Smoke is a common by-product of combustion. This is true with any internal combustion engine. Whether you are using an engine that runs on gasoline or diesel, you would surely have emissions that contain carbon monoxide (in the case of petrol) or particulates (in the case of diesel). However, emitting large amounts of smoke might mean that there is something wrong with your engine. Here are a few reasons why the motor might be emitting smoke, and how to resolve the problem.
Warm up. When you start your car in the morning, it will likely emit a white-colored smoke. Sometimes, water will also come out of the tailpipe. This is usually normal. Because the engine is still cold, it will not combust fuel efficiently. Water coming out of the tailpipe is actually normal while the engine is still cold, but should stop once the engine is running at optimal temperatures.
If smoke is a concern every morning, be sure to warm up your engine before rolling off the driveway. Your engine might be putting up with extra effort while it’s still cold, so it’s better to start driving when the engine is a bit warmer. By this time, the whitish smoke would already disappear, giving way to a clear emission, assuming nothing else is wrong. If water is still coming out of the tailpipe during normal operation, then your engine’s cooling system might have a leak somewhere.
Check your coolant levels. Engines run at optimal temperatures. While a cold engine is inefficient, a very hot engine is dangerous, as it might result in the pistons breaking or bending. Engines that run hotter than usual are also less efficient than at optimal temperatures. This could be due to low levels of engine coolant, or perhaps a leak in your cooling system. Check the radiator for leaks, blockages, or a problematic water pump. One way to check for blockage or water pump problems is by having someone step on the accelerator pedal while the radiator cap is open (be sure to do this while the engine is still relatively cool and not hot). If the water is flowing inside, then your cooling system is okay. If the water stays still, then you might have a non-working pump, or the flow might be blocked somewhere.
Clean or replace your air filter. Combustion involves a combination of fuel, air and an ignition source (or in the case of diesel engines, high temperatures due to high pressure). If one of these is inadequate, then inefficient combustion will be a result. Your engine’s air filter is an accessory that needs regular cleaning or replacement. Some high-performance air filters, like cone-type filters or cold-air intakes need to be regularly cleaned. Regular air filters may also be cleaned. But in either case, these need to be replaced at regular intervals. Refer to your owner’s manual, or visit a garage to determine whether the air filter needs to be replaced. If you can buy a replacement part yourself, changing the filter can be a do-it-yourself affair, with the use of a few tools and about 15 minutes of your time.
Replace your spark plugs. Apart from fuel and air, a petrol engine’s spark plugs could be one cause of smoky emissions. Dirty and weak spark plugs would result in inefficient combustion, and particulates and unburned fuel would usually be emitted from your tailpipe. Have your spark plugs checked every time you have your oil changed. These are quite cheap to replace, unless you use high-performance spark plugs that are made of iridium.
Replace your engine oil. Lubrication is an important part of any internal combustion engine. A poorly lubricated engine works harder, and would put strain on the cylinders. Engine oil should be replaced according to the specifications on the oil, which might be anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 miles, depending on whether the oil is mineral-based or synthetic.
Other solutions. Most older cars that use carburetors might need a regular tune-up. Newer cars that use fuel injection might not need regular tune-ups, but sometimes you would need to check the injectors if they are delivering fuel properly. You might also need to check if the fuel you are using is the correct type. Most cars nowadays will run on unleaded fuel, but older cars might require premium fuel. Most user manuals would tell you what Octane level to use, and these are usually indicated on the fuel pump at most refueling stations.
Help save the environment by running a clean and efficient engine. It not only helps keep the Earth green, but an efficient engine also gives you savings on fuel, repairs and maintenance.