See Figures 1 and 2
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, leaking 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 section of General Information & Maintenance , a screw-in type compression gauge is more accurate that 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.
- Warm up the engine to normal operating temperature.
- Remove all the spark plugs.
- Disconnect the high tension lead from the ignition coil.
- Fully open the throttle either by operating the throttle linkage by hand or by having an assistant floor the accelerator pedal.
- Screw the compression gauge into the No.1 spark plug hole until the fitting is snug.
- While you read the compression gauge, ask an assistant to crank the engine two or three times in short bursts using the ignition switch.
- 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. As a general rule, new engines will have compression on the order of 150-170 psi (1034-1171 kPa). This number will decrease with age and wear. The pressure that your test shows is not as important as the evenness between all the cylinders. Many vehicles run very well with all cylinders at 105 psi (723.5 kPa). The lower number simply shows a general deterioration internally. This vehicle probably burns a little oil and may be a bit harder to start, but, based on these numbers, doesn't warrant an engine tear-down yet.Compare the highest reading of all the cylinders. Any variation of more than 10% should be considered a sign of potential trouble. For example, if your compression readings for cylinders 1 through 4 were: 135 psi (930 kPa), 125 psi (861 kPa), 90 psi (620 kPa) and 125 psi (861 kPa), it would be fair to say that cylinder number three is not working efficiently and is almost certainly the cause of your oil burning, rough idle or poor fuel mileage.
- 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 comes up 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 might be leakage past the head gasket. Oil and coolant in the combustion chamber can result from this problem. There may be evidence of water droplets on the engine dipstick when a head gasket has blown.
- After the compression check is complete, install the spark plugs and hook their perspective spark plug cables back up.
Checking cylinder compression on diesel engines is basically the same procedure as on gasoline engines except for the following:
- A special compression gauge adaptor suitable for diesel engines (because these engines have much greater compression pressures) must be used.
- Remove the injector tubes and remove the injectors from each cylinder.
Don't forget to remove the washer underneath each injector; otherwise, it may get lost when the engine is cranked.
- When fitting the compression gauge adaptor to the cylinder head, make sure the bleeder of the gauge (if equipped) is closed.
- When reinstalling the injector assemblies, install new washers underneath each injector.