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Camry blowing smoke

After a weak moment when I swapped cars with my college graduate son, I’m driving a '96 Camry with 170K miles.

In general, it is reliable transportation, but I’ve noticed lately that when I start the car – and only then – I get a papal puff of white smoke out of the exhaust. At first, I thought this was condensation, but it was smoke.

I’ve checked the oil and it isn’t being lost to drippage, and it remains clear, too (it was recently changed). Ditto the air filter.

What might I look at to see what is causing this smoke? Or should I be less concerned?

Any ideas would be appreciated.


Barry Spiegel

Peoria, AZ

This is a classic description of worn valve guide seals.

Personally, I would not invest the money necessary to repair this condition on a 12 year old car. Just monitor the oil level every couple of days to be sure that it is never run without sufficient lubrication, and motor on!

I agree with VDCdriver, and would like to add that using a high-mileage oil on the next oil change may help to stop the smoke. It has additives to soften and swell old seals, like valve seals, to help them stop leaking.

I agree with both VDC and Bustedknuckles.

What’s happening is that as the engine sits some oil is leaking past the valve guide seals and onto the back of the valves, being drawn in and burned when you start the engine. You’re likely burning a wee bit on deceleration also, when vacuum spikes in the cylinders, but if you’re not seeing a cloud and your oil usage is not high (less that a qt every 1000 miles) then consider it normal operation for an engine with that mileage.

It’s pretty harmless in small amounts, and I too would ignore it…but regularly monitor your oil usage to be sure it doesn’t go too low.

Count me in with the others. This is a classic case. Your valve guide seals are worn, allowing a small amount of oil to drain into the cylinders after you shut off the engine. When you start the engine next morning, PUFF.

You can have the seals replaced if it gets really annoying, or you can just remember to keep checking the oil and continue driving.

You guys are top-notch. I couldn’t have gotten more clarity if I’d asked. I will keep a close eye on the oil level and now have that understanding of what has happened.

Thanks for helping this old dog do a new trick.


Thanks for posting the conclusion. We so rarely hear back from the original posters. We often wonder if they even read our posts.

Happy motoring