Diagnosis of engine performance or drivability problems on a vehicle with an onboard computer requires that you have a logical plan on how to approach the problem. The Six Step Test Procedure is designed to provide a uniform approach to repair any problems that occur in one or more of the vehicle subsystems.The diagnostic flow built into this test procedure has been field-tested for several years at dealerships - it is the starting point when a repair is required!
It should be noted that a commonly overlooked part of the Problem Resolution step is to check for any related Technical Service Bulletins.
Six-Step Test Procedure
The steps outlined on this page were defined to help you determine how to perform a proper diagnosis. Refer to the flow chart that outlines the Six Step Test Procedure on the previous page as needed. The recommended steps include:
Accessing Components & Circuits
Every vehicle and every diagnostic situation is different. It is a good idea to first determine the best diagnostic path to follow using flow charts, wiring diagrams, TSBs, etc. Part of choosing steps is to determine how time-consuming and effective each step will be. It may be easy to access a component or circuit in one vehicle, but difficult in another. Many circuits are integrated into a large harness and are difficult to test. Many components are inaccessible without disassembly of unrelated systems.
In the graphic, you will note that the protective covers have been removed from the PCM connectors, and any circuit can be easily identified and back probed. In other cases, PCM access is difficult, and it may be easier to access circuits at the component side of the harness.
Another important point to remember is that any circuit or component controlled by a relay or fused circuit can be monitored from the appropriate fuse box.
There is generally more than one of each type of relay or fuse. Therefore, swapping a suspect relay from another system may be more efficient than testing the relay itself. Relays and fuses may also be removed and replaced with fused jumper wires for testing circuits. Jumper wires can also provide a loop for inductive amperage tests.
Choosing the easiest way has its limitations, however. Remember that an appropriate signal on a PCM controlled circuit at an actuator means that the signal at the PCM is also good. However, a sensor signal at the sensor does not necessarily mean that the PCM is receiving the same signal. Think about the direction flow through a circuit, and not just what signal is appropriate, to save time without making costly assumptions.
Base Engine Tests
To determine that an engine is mechanically sound, certain tests need to be performed to verify that the correct A/F mixture enters the engine, is compressed, ignited, burnt, and then discharged out of the exhaust system. These tests can be used to help determine the mechanical condition of the engine.
To diagnose an engine-related complaint, compare the results of the Compression, Cylinder Balance, Engine Cylinder Leakage (not included) and Engine Vacuum Tests.
Engine Compression Test
The Engine Compression Test is used to determine if each cylinder is contributing its equal share of power. The compression readings of all the cylinders are recorded and then compared to each other and to the manufacturer's specification (if available).
Cylinders that have low compression readings have lost their ability to seal. It this type of problem exists, the location of the compression leak must be identified. The leak can be in any of these areas: piston, head gasket, spark plugs, and exhaust or intake valves.
The results of this test can be used to determine the overall condition of the engine and to identify any problem cylinders as well as the most likely cause of the problem.
Compression Test Procedure
- Allow the engine to run until it is fully warmed up.
- Remove the spark plugs and disable the Ignition system and the Fuel system for safety. Disconnecting the CKP sensor harness connector will disable both fuel and ignition (except on NGC vehicles).
- Carefully block the throttle to the wide-open position.
- Insert the compression gauge into the cylinder and tighten it firmly by hand.
- Use a remote starter switch or ignition key and crank the engine for 3-5 complete engine cycles. If the test is interrupted for any reason, release the gauge pressure and retest. Repeat this test procedure on all cylinders and record the readings.
The lowest cylinder compression reading should not be less than 70% of the highest cylinder compression reading and no cylinder should read less than 100 psi.Evaluating The Test Results
To determine why an individual cylinder has a low compression reading, insert a small amount of engine oil (3 squirts) into the suspect cylinder. Reinstall the compression gauge and retest the cylinder and record the reading. Review the explanations below.
Reading is higher - If the reading is higher at this point, oil inserted into the cylinder helped to seal the piston rings against the cylinder walls. Look for worn piston rings.
Reading did not change - If the reading didn't change, the most likely cause of the low cylinder compression reading is the head gasket or valves.
Low readings on companion cylinders - If low compression readings were recorded from cylinders located next to each other, the most likely cause is a blown head gasket.
Readings are higher than normal - If the compression readings are higher than normal, excessive carbon may have collected on the pistons and in the exhaust areas. One way to remove the carbon is with an approved brand of Top Engine Cleaner.
Engine Vacuum Tests
An engine vacuum test can be used to determine if each cylinder is contributing an equal share of power. Engine vacuum, defined as any pressure lower than atmospheric pressure, is produced in each cylinder during the intake stroke. If each cylinder produces an equal amount of vacuum, the measured vacuum in the intake manifold will be even during engine cranking, at idle speed, and at off-idle speeds.
Engine vacuum is measured with a vacuum gauge calibrated to show the difference between engine vacuum (the lack of pressure in the intake manifold) and atmospheric pressure. Vacuum gauge measurements are usually shown in inches of Mercury (in. Hg).
Engine Cranking Vacuum Test Procedure
The Engine Cranking Vacuum Test can be used to verify that low engine vacuum is not the cause of a No Start, Hard Start, Starts and Dies or Rough Idle condition (symptom).
The vacuum gauge needle fluctuations that occur during engine cranking are indications of individual cylinder problems. If a cylinder produces less than normal engine vacuum, the needle will respond by fluctuating between a steady high reading (from normal cylinders) and a lower reading (from the faulty cylinder). If more than one cylinder has a low vacuum reading, the needle will fluctuate very rapidly.
