Why Is There Smoke Billowing From Your Car

Charlotte Miller

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All vehicles are temperamental, whether it’s a brand spanking new Volvo XC60 or a ten year-old Toyota Corolla jalopy, you’re bound to run into some sort of car problems at some point in your life. Cars generally emit some smoke when starting up, especially if they’ve been turned off and parked overnight, and they can occasionally vent some steam from their engine bays, especially during cold or rainy weather. Both of these are normal occurrences, as as the car’s engine and other components start to get hot, the water and condensation that has formed inside the cars bits and pieces, begins to vaporize.

It’s when your car billows out smoke from its engine bay and/or tailpipe in copious amounts when you should be concerned. Sometimes the problem could be minor but it’s often otherwise, in either case, the issue itself and the severity of the issue, can be difficult to determine yourself. The color of the smoke coming from the car can give you an indication of what the problem could be, however, giving you a better idea of whether or not you should drive your car to a service center or mechanic, or get the car towed.

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What To Do If Your Car Starts Smoking

If your car starts smoking while you’re driving it, your best course of action will be to pull over and stop the car as soon as possible, and from there, you will need to determine:

  • where the smoke is coming from
  • when the smoke is appearing
  • what the color of the smoke is
  • if its an overheating or oil issue
  • whether to drive on or get it towed

What The Different Color Smoke Could Indicate

Identifying the color of the smoke billowing from your vehicle’s engine or tailpipe can help you determine what the issue could potentially be with your car. Here are the various colors of smoke your car could emit and the potential issues each color could be an indication of: 

  • White Smoke – Wispy white smoke seeping out from under the hood could just be steam, but could also be coolant that;s leaking onto/into the engine from a blown radiator hose. If there are clouds of white smoke billowing from the tailpipe, it could be coolant leaking into a broken engine head gasket or other component. Your engine block could also be cracked or the cylinder heads damaged.
  • Grey Smoke – A thick cloud of grey smoke coming from your exhaust is an indication that your car is burning oil that is leaking into or around the engine. If the oil is leaking into the combustion chamber, it could lead to your catalytic converter being damaged, and your car’s mileage will definitely drop. An oil leak can be caused by a malfunctioning valve stem seal or failed piston rings.
  • Black Smoke – Cars usually push out some black smoke on start up, but if black smoke is continuously spewing out the tailpipe it could mean that your air filter is very dirty or even clogged, your fuel pressure regulator is faulty, and/or your fuel injector is leaking or clogged. All of these potential problems will also lead to severely reduced mpg returns. 
  • Blue Smoke – Your car is most certainly burning oil if the smoke from your exhaust pipe is a bluish or dark grey hue. It’s likely that the oil is leaking into the engine’s combustion chamber and is being burned with the fuel. If your car is misfiring or shuddering more than usual when idle, this is likely the case. Causes could also include malfunctioning PCV valves, damaged valve seals, and worn piston rings and pistons.

Potential issues could also differ between cars that are equipped with manual and automatic transmissions. Performance models could also present their own host of problems. 

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The Potential Consequences

If your car starts smoking and you don’t immediately take it to a professional mechanic or service center to be repaired, whatever the issue may be will likely only get worse. Continue driving your car and it will likely lead to severe or even irreparable damage to its engine and other vital components. There’s no telling by just how much you’ll be running up your future repair bill. At the very least, your car’s acceleration performance will begin to deteriorate and its fuel economy will certainly take a hit. 

So, if you do notice that your car is beginning to emit an abnormal amount of smoke or smoke that is an odd color, rather take it in for a professional to review and repair, the cost will be worth it especially in comparison to the problems and costs you’ll incur if you don’t.