under warranty and over an 8 week time, VW replaced the headliner, carpet, padding, rear luggage compartment carpet, padding there, rear seat pads, door pads, back seat side padding, front seat cushions (but not backs). Car still reeked. They pulled the dash and went after the firewall padding – that was it. The water had wicked up the floor padding into the firewall padding.

    The miracles of this is again it was ALL under warranty and that it all went back together, and 9 years later is still together, without rattles or busted clips. My dealer amazed me…evidently I have the one good VW dealer in the country…

  • avatar

    Once I tore down the interior on a conversion van and it looked liked I was in Silent Hill because there was so much dark mold/mildew/growth everywhere.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Obviously the smell is pretty mild if the OP’s wife doesn’t notice it. Before tearing out the interior, check to see of the a/c is draining (which should be pretty easy if its hot and you just park the car with the a/c cranked). If the a/c condensate is draining o.k., then go for a spray treatment of the evaporator . . . but before you do, double-check for leaves or other stuff in the cabin air intake. You can have the dealer do it with his stuff . . . or you can empty a can of Lysol aerosol into the air intake with the fan running at top speed.

    Our ’08 Honda Pilot had this problem.

  • avatar

    Lots of good ideas – ensure control panel is not set to “recirculate”; A/C musty smell is common, but should be fixable. Last fall I was in the service department of my Honda dealer where I witnessed an older version CRV with the heater box & fan unit [behind the glove box] disassembled completely due to a rodent’s nest. Don’t know how they got in there, but it was a mess. Hopefully your fix is easier.

  • avatar
    suspension guy

    Can’t smell as bad as my car. My Setter and Wimarainer swim in the lake and then get in the back seat(totally shredded)on a regular basis. I clean it yearly whether it needs it or not, but it smells like a horse barn! Don’t care that the AC is not working, but happy that the windows work.

    • 0 avatar

      The dog smell never really bothered me much. I had three dogs that didn’t swim, but smelled pretty strongly when wet (and one reeked of skunk for months after he got sprayed, but only when he was wet). The worst thing I have ever smelled in any car was when a container of milk split open in the back of my ’93 Grand Cherokee. It was summer and 90+ degrees outside. I sucked as much out of the back with my shop vac, washed the carpets with water several times, and I thought, incorrectly, that I had gotten it all. A couple of days later, I got into it after it sat in the garage, windows open, for about a day and a half, and I almost threw up, it was horrible. A friend and I tore it apart, taking the seat and carpet out, and I tossed all the sound deadening stuff, it all reeked. I replaced it and put it all back in, and it still stunk. A trip to the detailer and $100 bucks got rid of it for good. It smelled like artificial Cherry for a long time though. The dogs seemed to like it. It sure was better than sour milk.

    • 0 avatar

      “I clean it yearly whether it needs it or not”

      Uhh-my guess is that it ALWAYS needs it. Geez. Haha

  • avatar

    Id guess HVAC. maybe shoot some compressed air up the drain hose after making sure its attached. if there doesnt seem to be an easy way into the box to clean it, you can always carefully drill a hole and lysol it, then plug the hole.

  • avatar

    Definitely agree with the clogged drainage line. I had this happen in my old Altima and tepid water would soak the front of the carpet by the dash causing a musty smell. Pull the carpet and dry it, then use something flexible to unclog the drainage line. A long piece of weatherstripping did the trick for me. The sunroof drainage line was the clogged one for me.

  • avatar

    Even without a blocked line, you can get that nasty smell from the A/C if you live in a humid area, especially if you tend to leave recirc on to increase the cooling. I bought a 300TE from Florida that was fairly rank. All it took was one can of A/C deodorizer and it was all set up here in Maine.

  • avatar

    Kinda surprised that nobody has suggested ozone. Run an ozone generator in there for half a day, see if that takes care of it.

  • avatar

    This thing kills mold & mildew in the air. Better than an ozone generator & safer.

    I use the home version.

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