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White Smoke From Your Exhaust? 7 Possible Causes

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Smoke from your car is never a good sign, regardless of color. 
That said, thin white smoke on a colder day isn’t something to worry about. It’s just condensation. 

But a significant issue may need repairing if you’ve noticed thick white smoke from your car’s exhaust. 

Is it the head gasket? 
Or is it a cracked cylinder head? 

Below, we’ll go through seven leading causes of white smoke from the car exhaust. We’ll also answer some commonly asked questions about exhaust smoke in the FAQ section

This Article Contains: 

Let’s get straight to it.

7 Reasons White Smoke Is Coming From Your Exhaust 

Your cars exhaust can emit white fumes for various reasons, and not all are reasons for panic.  

Vehicles often produce thin white smoke caused by water vapor and condensation in the exhaust pipe. 

However, if it’s not condensation, white exhaust smoke is typically caused by an engine coolant leak. This could mean a coolant leakage — going from the coolant system into the combustion chamber. Coolant leaks commonly occur due to a cracked engine block or a breach in the head gasket.

Let’s dive a little deeper. 
Here are seven reasons why white smoke from the exhaust might happen: 

1. Head Gasket Failure 

A head gasket failure is a prominent cause of white exhaust smoke.

The head gasket is located between the cylinder head and the engine block. A breach can cause coolant leakage, exposing coolant to the high pressure and temperatures of the combustion chamber. This causes white smoke to be emitted from the cars exhaust. 

That’s why fixing or replacing the head gasket is essential. Contact a professional if your gasket is giving you problems. 

Note: Don’t confuse the intake manifold gasket with the head gasket. The former located between the intake manifold and cylinder head.

2. Air In The Cooling System 

Air pockets within the cooling system can cause thick white smoke from your exhaust pipe and are closely related to a gasket failure. Air in the cooling system could indicate that your head gasket is blown. 

Air pockets could also lead to a low coolant level, as more coolant is sucked in from the reservoir to replace the air. A low coolant level, in turn, can cause your car to overheat and emit more smoke than necessary. 

3. Low Coolant Level 

We know that white smoke from the exhaust pipe is almost always caused by a blown head gasket, leading to a loss of internal coolant

But is that the only way your car can run out of coolant? 
Definitely not. 

A loss of coolant can also happen when the hoses, valves, and junctions in your engine are damaged or corroded. A split heater box or a cracked radiator tank can also cause your internal coolant levels to drop. 

Keep an eye on your temperature gauge if your car emits more thin white smoke than usual. 

4. Foam In The Coolant 

A principal cause of white smoke emissions is engine oil mixing with your coolant. This mixture forms an oily foam that manifests through car exhaust byproducts.

So, how does engine oil get into the coolant? 

Interestingly, engine oil can mix with your coolant when high-pressure combustion introduces exhaust pipe fumes near the lubrication boundary of the cooling circuit. This is more prominent in older cars with much more mileage on the clock. 

5. Your Car Is Overheating 

White smoke, or any smoke in general, being overly emitted from your exhaust system is usually a problem that goes hand-in-hand with an engine overheating. 

A highly effective cooling system is required to prevent engine overheating. But when the coolant level is low, the car will heat up quickly and emit more (white) exhaust smoke than usual.

6. Cracked Cylinder Head

A cracked cylinder head exhibits almost all of the same symptoms as a blown head gasket and, mainly, the emission of white exhaust smoke. 

Several coolant passages run through the cylinder head. A crack in the cylinder head could cause coolant to leak into your car’s combustion chamber, which would (you guessed it) cause white smoke emissions. 

7. Low Fuel Octane

In many cases, a blown head gasket can be caused by a lower fuel octane. The octane rating of fuel demonstrates its ability to withstand compression in the internal combustion system of an engine.

Fuel with a low octane rating is more likely to detonate at higher rates. This causes the head gasket to fail and an outpouring of thick white smoke. Generally, you’ll want to look for an octane level of 87, as that’s the octane figure that most gasoline cars are designed to run on.

Now that you know what’s causing white smoke from your car exhaust let’s go through the FAQ section. 

6 FAQs About White Smoke From Exhaust 

Here are answers to commonly asked questions about exhaust emissions:

1. How To Diagnose White Smoke From The Exhaust?

Here are a few pointers to help with diagnosing the smoke coming from your exhaust:

  1. Identify when smoke is coming from the exhaust: Is exhaust smoke pouring out when you start the car, when you’re stationary, or when you’re accelerating? 
  1. Determine what kind of smoke it is: Pay close attention to the color of the smoke, as grey, blue, black, and white exhaust smoke are all caused by different things. Is it thick or thin white smoke?
  1. Take the condition of your car into account: If you have an old car, thick white smoke might be caused by the corrosion of valves and hoses in the engine. If you have a relatively new car, white smoke might be caused by something more serious, like a cracked cylinder head. 

The answers to the ‘when,’ ‘what,’ and ‘car condition’ points will help your mechanic zero in on the root cause.

2. How Serious Of A Problem Is White Smoke From The Exhaust?

White smoke coming from your exhaust system is a moderately severe problem. It depends on the cause of the emissions. If there is a low coolant level, this can easily be rectified and refilled. Corrosion of hoses and valves is also a relatively easy problem to fix.

However, if you have a blown head gasket or a cracked cylinder head, you should seek professional help to repair or replace the damaged parts. 

3. What Does Black Smoke From The Exhaust Mean?

Black exhaust smoke typically indicates that your gasoline or diesel engine car is burning excessive fuel. This often results from faulty fuel injectors, causing the fuel mix to run rich, with less air or more fuel in the combustion chamber.

Fuel injector replacement isn’t easy, so it’s best to contact a professional to get the job done.

4. What Does Grey Smoke From The Exhaust Mean?

Grey smoke is a complex problem to diagnose, as many consider the grey smoke from their exhaust routine. Excessive or thick grey exhaust smoke commonly indicates a problem with the engine’s automatic transmission fluid.

Grey smoke could also mean the engine is burning oil inside the combustion chamber. 

5. What Does Blue Smoke From The Exhaust Mean?

Blue exhaust smoke often means too much engine oil, caused by an oil leak, is burning in the combustion system. Excess burning oil could be caused by worn engine components like a piston ring or PCV (positive crankcase ventilation) valves.

Blue exhaust smoke is a more severe problem than white smoke, and a burning oil smell often accompanies it. 

Tip: Place an oil pan under your vehicle if you notice an oil leak to capture the escaping oil. 

6. What Should I Do If I See White Smoke Coming From The Exhaust?

It’s recommended that you stop driving your car. Driving when you see an outpouring of exhaust smoke can cause your car to overheat due to a coolant leak. This could severely damage many engine parts. 

But that’s not all.

Driving with a blown head gasket could also cause the engine to cease altogether. 
Reach out to a mechanic to check your coolant level and inspect the gasket, engine block, and fuel injectors for any damage. It’s best to check up on this early before having to buy a new car. 

Closing Thoughts 

White smoke from the exhaust system is a problem you should address ASAP. Don’t simply write it off as water vapor or condensation in the exhaust system.

If you need clarification on the problem, contacting a professional auto repair service like AutoNation Mobile Service might be your best call.

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