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The Color of Exhaust Smoke and What Problem It Might Indicate

by All Vovo on 11/09/18

Right not the chilly side of Fall has shown it’s face in the Great Northwest. When you start up your car in the morning, you’re going to see that heat show just like your breath in the cold morning (or evening) air. But might you be seeing a little TOO much exhaust? Any time of year, you should keep a look out for smoke coming from your car’s exhaust pipe. Normally, it should emit very little smoke, and an engine producing noticeable smoke is a pretty strong indication that there are problems or issues that will only grow in significance (and likely cost you more money if put off to a later date). 

Hopefully, you’re taking your car for regular servicing and oil changes, which give your trusted mechanic shop a chance to look everything over on a regular basis. If you should ever be suspicious of the amount of smoke you’re seeing, then SPEAK UP. At very least, a professional can set your mind at ease, or possibly catch an issue before it’s costly or leads to major failure or breakdown. 

While you’re being observant, you can also check for the COLOR of the smoke. That’s right! The color of the exhaust smoke will help indicate what is wrong. Although the answer is the same (get it to a professional!), you might be able to help direct your technician toward what to examine first.

What does each color of smoke indicate? Color of smoke is:

White – Remember that a small amount of white smoke is normal and cold weather can make it look worse than it really is. Thicker white smoke though, is usually related to coolant being burned in the combustion chamber of the vehicle. The prognosis can be pretty bad, as this usually occurs with problems in the engine. Blown head gaskets, damaged head gaskets, or problem with the cylinder head, or a block in the engine are usually what causes this symptom.

Gray – This gray smoke will usually be an indication of burning oil or possibly the transmission fluid. These two issues will smell quite different (the transmission scent is a bit sweeter). It may also be PCV system damage.

Black – If a small amount of black smoke comes out when you first start your car up—no worries, that can be normal. But if the black smoke persists, then the engine is likely burning a large amount of fuel. This can be related to a small issue with your air-filter, or possibly a larger issues with the fuel regulator, injector, or return.

Blue – If it looks blue, it can also be from burning oil. You will probably notice that the car is having a difficult time when starting. Burning oil relates to a leak in the combustion chamber of the engine. There are a list of reasons why this happens, from valve seals to damaged cylinder walls. A good mechanic will check these things out on a regular basis and warn you before you have to see this smoke.

As we’ve mentioned before, we like to put out tips for owners of ANY make of car, but of course we specialize in the service and repair of Volvo automobiles. This information about exhaust smoke and what the color or tone of the smoke may mean, would apply to almost any car or truck. Ultimately, you would want the opinion of your trusted auto mechanic in diagnosing and recommending the proper repairs or servicing needed.

If you drive Volvo and live in the greater Seattle area, we welcome you to come see us at All Vovo for specialist Volvo service. Either way, we hope this post has been enlightening or helpful to you. Thanks for reading and keep taking great care of your automobiles!

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