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  1. #1
    Senior Member Disco Dan is on a distinguished road Disco Dan's Avatar

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    Default Head gasket (maybe piston ring?) issues

    Well, I believe the head gasket is pretty much through.

    But first, a couple of general questions:

    In order for white (with a very slight bluish tint) smoke to come out of the exhaust, oil must burn, correct?

    And the only way for oil to burn is for it to either:
    a.) come into contact with an extremely hot surface (such as having it drip onto the exhaust from the back of the engine) or
    b.) get burned off in the combustion chamber,
    correct?

    And the only way for oil to get into the combustion chamber is through one of three failures:
    1.) head gasket
    2.) valve stem seals
    3.) piston rings
    correct?



    Ok, assuming the answers to those questions are all "yes", I believe that either my head gasket has decided to fail on me, or a piston ring has broken. The problem is, I can't tell which. Quite honestly, I hope it's the head gasket, as that fix is relatively easy when compared with the headache of removing the pistons.

    Here are the symptoms:

    Wednesday, the night before Thanksgiving, was the last time I ran the car. When I checked the oil level, it was just below the Low line, so I figured it had about a quart left. I had filled it weeks ago, but it had dropped to this level I presume by burning off a little at a time at start up because of a bad valve stem seal. However, it had stayed at this level for weeks and had not dropped. In addition, the amount of smoke at start up had lessened as well. Keep this in mind.

    Monday, I started it up, and before I ran it, I added 2.5 quarts of oil to the engine. I didn't notice a difference while it was idling, so I pulled out of my parking space and made my way down the road. After about a quarter mile of slow speeds (less than 25 mph), I turned onto one of the main roads and accelerated (as the speed limit is 45 mph). It was at this point that my tail pipe began expunging huge amounts of white smoke behind me. Had I been running from the police, it would have been a very effective smoke screen. In any case, I thought "uhh..." and made my way back home to park it again. I took my Civic instead.

    After it sat over night, I started it up today, and other than a very light puff of smoke at ignition (which I have always attributed to leaky valve stem seals), there is no evidence that anything is wrong.

    Now, I discovered how to recreate the smoke screen by accident. If I leave my house and go driving up the road, there is no sign that anything is wrong, even when I push it up to 4000+ rpms. However, at the top of the hill, we have a nice cul-de-sac. Here, I make a hard left turn (so as to drive in circles in the cul-de-sac), and drop it into first gear. At somewhere between 2000-4000 RPM (I didn't take notice of when it actually started) white smoke starts pouring out of the back of the car, literally engulfing the entire cul-de-sac in a cloud of exhaust. Visually speaking, it's actually pretty awesome.

    In any case, from there, I can drive it back home, and ANY application of the accelerator, and it will smoke up again. In other words, once I've managed to reproduce the problem, it continues until the car has been shut down and not run for a while. The oil light does not come on, and the thermostat remains just below the middle where it should be, so it's not losing oil THAT drastically, but it's burning it somehow, nonetheless.

    Now, here's my thought:

    The damage, whether it's in the head gasket or the rings, seems to be on the RIGHT side of the engine. That would make sense, since I can make it smoke my turning hard to the left, thus sloshing the oil to the right of the engine. Also I wonder if perhaps the engine was running just fine at a lower oil level, and by putting more oil in to be safe, I actually gave it more oil to leak internally.

    Whether it's the head gasket or the piston rings, neither is a good thing, because my tags have already expired, and I figure it's only a matter of time before the home owner's association decides to tow it. I can't really work on it in front of my house for the same reason. However, I may be able to pull it off if I work primarily during the day this week. That's IF it's the head gasket.

    Is there a way to test whether it's a piston ring or the head gasket? I seem to recall a bit of conventional auto wisdom that said if I run the engine, then disconnect the spark plugs one at a time, if it stops smoking with one of the plugs out, that cylinder has bad rings. Other than that, and/or taking the head off (which I do NOT want to do at this moment) I don't know how else to check it. Any info would be awesome. Thanks!

    Edit: After reading some other posts, I should add that while the smoke seems mostly white, it definitely has a tint of blue to it, and may be more of a light grey than white. However, regardless of the color, it definitely SMELLS like burnt oil. At least, I think so. Maybe I should burn some coolant and some oil in jars and see the difference so I can tell better...
    Last edited by Disco Dan; 11-28-2007 at 02:37 AM.

  2. #2

    Default

    How full is your oil right now [with it smoking]?

    Overfull could be the cause as well....

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  3. #3

    Default

    Have a bit of the same problem right now, only smoke under high rpm/boost.. however, tonight it wanted to overheat a little near the end of my drive home.. with the fans running.. on a cool night. Got a fair bit of oil in the catch can. Before tonight was thinking rings, but now I'm not so sure it's not head gasket.. don't see why rings would cause the little heat spike.
    ra·tion·al·ize /ˈræʃənlˌaɪz, ˈræʃnlˌaɪz/ Show Spelled [rash-uh-nl-ahyz, rash-nl-ahyz] Show IPA verb, -ized, -iz·ing.
    –verb (used with object)
    1. to ascribe (one's acts, opinions, etc.) to causes that superficially seem reasonable and valid but that actually are unrelated to the true, possibly unconscious and often less creditable or agreeable causes.

  4. #4
    Senior Member Disco Dan is on a distinguished road Disco Dan's Avatar

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    Default

    Yeah, that's the funny thing about the dipstick. I can never tell if it's just joking with me.

    By that, I mean, I'll run the engine to operating temperature, turn it off, pull the dipstick, wipe it off, re-insert it, and pull it out again. When I read it, there's always a darker blob down near the bottom of the stick (just below LOW) but there's a smattering up the stick too, OFTEN times above the FULL mark. But sometimes it won't be consistent up the stick. Sometimes there will just be a thin line of oil along the edge of the stick going up past the FULL mark. So I'm never sure if it's just picking up residual oil in the dipstick tube or if it's legitimate.

