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Smoking at startup, can't find any straight answers!

07-10-2011, 11:38 AM
I have a 1993 Camry LE 4-cylinder sedan. My car will billow out white smoke when I start it after it's been sitting for awhile (overnight or longer), and it'll last maybe 5 seconds max, then it's perfectly fine. The car runs fine, I'm just sick of the smoke. I've looked around on the internet about the problem, but I'm seeing mixed answers, such as disagreement on the color that oil or coolant burns (blue or white, I'm seeing both colors for both fluids!). So could I please get a straight answer at what it could be?? It's straight white smoke, not steam, no blueish color or anything. Also some of the smoke will seep out from under the hood too, is the exhaust somehow backing up into the engine.
My oil is a tad low, due for an oil change in about 1000 miles. The coolant tank is almost empty, but it's the overflow, so it's not a big deal, right? The radiator does have coolant in it. Any help would be appreciated!

Brian R.
07-10-2011, 12:16 PM
You are burning coolant. There is probably a small leak in the head gasket into the cylinder which burns on startup. Do a hold pressure check on the cooling system and a compression check on the cylinders.

07-10-2011, 12:22 PM
I was thinking it was that, but the smoke doesn't have a "sweet" smell like I thought it would. I've actually had a cracked head gasket before and the smoke did smell sweet at that time.

07-10-2011, 12:25 PM
Also are these tests that you're referring to something I can do at home with basic tools along with not being too good with cars?

07-10-2011, 06:20 PM
Is the coolant expanshion tank contaminated with oil?
Is there a coolant shortage?
Is there coolant in the engine block?

If yes, consider using Blue Devil head treatment.

07-10-2011, 07:48 PM
The overflow was empty, but the radiator was full. Went to put more antifreeze in and nothing would go in. Of what I could tell, there wasn't any oil in the overflow. And I have no idea how to check if there's coolant in the engine block. I'm not seeing any evidence of a broken head gasket: no bubbling in the overflow, no milkshake-colored oil, no overheating at all, nothing. Smoke comes out when it starts, and after that, nothing's wrong.

Mike Gerber
07-10-2011, 08:14 PM
There are chemical tests for hydrocarbons (exhaust gases) in the coolant that a car owner can do themselves at home. This will tell you if you have a bad head gasket or cracked block. These test kits are available at most auto parts stores and run about $25. Go to your local auto parts store and ask about their availability and how to properly use them.


Brian R.
07-10-2011, 09:22 PM
Also are these tests that you're referring to something I can do at home with basic tools along with not being too good with cars?

You can buy a compression meter relatively cheaply and use it yourself. You get the engine to operating temperature and remove all the plugs inserting the compression gauge into the plug holes one at a time. Crank the engine for a couple of seconds until the compression reading stabilizes.

I'm not sure about the availability of a coolant testing meter, but I bet they're around for cheap. You just have a pump and gauge. Pressurize the system at the radiator cap and watch to see if the pressure drops over time.

10-19-2011, 01:58 PM
Another question you should ask. Is the oil level slowly going down after a certain amount of time.

I have found that the valve seals are bad, which causes this type of smoke only when started.

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