Sulfur Smell from Toyota 4Runner

bob443bob443 Member Posts: 1
I recently bought a brand new 2003 Toyota 4Runner and can not believe that it is normal for my brand new SUV to smell of sulfur. I was advised that this was due to poor gas being provided in our area, however I have driven from NC to VA to OH to NY to PA and back to VA and then NC and tried different types of gas and octane levels in each state and it made no difference. I now have 5K on my SUV and the sulfur is just as bad as it was when I purchased it. Why is it that I do not smell the sulfur in other vehicles, but only mine? A friend just bought a brand new Ford Explorer and his SUV does not smell like sulfur. I have questioned the dealership about this and they are convinced that it is not the catalytic converter and that it is the quality of gas in America. Any suggestions?


  • coolpop36coolpop36 Member Posts: 65
    Your dealership is either full of idiots or they are trying to do one of the following - avoid fixing the problem or avoid telling you that there is no particular remedy at this time.

    Do a little research and you'll see that the new V6 engines are having this problem. The quality of gas has nothing to do with this.

    I was just about to buy a new V6 Limited, but now I'm waiting until the end of the year to get a 2004. Sorry about your problem, but hopefully Toyota will come out with a fix for it soon.
  • reddfishreddfish Member Posts: 54
    I had the same problem with my SR5 V8 (2003). Toyota would not and could not fix the problem. They blame the sulfur content in the gasoline in every state except CA. They have a TSB on this problem, ask your dealer for a copy.
  • sacstate1sacstate1 Member Posts: 189
    Only had the sulfur smell twice with 2K miles. I found running Exxon/Mobil was a culprit. My dealer service manager just bought a '03 Runner for his wife. Said he has noticed the smell when he gets on the motor. So, at least a Toyota representative admits the problem.
  • mcdawggmcdawgg Member Posts: 1,722
    Many new cars have the sulfur smell, not just Toyota, so the gas could be the problem.
  • tim_hooligantim_hooligan Member Posts: 143
    Our new 2003 Accord made that same smell. My parents new 2003 CRV made the smell. Granted, after 8000 miles the smell has about 95% vansihed.

    It's not just Toyota, I think it's the modern catalytic converter that's the culprit. If you read the forums around Edmunds for many many new cars, you will read about the same complaints.
  • badgerfanbadgerfan Member Posts: 1,565
    Seem to be on Toyotas with Hondas in second place.

    I haven't read any discussions in Edmunds concerning this issue on other brands, and I tend to surf around Edmunds discussions quite a bit.

    Oddly enough, I am old enough to remember this being an issue on the first generation of automobiles equipped with catalytic converters in the 70's. I have not had a car since that has had this issue, but then I have never owned a Toyota or Honda.

    Are both these brands using some different emissions control strategies or catalysts that are different from the others?
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    This is sulphur dioxide you are smelling. Either it's in the fuel or you've got a problem with the car (defective catalytic or over rich fuel mixture) or you drive like a maniac. Any of those will cause this.
  • reddfishreddfish Member Posts: 54
    sulfur dioxide is harmful to children and older people with asthma. If it's coming thru your a/c vents, it's a health issue.
  • q45manq45man Member Posts: 416
    Many of US refineries were designed to process crude from high Sulfur oil and thus need feed stocks from garbage oil countries whose oil is cheaper than high quality feed stocks.
    The disruptions of oil from Venezuela have lead to changes.
    Plus with new low sulfur regs coming out soon the refineries have rushed to use up all the cheaper garbage oil in the world.

    The other problem is the new LEV catalyst which are more efficient but more tempermental as to gasoline quality.

