Smoking car

I was just driving my 1999 Toyota Corolla (with 120,000 miles). At 2 stop lights in a row there was smoke coming from under the hood. The engine (according to the dashboard) was not hot. When I finally got out of the car, the hood was cool but smelled smoky. It is dark out so I did not open up the hood (also, I would have no idea what to do if I did open the hood). What is the problem and can I drive home safely (about 13 miles)?

It’s not a good idea to continue to drive a vehicle when smoke/steam is coming out from under the hood. Either take someone back to the vehicle who has some car knowledge and is able to determine if the car can be driven, or have it towed.

Driving it could cost a lot more.


Many years ago I was driving my new Subaru in the rain for the first time. At a stop, a huge amount of white smoke came out from under the hood. I pulled over, grabbed the fire extinguisher, and popped the hood (expecting the worst). Nothing. It turns out that water was collecting somewhere (under the hood? cowling?) and dumping on the exhaust system when I slowed. It could produce an impressive amount of steam! I learned to live with it, but it did freak out more than one driver in another car.

Since you say it smelled “smoky”, and the car hadn’t done this before, I agree with Tester that you’d better play it safe and have the car looked at before you drive it any further. Someone can look around and see if there’s evidence of recent fire (such as leaking oil on an exhaust manifold), or if it was really steam from a leaky cooling system.

One obvious possibility is that motor oil was added recently and the filler cap was left off, throwing oil out of the valve cover and onto hot manifolds when the engine is running. Causes a heck of a mess, including smoke, while not making the hood hot to the touch.

Sounds like you have an oil leak. The oil is dripping onto something hot and that’s why you see smoke. It could be a coolant leak, too, but the steam from that won’t smell smoky. When it’s daylight open the hood and look around, or get someone who knows what they’re looking for to look around.

What you find upon inspection will determine whether or not it’s safe to drive the car.

Hi all-I just got a call from my mechanic. The left front brake caliper was “dragging” hence the smell and the smoke. Thanks for your help!

Depending on the location of the oil filter, it could be oil escaping from a not sufficiently tightened oil filter and dripping on a hot surface such as the exhaust.

I would get this looked at and fixed right awy. If your oil was recently changed go back to that place and have it checked for oil leaking first.