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Intermittent starting problem plus blows smoke

I have a 1999 Volkswagon Polo (think a smaller European version of the Golf) with 60k miles that has an intermittent starting problem. It only happens on cold starts and then only every 10th time or so. The engine will start to crank, but the RPMs only reach 200-300. If I pump on the gas, the engine will eventually start and blow a lot of smoke. The smoke is white and smells like gasoline. This never seems to happen on warm starts and only sometimes on cold starts. Once the car is started, it idles and runs fine.

I am going to take it to my mechanic, what should I tell him to look for? I originally thought it could be the battery, but in that case I would think that the car would always have trouble starting, not intermittently. I also don’t notice the lights dimming like I would expect with a weak battery.

I appreciate any thoughts…



My first guess is a leaking fuel injector. Maybe a good fuel injector cleaning could fix this.

Consider adding a can of Seafoam to 8 gallions of gas and driving to almost empty. This may clean varnish out of the injectors for only $7.00

Worst case scenario…it could be your head gasket. If coolant were leaking into one or more of the cylinders while parked it would cause a rough start and abnormal exhaust cloud. I had the same problem, but on a different car and it was the head gasket.