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43Folders.com is Merlin Mann’s website about finding the time and attention to do your best creative work.

Know your smoke

Is your car smoking from the exhaust pipe?

Reader wemerson was kind enough to correct me on my metaphor in the previous post about tracking down the sources of whining in your life. Turns out that my use of "white smoke" was incorrect. Many thanks -- and I made the correction.

To share the information and prevent future slightly-appropriate-metaphor-makers from repeating my error, here's how to tell what's wrong with your car based on the color of smoke coming out of your tailpipe. From trustmymechanic.com:

  • White smoke: White smoke is caused by water and or antifreeze entering the cylinder, and the engine trying to burn it with the fuel. The white smoke is steam...
  • Blue Smoke: Blue smoke is caused by engine oil entering the cylinder area and being burned along with the fuel air mixture. As with the white smoke, just a small drop of oil leaking into the cylinder can produce blue smoke out the tailpipe...
  • Black Smoke: Black smoke is caused by excess fuel that has entered the cylinder area and cannot be burned completely. Another term for excess fuel is "running rich." Poor fuel mileage is also a common complaint when black smoke comes out of the tailpipe.

Related: in the event that a conclave at the Sistine Chapel has been voting on who the next Pope shall be, here's what Wikipedia says to watch for in terms of smoke (emphasis added):

Once the ballots are counted and bound together, they are burned in a special stove erected in the Sistine Chapel, with the smoke escaping through a small chimney visible from St. Peter's Square. The ballots from an unsuccessful vote are burned along with a chemical compound in order to produce black smoke, or fumata nera. (Traditionally, wet straw was used to help create the black smoke, but a number of "false alarms" in past conclaves have brought about this concession to modern chemistry.) When a vote is successful, the ballots are burned alone, sending white smoke (fumata bianca) through the chimney and announcing to the world the election of a new pope. At the end of the conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI, church bells were also rung to signal that a new pope had been chosen.

And finally, if you're worried about smoke in your home, here's how to choose a smoke detector:

Depending on your situation and your preference, you can choose to go with a battery-operated detector or one that is hard-wired (AC-powered) to your electrical system. The important thing is that you have smoke detectors mounted in your living and work space...

Consider purchasing a combination smoke/carbon monoxide detector for your home. They are more expensive, but well worth it...

Make sure that the smoke detector you choose has been tested by an independent testing laboratory.

Thanks again to folks for pointing out the error. I'll say it again: 43 Folder draws the best-looking, quickest-eyed readers in the business. Rock on.

Farfield's picture

Diesel smoke

Nice, thanks for the info Merlin :) I did know the white and the blue smoke were caused by water and oil respectively, but I didn't know the black smoke. I guess a lot of that blue smoke coming from Diesel engines is caused by the fact that diesel is less refined than normal gasoline?




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