- Prior to starting this test, set the parking brake, place the gearshift in P/N and block the drive wheels for safety. Then block the PCV valve and disable the idle air control device.
- Disable the fuel and/or ignition system to prevent the vehicle from starting during the test (while it is cranking).
- Close the throttle plate and connect a vacuum gauge to an intake manifold vacuum source. Crank the engine for three seconds (do this step at least twice).
The test results will vary due to engine design characteristics, the type of PCV valve and the position of the AIS or IAC motor and throttle plate. However, the engine vacuum should be steady between 1.0-4.0 in. Hg during normal cranking.Engine Running Vacuum Test Procedure
- Allow the engine to run until fully warmed up. Connect a vacuum gauge to a clean intake manifold source. Connect a tachometer or Scan Tool to read engine speed.
- Start the engine and let the idle speed stabilize. Raise the engine speed rapidly to just over 2000 rpm. Repeat the test (3) times. Compare the idle and cruise readings.
If the engine wear is even, the gauge should read over 16 in. Hg and be steady. Test results can vary due to engine design and the altitude above or below sea level.
Ignition System Tests - Distributor
This section gives an overview of ignition tests (with examples) for a Distributor Ignition System.Preliminary Inspection
- Perform these checks prior to connecting the Engine Analyzer:
- Check the battery condition (verify that it can sustain a cranking voltage of 9.6v).
- Inspect the ignition coil for signs of damage or carbon tracking at the coil tower.
- Remove the coil wire and check for signs of corrosion on the wire or tower.
- Test the coil wire resistance with a DVOM (it should be less than 7 k/ohm per foot).
- Connect a low output spark tester to the coil wire and engine ground. Verify that the ignition coil can sustain adequate spark output while cranking for 3-6 seconds.
- Connect the Engine Analyzer to the Ignition System, and choose Parade display. Run the engine at 2000 RPM, and note the display patterns, looking for any abnormalities.
Ignition System Tests - Distributorless
Perform the following checks prior to connecting the Engine Analyzer:
- Check the battery condition (verify that it can sustain a cranking voltage of 9.6v).
- Inspect the ignition coils for signs of damage or carbon tracking at the coil towers.
- Remove the secondary ignition wires and check for signs of corrosion.
- Test the plug wire resistance with a DVOM (specification varies from 15-30 k/ohm).
- Connect a low output spark tester to a plug wire and to engine ground. Verify that the ignition coil can sustain adequate spark output for 3-6 seconds.
- Connect the Engine Analyzer to the ignition system.
- Turn the scope selector to view the -Parade Display- of the ignition secondary.
- Start the engine in Park or Neutral and slowly increase the engine speed from idle to 2000 rpm.
Compare actual display to the examples below.
It is a good idea, prior to tracing any faults, to clear the DTCs, attempt to replicate the condition and see if the same DTC resets. Also, once any repairs are made, it will be necessary to clear the DTC(s) PCM Reset to ensure the repair has totally resolved the problem. For procedures on PCM Reset, see the DIAGNOSTIC TROUBLE CODES section.
Problem Resolution & Repair
Once the problem component or circuit has been properly identified and verified using published diagnostic procedures, make any needed repairs or replacement to restore the vehicle to proper working order. If the condition has set a DTC, follow the designated repair chart to make an effective repair. If there is not a DTC set, but you can determine specific symptoms that are evident during the failure, select the symptom from the symptom tables and follow the diagnostic paths or suggestions to complete the repair or refer to the applicable component or system in service information.
Once a repair is completed, the next step is to verify the vehicle operates properly and that the original symptom was corrected. Verification Tests, related to specific DTC diagnostic steps, can be used to verify a repair.
To verify the customer complaint, the technician should understand the normal operation of the system. Conduct a thorough visual and operational inspection, review the service history, detect unusual sounds or odors, and gather diagnostic trouble code (DTC) information resources to achieve an effective repair.
This check should include videos, newsletters, and any other information in the form of TSBs or Dealer Service Bulletins. Analyze the complaint and then use the recommended Six Step Test Procedure. Utilize the wiring diagrams and theory of operation articles. Combine your own knowledge with efficient use of the available service information.
Verify the cause of any related symptoms that may or may not be supported by one or more trouble codes. There are various checks that can be performed to Engine Controls that will help verify the cause of a related symptom. This step helps to lead you in an organized diagnostic approach.
To determine whether vehicle problems are identified by a set Diagnostic Trouble Code, you will first have to connect a proper scan tool to the Data Link Connector and retrieve any set codes. See DIAGNOSTIC TROUBLE CODES section for information on retrieving and reading codes.
If no codes are set, the problem must be diagnosed using only vehicle operating symptoms. A complete set of No Code symptoms is found in the SYMPTOM DIAGNOSIS (NO CODES) section.
Do NOT attempt to diagnose driveability symptoms without having a logical plan to use to determine which engine control system is the cause of the symptom - this plan should include a way to determine which systems do NOT have a problem! Remember, there are 2 kinds of NO CODE conditions:
Both of these NO CODE conditions are covered in the SYMPTOM DIAGNOSIS (NO CODES) section.
Symptom Or Trouble Code Tests
If the vehicle does not set a DTC and has only intermittent operating failures or concerns, to resolve an intermittent fault, perform the following steps: