Thick Smoke coming out of my Lexus sc300 Engine Compartment

I own a 1993 Lexus Sc300 with over 200K miles. Just recently I noticed that the check engine light started coming on and off.

Yesterday as I was driving and just got off the highway, I saw a thick smoke coming out of the engine compartment. I stopped and opened the hood and saw that the smoke was coming from the from front of the engine compartment, where the coolant is located. I waited a while to let the engine cool down and drove home (2 miles away). I haven’t driven it ever since.

Before I take it to a mechanic, can you please tell me in your experience what might be taking place?

Thanks very much!

From this distance, nobody can do anything other then guess-work, and I am not sure that blind guesses are going to help you very much.

However, some thoughts:

When the Check Engine Light first starting glowing at you, you should have had the car’s OBD system checked for trouble codes. By not doing this–especially on a 15-16 year old car with over 200k–you could have caused a fairly minor problem to morph into a major problem.

Was the “smoke” actually smoke, or was it steam? Either way, this car should not be driven because more damage will be likely be caused by starting the engine and/or driving it. If it was smoke, unless oil was recently spilled on the engine, that is likely to be an indication of some serious issues.

If it was steam it is likely that the engine overheated, and this can lead to more extensive damage than if would be worthwhile to fix on a car as old as yours–especially since you drove it after seeing the steam.

Since you did not comment on the state of the car’s coolant, I am going to assume that you did not check the coolant level in the radiator after the car cooled off. Since you did not comment on the level of oil in the engine, I am also going to assume that you did not check the dipstick after parking the car.

You really need to have this car towed to a competent mechanic (NOT a chain operation), and you should decide ahead of time how much you are willing to spend on repairing a car this old. Don’t tell the mechanic what your budget is, but if you think about this issue beforehand, you might be able to make a better decision when he calls you with the diagnosis.

Good luck!

Thanks, VDCdriver for your reply.
The oil level is normal, coolant is low. And yes it was steam rather than smoke.
Any other assessment given my new comments?

Thanks again

Can the problem be the engine coolant?

If it’s steam, then there’s a leak from a bad hose, bad seal, or a bad gasket. You should have it towed to a good mechanic, they should perform a pressure test on the cooling system to identify the source of the leak (if it’s not obvious).

The low coolant level is the cause, or the effect, or both.

If the cooling system had a very small leak over an extended period of time, and if the coolant level was not checked regularly, it could have finally gotten low enough to cause the engine to overheat, and the steam could be the result of the overheating. If the engine overheated, you could have warped the cylinder head(s), and/or caused other damage internally.

Alternatively, if a hose sprang a leak shortly before you observed the steam, then it is possible that you merely saw steam resulting from that coolant leak, and this situation would probably have a much less serious outcome.

If you are a gambler, you could try refilling the radiator and driving to a nearby mechanic (no more than a couple of miles) while closely monitoring the temperature gauge. If you want to play it more safely, you will have the car towed to a good mechanic for evaluation. You could be looking a something as minor as a hose replacement, or it could be damage so extensive as to make repairing this car impractical. From this distance, nobody can tell you which scenario is the reality of the situation.

Thanks, I took the car to the mechanic - 1 mile away