The Smelly Car

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"The Smelly Car"
Seinfeld episode
Episode no.Season 4
Episode 21
Directed byTom Cherones
Written byLarry David and Peter Mehlman
Production code422
Original air dateApril 15, 1993
Guest appearance(s)

Heidi Swedberg as Susan
Michael Des Barres as Restaurateur
Nick Bakay as Carl
Kari Coleman as Allison
Taylor Negron as Hairdresser
Courtney Gains as Clerk
Raf Mauro as Car Washer
Viveka Davis as Mona

Episode chronology
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"The Junior Mint"
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Seinfeld (season 4)
List of Seinfeld episodes

"The Smelly Car" is the 61st episode of the sitcom Seinfeld. The episode was the 21st episode of the fourth season. It aired on April 15, 1993.


After dinner, Jerry and Elaine discover a strong smell of body odor in Jerry's BMW 5 Series, assumed to have been left by a valet who was tasked with parking it. After they endure an unpleasant drive to the home of Elaine's boyfriend Carl (Nick Bakay), Carl is offended by the smell of Elaine's hair when they embrace. He tells her he has to get up early, so she does not spend the night.

George and Kramer return a video; at the video store, he admires two women who are holding hands. George is astounded when they turn around and one is his ex-girlfriend, Susan, who tells George she converted to lesbianism shortly after they broke up. Meanwhile, Kramer practices his golf swing with a broom in front of Susan's girlfriend, Mona, a golf instructor. She is clearly amused by him. The clerk tells George that he has to pay a $2 fee because he didn't rewind the tape. Kramer suggests it would be cheaper to keep the video, rewind it himself, and return it the next day.

Kramer comments that Jerry and Elaine have absorbed the body odor from the car. Elaine realizes the odor is the reason Carl didn't spend the night with her. Jerry demands that the restaurant share the cost of cleaning the car. The restaurant maître d' (Michael Des Barres) refuses. Jerry locks him inside the car, not letting him out until he agrees to pay half of the $250 fee. George discovers someone stole the video out of the car while he and Jerry were inside the restaurant.

Mona is attracted to Kramer, which Jerry, Elaine and George cannot understand; she has never been with a man. This angers Susan, due to her dislike of Kramer, as well as George, who worries that he drove Susan to lesbianism. Feeling more attracted to her after finding this out, George attempts to woo Susan, and appears to be making progress. However, the two are approached in Monk's Café by George's ex, Allison (from the episode "The Outing"), who instantly establishes a mutual attraction with Susan.

After a complete "de-ionizing" of the car, Jerry discovers the stink is still there. Elaine goes to a hair salon to wash the smell out of her hair, but Carl tells her that she still smells. She finally resorts to dousing her hair in tomato sauce. Jerry tries to sell the car, but the dealer claims he cannot sell it. Kramer's relationship with Mona ends when she smells the odor on him - he had borrowed Jerry's jacket, which he was wearing in the car. Jerry tries abandoning the car, deliberately dropping the keys in plain view of a street hoodlum. The hood takes the keys and hops into the car, but is disgusted by the smell.[1]


Co-writer Peter Mehlman got the idea for the episode from the real-life experiences of a friend of his. According to Mehlman, the friend would frequently pitch him ideas for episodes, none of which were even close to being good enough to use, but on this occasion the friend was simply complaining about the ordeal, at which point Mehlman immediately decided that it would be perfect for the show.

Amy McWilliams remarks that this is an example of many episodes that are "open-ended": it lacks "a traditional resolution completely, as when the viewer is simply left with a final comic shot of a street hoodlum wrinkling his nose as he tries to steal 'The Smelly Car'."[2]

Critical response[edit]

Linda S. Ghent, Professor in the Department of Economics at Eastern Illinois University, discusses this episode in view of its economic themes, specifically those of externality, the Coase theorem, and moral hazard. Ghent explains,

The external costs are large: the smell attaches itself to Jerry and Elaine, who have to resort to costly measures to cleanse themselves. Jerry attempts to recoup some of the damage by cleverly bargaining with the restaurant owner to cover the cost of cleaning the car. In the end, the cleaning is not enough, and Jerry leaves the car and keys in plain sight hoping it will be stolen, in which case the insurance company will bear the loss.[3]


  1. ^ "The Smelly Car". Retrieved August 6, 2012.
  2. ^ McWilliams, Amy (2006). "Genre Expectation and Narrative Innovation in Seinfeld". In Lavery, David; Dunne, Sara Lewis. Seinfeld, Master of Its Domain: Revisiting Television's Greatest Sitcom. New York: Continuum. p. 83. ISBN 0-826-41802-3.
  3. ^ "Seinfeld Economics: The Smelly Car". Critical Commons. Retrieved August 7, 2012.

External links[edit]