Car Smoking from Exhaust Pipe?

types of exhaust smoke Do you have smoke coming out of your exhaust? Evidently many TrustMyMechanic fans do, because this is one of the most frequent “Help!” messages I get…followed by:

What does it mean?
How alarmed should I be?
Is it safe to drive my car to work?
What in the world is THIS going to cost me???

After I talk them down from the ledge, I take them through a series of questions to help determine what is going on. A smoke-producing tailpipe is never what you want to see happening to your car, but it doesn’t always mean that there is something serious wrong with your engine.

First, watch the exhaust with the car running to determine the color of the smoke. There are three types of smoke your car may be producing: white, blue, and black, and you can get a lot of information just from the color.

White Smoke

White smoke is produced when antifreeze and/or water leaks inside the engine cylinder, where the gasoline is being compressed and burned. The smoke is actually steam caused when this coolant gets burned up with the fuel. Any amount of coolant present in the cylinder will produce this white smoke, which will get exhausted out the tailpipe.

If it’s white smoke you are seeing, examine the radiator and overflow container to find out if you have the right amount of antifreeze. Then check your engine oil dipstick and the underside of the oil cap for signs of antifreeze contaminating your oil. Your oil will look like a chocolate milkshake if it’s got antifreeze mixed in with the oil.

If you see any evidence of antifreeze in your engine oil, DO NOT start the engine. Your car probably has a blown head gasket allowing the fluid to leak in, and you can cause serious (expensive!) engine damage by running the engine. The head gasket usually fails because of excessive heat and pressure when the engine overheats. You will need to repair the head gasket and determine/repair the cause of the initial engine overheating before you can drive this car.

If you are dealing with white smoke, don’t miss this video with invaluable information on your problem and how you can save thousands on this kind of repair.

Blue Smoke

Blue smoke is created when oil leaks into the engine cylinder where the gasoline is being compressed and burned. As with the coolant causing white smoke, any amount of oil in the cylinder will cause blue smoke from the exhaust.

There are several gaskets, seals, and O-rings that can fail and allow oil to get inside the engine cylinder. This kind of oil leak is fairly common in higher mileage cars just from the wear these parts have experienced.

Unlike white smoke, you can continue to drive a car with blue smoke without causing immediate damage to the engine. A common remedy is to put in heavier weight engine oil and a special oil additive that can help reduce the oil’s ability to leak into the cylinder.

Excessive oil in the cylinder will foul the spark plug and cause the engine to miss or “misfire.” If this occurs, you will have to clean or possibly replace this spark plug.

Black Smoke

Black smoke is produced by excessive fuel in the engine cylinder. If the car is letting too much gasoline into the cylinder, the engine can’t use it all as fuel fast enough, and the excess gasoline causes this black smoke as it heats and burns. Your car is said to be “running rich” and of course results in pretty bad fuel mileage.

Even though it is the scariest to see, black smoke is actually the least cause of alarm. But, before driving the car again, check the oil dipstick and cap (like I mentioned before with white smoke) to make sure the gasoline hasn’t contaminated your oil. If there is gasoline in the oil, the oil won’t change color but will be much thinner and more “watery” than it should be, and you should be able to detect a raw fuel odor. DO NOT start the engine if there is any indication of fuel in the oil or you can cause internal damage and possibly catch your engine on fire (yes, I learned that the hard way).

There are several parts that may have failed to allow the excess fuel in the engine cylinder. You may have a faulty fuel injector, a damaged fuel pump, or a carburetor problem. It can also be a malfunction in the car’s computer or a computer sensor. You will need to have the car repaired to correct the cause of the smoke and odor, poor fuel mileage,and sluggish engine performance, but as long as the fuel hasn’t leaked into your oil, you can still drive the car until you can get this done.

I hope that this information has been helpful to you in determining the type and possible cause of the smoke coming out of your exhaust system. Make sure to pass on everything you have already determined about the problem and symptoms to your mechanic to aid in his quick diagnosis and repair of the car.


Austin Davis

Posted in: Oil Leaks

About the Author:

Austin Davis, consumer car repair advocate. "Hi there! I love to help people solve their car repair problems and I hope my site was helpful to you today. Thank you for stopping by."
  • Jack

    05 Sentra rough start, white smoke for about 1 minute then it settles and stops smoking. Never overheated and drives great. Could it be the head gasket?