    Ever wonder what the phrase sweet crude means.
  • reddfishreddfish Member Posts: 54
    Toyota's TSB on the sulfur says that CA is the only state that requires the lower sulfur content in gasoline. Toyota corporate says all states should be compliant by 2005. So your choices are to live with the smell if you have it, drive to California for fuel, or wait until 2005 to buy your Toyota 4runner.
  • chesterzchesterz Member Posts: 11
    I bought my 4Runner a few months ago, and just this past weekend detected a faint sulfur smell. I noticed it after put my foot to the floor from a standing start. (I won't apologize for doing that, I was getting ahead of a kid in a beat up Camero who had cut me off.) This is the only time I have noticed anything like that with the truck.

    I have noticed other postings about the smell, and some people detect it all of the time.

    I will continue to watch for it.
  • coranchercorancher Member Posts: 232
    I'm not sure it's been recommended in this thread yet, but those interested should consider searching and reviewing the main 4Runner discussion. There's a ton of smell discussion there, including the fact that many (most? all?) of the 4Runners and other recent catalyst-equipped vehicles will smell during and immediately after heavy acceleration. I, for one, posted instructions for an easy experiment to try to produce and detect the smell.

    It's apparently due to the burn-off of the sulfur deposits in the converters which primarily occurs during heavy acceleration. The V8s seem to have the problem more frequently, but the V6s and many other models & makes have it too. I wonder if the difference between the V6 and V8 models is related to the fact (if I understand it correctly) that the V6 uses 4 catalysts and the V8 uses 3? It seems like significant and/or frequent production of the smell requires a set of conditions (including fuel and engine operating regime) that most people don't get into too often. On the other hand, some folks have reported experiencing it all the time, even with the windows rolled up and with fresh air coming into the cabin. That's a real puzzler, and I haven't heard an adequate explanation.
  • jstanistjstanist Member Posts: 5
    I not only get a sulfur smell from my '03 v-6 but also a lot of detonation noise on acceleration does anyone get this noise as well?
  • coranchercorancher Member Posts: 232
    True detonation can damage an engine very quickly, and the 4Runner (and most/all modern engines) have sensors and computer software to prevent it. I haven't heard this kind of noise, and suggest you take a drive with your dealer's service manager right away to make sure you don't have a serious problem.
  • terrafirmaterrafirma Member Posts: 212
    I think you are talking about the rattling sound during acceleration. That is normal and because they didn't make the manifold thick enough to insulate the sound away. It's not harmful in anyway. It sounds a bit out of place because otherwise it is so refined but it's not a problem.
  • jstanistjstanist Member Posts: 5
  • jstanistjstanist Member Posts: 5
    Thanks for the responses I don't think it's true detonation noise but sounds more like a rolling "D" on on acceleration. If this is normal it's to bad because your right the vehicle is otherwise very refined
  • tacovivatacoviva Member Posts: 116
    I've done some research in to the problem and here's what I am presenting at my Lemon Law hearing....

    I feel that the condition of the vehicle presents a real health and safety issue. To truly determine if it is I must answer the following questions. What gas is entering the vehicle compartment? How much? Is it hazardous?

    Identify the gas that’s entering the vehicle compartment.

    Answer: Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) is formed when fuel containing sulfur is burned.

    How much?

    Answer: It turns out that Sulfur Dioxide has an odor threshold. What this means is that if you can smell it, the concentration can be determined. According to the Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety, the instant you smell Sulfur Dioxide the concentration is known to be 3-5 ppm (parts per million).

    Ref: Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety

    What does Sulfur Dioxide do to the occupants?
    Answer: High concentrations of sulfur dioxide can result in temporary breathing impairment for asthmatic children and adults who are active outdoors.
    Short-term exposure:
    o reduced lung function
    o wheezing
    o chest tightness
    o shortness of breath
    Long-term exposure:
    o respiratory illness
    o alterations in the lungs' defenses
    o aggravation of existing cardiovascular disease
    People affected include children, the elderly, and those with cardiovascular disease or chronic lung disease.


