I have a 1999 Audi A4. Recently there is a burning smell when driving that is noticeable when stopped after driving. At night I noticed a faint white smoke blowing out of the front in the headlights. I mentioned the smell when it was in the shop last time and they didn't find any leaks but I'm now concerned after seeing the white smoke.

I'm taking it back into the shop in a few days but thought I would ask for opinions before going in blind.

Other recent symptoms: A/C not cooling well anymore and slightly low coolant a month ago. Check engine lights back on. Was a low voltage warning last time due to a jump but not sure now.

  • Did you get it fix?. What exactly was the problem ? I have a 02 A 4 with the same problem and Now the leak and smoke are getting greatter.. thanks for any tip
    – user7959
    Jan 3, 2015 at 15:50
  • 1
    Yes, it was a straightforward fix. Needed new gasket seals. It had leaked oil on the belts so those also needed replacing. Can't remember how much it was but it wasn't a shocker. Jan 3, 2015 at 20:56
  • Daughter has this problem. Is it safe to drive?
    – user11740
    Aug 12, 2015 at 21:48
  • Not sure but it's not good as eventually you'll run out of oil. I would get it fixed. In Ontario, where I am I doubt it would pass an emissions test. Aug 21, 2015 at 14:30

5 Answers 5


Sounds you have a small leak. A fluid collects somewhere and then makes itself to the exhaust manifold or headers and because that's hot, it burns/evaporates causing the smoke you are seeing

Does it smell like burnt plastic? If yes, then its probably engine oil. I'm not sure if antifreeze would produce a distinct burnt smell as its mostly water/alcohol. Antifreeze should smell sweet.

I had a valve cover gasket leak which had all the same symptoms as what you are describing (not talking about your "other recent symptoms", those just sound like you have some other issue with the car). Check for leaks up top. If a mechanic jacked up the car and just looked underneath, they may not have noticed anything actually reaching the bottom.

Btw, don't put all your trust in mechanics. They are just like us: they love to fix things when they know what's wrong (they can go to a price book and look up exactly what to charge you), but if you give them something to "investigate" it is in their best interests to finish with your car as soon as possible. They make money on fast turn around, not spending a ton of time looking for a little leak (that's what yours sounds like) from some obscure spot inside your engine.

  • Yes, it's a burnt oil or rubber smell. Will be tough to isolate I'm sure but I appreciate the insight. Jun 27, 2011 at 15:02

Recently my Audi A4 97 1.8 also is leaking oil. I have been noticing the top valve gasket for a while. When I tried to tighten up the nut on it, I found the nut was loose. Then I decided to change the valve gasket. After I replaced it, I kept my engine running. I found also some white smoking coming from exhaust pipe somewhere. It was like burnt plastic. I was worried when I smelt it like plastic, I thought I might damaged something. If it was leaked oil on exhaust pipe, I think it is fine. I also noticed that where it smoked was also leaking oil. I think I have solved out at least some problems. If anyone have questions on this, I would like to help. Because I just figured out something recently.


Sounds to me like a wire is possibly burning ... The plastic shielding may be frying creating the smoke ... Also may account for the voltage warning. Check your alternator wires and follow your exhaust...

I had a mustang do the same thing. My alternator wires were melting from exhaust pipe heat. If it is the case please redo the wire just below the melting point with the same color or if not same color use the red electrical tape to indicate a energy wire.


Could also be a cracked radiator I had the same issues on an 02 Camry and it was the radiator


Same thing happened to me, I took it to the mechanic and it was my LED fog light burning. Same thing like you white smoke from headlight/front of hood and burning rubber smell.

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