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Is Your Car Giving You Smoke Signals?: The Causes of Tailpipe Smoke

Tailpipe smoke is something you’re more likely notice coming from other drivers on the road. However, you should take the time to see what kind of emissions your car is putting out every now and then. Some of the smoke you see is normal or harmless. But, it is sometimes a signal that your car needs a serious repair. The following guide of “smoke types” can help you troubleshoot some potential issues with your vehicle.

Black Smoke: This can be either harmless or problematic, depending on a few other factors. In all cases though, black smoke is a dirty problem. If the smoke persists as you drive, chances are that your air filter is too dirty and needs to be changed. However, the smoke may also be caused by a clogged fuel injector, or other component. In any case, something about the engine or fuel injection system is too dirty and should be inspected by a mechanic.

That said, if the black smoke goes away after the engine has gotten warmed up, you probably have nothing to worry about. Engines do not work efficiently when they are cold, so they burn extra fuel when started to run smoothly. This can cause black smoke to come from the tailpipe, which will go away when the engine returns to burning normal amounts of fuel.

Gray Smoke: This is caused when your engine is burning oil, which will cause a number of performance issues over time. The causes from gray smoke can be numerous, but they all have one thing in common - oil is getting into the combustion chamber. You’ll want a mechanic to pinpoint and repair the problem.

Thick White Smoke: This is likely a sign of a serious problem. We hate to tell you this, but when you see thick white smoke, your engine is already damaged and you really shouldn’t be driving the vehicle. Thick white smoke occurs when the engine is burning coolant - which usually only happens when there is a serious problem. Although thick white smoke is dangerous, it should never be confused with its opposite counterpart…

Thin White Smoke: This is completely harmless and part of a normal functioning vehicle. You’ve probably only seen this come from your tail during the early morning. That’s because there has been a buildup of condensation in the exhaust system - the same reason why your windows are foggy. This will burn off quickly before your exhaust returns to normal and is nothing to worry about.