    Is this a hazardous condition?
    Answer: Yes. According to OSHA, The STEL (Short Term Exposure Limit) is limited to 5 ppm over 15 minutes of exposure. Therefore, if the odor threshold is 3-5 ppm and the STEL is 5 ppm, then if the smell is present in the vehicle for 15 minutes of driving, then the Government standard for exposure has been exceeded. This has occurred multiple times since delivery of the vehicle.
    Ref: Safety and Health for Engineers, Roger L. Bauer, ISBN 047128632-X

    About myself, I’m employed by XXXXXXXXX in FT. Worth, Texas. While employed here I’ve dedicated a considerable amount of time as a Safety Engineer performing analyses such as this for the various programs. This data used in this analysis is readily available and well documented.

    Stephen XXXXXXXXX

    To all that need this, please use it.
  • sacstate1sacstate1 Member Posts: 189
    You better get the buggy and horse ready, I am not aware of a gasoline powered vehicle that does not emit emmissions. But then again, the horse would emit Methane, which is also hazardous to your health.
  • tacovivatacoviva Member Posts: 116
    My problem is that the emission in INSIDE the vehicle compartment (windows up and A/C on recirc) when it's sealed. You should never be able to smell emissions inside the cabin, ever.
  • coranchercorancher Member Posts: 232
    tacoviva, the question this raises for me is whether it's better to go at the lemon law process from a health and safety approach or to go at it from the standpoint of diminished value/resale or something like that.

    At least one reference I've seen suggested that humans are sensitive to these sulfur compounds at concentrations far below those that are hazardous, and that the levels produced by the converters aren't a health problem. If you end up in this kind of argument in a lemon law hearing, I don't know how it would come out.

    Well, that's just an opinion to add to the mix. I haven't had the smell much, but when I did I realized how unpleasant it could be if it were inside the cabin much. Good luck, and let us know how your case comes out.
  • sacstate1sacstate1 Member Posts: 189
    You smell burnt jet fuel while on a plane, burnt diesel from a bus and don't forget raw gas fumes while refueling. Like corancher, I think the position of basing your Lemon litigation on smell might not hold up against a saavy Toyota arbitrator.
  • tacovivatacoviva Member Posts: 116
    Redfish has already won this case in FL based on lesser information. Furthermore, I'm using the Texas state arbitration group, not Toyota's. The diminished resale value is damage as well. The issue is that, you're not exposed to the burnt jet fuel for 5-6 years (how long you own the car). The bottom line is that if sulfur dioxide is in the car, it causes a health concern, it's unpleasant to smell, it reduces the value of the car, and it can't be fixed by the dealer, I don't see they have a choice. I would welcome Toyota to analyze the air in the vehicle, but they refused. In fact they recommended I immediately pursue the repurchase option.
  • tacovivatacoviva Member Posts: 116
    It's been proven that when you smell sulfur, it's concentration is a known value, 3-5 ppm. In fact, the smell is now resident on the seats and interior. When you get in, you can smell it. I have a 2 month old and just want to make sure he's safe. I'm sure this can't be good for him, longterm.
  • swschradswschrad Member Posts: 2,171
    I'm asthmatic (well-controlled,) but there are so many cars out there with a skunk for a co-pilot that I hope you win, and everybody with a SO2 problem does the same and wins.

