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Smoke! What Each Color Can Tell You

what does smoke from my car meanAny time you’re driving and see smoke coming from the tailpipe of your car, it’s likely to put you in panic mode. Yet, knowing what each color means may put your worries at ease. By identifying the color of the smoke, you might be able to determine what the cause is and if the issue could be serious, potentially dangerous, or if it’s something that needs attention, but is not critical.

Smoke coming from a vehicle’s tailpipe is usually a warning that something isn’t right. Any time you identify smoke in a gas-powered engine, you should consult with a technician immediately. Electric vehicles should never emit smoke as they do not burn gas or oil. Hybrids, however, have an electric motor and gas engine and an electric motor that could potentially emit smoke.

Combustible engines are made up of many components that perform a task to make the car move. The combustion chamber, is the area inside the engine where the fuel mixes with air and is then compressed and ignited, generally formed between the piston and the cylinder head which house the valves. Anything that the combustion chamber burns will be emitted out through the tailpipe. Anything that enters the combustion chamber, other than the proper amount and type of fuel and air is troublesome.


Here’s what you need to know if you see:

    • Water vapor – It’s normal. It isn’t smoke at all, actually. This comes from condensation building inside the exhaust system. It quickly dissipates into the air and there may even be a slow drip of water from the tailpipe.
    • White Smoke – Could indicate that coolant has penetrated the combustion chamber. Although coolant contains water, the white is from the coolant, as the water evaporates and becomes steam from the tailpipe. White smoke could indicate the head gasket is leaking, the cylinder head is cracked, or the engine block is cracked. Coolant smoke will often present itself before the vehicle overheats and often has a sweet smell. Once the engine begins to overheat, be sure to take the vehicle to a service center immediately. If the vehicle runs out of coolant, you run the risk of causing severe damage to the engine requiring extensive repairs and/or replacement.
    • Blue or Grey Smoke – Is indicative of burning engine oil. You may notice that your engine is consuming more oil but does not show any indication of a leak. This issue could spell trouble and needs to be taken to a trusted mechanic right away. Failure to do so could result in the engine seizing and needing complete replacement.
    • Black Smoke – This usually means the vehicle is burning an excessive amount of fuel which could be caused by a leaking fuel injector, defective carburetor, or the fuel pressure regulator diaphragm is cracked or broken. Your vehicle will receive poor gas mileage until this issue is resolved so it is best to have a technician inspect the vehicle immediately.

Diesel engine vehicles, however, seem to always emit a puff of black smoke. A large burst of black smoke will indicate that there is too much fuel to air ratio and will burn black, similar to a gas-powered engine.

The engine is a powerful component that needs care to keep it working properly. Frequent routine maintenance including oil changes and system flushes will help to ensure your engine lasts for many miles. White, vapor-like emissions are harmless while smoke of any color indicates trouble is abound. Don’t risk the potential damage to your vehicle by ignoring smoke coming from your vehicle. Take your vehicle to a trusted auto service provider.

Sun Auto Service is a family-owned and operated complete auto service provider that has been offering quality auto care for over 40 years. We guarantee our work in writing and don’t begin any work until we receive your authorization. We offer same day service, in most cases, and free towing with major repairs. Sun Auto Service is your dealership alternative. Our technicians are certified and knowledgeable and able to work on all makes and models of most cars and light trucks. We’re always available to answer any questions you may have. Contact one of our many locations to talk to any of our friendly Service Consultants anytime!