The Smelly Car

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"The Smelly Car"
Seinfeld episode
Episode no. Season 4
Episode 21
Directed by Tom Cherones
Written by Larry David and Peter Mehlman
Production code 422
Original air date April 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

Season 4 episodes
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. (For some reason, there is no cast credit for the valet and the answer is nowhere on the Internet.) 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 (and standing beside a cardboard display for A Few Good Men[1]). George is astounded when they turn around and one is his ex-girlfriend, Susan, now revealed to be bisexual.

Susan: And you didn't expect me to be holding hands with a woman.
George: Oh, please! Me? C'mon! That's great! Are you kidding? I think that's fantastic! I've always encouraged experimentation! I'm the first guy in the pool! Who do you think you're talking to?
Susan: I know who I'm talking to.
George: Of course you do. It's just, uh, y'know, I, I never knew, uh, that, uh...
Susan: I liked women?
George: There you go. So, uh, how long has this been going on?
Susan: Since you and I broke up.[1]

Meanwhile, in the background of this conversation, Kramer is practicing his golf swing with a broom in front of Susan's girlfriend, Mona, a golf instructor. She is clearly amused by him. George returns the video (Rochelle, Rochelle), but the clerk tells him that he has to pay a $2 fee because he didn't rewind the tape. George is upset, but Kramer tells him that it would be cheaper to keep the video and return it the next day.

At Jerry's apartment, Elaine asks, "When you're with a guy, and he tells you he has to get up early, what does that mean?" Jerry replies, "It means he's lying." When she is appalled, he temporizes, "Well, sometimes we do actually have to get up early, but a man will always trade sleep for sex."[1]

When Kramer enters, he comments on their body odor. Jerry blames the car's stink on the valet at the restaurant and is determined to demand that the restaurant share the cost of cleaning. He anthropomorphizes the smell: "Don't you see what's happening here? It's attached itself to me! It's alive! ... And it's destroying the lives of everyone in its path." Again, later: "This is not just an odor - you need a priest to get rid of this thing! ... It's a presence! It's The Beast!"[1] (Elaine remarks on this, later, to Carl: "Oh, man, just rampant, mutant B.O. The "O" went from the valet's "B", to the car, to me. It clings to everything. Jerry thinks it's an entity.")

The restaurant maître d' (Michael Des Barres) initially refuses to pay for car cleaning, but eventually agrees after Jerry locks him inside the car, refusing to let him out unless he pays half of the $250 price. Meanwhile, George discovers that someone stole the video out of the car while he and Jerry were inside the restaurant.

Mona seems to be 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 even more attracted to her after finding this out, George attempts to woo Susan, and appears to be making progress. However, despite his best efforts, the two are approached in Monk's Café by George's ex, Allison (from the episode "The Outing") - and after introducing them to one another, he can only sigh as the two women exchange amorous glances.

After a complete "de-ionizing" of the car, Jerry discovers the stink is still there. Meanwhile, Elaine decides to go to a hair salon to wash the smell out of her hair, despite having already taken a thorough shower, and (believing that the smell has gone away) tries to restart her relationship with Carl. He, however, tells her that she still smells.

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, even though he was never in the car - but he had borrowed Jerry's jacket, which was the same one he was wearing in the car. When it cannot be sold, Jerry ends up abandoning the car and its keys out on the street just to get rid of it. A young man sees this, seizes the keys, and hops into the car, but is also disgusted by the smell.

The episode ends with a monologue by Jerry: "Why do we need B.O.? What is the function of it? Everything in nature has a reason, has a purpose, except B.O. Doesn't make any sense - do something good, hard work, exercise, smell very bad. This is the way the human being is designed. You move, you stink. Why can't our bodies help us? Why can't sweat smell good?"[1][2]


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'."[3]

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.[4]


  1. ^ a b c d e "The Smelly Car". Retrieved August 6, 2012. 
  2. ^ Bering, Jesse (May 13, 2009). "Armpit Psychology: The Science of Body Odor Perception". Scientific American. Retrieved August 7, 2012. One of the most important target chemicals believed to play a role in modulating people's attraction toward others is called androstadienone, a compound found in axillary secretions. When women are exposed to this 'chemosignal,' it activates regions of their brains associated with attention, social cognition, emotional processing and sexual behavior. The effects of androstadienone on female arousal were clearly documented in a 2008 article in the journal Hormones and Behavior. 
  3. ^ 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. 
  4. ^ "Seinfeld Economics: The Smelly Car". Critical Commons. Retrieved August 7, 2012. 

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