    Anyway, I'm going to relieve myself of any confusion now. I'm going to drain the whole thing and refill it. That'll also give me a better idea of how much was in the pan. If there's too much oil, I should get well over 4 quarts in the pan.

    By the by, why would too much oil make it smoke? I don't doubt the information, but I hate not knowing the "why" behind something. I can see why too much oil might bog down the engine, but I can't see it causing it to smoke, unless of course, there's already damage somewhere in the engine that allows the excess oil to go places that it shouldn't. Anyway, thanks for the tip on the oil. I'll post back on how much oil there was once I find out for sure.

  5. #5
    Senior Member Disco Dan is on a distinguished road Disco Dan's Avatar

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    Default

    8 quarts.


    I guess the engine wasn't burning oil as quickly as I thought. Oops. Now, the only problem is, what if the smoke was burning coolant? I just checked the radiator reservoir and it's nearly dry. Hmm.

  6. #6
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    Default

    You're supposed to check your oil with the car off, preferably after it's been sitting a while. If you run it up to operating temperature then check it, it's always gonna appear low, which is probably why you ended up with eight quarts in there.

  7. #7
    Senior Member Disco Dan is on a distinguished road Disco Dan's Avatar

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    Default

    Er, let me rephrase that. I turn on the car. Let it warm up. TURN IT OFF (Forgot to mention that the first time). THEN I check the level.

    Yeah yeah, I know to turn the car off before checking. ACTually, I've found that if I check it while the car's on, the level appears HIGHER than it should be, due to the oil flowing all around. Also, once I had put in the 3.8 quarts, the dipstick STILL didn't read correctly, so I'll just have to watch the mileage and remember to change it every 3k or so to make sure the oil level doesn't drop too far.

    Anyway, it's idling outside right now, I'm letting the excess oil (some splattered on the outside of the engine) burn off. It still smokes a BIT excessively (in my opinion) from the tailpipe when I rev it really high, but other than that, it seems relatively normal. Normal enough to take it to the shop and have them put on a damn catalytic converter so I can pass effing emissions.

  8. #8

    Default

    Damn, I’m glad an oil change fixed you up. As I read your post I thought whoa – adding 2.5 quarts when the level is at the bottom of full on the dipstick is too much.
    Reinforcing an earlier post key to checking your oil level is to wait for the oil to drain into the pan. So, turn engine off and then wait several minutes – 3 – 5 minutes at least. Then pull the dipstick, wipe, reinsert, pull and check the level. Another tip is that the bottom of the full mark on the dipstick represents at most 1 quart on most cars. You definitely want to add ½ quart or so and then check level with the dipstick again.

  9. #9

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    I hope your motor doens't start giving you a ton of crap now like mine did after being grossly overfilled. Make sure you don't have any new external leaks.. oil pan.. front seals.. etc.
    ra·tion·al·ize /ˈræʃənlˌaɪz, ˈræʃnlˌaɪz/ Show Spelled [rash-uh-nl-ahyz, rash-nl-ahyz] Show IPA verb, -ized, -iz·ing.
    –verb (used with object)
    1. to ascribe (one's acts, opinions, etc.) to causes that superficially seem reasonable and valid but that actually are unrelated to the true, possibly unconscious and often less creditable or agreeable causes.

  10. #10
    Senior Member Disco Dan is on a distinguished road Disco Dan's Avatar

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    Default

    Well, like I said, it still smokes a little under extra acceleration. But it's an almost transparent, bluish wispy smoke. It's VISIBLE, but not awful. So it's possible that because of the overfill, I may have done some sort of damage there. I've already established that it would need an overhaul soon anyway, so this will just go on the list.

    HOWEVER!

    I can take my time on that because I have established that the JDM engines WILL PASS EMISSIONS TESTS!

    MUUUUUAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!

    That is all.

  11. #11

    Default

    Hell, I could have told you that.
    As long as they're properly tuned they should pass with flying colors.
    It's the visual horseshit that will fail them.

    My truck passed the sniffer with no cat, a welded shut EGR, no air injection and an idle mix screw that was about 5 turns too rich [I have a high overlap cam, which means shitty vacuum at idle, so I have to richen the mix or it won't pull enough fuel].

    The reason all that oil caused the smoke is it was being thrown all over the crankcase by your crank, causing excessive oil vapor in the PCV. It also probably overworked your oil control rings, allowing oil to get into the chamber.

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  12. #12
    Senior Member Disco Dan is on a distinguished road Disco Dan's Avatar

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    Yeah, it's mostly fine now. It's strange. If I drive it from my parking space to wherever and don't gun it, in other words, just drive it like an old man, it doesn't smoke at all.

    However, if I have to push it hard (to pull into moving traffic, or just for fun), it'll start smoking the oil-smoke. And from that point ON, it will continue to have a little bit of smoke until I stop it again.

    Then it sits for a while, I start it up, and if I pussyfoot it, no smoke. Which means I CAN get away without having to change a head gasket, but without being able to push it, what's the POINT of putting in a faster engine?!?

    That's right, there IS none.

    Granted, on the roads around here, quick engines become a bit pointless since the speed limits are so low. It's like a race to see who can get to and maintain 45 mph. Whee.

  13. #13

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    could be bad ring in one of the piston. had the same problem with my previous car. sometime it smokes most of the time not. turned out to be one of my rings was bad and started to make grooves all over the cylinder. end up rebuilding the engine (machined cylinder and put in oversized piston, big valves and port polish.

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