My car is smokin’. But not in a good way.

It’s just coming up to ten years since I first got it. And it’s a ’93 model, so sometime later this year will be the car’s fifteenth birthday.

There’s a strange rattling noise when I start it up (rumoured to be an issue with the balance shaft chain — whatever that is), and worse, it’s putting some smoke out of the exhaust when idling, or accelerating from a stop. This isn’t a good look for anybody, let alone me.

It’s going for a service pronto, but I wonder (yet again) if the old beast may be reaching the end of its useful life. While I drive about a third of the Australian average of 15,000 km per year, it’s no good if it’s polluting more than it should.

PT is just not up to scratch for some trips for now, and the car sharing companies aren’t even considering the burbs like mine yet. And while I should make more trips by bike, it ain’t gonna happen just yet. And the theory of doing any necessary car trips by taxi isn’t as good as the reality.

So I think it may be about time to upgrade the ol’ rustbucket.

Last time I pondered this lots of helpful people commented. So once again, I’m pondering Corollas, Golfs, Civics, Vectras, Peugot 307s, that kind of thing. Safe (4 stars or higher?), economical, trouble-free.

Sigh. Damn expensive business though, isn’t it.

Cars. Money pits.

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.

23 replies on “Smokin’!”

You can’t beat Hyundai as value for money and my personal experience of them has been positive, but for you, probably Golf is the most appropriate. How about a diesel? If your car is blowing smoke and you are considering buying a new car, don’t waste money on fixing the old one. It will cost heaps to stop it blowing smoke. You can spend a lot of money on an old car and still be in front as against buying a new car, but once they blow smoke…..

Have to agree with Andrew. It’s as bad – with cars – as it is with electronics; once you start letting the smoke out, things stop working the way they should.

If you’re going for a new car and want to be as earth-friendly as possible, diesel is a great idea. And almost every car maker has now got diesel so you can get them in inexpensive up to ludicrously expensive – take your pick.

P.S. I also agree about the Hyundai – mine is 11 years old and still (touch wood) not letting the smoke escape.

I have a Corolla wagon (2002 model) and I love it. They are excellent cars, rarely fail, and are relatively inexpensive to repair when they do.

Sadly I will be needing to trade mine in for something that accommodates 3 car seats sometime this year…

I’d like to say “buy Australian”, but I think the Corolla is now made overseas. I think that leaves the Camry as the only Aussie-made 4-cylinder car (we have a 1996 model and it’s great). You may think a Camry is too big for you.
At least you only have to make difficult decisions every ten years or so! Good luck.


It seems as if your car is burning engine oil. This is usually, but not always, a sign of wear in the engine. This is usually caused by worn piston rings or valve guides letting oil get to the combustion chamber where it can be burned but there can be other causes too and some of them are not too hard or expensive to fix. What color is the smoke? Black smoke could be too rich a fuel mixture. This is a fuel injection problem or a carburator problem in an older car. This is not too expensive to fix. Bluish smoke is burning oil or a bad PCV (positive crankcase ventilation) valve which causes the engine to burn oil. A PCV valve is really cheap and easy to fix. A worn oil burnrng engine is not cheap to fix. White steamy smoke is engine coolant getting into the engine usually from a bad head gasket. This is moderately expensive to fix. White smoke can also be burning automatic transmission fluid in some cars. A bad seal in a vacuum control allows fluid to be sucked into the engine and causes a lot of white smoke. This has happened to me twice and it is an easy fix. A stick shift car will not have this problem.

If the car is burning oil do to a worn engine as a last resort auto parts stores in the USA sell a heavy oil additive that thickens the oil and causes less to seep past the seals and burn. Perhaps this is available in Australia too. If this works it is a cheap and temporary solution to a smoking engine that might allow you to keep the car a little while longer.

Have a trusted mechanic check the car and you might be lucky to have an easy problem to fix. Jed

Australia is high up in the world rankings for the (old) average age of its car fleet. Or so I regularly read. Not that one would believe it when driving amongst all of the spankingly new 4WDs etc around town.

Anyway – yr right. Old cars (OK, engines) are notorious for being more polluting than newer models with electronic and other emissions controls. I can often smell older ones in front of me in traffic as the air comes in thru the vents. That’s even without the smoke issue.

Do yourself and the earth a favour and buy a new car with the smallest, most efficienct engine you can. I just saw a great all electric car from these guys: – proudly Victorian.

Amazes me how large the engines are in Australia. Compare with Europe where 1.3L is considered OK, 1.6-1.8L is considered sporty and 2.0L is an exec’s pride and joy. OK, things may have changed a little since last I lived there, what with ‘Chelsea Tractors’ and all. But 5.7L V8 engines – forgeddaboutit – they couldn’t afford to run those monsters.

The reason for larger engines is often touted as a need to travel longer distances in places like Australia and USA. Sure there is some ‘milage’ in that. But not when the cars are for tootling around the suburbs and rarely make it out of the metropolitan area.

Larger engines are probably more about the profits of the car and petroleum industries . . .

Higher petrol prices might help fix that?


How big does this car have to be? I suggest that you check out a Mazda2. You can buy one of those for $17,600 including curtain airbags and ESP (but not including on-road costs). It will be very efficient, it looks good and has some brilliant colours available. My favourite is yellow. It should also stand up well in a crash, being a very modern design.

If you want something a bit bigger, try a manual Renault Megane diesel. It will use very little fuel (roughly 5.5 litres/100 km) and it has a 5-star crash rating and all the safety features. However it’ll be close to $30,000.

