Auto Repair Question. Help!

Hey, all. So I went to get into my car today and when I started it up I got white smoke coming out of the exhaust and a smell like something was burning. I turned the engine off right away so I don’t know how long this went on, my question is, is it safe to drive the car to the mechanic tomorrow or do I need to have it towed? And when I go to the mechanic what are the realistic possibilities of what is wrong with it so I know that I am not being ripped off?

I know next to nothing about cars so, the help is much appreciated.

White smoke (steam, actually) could be engine coolant. Check your oil: Does it look brown and frothy? If so, a tow would be a worthy investment; you do not want to run an engine with contaminated oil.

Sounds like a blown head gasket. The broken gasket is allowing water to get into the engine, so do not run it. Repairs can be from $500-$1500-depending on the make of car. I would advise taking it to an experienced mechanic right away.

You are right. White smoke is a very bad thing. The engine may have a leaky head gasket or even a cracked head or block.

Check the coolant to see what it looks like and if you have lost any. Check the oil too.

As for bracing yourself for the final diagnosis, the repairs could be either expensive or very expensive.

Yep, white smoke is usually engine coolant. Oil makes black smoke.

Most likely it’s a head gasket (which on preview I see ralph124c has already mentioned). The worst case scenario though is that something has gone seriously wrong inside the engine, possibly something like a cracked engine block which would require replacement of the engine itself.

My money is on a blown head gasket. Warped heads (a bit more expensive) would be my second guess. One of our auto repair dopers may be able to chime in here with what they’ve seen as most likely in this situation.

While water/coolant entering the combustion chamber is more likely (from aforementioned causes), the smoke could also be from severely burnt bearings. Again, less likely, but having pushed a couple of engines too far at the dragstrip, it is possible.

The oil does not look brown and frothy, so I am assuming that is a good thing?

That is a good thing. If you decide to drive it to a shop make sure the radiator is full and run it with the pressure cap on 1st notch (loose) if so equipped.
Make a note as to coolant level before adding any.
On some cars there is no cap on the radiator and just filling the reservoir will not help with a loose cap, the radiator needs to be filled.
Another thing how old is the car? If it is a work car that is kind of on borrowed time anyway, there may be other options:dubious:.

Head gaskets can leak coolant into the combustion chamber (causing white smoke) or they can leak oil into the coolant and vice versa (causing sludgy coolant and frothy oil). If there’s coolant getting into the oil, it will dilute it so you don’t want to drive it around.

I also agree that it sounds an awful lot like a head gasket, but I have a couple more questions. Did you first notice the smoke or the smell? On a cold start, white smoke out of the tailpipe is completely normal and at some temperatures/humidities it can be an awful lot of it. And had you noticed anything odd the last few times you drove?

I will also note that burning oil can sometimes look white too, but will have a bluish tint when viewed against a white background.

I noticed the smoke then the smell. I have been getting what I thought was condensation for the past few days when I started the car up and this didn’t look much different than that, but it was warmish out when I started the car this morning, so I was thinking that it wasn’t just condensation. Then I noticed the smell and got worried and turned the car off. But I haven’t really noticed anything else out of the ordinary.

Its a 2005 Toyota Corolla and it is due for its scheduled maintenance so I was going to take it in to get a tune up next week anyway.

Should I risk running the car a little more. From the little I have read online about head gasket problems it seems like it’s an issue when you press on the gas and I noticed the smoke before I started going anywhere. I had only just put the car in reverse when I saw it.

One other complication of a internal coolant leak is liquid locking the engine.
I had that happen one time. The engine would not turn over due to coolant in a cylinder.
And you very well could foul a plug witch will usually cause a fault code.