I have a 98 Honda civic that I bought a few months ago. It has an after market fan that i have to turn on when I'm driving to keep it from over heating. In the winter time it wansnt a big deal to turn it on unless I was in stop and go traffic. But anyways, the other week I was going to pick up a friend from work and didn't notice my car was all the way on hot till I reached the parking lot and then the white smoke began. I then found out that my coolant reservoir was completely empty so I refilled it. I let the car cool off and then attempted to drive home. I didn't even get a mile down the road when it started over heating again. I again attempted to let it cool off and try again when the same thing happened so I got it towed home. I had a buddy of mine come look at it who knows a tad bit about cars. He said that there is no leaking fluids coming out of the coolant reservoir and the radiator was fine. The only thing he noticed is there was oil on my engine and suggested I get the valves changed and cleaned up before I take it to a shop to see where the white smoke is coming from in the area behind the engine. Any suggestions of what it could be before I get jerked around by a mechanic?

  • 1
    Is there any sign of oil in the coolant or coolant in the oil (which would look like mayonnaise)?
    – Nick C
    Commented Mar 11, 2015 at 10:22

3 Answers 3


You have a leak.
If the white smoke is coming from the engine compartment, then you are leaking coolant from radiator, hose or gasket. If the smoke is coming from your tailpipe, then you're leaking coolant into the engine itself (bummer).

If it's coming from the tailpipe, take it to the mechanic and bend over. It's going to hurt.

If it's in the engine compartment, then re-fill your RADIATOR (not merely the reservoir) when the engine is cold having been off for a long time. Water is fine for now until you find the leak.
Then run it ... keeping a jug or two of water with you, and stop occasionally to see where the white smoke is coming from - that will tell you the location of the leak. Usually it's just a hose - and cheap to replace. It can be a gasket by the water pump (cheap repair), or a hole in the radiator. If it's in the radiator, you can buy stuff that will plug the leak at your local auto parts store. Some guys use peppercorns - it sounds crazy, but it works. I've used the stuff they sell in the auto store many times - but only if it's in the radiator, and it's beautiful.

One more thing: get it fixed immediately. It's better to be screwed a bit by a mechanic on this deal than to let it go and have it break completely just when you need it badly plus ruin your whole engine.
PS: use the water only for (cheap & easy) testing. Once you've found the leak and fixed it, then put proper coolant in your radiator.

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    I understand your suggesting straight water for the cost aspect of it and maybe even the pollution aspect of it. Depending on where the OP is located, if they are experiencing freezing weather locally, this might not be sound advice to use water instead of the antifreeze. Everything else points to a great answer :D Commented Mar 11, 2015 at 18:22
  • Thanks, @Paulster2 ... Yes, right about the water thing - good catch. I should've written that the water is only for TESTING! Once you find/fix the leak, put appropriate coolant in there.
    – Sophist
    Commented Mar 11, 2015 at 18:55

If you found your coolant reservoir completely empty there's a very good chance you have a coolant leak somewhere, or popped a line. There's a whole list of possibilities, but if was empty then there is a leak somewhere. Don't inhale any of the white smoke as I believe it is toxic. I also believe burning coolant tends to smell "sweet".


You said white smoke was coming out from the hood area behind the engine: You could have a leaked manifold gasket. The cause could be a faulty water pump If the pump is not working well the coolant and or water is not being forced through the system well enough to keep the engine cooled thus creating overheat. The vehicle is a 1998, and so I would first consider pinpointing the smoke and searching for the possible leak at the rear of the engine and then I would definitely consider replacing the Water Pump. After all the vehicle is almost 20 years old.

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