  • Throttle position sensor

  • Allington Tasara

    hi I got a Nissan fb13 that is bringing out a blue smoke. how best can I resolve this problem. please help me out

  • Autum Garner

    I have a 1990 Toyota Corolla and for a while my brake light had been on and of course I checked to make sure my emergency brake was off and it was but my light was still on up until yesterday when I move the car into my driveway lifted up the emergency brake parked it turn it off did what I had to do and then before backing out I put the emergency brake down and the light turned off but now my car is producing so much white smoke from the tailpipe and is shaking like crazy does this mean that all this time I’ve been driving with emergency brake on even though the emergency brake has been down or what could be the cause of my car producing so much smoke from the tailpipe and smelling like gas and shaking so violently

  • Deborah Paschall

    I want to talk to someone about my classic car. Its a 1986 camero z28 iroc and I’ve had the car 29 years since 1989 when I purchased it. In 2008 I had the car painted due to fading and new weather stripping put car new t top overhead the brakes worked on a jasper transmission and cd player as well as one locks fixed and new hatchback motor. I just got a new battery and Antigue tags for it July 2017. Wal-Mart worked car Dec 2 2017 they put fuel injection cleaner in the gas tank. They also recommend this other shop saying car idling too fast and since they didn’t do that kind work they have me business card other shop. I took the car to them on Dec 7th 2017. They told me the 02 sensor was bad and they replaced that and they put throttle body cleaner in it. But my car doesn’t have throttle body its fuel injected. They put a zip tie on the car keep it idling too fast and said they néeded order a throttle positioning sensor for it. They were suppose call me when it came in. They were also gonna fix a Oil leak up front and put new plugs and wires on it. When they hadn’t called me by Dec 14 2017 I called them. I was told the part was there but they wasn’t gonna work my car now due me being disabled not needing it work me having multiple vehicles and it being an antique. I should took my business elsewhere but I didn’t but sure wish I had. On Jan 7th 2018 I drove the car around block twice when I pulled the car into my metal garage smoke was inside the car drifing from the rear. I let my window down thinking smoke was from the muffler but when I got out and walked pass the rear drivers side of the car the fiberglass bumper that side car was on fire. By time I had call 911 twice and move a car from other side garage the hatchback was destroyed along side windows t tops and half windshield destroying all of the interior. One day when I started the car there was black smoke coming from the tailpipe and now the oil smells like gas. The last time oil checked it didn’t smell like gas. I know the people who work car and put these chemicals in it are to blame. I blame both places who touched my camero in Dec. Everyone I talk to says their to blame as well. I want your opinion as to what you think happen to my car. I know in my heart that those people who work on it Dec are to blame and I will be live it till day I die. Am 61 years old and have had that car 29 years half my life. Am devastated. The car was the worst but my garage was also damaged in the fire. Am really upset. People shouldn’t be allow work someone car if they don’t know what doing and if they start work on it and then refuss to work on it after they order the part saying their waiting for reasons I mention up above and then you go on their Facebook account and they have vintage car in their shop and the caption reads always happy to have vintage cars in our shop. Well my vintage car is burnt.their stupid zip tie is still on my camero. The engine didn’t catch fire its still intact and the car is standing on its tires as well. Thanks Deborah

  • Jeff Keil

    water in the oil, will be a milky color

  • duckduckgoose

    Our mechanic is recommending a catch can filter be added to our diesel Kia pregio after we had a incident in which at around 120kph smoke (black I think) started pouring out the back of the car and the engine made a very high rev whine. We pulled over and took the keys out the ignition and it took at least 20 seconds to turn off completely. He says that our piston rings are a bit warn and as a result some oil is being sucked back into the engine. Will this catch can alleviate the problem or should something else be done? Thanks.

  • Adeyemi

    I just changed my head gasket and my car is bringing out white smoke im really confused, the idle also fluctuates badly , what do I do

  • nathan

    I need help iv got a client who’s car only starts smoking after 120kmh his not pushing the car hard driving very nice there is no power loss but after 120kmh the car starts smoking so bad that you cant even see behind the car its like a mix white black smoke I checked the oil from the dipstick when I put it on toilet paper the oil go’s funny like I don’t know thin but not milky but very lite and on the paper it looks like the oil and something else is separating and is very lite coloured on the paper any ideas??

