Smoke, no matter what the color, usually is a sign of something wrong, often a bad problem. Like other symptoms such as shaking, it’s isn’t diagnostic on its own. You need to pay attention to other factors to help you identify the cause and solution. That includes white smoke from the exhaust.
Different parts of your car engage at certain points when you drive. That fact can pinpoint where the issue lies. The first thing you need to do, therefore, is to determine if it occurs just when you start up, drive, or idle. The other thing to consider is whether it persists or dissipates.
Also, take note of any other symptoms, such as odd smells or noises. Often, the problems causing white smoke from the exhaust have other signs too. Many causes are fixable for the handy home mechanic. Others point to severe or even dangerous issues.
To be fair, there is a benign cause of white smoke from the exhaust. If you start your car during cold weather, you may see a brief burst of it because of the temperature difference and condensation. The keyword is brief because a lot depends on how long it lasts.
Another culprit is a damaged head gasket. If it keeps coming out of the exhaust but goes away quickly, it’s likely the issue.
The head gasket can break because of excessive pressure between the block and cylinder head. Wear can also take a toll. You may feel a lack of power before the white smoke. You may notice that your car is guzzling oil or coolant. Your vehicle may overheat too.
The part isn’t terribly expensive. You could pick one up for under $100. It’s the labor that will cost you since the mechanic will have to take apart the engine to get to it. The price can quickly go north of $1,000, depending on the make and model of your vehicle. Get an estimate before you commit to the job.
The job of the cylinder head is to vent the exhaust. If it cracks, your car will start to leak oil. You may see antifreeze pooling too since both flow through this component. You’ll likely detect that it’s running poorly and misfiring. The white smoke comes along before the final curtain call.
It’s not a cheap repair, costing several hundred dollars. Ironically, it is more for older vehicles which will have an iron one instead of the aluminum component you’ll find in newer cars. Have your mechanic check the next part too to play it safe.
Other causes are serious and require expert help. They are also costly repairs that will likely have you looking at used car values. One of the common reasons is a cracked engine block, perhaps due to overheating. Pay attention to the volume of smoke. If it’s bellowing out of the exhaust, pull over immediately and call for roadside assistance.
Coolant is likely leaking in the engine which is then burning and causing the smoke. You might detect a sweet smell in the air from the antifreeze. It may also occur while you’re driving. Suffice to say that if it is the problem, you’re better off looking at new car prices. The repair will probably cost more than the value of an older vehicle.
Some issues aren’t evident until the car warms up and is on the road. As you’re checking your rearview mirror when backing up or changing lanes, keep an eye out for smoke too.
Another possibility lies with the transmission. It may leak fluid which then gets sucked into the engine because of a bad vacuum modulator valve. Again, your senses can help you identify the problem. This problem will cause a burnt odor.
Your car will also have a hard time shifting. It may idle roughly. You may hear a whistling sound too. You’ll see the white smoke even when the car isn’t moving. Fortunately, it is a doable repair for the DIYer. The part runs under $100.
The fuel pump injector controls the flow of gasoline into the internal combustion chamber. If it goes bad, you’ll hear a loud noise coming from the engine. Your car will run rough along with the white smoke coming out of the exhaust. It is a potentially dangerous situation.
Both the part and labor are expensive. Definitely get an estimate first no matter what the age of your vehicle is. The repair is a pain for the mechanic too since they have to remove the tank to get to it. The costs are all across the board, depending on the make and model of your ride.
An oil leak is another possibility. A worn seal or gasket could cause the fluid to reach the internal combustion chamber. Your car will start blowing through oil. However, the real concern rests with the fact that it’s not lubricating the engine and other parts and is literally going up in smoke. While it may start white, it can also go to gray or even blue if the problem persists.
Like most car issues, the sooner you catch a problem, the better. It’s the same case with this one. It may run you less than $200 if it’s just a seal. But it can easily go to four figures if there is more damage. Worn piston rings are bad news since it’s usually a sign that you’ll need another engine.
In the best case scenario, white smoke from the exhaust isn’t a cause of concern. However, it is also a warning sign of some issues, many of which are serious and costly. Your best course of action is to get it to the shop ASAP. You will minimize the damage and avoid having to research used car values on Car Finder.