Reader Question: Hi,
I am a graduate student on a budget, with a 1996 Buick Park Avenue. Yesterday and 2 days ago, I noticed white steam coming out of the car’s front when I stopped at a red light. I also noticed that it did not occur after a longer ride.
My thoughts on the matter are that perhaps due to the colder weather in the evening, and the car having cooled down, there is mist accumulating on the car parts, which evaporate as the car warms up. I just want to be sure that this is typical before taking the car for an expensive checkup.
Should I check water/engine coolant levels?
Any suggestions will be most helpful and cost-effective.
I would check two things here:
1. This could be caused by coolant dripping or spraying on a hot engine. With the engine cold, check the coolant/antifreeze inside the radiator itself, not just in the plastic overflow bottle on the side of the engine.
If it is low, top it off with plain water for now. Start the engine and let it idle for a while with the hood up as you watch the engine for any signs of this steam or any visible coolant leaks.
If the radiator is very low on coolant but you cannot find the source of the leak. I would suggest you get a “cooling system pressure test” done at your local fast lube place or regular mechanic. This is a simple and inexpensive test that can be done while you wait in most cases.
2. This could be caused by an oil leak dripping on a hot engine. With the hood up still, look around the top and sides of the engine for any visible signs of engine oil leaking. It just takes a small amount of oil on top of a hot engine to produce some smoke.