  • tony gallegos

    i also have white smoke coming from 1999 Mazda Protoge lx 1.9.
    It does not lose antifreeze or oil. I have been driving and checking everyday for the last week. It does not overheat and the spark plugs are not wet. there is no check engine light either. I have not noticed any power loss but sometimes while driving on the freeway it feels like a miss fire but that’s once in a blue moon. as soon as i start the car it starts smoking. its a thick white smoke and stays that way while at idle. when i start to drive it has thick white smoke when i”m pressing on the gas. when i let go of the pedal it stops but starts smoking while at idle. once i get going it smokes for a little then stops. after driving about 2 miles on the freeway it completely stops smoking. the longest i tried waiting to start it is about 9 hours after the first drive. it does start smoking again but as before it goes away. sometimes ive let it sit for 5 hours and at lunch i start it and it doesnt smoke. any suggestions? it does have a strong odor too. cant tell if its exhaust or maybe fuel?

  • crissy

    Hi I have a 2006 Chevy Malibu my car is smoking black from the tailpipe is it safe to drive?

  • Sammi Lee Murphy

    Ho there I have a ford laser 2001 hatchback it’s blowing white smoke out but only when it’s starting up and it smells like it’s burning but then stops and as I drive up hills in 5th gear (manual) she starts dragging and chugging I’ve put my hand behind the exhaust it’s got black residue and fuel splatter on it can u help me

  • Dmetriss

    My 2000 cadillac deville over heats now and then has a code of p0410 and smokes white smoke. After driving a while it stops smoking and temp has gone up but not in the red. Is this a head gasket failure issue.

  • Sue johnson

    I have major problem! I spent $6,000 on repairs new fuel injectors, new fuel pump, new everything possible in the fuel area and can not pass my inspection. Black smoke still coming out! I live in Costa Rica and no such thing as mechanic liable..thanks Sue Johnson

  • Petra Tafoya

    what if I haven’t noticed overheating

  • Tatenda

    Hi Austin, im from Zimbabwe and my vehicle is a Mazda MPV 2006. Im having the same problem of white smoke coming out after i have started my car. Sometimes its continous and at times it will go away after a few minutes of driving. please help, what could be the problem?

  • Blue smoke is due to excessive internal wear inside the engine allowing engine oil inside the cylinder and getting on the spark plugs. Not much you can do besides remove the cylinder heads and get a valve job.

    Using thicker weight engine oil or an oil additive like “Engine Restore” might slow down the consumption and oil loss. Also make sure the PCV (positive crankcase ventilation) system is working.

  • ellias mfula

    My Toyota chaser 1G engine is giving out blue smoke what should I do.

  • Austin Davis

    Hummmm, you got me. are you sure the smoke is white? Usually white is from burning coolant…is the radiator full? I wonder if the PCV system is stopped up, I don’t recall if you have a replaceable PCV valve or not….but might be worth while checking….ok, looks like it does

    I would start with replacing the valve and see what happens. The PCV system is how the engine breathes, and if stopped up it builds up too much pressure internally in the engine which can damage internal seals and orings.

  • chris

    My 1999 vw golf has oil light on so topped it up with oil now white smoke coming from tail gate also a burning smell of oil but when I take the air filter off the smoke stops????

  • Austin Davis

    I am not much of a diesel mechanic, sorry. I would get a cooling system pressure test to rule out a possible internal coolant leak though. You said there are no leaks, but just a small coolant seep can cause this smoke. If no leaks, could be an injector pump issue or an injector itself. You really need to see a real diesel mechanic to investigate further…sorry.

  • Can you advise please I have 7 seater galaxy diesel 99 and it keeps smoking from exhaust it’s white / grey colour have changed head gas: and head not warped not losing water not sure why it smoking. Thanking you in advance for any advise.

  • Austin Davis

    Usually a valve stem seal is the culprit….but that is just a guess without pulling the cylinder head for inspection and doing a compression test on all cylinders. Depending on how many overall miles are on this engine, it might not be a good financial decision to spend more money on overhauling it???

  • Tichaona

    I have a Toyota Harrier 1MZ engine, which produces a bluish smoke on start up everytime the car is idle for over an hour. I had the piston rings and valve stem seals changed (no sleeving was done) and the problem persisted. The other problem is oil level goes down and I have had to top up oil all the time. Please help.

  • Austin Davis

    Sorry for my delay Ken, been swamped with questions lately. BLUE smoke is usually due to burning engine oil inside the cylinder (s) so I would probably start with pulling the spark plugs, and looking for a plug(s) that are black with engine oil, then on those cylinders do a compression test to see if the compression in those cylinders matches the others. Using thicker weight engine oil might help slow down the oil burning, as well as making sure the PCV system is working properly and allowing the engine to breathe.

