What to Do If Your Car is Smoking

A Mercedes Benz covered in smoke

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It’s one situation that no one wants to deal with. You’re driving down the road, minding your own business, and all of a sudden your car or truck starts putting off smoke. Your first response might be to panic, thinking your car is on fire. But there could be something more sinister at work. What should you do if your car is smoking?

Where Is the Smoke Coming From?

First, don’t panic.

Panicking won’t help anyone and may end up with you crashing your smoking vehicle. Start by figuring out where the smoke is coming from. Is it emanating from under the hood or emitting from the tailpipe? Does it get worse as you accelerate and drop off as you hit the brakes? This step is important. Where the smoke is coming from and how it behaves will determine how you address it.

It’s important to note that you usually won’t get smoke from under the hood unless there’s a problem. It could be something as simple as a leaky valve cover gasket or something as dangerous as a fire in the engine bay. The majority of the time, if you see smoke, it will be coming from the exhaust.

What Color Is the Smoke?

Next, what color is the smoke? The smoke’s color can point you in the direction of the problem. For example:

  • Black smoke can indicate a clogged air filter, clogged fuel injectors or a bad fuel pressure regulator. If your engine’s air/fuel mixture is off dramatically, you’ll see black smoke coming from the exhaust.
  • White smoke can be a sign of a blown head gasket, a damaged cylinder head or a cracked engine block. White smoke indicates that there is condensation or water in your engine.
  • Blue or gray smoke could indicate that your valve stem seals or piston rings have failed. Blue or gray smoke in your exhaust means your engine is burning oil.

The smoke in your exhaust or under your hood is a language in its own right. Knowing how to decipher the colors can help you figure out what your next steps should be.

What Should You Do?

Now that you know what color smoke your engine is issuing and where the smoke is coming from, your next step is to troubleshoot potential causes based on that information.

When a car is smoking. most of the causes are fairly easy to troubleshoot. White smoke from the exhaust, for example, likely indicates a blown head gasket. Look at your car and see if it’s showing any of the other symptoms of this problem, such as overheating or coolant in the oil. If this is the case, then you know what you need to do to fix it.

If it’s not showing these symptoms, it could indicate a more serious problem like a cracked engine block or damaged cylinder head.

Moving Forward

Finding smoke in your exhaust or under your hood isn’t the end of the world. It could be something simple, like a clogged air filter or a leaky valve cover gasket. Don’t disregard this smoke, though, especially if it’s white. That could indicate a serious problem that will get more expensive to fix the longer you ignore it.

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