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White Smoke from under hood & burning smell

Yesterday I made a 3 hour round trip with my car, and on the last leg coming back into town, I noticed my check engine light came on, and I saw white smoke coming from underneath the hood of my car, along with a burning smell. Luckily I was able to make it home just fine. I’ve googled this issue a bit and have some faint ideas of what might be the issue (some people have suggested coolant leak). Does anyone have any idea what the problem to this is? I have to say I’m pretty illiterate when it comes to cars and car repairs.

Also, I checked the oil levels today and they appeared to be slightly below the lowest level tick, which could be why it was having issues yesterday. Last time I got an oil change was November of 2015. I’m surprised it’s this low considering I normally don’t commute farther than a couple miles each day.

If it was still visible & near the “lo” tick on the dipstick, I doubt the low oil caused the problem, unless the engine overheated due to the low oil level. Were there any warning lights or dash gauge suggesting the engine was overheating? Or was it just the check engine light?

In any event, now’s a good time to change the oil and oil filter.

The white smoke could have been steam from a coolant leak. I’ve had that happen twice, one time on a Corolla due to a radiator that sprang a leak, and the other time on a Ford truck, a coolant hose burst. Suggest for the sake of your wallet to not start or drive the car until you have someone knowledgeable take a look at what’s going on. Hopefully it will be something simple. Your objective is to keep it that way, and not introduce expensive problems to what is now a simple problem.

If it was white smoke, I’d presume that it is coolant.

The first thing you should have done is open the hood and see where the smoke was coming from. It may have been at night, but a flashlight would have helped you find the source of the smoke.

Now it’s kind of hard to diagnose the problem.
I would suggest that you fill the oil and be sure you have enough coolant. Then take it for a drive to get the codes read. Once the engine is up to operating temp pull over, pop the hood and look for a problem.
You may have to take this for a long drive…making a few stops along the way…searching for the source
This all would have been easier to do when you first noticed the smoke.

When the cooling system if hot the coolant expands and you could have a pin hole leak in a hose, or the radiator.

Next time you get a “Check engine light” and see smoke/steam, pull over and check things. This could have been a worse problem and that short drive to make it home may have overheated the engine and done thousands in damage.


There aren’t too many things that will cause both smoke and the CEL to illuminate that I can think of. Actually, at the moment, I can’t think of any.

RE: oil changes. Commuting only a few miles a day is actually much harder on the oil (and the car in general) than longer commutes because the engine spends little or no time at full operating temperature. You should follow the service intervals for severe service in your owners manual, paying attention not just to miles but also to months.

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You have not checked the oil since November, you continued to drive with white smoke coming out of the engine. You are abusing your car, and risking having some expensive repair bills. You should check your oil at least every other fill up.

Did your temperature gauge go up? If you do not have a gauge did the red temp light turn on? If you drove the car in the red temp zone you can damage the head gasket. $$$$$

With the engine cool look at the radiator / overflow tank to see if you have any coolant left.

If your oil level is OK and the coolant level OK go to the nearest auto parts store, like AutoZone or Advance, except in CA they will read the codes for free. Get the #, it will be something like P1234 and post it back here. We can give you more information based on that.