  • ken

    i reside in Kenya in Eastern Africa Region.
    my 1997 Mitsubishi galant (GDI)runs just fine.
    However recently there is blue smoke with a slight choking smell out of the tail pipe that comes and goes.
    recently i was travelling for a long distance and at some point the car could not accelerate(engine miss if i could call it so).
    after arrival and parking overnight i traveled the same distance back home with no hitches at all.
    kindly would you assist me in knowing what might be wrong.
    your support is highly appreciat

  • Austin Davis

    Thanks Dave!

    Did you have to add any coolant to the radiator? Do you have any engine oil leaks that might be running down on the hot engine producing smoke under the hood? How about the brakes? I have seen front brake calipers stick and cause the pads to stick to the brake rotors while you are driving and cause the pads to overheat…and produce smoke and a strong odor. Check to make sure one of the 4 wheels is not significantly hotter than the others after you have driven around for a while.

  • Dave Snider

    Hi Mr. Davis,

    I’ve got a quick question.
    We’ve I got a 2002 F-150 4×4 with about 145,000 miles.
    It runs great and has been very loyal to us. Lately, after a ride around town running errands or going out to dinner, we come home and pull into the garage. I step out of the truck and the 2 car garage is filled with lots of white exhaust smoke. It appears fine when we’re driving around and every year it passes inspection with flying colors. Would you have an idea why I step out into a cloud of smoke when I exit the vehicle? I will check the radiator fluid after I send this question to you.

    Thanks for your time and knowledge.


  • Austin Davis

    Sure thing Robert, although before you do anything get a cooling system pressure test to rule out an EXTERNAL leak. I get tons of emails each day about headgaskets and more than half are NOT a head gasket problem. I have two videos here I want you to watch.

    Let me know if you need more help


  • robert

    I have a headgasket leak, would like to know your great alternative to costly repair.

    I have a 2000 honda civic with over 230,000 miles. I lose about a quart or more of radiator fluid about once a week. I do notice white smoke every time I start up, but it (majority) of smoke disappears after 2 minutes of warmup. on warmup I have to slightly press the gas, otherwise I will have misfiring, I think this is cause I have radiator fluid in one or more of the cylinders, after warm up the car runs fine and idles regularly around 675-760rpm. hope to get this car to last another 12 months, so I can save enough for a downpayment on another car. would love to know your alternative repair method, thanks

  • Austin Davis

    Hi Charles,

    Hummmm, sounds weird for sure. 160,000 on one of the vehicles does not concern me too much they are well built and have a great service record. The mifire code, yes it can be a problem with an injector, either dirty or just faulty internally. This does not concern me that much either since its not a constant issue.

    Now, the noise and possible smoke does concern me and I would advise you not start or drive it but have it towed to your mechanic for inspection as to not do any more damage.

    Hopefully this is something external like the water pump broke and the belts are off….check for that. Since you did not mention overheating hopefully this is not an internal coolant leak issue like a blown headgasket. Check the engine oil level, is it full and clean looking?

    If the fan belt is still connected, then we need to start thinking of internal items that would cause the noise….oil pump failure, cam or crankshaft failure etc.

    I would rather not place any fear in your head at this point, so start with the basic stuff, belts attached, all vacuum hoses and wire connections attached? Can you see any oil or coolant leaks etc. etc.

    Get back to me if you find anything out yourself, or when your mechanic has time to diagnose this and we can see if you have any options available to you.


  • Charles S.

    Hi. I have a 2006 Ford Explorer with 160,000 miles on it. Every once in a while it will miss when I start it. I can drive it a mile or 2 and turn it off and restart it and it runs like a charm. My check engine light comes on and I had it hooked up to a computer….it says “cylinder 1 misfire”. I changed the spark plug and the coil. Neither one fixed the problem. It doesn’t do it all the time…just on occasion. I figured it had something to do with the injector probably. Last night while driving, it was running fine and all of the sudden it started making a horrible sound like it had no oil…like metal to metal and it died. I pulled over and when you tru=y to start will rev way up and then die. Also, white or blue ( it was dark) smoke will boil out of the tailpipe. The inside of the tail pipe looked like it had a watery substance in it. Any idea what may have happened?

  • Austin Davis

    Thank you for your comment Christopher, you made my day.

  • christopher

    Dear Austin Davis,

    Just wished to let you know that reading this site is really helpful for me. At least I now know the reason of the white smoke from my car. TQVM….from the bottom of my heart!

  • Austin Davis

    Welcome, same to you.

  • Gantulga

    Its engine cold.thank you for everything.Good luck to you.

  • Austin Davis

    Are you sure this is BLUE smoke from burning oil (are you adding engine oil regularly) or could this be a more BLACKISH colored smoke due to running rich, too much fuel. If this vehicle has a carburetor, maybe you have a choke problem which would happen when engine is cold and the smoke is a darker black color due to unburned fuel?