    they can fix this if they really want to. it has to get expensive to get them to want to, it would appear. so make the condition expensive.
  • trenraytrenray Member Posts: 1
    I have a 2003 4runner with 10,600 miles on it, and the smell is worse than ever. I purchased it at Broadway Toyota in Portland, OR, and have received absolutely no help from them. I asked to just let me return the vehicle, but that was not an option for them. They gave me a letter when I went in to service when my vehicle had 5000 miles on it, telling me that by 10,000, the smell would be gone. ITS NOT!! Then they tell me to keep my back window up. Why should I have to!?! I paid $35,000 for a vehicle that have selected windows to use? Bulls__t! My dog rides back there and I hear him sneezing. I have a 3 yr old and a 6 yr old, and I am very concerned about their health. My daughter has had breathing problems in the past. I am very scared. I feel betrayed. What has happened to Toyota? They use to be so good. My vehicle also does the terrible vibration with the passenger window down. If I open the back window, the vibration goes away, but then you get the smell. I guess this vehicle is great for winter weather, but low-and-behold it gets hot out. Keep the windows up and forget about your dog in the back dying for some air, or shall we say "stinky air."
  • zueslewiszueslewis Member Posts: 2,353
    (for plaintiff's lawfirm), I've seen 8-10 of these rotten egg/sulphur cases go to arbitration and trial - they go down in flames. In fact, the firm no longer takes the cases because all they do is rack up fees with no recovery for the consumer or attorney.
  • coranchercorancher Member Posts: 232
    I think that nobody should have to tolerate this smell as a frequent problem, but if the manufacturers and fuel refiners aren't fixing it, perhaps some self-help is in order.

    A while back I posted a suggestion (directed to those that have the problem a lot) that folks try temporary use of a short diverter pipe (could even be CPVC plastic, just taped on) to point the exhaust farther to the back or out to the side, as some other vehicles do. Heck, even a downward redirection (or some combination of side and down, for example) might improve things. It might only take 3-6 inches of pipe and a 45 degree bend, and a successful fix could be cheaply rendered in steel by a muffler shop.

    It might work or it might not, but it would sure be a lot less trouble than a lemon law effort. If I had the smell with any frequency, I'd try this in a hot second. Anybody tried this?
  • zueslewiszueslewis Member Posts: 2,353
    Jeg's Racing , a well-known hot rod parts internet and catalog mail order business, offers SCENTED PERFUMES for your gasoline.

    You pour a small bottle of this additive into your tank, and as the fuel burns, it emits a smell. The only "flavor" I've smelled is "bubble gum", but they make root beer, pina colada, and 10-12 others. I'm serious, I'm not making this up - I wonder of root beer would coverup rotten eggs?
  • mhallackmhallack Member Posts: 32
    While I understand you being upset about this, let me advise you that leaving a window open near an active exhaust pipe is always a bad thing! Regardless of the sulfur smell every gas powered engine emits carbon monoxide which is most definitely hazardous to your health. The safest thing to do is roll ALL your windows up and crank up the AC when its hot (I live in Florida, so I have lots of experience with vehicles in high heat).

    If you have to keep your windows down, I do think the exhaust extension/bend is a good idea.
  • hannerhanhannerhan Member Posts: 18
    Good point. When thinking about the safety of your kids, it's not the smell that could harm them, it's the odorless carbon monoxide.

    I am seriously considering getting the borla dual exhaust system for my 4Runner though (the pipes exit the sides). I think it might keep the exhaust away from the rear window...
  • tacovivatacoviva Member Posts: 116
    The real issue is the smell inside the cabin. We all expect it outside, but inside. Furthermore, Toyota is buying these back. Don't hesitate to go to abitration. Mine is being scheduled and I hope I get fair treatment. I don't see how anyone could think it's acceptable to subject a newborn to 5-6 years of sulfur dioxide. My back seats now permanently smell like sulfur. I have a friend who works with NCDS (National Center for Dispute Settlement) and they said that Toyota is repuchasing or replacing these vehicles. I'll keep you guys posted.
  • vaughn4vaughn4 Member Posts: 106
    I had an 03 Runner Sport with the V8. It produced horrible sulfur smells - all the time - all brands of gas and octane ratings. It didn't matter if you had all the windows up and the A/C on recirculate, you could still smell the STRONG odor. Toyota was no help at all, they said it would go away. Not so, after 6K miles I traded the stink bomb in. I couldn't stomach the lemon law process and Toyota's refusal to acknowledge the problem. I have small children but they could care less who it's harming. No more Toyotas for me. I always thought they were excellent cars - Think again!!! It's normal for a slight sulfur smell on the OUTSIDE but not the inside. Toyota needs to get a grip on this situation and fix it!!!
  • mhallackmhallack Member Posts: 32
    I would certainly agree that if you are smelling it with the back window closed and recirculate going that is a major issue.

