A misfiring engine can be quite a jarring experience, not least because as you’re driving along you can just hear the price of your repair bill going up with each pop and bang. But what causes engines to misfire, and is there a way to prevent them from doing so? Read on as Scrap Car Comparison’s latest Car Care guide delves into the world of misfires.
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How to tell if your engine is misfiring
Telling if your engine is misfiring is a relatively simple process, as you’ll usually hear some unwanted pops and bangs coming from underneath your bonnet, accompanied by jerks, vibrations or strange smells. You’ll also notice that your car just isn’t performing how you’d expect it to. Your power will drop and your fuel economy will likely go through the roof, not to mention more harmful gases coming out of your tailpipe.
If you’re looking for a more detailed diagnosis than just using your eyes, ears and nose, then there are specific pieces of technology that can tell you exactly where the issue lies. Data that these scanning tools can provide include in which cylinder the misfire is taking place, whether that cylinder has fired after the misfire happened, how many misfires have happened in the previous cycle and even tell you at which RPM the misfire started to occur. All this detail can help you, or a mechanic, diagnose the exact problem and get you fixed up much sooner.
Is it safe to drive if your car is misfiring?
While not an immediate safety concern, the longer you drive a misfiring car, the greater chance you have of putting yourself in a less-than-ideal situation. Driving a car that’s suffering from a misfire can put the engine under extreme levels of stress, which can cause further damage. If this results in catastrophic engine failure while you’re on a fast road, particularly if you’re in the outside lane of a motorway, for example, then this could put you in significant levels of danger. You’ll also be down on power, meaning your chances of accelerating out of a dangerous situation on the roads are greatly reduced. A short journey to a garage should be okay in a misfiring car, but it is not recommended to undertake long journeys.
Common causes of engine misfiring
A misfiring engine could come down to a few causes, all of which you’re going to want to get fixed as soon as possible to avoid any further issues from arising. One of the most likely culprits are your spark plugs, and without a spark plug, your car’s engine simply won’t work. Despite their diminutive appearance, these little components cause the spark which ignites the fuel and provides the combustion part of the internal combustion engine. Worn or fouled spark plugs can cause a misfire in one or more of your cylinders and you’ll notice the sudden drop in power, fuel economy, or difficulty in the engine simply starting.
If it’s not the spark plugs, then it could well be the ignition coils. These coils convert the battery’s output into the high-voltage charge needed to fire a spark plug, and if this conversion does not work, then your spark plug will be unable to ignite the fuel, thus causing a misfire.
Other likely causes could be a clogged fuel injector, where not enough fuel is provided to the engine, or a vacuum leak in the inlet manifold, meaning too much air is pumped into the fuel mixture, causing a lean misfire. In any case, a qualified mechanic should be able to sort the problem for you.
Can misfiring damage an engine
A misfire on its own is unlikely to cause too much damage to your car directly, but ignoring one could prove incredibly costly. Misfires put additional strain on your engine components, and one cylinder misfire could lead to another going down the same route, and if too many start to falter, your engine could stop working altogether.
Certain misfires can also lead to an increased heat level within your engine bay, and as we’ve mentioned before, excess heat can be catastrophic for your car. Cracks in either your valves or cylinder heads will be a much more expensive fix than some new spark plugs.
How to prevent an engine from misfiring
It might seem like a bit of a cop-out, but the simplest way to prevent your engine from misfiring is to keep up a regular maintenance schedule as laid out in your car’s owner’s manual. This means ensuring your air filters, spark plugs and fuel nozzles are replaced at the recommended intervals, along with cleaning of your fuel injectors. Also making sure you’re using the right type of engine oil, and a high-quality oil or fuel can help keep your engine running at its optimum performance levels.
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