    Even fuel injected vehicles have a cold start injector or cold start function to help start the engine in cold weather.

    I dont really think blue smoke issues would cause the engine to die, unless there is severe internal engine damage causing loss of compression.

  • Gantulga

    there is 1 misunderstanding.My car not stop by itself.
    When blue smoke comes up.
    I stop the car.
    then restart everything normal for few minutes.
    today smoke comes up 1 time.
    Yesterday 3 times.

  • Gantulga

    Thank you very much.I have no garage.Then I thought car is cold something like that.Is this possible

  • Austin Davis

    If its BLUE smoke you see then you are consuming (burning) engine oil in the cylinders. If the smoke seems to happen more so when you come to a stop than when you are driving I would suspect a problem to be more so in the cylinder head (like valve stem seals) than due to wear in a piston ring.

    You might want to try using thicker weight engine oil (since it gets very cold there, you can’t use too thick of oil weight) like maybe a Castrol 20w-50 and an oil additive called Engine Restorer, to help slow down the consumption. It might never go away completely without doing internal repairs to the engine but might reduce it enough where it is livable.

    Here is a link to their product page for more information

    You might have to order it on ebay or amazon if you can’t find it locally.

  • Gantulga

    Hi my name is Gantulga im from mongolia
    My car is Sang yong Actyon 2009
    The problem is blue smoke
    when i drive and stops its coming out
    Early in morning
    2-3 times coming out
    I havent get my winter oil yet
    what is the problem
    Thank you

  • Austin Davis

    I would suspect you have worn out valve stem seals in the cylinder head. Stem seals tend to leak oil when the engine is off and sitting up. When you start the engine after it sits the cylinder and spark plugs have to burn off the oil that has seeped into the cylinder, thus the blue smoke….from burning oil. The correct fix is to remove the cylinder head and do a “valve job” but that is very expensive.

    You might try using a thicker weight engine oil, like Castrol 20W50 weight and see if that slows down the oil seep. Also have a mechanic check the PCV system, which is what the engine crankcase uses to breathe. If the engine can’t exhale properly it puts extra pressure on seals and o’rings.

    If this smoke is more of a black color, it could be from fuel dripping into the cylinder and having to burn off causing more of a dark blackish smoke with a raw fuel smell to it. Leaking fuel injectors and or fuel pressure regulator are common causes.

  • Clifford Strain

    Hi, I have a peugeot 207 1.6hdi with 72k miles on it. Each time I start it up, there is a lot of blue smoke and it smells very strong. Its lumpy but after 10 secs it seems to clear

  • Austin Davis

    Thank you very much Felix

  • Felix L Valenzuela

    i’ve red one of many reasons regarding smokes on engine…thank you veru much sir,as it really helps a lot.
    Keep up the good work and may the good Lord bless you,sir.

  • Austin Davis

    I would get a mechanic to read your computer codes and investigate what the code is and why it is coming on. There are MANY sensors and things that can cause this to happen. Black smoke is due to excessive fuel inside the engine, so the engine is “running rich” and can’t burn all that fuel. This should be a pretty easy repair once they diagnose the engine light code.

  • Janelle

    Hi My minivan is a 2005 Chrysler t&c it just had cpu replaced because was sputtering or misfiring. It is a month later and it is doing it again. The engine light is on and the gauge will read it is overheating but the van is not really over heating and then it started misfiring with what looks like black smoke coming out the tail pipe please help no one seems to tell me anything or how to go about checking it.

  • Austin Davis

    Well, you could have antifreeze dripping down into that #4 cylinder due to a head gasket leak inside the engine, or you could just have a problem with that cylinder like a bad spark plug wire, spark plug, fuel injector, or ignition coil.

    I think I would get a mechanic to investigate further the misfire, and if you are low on antifreeze inside the radiator I would also get that mechanic to do a cooling system pressure test to see if you have an internal leak (headgasket) or external leak (water pump or hose etc.)

    if you do have a headgasket leak, let me know I can show you a great alternative to the costly repair

  • Maria

    Hi :) My car started to misfire and then white smoke came out of the tail pipe – along with that my car started to over heat and I thought I could smell antifreeze so I ran a test on my car and the test came back showing that the #4 cylinder has a misfire. I guess what I am wondering is what could this be? My cooling system is leaking perhaps? Any information you could give me would be much appreciated, Thank You so much for taking time to read my letter. Sincerely, Maria :)