Chrysler Front Wheel Drive Cars 4-CYL 1981-1995 Repair Information

Checking Engine Compression


See Figure 1

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Fig. Fig. 1: A screw-in type compression gauge is more accurate and easier to use without an assistant

A noticeable lack of engine power, excessive oil consumption and/or poor fuel mileage measured over an extended period are all indicators of internal engine wear. Worn piston rings, scored or worn cylinder bores, blown head gaskets, sticking or burnt valves and worn valve seats are all possible culprits here. A check of each cylinder's compression will help you locate the problems.

As mentioned in the tools and equipment of portion this information, a screw-in type compression gauge is more accurate than the type you simply hold against the spark plug hole, although it takes slightly longer to use. It's worth it to obtain a more accurate reading. Follow this procedure:

  1. Warm up the engine to normal operating temperature.
  3. Remove all the spark plugs.
  5. Disconnect the high tension lead from the ignition coil for conventional ignition systems, or detach the ignition coil wiring harness connector on models with Direct Ignition Systems (DIS).
  7. Fully open the throttle either by operating the carburetor throttle linkage by hand or by having an assistant floor the accelerator pedal.
  9. Screw the compression gauge into the No. 1 spark plug hole until the fitting is snug.

Be careful not to crossthread the plug hole. On aluminum cylinder heads use extra care, as the threads in these heads are easily damaged.

  1. Ask an assistant to fully depress the accelerator pedal. Then, while you read the compression gauge, ask the assistant to crank the engine 4 or 5 times in short bursts using the ignition switch.
  3. Read the compression gauge at the end of each series of cranks, and record the highest of these readings. Repeat this procedure for each of the engine's cylinders.

A cylinder's compression pressure is considered within specification if the lowest reading cylinder is within 75% of the highest. The minimum acceptable pressure for these engines is about 100 psi. (689 kPa).

  1. If a cylinder is unusually low, pour a tablespoon of clean engine oil into the cylinder through the spark plug hole and repeat the compression test. If the compression increases after adding the oil, it appears that the cylinder's piston rings or bore are damaged or worn. If the pressure remains low, the valves may not be seating properly (a valve job is needed), or the head gasket may be blown near that cylinder. If compression in any two adjacent cylinders is low, and if the addition of oil doesn't help the compression, there is probably leakage past the head gasket. Oil and coolant water in the combustion chamber can result from this problem. If there is evidence of water droplets in the oil film on the engine dipstick, the engine oil appears light brown and "milky'' when the oil is drained, or oil is found in the radiator coolant, it is very likely that the head gasket has blown.