Highlander vinegar smell?

forthillforthill Member Posts: 34
My 2006 non-hybrid V6 AWD Highlander seems to have lately emitted a smell that I can only describe as vinegar.

Anyone experience this "smell" and what do you attribute it to? Time to take it in I guess - can any place work on and fix this or am I better served by the dealership?



  • tidestertidester Member Posts: 10,059
    Here are some guesses: Fuel vapor from engine compartment, exhaust entering the ventilation system, emanations from the catalytic convertor, mildew produced on the air conditioning coils/compressor, food errantly left behind somewhere inside the vehicle that has become spoiled (butter is particularly bad!).

    There may be others.

    tidester, host
    SUVs and Smart Shopper
  • kenlwkenlw Member Posts: 190
    vinegar smell is often a byproduct of recharging batteries. perhaps one of the rechargeables is leaking a bit, or at least outgassing. Have it checked as a leak could be serious.
  • boylan13boylan13 Member Posts: 13
    My wide started noticing a similar smell in our 2006 Hybrid Highlander in July 2007, just after our 15K service (we've had it since July, 2005, yes we don't drive much, so I guess we're extra green?). Thinking it was something the kids had dropped, she didn't worry about it too much but it gets worse and better, and after a *thorough* cleaning has not gone away.

    My nose isn't as sensitive as hers so it doesn't really bother me, but when I asked her to describe it she said it smells like the fruit/vegetables area does at Costco sometimes - "industrial moldy old coolant kind of smell" - her words, not mine. Can you name that smell in 5 notes?

    Anyone else experience any unexplained unpleasant smells (unrelated to passengers *or* drivers) in their 2006-era Highlanders, hybrid or otherwise? We'll bring it in as soon as we can (particularly if it could be battery-related), but the original poster has a non-hybrid, so I'm leaning toward it being a coolant thing.

  • tsheltshel Member Posts: 2
    My 06 Highlander stinks - especially if it sits in the sun! It smells more like clothes that stayed in the washer too long. The dealer claims to have cleaned the a/c and put some kind of air freshener in it but it still stinks. Some days it's awful. I have never spilled anything, there are no leaks, never carried fish, bait or grabage! It's enough to make me go to a Honda, seriously. I have shampooed the rugs, replaced the mats, taken out the rear cargo area carpet. What else can I do? Even moth balls didn't help.
  • webgoodwebgood Member Posts: 95
    I assume by "it" stinks is the A/C and not the actual interior fabric of the vehicle itself. If so, you might try this...a quart bottle of isopopyl ("rubbing") alcohol and a basic garden or household squeeze-sprayer head screwed on it. Remove the cabin media filter...not sure on the 06's but it's still probably behind the glove box. Set the A/C to recirculate, turn on high-speed and just moderate temp. With all windows closed and it running, spray 3-4 times in as fine a mist as it will make towards where the frontseat passenger's shoes would be. The mist gets sucked up in the recirculate draw. Shut the door, let run for a minute or two, open and repeat. If the smell's that bad I'd do it 4 times. Then I'd park it with the windows open for a couple hours. The alcohol kills the bacteria that causes the odors (assuming they're in the A/C system). The "alcohol" smell which some may find objectionable will dissipate within a couple days at most from the system. You may have to repeat as necessary. Foremost, make sure there's a new cabin filter in it which I put in AFTER the alcohol treatments.
    p.s. The spray works great in stinky shoes, also in wearable clothing "accessories" that might get exposed to or drenched with perspiration and are difficult/expensive to wash...kills the bacteria that causes odor and doesn't deteriorate cloth. Regards, BGood
  • steverstever Guest Posts: 52,454
    The dealer should have used something like BG Frigi-Fresh in the AC vents.

    Until you can kill the smell for good, try some fresh ground coffee on the carpets to mask the odor.

    I had some grits spill beneath the back seat one time and they gave off an alcohol smell when they got damp and fermented. You may want to double check every nook and cranny you can get to, including under the front carpets, just in case it's not the AC (but it probably is).
  • tsheltshel Member Posts: 2
    Thanks, I'll give it a try.
  • chunloachunloa Member Posts: 1
    when start the engine, whiff of exhaust from the back and it lasts for a minute.
    Just wonder it is a brand new car, how come it comes with that kind of smell?
  • toyotachevyguytoyotachevyguy Member Posts: 1
    Same problem, same "vinegar" smell in our 2006 Toyota Highlander Hybrid. Only happens after the AC has been running. First noticed it right after purchase. Didn't know at that time that anyone else had the same problem yet. The smell will turn your stomach and make you roll down the windows, which of course negates any cooling effect of the AC. There is a service bulletin for 2008 Highlanders on this, T-SB-0314-09 (09/02/09), but I haven't found one yet for the 2006. Seems the AC unit design was faulty leading to moisture accumulation / subsequent mold growth. Will we ever see a recall for it? Not likely unless the mold mutates and starts outright killing people.
  • moonlight293moonlight293 Member Posts: 23
    2005 HL here. Had similar problem. turns out the drain tube from the AC was clogged and moisture was draining into the front cabin floor, so that water was accumulating underneath the carpeting. Had to blow out the debris from the tube, pull back the carpet and padding to let it dry out and pull the drain plug on the floor to evacuate the accumulated water. Your problem may not have be that severe but a moldy smell has to start somewhere moist.
  • almassalmass Member Posts: 1

    I just put a deposit on a 2008 Highlander Sport. When I first got in the car had a vinegar smell. Seemed to clear after a while driving. Interesting was that the dealer had this ready for me to test drive and the windows and sunroof was already open.

    Does the service repair in the T-SB-0314-09 fix the problem?

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