    No problem so far with mine, but it only has 1,000 miles on it...when did the problem start for those who have the issue?
  • q45manq45man Member Posts: 416
    I am missing the point why should Toyota fix something that is you the voters fault for not pushing low Sulfur fuel regulations.
    They designed the cats to work with the fuel the government PROMISED but didn't force the delivery of!

    This is why diesels still don't have catalytic convertors the Sulfur in the cheap oil would destroy them fast.
  • zueslewiszueslewis Member Posts: 2,353
    many, many cars and trucks give this smell off because of the weird fuel that the EPA mandates. Not all vehicles and driving styles produce these smells, so how is it a manufacturer's responsibility?

    It's NOT just a Toyota thing - I've seen hundreds of complaints on this subject from owners of many brands of vehicles.
  • tacovivatacoviva Member Posts: 116
    You guys are missing the point. There are emissions INSIDE the cabin. The presence of Sulfur only makes you aware of it. Sulfur in the gas isn't the issue. Sulfur INSIDE the vehicle is the problem. It's actually a good thing that they put Sulfur in teh gas, otherwise, you may not be aware of it at all. It's a dangerous situation.


    The smell was very slight in the beginning. In fact, at delivery I mentioned it and they told me that since this was a ULEV vehicle the converter needed to "break in". I like to think that they were misled as well, but given that their one goal is to get you in the car, I think they intentionally lied to me. It appears to be getting more intense. I hope my hearing goes well.
  • zueslewiszueslewis Member Posts: 2,353
    you smell rotten eggs, I smell the cigarette the guy in the next car is smoking, or the diesel from a bus - deal with it. Thank the EPA for your rotten eggs - we (consumers, through special-interest groups) caused it.
  • tacovivatacoviva Member Posts: 116
    The problem is smelling it for 5 years. I'm not too worried about myself but I have a big problem with my 3 month old having to "deal with it", and no you apparently don't "get it".

    Consider this. We don't smoke in buildings anymore, right? Why? Because people who don't smoke would be subjected to it. Breathing emissions for 5-6 years can't be good for you. That's apparently why the exhaust pipe is OUTSIDE the car.

    Furthermore, I'm a safety enigineer and I do analyses like this daily. Let me educate you. If you smell sulfur on a daily basis, it's dangerous and unhealthy. Prolonged exposure is proven to cause a vast array of cardiovascular problems. I understand that you are some sort of investigator? Before responding, read my previous posts. You'll find links to references that substantiate my claims. Investigate that.
  • zueslewiszueslewis Member Posts: 2,353
    I never said that tailpipe emissions and other noxious odors weren't bad for you...

    I see no immediate cure for the problem of smelling emissions from vehicles as we drive, especially in close-in traffic.

    Just like I see no immediate cure for the problem of smelling the guy's cigarette or cigar in the car next to me.

    Considering 4 throat surgeries, I'm extremely sensitive to odors like these, often gagging and losing my lunch over tailpipe emissions or a cigarette - believe me, I "get it".

    The only fix I see is beating the smoker with a stick so you don't have to inhale their smoke - unfortunately, it's not the right thing to do and I could get into trouble for it.
  • tacovivatacoviva Member Posts: 116
    Agreed. I too am sensitive to such environments. My son I'm sure is more so than I. The cure in my case is to replace the vehicle thereby removing the immediate danger from my family. Sorry if I sound angry, but I've lived with this for about 8 months. I just want them them to replace it with one that doesn't have this problem. I think we can agree that if you have Sulfur emissions INSIDE the car, it's not a good thing.
  • zueslewiszueslewis Member Posts: 2,353
    that's the problem.
  • tacovivatacoviva Member Posts: 116
    If you see it a lot it could be a problem.