The Hyundai i30 is also a good idea, at around $24,000 plus on-road costs for a diesel manual including ESP and curtain airbags. It should get a high crash rating too.

I wouldn’t bother throwing any more money at the Magna though. Any work done to fix a smoke problem will involve dismantling the engine and that will cost more than the car is worth.

Like you, I’ve had my car 9 years and it’s almost 16 years old and I’ve decided that it’s time. Only problem is, that my car knows. I had a test drive booked last weekend and my damn car wouldn’t start to take me there!!! Grrr…

Thanks for all the comments.

I figure I have to get the smoke thing fixed, unless it’s a really expensive job that leaves me ditching the car straight away, since with my level of pontificating, it’s not like I’ll go buy a new one tomorrow.

(Arguably I should ditch it and try life without it for a couple of weeks, but I suspect it would drive me crazy.)

I’d want 4 doors, and seats not tiny, as the boys keep growing and at least one of them would have to sit back there. But I’d lean towards a small car, certainly.

No intention of buying a brand new car. That saying that you lose 20% as soon as you get it rings true. I think I’d go for the approx $10-12k bracket, and aiming for something I’ll keep for another 10+ years. Oddly from a cursory look it appears you can get a recent Golf OR Corolla for about that price. A Prius would be perfect, but is too expensive for me.

Both my cars have been Ford Lasers (1986 & 2001), and I haven’t had any serious issues with either. The Laser is identical to a Mazda 323 Astina, just with a Ford badge. For a small-medium sized, affordable, reliable car, I can’t recommend them highly enough.

Why don’t you get a hybrid? There are a few of them on the market now, and I think the Honda one is cheaper than the Prius.

I really like the Prius I’ve driven, but are there any in my price range? Anyway, I drive so little the benefit isn’t there. As Lorraine Summerfield says:

“I don’t need to run out and buy a hybrid car out of guilt. I can certainly hang up the keys more often and probably achieve the same effect.”

We have a little Rio. It’s very smooth and quiet with decent economy. Nice on cornering and much easier to park than the big cranky Camry.

If the engine is smoking at idle but not when accelerating then it is probably the valve guides in the head. This is not as expensive to fix as a whole engine however does need attention. Engine rebuilds these days cost more than the car is worth.I just rebuit by beetle engine ($4000 and counting). Probably easier to trade it in on a newer car. The Golf 1.8 Tdi is a nice alternative. Diesel, excellent economy

Re 2nd hand hybrids.

When I looked at buying a hybrid car, there was some concern about the life of the battery. Just found these:

“Battery Life – A concern with most people purchasing hybrids is the battery life. This is a valid concern as they are extremely expensive. Both Honda and Toyota have substantial warrantees on the battery component – they both offer an 8-year limited warranty on the batteries (80,000 mile limit for Honda, 100,000 mile limit for Toyota). This made us feel much more comfortable.”

And then even more comfort:

Worth doing some research.

You only do short trips like me – I barely clock 15,000 a year too. My Lancer (1991) is fantastically economical. I can drive 20 minutes each day for seven weeks after filling the tank. Mind, that’s not going much above 90 most days as it’s to get to the station. Longer trips at higher speed are just as good. I’d say go for a newer model Lancer.

Daniel – you say your criteria is $10-12k, four star safety, not too big and good fuel economy? 1998-2005 TS series Holden Astra is your answer. Nothing else for that money will come close for safety. I owned a 2001 model from new until last year and had a trouble free run with it over 164,000km.

Your car’s problem, incidentally, is typical of older Magnas – they all go smoky eventually. The engine in them is an utter dog – low on performance, uses a lot of fuel for its size and isn’t a good long term proposition.

I have a Pug 307 Diesel wagon and I love it. She is nearly two years old and I have only done 16000k’s and I am sure I can remember everytime I have filled her up it is that infrequent. I drive motly in peak hour traffic and average 750km per tank. I never completely empty her so that is usually about 50 litres of fuel. This tank however is going over 900k’s. I love her – she safely transports me and my three kids and all their stuff around in comfort and has not skipped a beat yet.

My husband test drives cars and we had a Hyundai i30 diesel and it was fantastic but a little bit small for us full time. He doesn’t drive them nicely as he has to test them but we managed a very respectable 800k’s out of its tank.

Would definately suggest buying new over second hand – better for the environment as the new car will meet new compliance and be cleaner.

Sad to see the old one go though – I still miss all my previous cars as they were part of the family and they all had their good points.

Daniel – I can’t believe it has been 10 years since I read about you getting your licence and getting your first car! No way – it could NOT be that long…

But alas, it is. Maybe the fact that I recently had my 40th explains the memory loss… LOL!

Prius’ (Prii????) are REALLY expensive – even second hand. I have also been looking to change my car (from my ute to saomething that can take a babyseat…) and the choices are so varied it is frightening!

I’m coming in a bit late here, but every time I visited your site it was down, and now I’ve finally made it back to check if it was working again.

The smoke issue (if it is blue) is inevitable in all Magnas pre mid 1996. It’s more than likely the valve stem seals which appear to be crap in this model. This only cost me $250 to fix. If it is the piston rings, then yes, it is not worth doing.

You need to consider resale value of your car. Magnas have terrible resale so it may be better to fix it up (if its the valve seals) and keep on trucking. And as you are concerned about the pollution factor, surely selling it is just letting someone else pollute with it.

Comments are closed.