So bear with me here because I feel as though I have to give the full story just to make sure I don't miss anything in the diagnosis.
About 5 years ago I bought a '96 toyota tacoma 4x4 extended cab with the 3.4L V6. I hardly did any maintenance to it for these first 4 or 5 years because I was finishing my undergrad. Well, now I got a garage and house so I got time to put a little effort into it. For the most part I got more time than money so I'm a heavy do it your-selfer.
Phase 1 - About a month ago I was driving around getting some oil for an oil change and on my way back from the house I saw a flicker on my dash but then it was gone...I decided it was something on the road instead but then looked again a second later and saw that my water temperature gauge was through the roof. On full red. So I through on the heater and boogied back to my house about 2 minutes away and the temperature fell below the red. Upon arrival at home I found that I was bone dry on water so I filled her up but still it overheated. I decided it was the thermostat. (Let me preface this with the fact that I have not kept a good eye on my coolant over the last 5 years, but I've driven my truck across the country from here to washington state 3 times...and that needle never moves from normal temperature once it gets there-so I knew something was wrong)
Phase 2 - I was about to turn 185XXX miles and the timing belt was last changed at 85XXX so I decided I would go ahead and replace the timing belt, water pump/thermostat, and belt tensioners and pulleys and all fan belts. (I parked my truck immediately after the overheat and didn't drive it again until I had replaced all this stuff). This all went great, I had no problem installing everything and I said a little prayer and cranked 'er up and everything ran smooth, no overheating, the repair job went great.
Phase 3 - I'm at the vet school parking lot getting ready to go home and my GF says "gosh, there sure is an awful lot of white smoke coming from your tailpipe...(me not wanting to acknowledge another problem I'm like ahh thats nothin...) Well let me tell you upon investigation this did not seem like normal exhaust. And it wasn't like it was a cold day either. It definitely appeared like I had a water vapor coming out of my exhaust. After about 5 minutes of driving however it would clear right up. (Side note here if you are tracking with me - I had been regularly monitoring my water volume...I think I have been slowly losing some, and I had been heavily monitoring my oil...it had remained the same level)...I continued to drive my vehicle and all of a sudden I began to have issues after it sat for a while with starting it, kind of acted like a bad battery, but I got out my voltmeter and it said that my battery and alternator was good.
Phase 4 - Well, I'm almost 95% sure I know what my problem is, and I'm really hoping it isn't what I think it is, but its parked in the garage ready for some long labor --- and I'm beginning to think that that flicker of light I mentioned in the beginning of my entire story was the oil temperature (Oh **** light!) and my block got heated for longer than I thought it did.
So whats your diagnosis? I want to leave you unbiased for now, but look I love the occasional maintenance job that's a bit of a challenge like a timing belt, but when I have to spend to much time under the hood I remind myself why I'm not a mechanic and in another line of work. (Point is, when I tear into this baby I wanna make damn sure I know what the problem is and I'm not doing an exploratory surgery)
Main Summary: I got white smoke coming out my tailpipe when I crank up my truck and it lasts for about 5 minutes then it goes away. I may be losing small amounts of water. My oil level has stayed the same. During these happenings my truck has started to act like its having a hard time starting. Whats up?
TIA y'all are awesome (BTW - I know this is my first post and I may be asking a lot for a rookie, but y'all single handedly helped me do my first timing belt and water pump as well as new billies all the way around so I'm greatly appreciative. But I've searched the forum pretty thoroughly for a good tutorial on how to fix what I need to buy I've come up short)