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Why Does My Ford Explorer Smell Like Gas? (Explained By Mechanic)

Why Does My Ford Explorer Smell Like Gas? (Explained By Mechanic)
Written By: Kris Jackson, ASE-Certified Mechanic
Kris Jackson has been a mechanic since 2010 after graduating from UTI. He’s worked with several master mechanics and holds several ASE Certifications. You can read more about Kris here.

Gasoline has a very distinct strong odor and if you’re ever in your Ford Explorer or any car for that matter when you smell it…it’s a good reason to be concerned. If you’re continuously smelling fuel in your Ford Explorer then you should take immediate action to have the reason found.

But what’s causing your Explorer to smell like gas? 

The most likely explanation is a fuel system leak, which is more common in the 2013, 2018, and 2020 models. If there is a leak, you’ll usually notice visible signs of fuel under the vehicle. It could also be issues with the evaporative emissions system (EVAP), exhaust system problems, or an overfilled gas tank.

Whatever the cause, it’s worth investigating where the fuel smell is coming from not just because it stinks but because it’s also a safety issue. Let’s take a closer look at each reason and help you figure out which one makes the most sense for your Explorer. 

1. Fuel System Recalls 

A good place to start hunting down a fuel smell depending on the year of your Explorer is seeing if there are any recalls related to fuel. This is also likely to be the first thing the dealership or mechanic begins looking into to see if it has been done before or applies.

Every vehicle no matter who the manufacturer is usually develops known problems for various reasons. Once they become known they publicly release the recall. Here are a few of the ones found between model years 2013 – 2020 for your Ford Explorer that may cause a fuel smell.

  • 2020: Ford Motor Company (Ford) is recalling certain 2020 Explorer and Lincoln Aviator vehicles. Over time, the protective sleeve on the vapor fuel line may chafe through the plastic liquid fuel line and cause a fuel leak. 
  • 2020: Ford Motor Company (Ford) is recalling certain 2020 Explorer vehicles equipped with 2.3L engines and 19 gallon fuel tanks. The fuel tank inlet check valve may not be fully welded to the fuel tank shell.
  • 2018: Ford Motor Company (Ford) is recalling certain 2018 Ford Explorer vehicles equipped with 2.3L or 3.5L GTDI engine. Due to an assembly error, the fuel pressure sensor may leak fuel.
  • 2013: Ford is recalling certain model year 2013 Explorer, Taurus, Flex, Fusion, Police Interceptor Sedan and Police Interceptor Utility vehicles; and certain model year 2013 Lincoln MKS, MKT, and MKZ vehicles. In the affected vehicles, the fuel delivery module may develop a crack, allowing fuel to leak.

Manufacturers are required to fix recalls. They will repair it, replace it, or even offer a refund, but you shouldn’t have to pay for any expenses associated with the recall. 

2. Fuel Leaks 

The fuel system on any automobile is pretty large and spans over the entire vehicle from the back to the front. Along the way, there are a few things that can go wrong which could cause a leak and make your Ford Explorer smell like gas.

Luckily because the fuel smell is so strong you can follow your nose and the best tool anyone has readily available is their eyes. Here are some things to be on the lookout for if your Ford Explorer smells like gas.

Fuel tank

The fuel tank is a suspect for fuel leaks causing your gas smell. Over time, the tank can corrode or develop rust, especially in older models or those driven in areas with harsh weather conditions. This is regardless of the type of gas you use. The tank can also be punctured or damaged if you hit debris on the road. Inspect the fuel tank for visible signs of corrosion or damage.

Fuel lines

The fuel lines transport gasoline from the fuel tank to the engine. They can develop cracks, leaks, or become loose over time due to wear and tear. Check the fuel lines for any visible signs of leaks from damage or deterioration. Depending on where your car is mostly driven it may battle harsher elements or experience salt-heavy roads which cause more corrosion and rust.

Fuel injector O-rings

The fuel injectors spray fuel into the engine’s combustion chamber. If the O-rings that seal the fuel injectors deteriorate or become damaged, they can cause fuel to leak into the engine compartment causing a strong fuel smell. Your car will also run rough if this is happening.

Clamps and connections

The various connections, hose clamps, and fittings in the fuel system can degrade, corrode, or loosen over time. This can result in fuel seeping out from the joints or connections, especially in older vehicles. Regular wear and tear can cause these components to lose their effectiveness and lead to fuel leaks.

