How the Color of Your Car's Smoke Can Diagnose the Problem

If you're driving a Honda, odds are you don't have smoke coming out your tailpipe. But even the most reliable engines will eventually wear out -- they are, after all, hot metal parts rubbing against each other. When this happens, a driver will often notice smoke coming from the tailpipe, even though the engine is still running more or less OK.

Alas, a smoky exhaust is a sign of a big problem. A problem that can be fixed in most cases, but a big problem nonetheless. But did you know not all exhaust smoke is created equal?

Here's how you can use the color of the smoke to help determine what's wrong.

White Smoke

If you have white or white-ish smoke coming out your tailpipe, it's a sure-fire sign that water/coolant/antifreeze is slipping into your combustion chambers. Now, there are several different reasons this could be happening. The most common is a bad head gasket, which is the thing that creates a seal between the engine block and the cylinder head. When this goes bad, little bits of coolant are likely to slip into the chamber where only gasoline and air are supposed to go, and you end up with white smoke. This problem could also be caused by more serious issues, such as a cracked cylinder head or block, though these are less likely.

Blue Smoke

Blue smoke is a sign that oil is being burned inside your engine, which is ... not ideal. Typically, this is a sign that the engine is simply worn out, and will need to be rebuilt or replaced. What's going on internally is that the piston rings, valves or cylinder walls have worn down over time, and are allowing something called "blowby," which is motor oil blowing by the rings and mixing with the gasoline and air in the combustion chamber. The spark plug ignites and blows up the whole cocktail inside, and what comes out is the telltale bluish hue of burning motor oil.

Black Smoke

If what's coming out is pure black smoke, it's a sign that the gasoline is not being burned completely in the combustion chamber. Compared to the other smoke colors, diagnosis of this can be more complicated. It could mean the air filter is clogged, the ignition timing is off, there's some sort of malfunction in the fuel-delivery system, or even that motor oil is dripping onto the exhaust manifold. There's really no way of knowing for sure without putting the engine through a battery of tests to narrow it down.

If you've got a smoking car, have our expert technicians at Honda of Clear Lake take a look. They'll be able to diagnose the problem with the most sophisticated diagnostic equipment in the industry, and make the repairs with the only the best parts.