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White smoke coming from tailpipe

What does it mean when white smoke comes out of the tailpipe when I start my car? It also uses a quart of oil inbetween oil changes (3000 mi.). My tailpipe is white around the end. It’s a 1999 and we bought it used. 125,000 miles.

It means it is getting cold. However since you got it used and it has over 125.000 miles you could have any of several leaks. I would have this one checked by you local independent mechanic. It should not cost much. Note: The quick oil change place does not employ mechanics, only salesmen.

White smoke is steam, which means water is being evaporated and sent out the tailpipe.

Here’s the question; is the steam coming from condensation in the exhaust system (normal) or is it coming from coolant leaking into the engine’s cylinders (not normal)?

Have you had to add coolant to the radiator?

A quart of oil in 3,000 miles is not unusual for a vehicle with 125k miles. You’re changing oil more often than necessary. Check the owner’s manual for the correct oil change interval. You might be able to save some money.

White smoke can be perfectly normally in cooler climates and just after starting the motor. If you have white smoke after driving for 15 min. that can be a sign of coolant leaking inside the motor and coming out the tailpipe. So, the timing of the smoke is a key clue.

Adding oil between oil changes isn’t unusual. That’s why you are supposed to check your oil level when you fill up with gas. A quart in 500 miles is excessive oil use. A quart every 3,000 is just fine.

Oil changes also are affected by time. For normal mileage per year, 3,000 miles may be too soon. If you drive only a few miles a day, and those 3,000 miles take a long time, then 3,000 may not be often enough.

Does the smoke hang around the car in sort of a cloud? Could the smoke have a slight blue tinge to it? The 3S-FE engine in your Rav-4 is quite similar structurally to the 5S-FE used in the Camary. The 5S-FE had a problem where oil would leak past the valve guide seals on top of the valve or into the cylinder. When the engine would be started after an overnight rest a cloud of smoke would appear. This might not happen every cold start but occurred sporadically. I suspect only one or two valve seals were leaking and that valve had to be held open on shut down for the oil level to get high enough to leak past the seal. My understanding is that the oil consumption was not noticeable but the annoyance of producing a cloud every so often was the concern.

If this is truely oil burning off, there is a slight chance that it would affect the catalytic converter but I have not read of any cases where this was proven. The valve seals can be replaced without removing the head but it does require taking the cam shafts off and releasing the valve springs to get to the seal. At this point you might as well install a new timing belt, water pump, and kit, and check the valve clearances.

Hope this helps.

Thank you for responding. I put a lot of miles on the car. I drive mostly freeway, though. The coolant level is fine and there is not a bluish tint to the smoke. We will have the mechanic look at it next time we take it in for service. When we first bought the Rav, we had the timing belt and water pump replaced. A lot of good info here, thanks again.

A quart every 3,000 miles is normal. I wanted to point out, however, that it’s a good idea to get into the habil of checking your oil regularly and not waiting for the next oil change. The oil usage is likely to increase as the car ages, and usage isn’t what kills an engine…running low is.