Here is a video to better explain in detail all of the components involved in your fuel system:

3. Evaporative Emissions System (EVAP) Issue

The EVAP system in your Ford Explorer is designed to capture and store gasoline vapors to prevent them from escaping into the atmosphere. If there’s a problem with the EVAP system, it could lead to gasoline vapors being released, causing a strong gas odor.

Common issues include a loose or damaged gas cap, a malfunctioning canister purge valve, a malfunctioning vent valve, or a leak in the EVAP system’s hoses or components. Sometimes it can be difficult to find where the leak is; however, your check engine light might help you in your search for the gas smell if its related to the EVAP system. You may get one of these two codes if you:

  • P0456 means there is a small leak detected in the EVAP system
  • P0455 means there is a large leak detected in the EVAP system

Sometimes it can be difficult to locate these leaks, and if you take it to a repair shop, they may use a machine to fill the system with smoke to find the leak. Here is a video of what that looks like:

4. Exhaust System Issues

While the primary purpose of your Ford Explorer’s exhaust system is to safely move the exhaust gases produced from the engine to the outside, certain problems might lead to a noticeable gasoline type of odor.

In fact, Ford was facing a lawsuit pushing for a recall on certain model years with a known exhaust leak exposing exhaust into the cabin for model years between 2016-2017. These are some issues related to the exhaust system that may expose you to a gasoline-smelling scent on your Ford Explorer:

Exhaust Leaks

Exhaust leaks can occur if there are cracks, holes, or loose connections in the exhaust components, including the exhaust manifold, catalytic converter, exhaust pipes, or muffler. When an exhaust leak is present, it might create a mixed odor of exhaust gases similar to a gasoline odor in the vicinity of the vehicle.

Catalytic Converter Issue

The catalytic converter is a crucial part of the exhaust system that helps reduce harmful emissions. If the catalytic converter becomes damaged or begins to fail, it may not effectively burn off unburned fuel in the exhaust gases. As a result, the unburned fuel can pass through the exhaust system, leading to a gasoline smell in the vehicle’s vicinity.

Improper Fuel Combustion

In some cases, a problem with the engine’s fuel injection system or ignition system can lead to incomplete combustion of gasoline. When this happens, unburned fuel can enter the exhaust system and contribute to a gasoline odor in the vehicle’s exhaust system. Your car will also run rough.

Aging Exhaust Components

Over time, the exhaust system’s components may deteriorate due to corrosion, rust, or general wear and tear. This aging can result in weakened seals, leaks, or damage to the exhaust system, potentially allowing exhaust gases to be smelled similar to a gasoline odor.

5. Overfilled Gas Tank

If you’ve ever been traveling long distances, you might be tempted to fill your gas tank to the absolute brim and push a few extra clicks in at the pump. While this does get you some extra miles before you need to fill again, it can cause a temporary gas odor due to spillage and even potentially damage your evap system. Luckily, this can be avoided.

When you overfill your Ford Explorer, you may notice a puddle of gasoline begins to form underneath from too much gas. This can leave residual gasoline in the area, on the car, and may be the reason you smell gas.

Also, when you overfill your tank, it can cover the vapor intake hole with gasoline, which can then go into the charcoal canister. If a charcoal canister is absorbed with gasoline, it could cause a gasoline odor. This also damages the canister and possibly other parts of the system. This could turn your check engine light on and end up costing you money in having to replace components.

Should You Worry About Your Ford Explorer Smelling Like Gas?

Experiencing a strong gasoline odor in any vehicle can be a cause for concern and requires immediate attention. While the smell of gas itself is unpleasant, it’s essential to understand that this odor may be a sign of various issues, some of which can pose safety risks.

Gasoline is highly flammable, and the presence of gasoline fumes in the cabin or the surrounding environment can create a significant fire hazard. Ignition sources like electrical sparks, open flames, or even hot engine components can potentially lead to a much more serious problem.

Closing Thoughts

While there are a few different reasons why your Ford Explorer might smell like gas, all of them shouldn’t be taken lightly.

The first action you can take is to do a simple visual inspection to at least potentially find the problem and understand the severity. You should be serious in addressing this concern as it will make for a safer and more reliable vehicle.

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