    I just Toyota's official response to the arbtitration. It's their postion right now concerning the problem. I don't think they even understand the problem. They say the smell comes from the fuel. Well, I think we can all agree the Sulfur is in the fuel. I have explained to Toyota no less that 6 times and even had the customer servie rep write it down as I was saying , then repeat it back. The problem is that the smell is INSIDE the vehicle! I can just see it now....we finally get to the day of arbtitration and the Toyota rep says "ohhh, it's inside the cabin". I'm going to request in writing that they bring all my case documents in from all my phone calls so I can show the guy what's been going on . Toyota is being Extremely evasive. I'm never buying another Toyota.
  • zueslewiszueslewis Member Posts: 2,353
    I see it a lot, and not just from Toyotas. Many, many other manufacturers - all, in fact.

    It's a fuel/EPA issue, not a Toyota issue.
  • swschradswschrad Member Posts: 2,171
    never once. the fuel in the late 1970s, when this was the only cat on the market and everybody else had to buy them from GM to meet emissions, could not have been cleaner than we get today.

    so how is it, then, that we have regressed to bonehead technology that accumulates sulfur from the exhaust and stinks it away under load?

    maybe E V E R Y T H I N G !! ought to be recalled that was made with the current technology to be destunk.
  • zueslewiszueslewis Member Posts: 2,353
    I first noticed the sulphur smell when my right side upstream 02 sensor went bad on my 1992 GMC Yukon - changed it under warranty, fixed the problem.

    A few years later, it seems like 1 in 10 cars smells like that - weird, and nasty.
  • swschradswschrad Member Posts: 2,171
    granted, the 70s GM cats could melt down inside, too, in which case you were out over $1000 for housing, shield, and catalyst beads. nowadays it's around $100 for a flat-bed cat.

    but I don't think they're doing the job based on the amount of stinkers on the road.

    which means they were improvidently approved based on insufficient testing. specifically, the old GM jobs were probably sniffed on the test track, and the new ones aren't. just like the Mack diesel engines about 5 or 7 years ago that were faked up to pass EPA bench testing, and they all blow black clouds like exploding volcanoes when you accelerate under load on those things. it was tricky programming on the injector computer that did it. Mack had to pay a dinky-[non-permissible content removed] fine (some dozen millions or so) and promise their next engines and subsequent rebuilds would pass.

    surprise, there was no next engine, they have outsourced engines in the new trucks.
  • renshorensho Member Posts: 42
    driving thing home from the dealer, i had the rear window down for the dog. I noticed a strange smell and wasn't sure it was the sulfur. I rolled the front passenger window to get more ventilation. That made it a LOT worst smelling inside.
    My poor GF following me, immediately smelled the horrible odor, but she didn't know what it was or where it came from. Boy that sucked for her the whole 11mi home.
    This was a 3mi new car. In no way was I driving it fast. I was a granny the whole way home.
    I'm really hoping this is going to go away soon.
    I bought the V6 thinking that everyone said the CLEAN CA gas was not causing sulfur smells. No quite the case.
  • mhallackmhallack Member Posts: 32
    I've thought a lot about this discussion, and what I realized is that the sulfur smell is actually doing you a favor. If you smell sulfur inside the vehicle, then I think its very likely that you have other, dangerous exhaust gasses inside the vehicle. The question is, what is not working? Certainly, if you have your rear window open while the vehicle is running, you are going to have an issue with exhaust gas (I have had this issue on at least two other vehicles, so my feeling is, you should never have windows open in the area of your exhaust output).

    However, if your windows are up, your air-system is on recirculate and you still have the odor issue, then something is wrong, beyond the presenting symptom.
  • swschradswschrad Member Posts: 2,171
    the car to emit mercaptan (aka skunk juice.)
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