If you don’t know what a piston looks like, the International Journal of Science, Technology, And Engineering has a paper with diagrams that show different sections of a piston. The number of cylinders in your engine will determine the number of pistons.
This is because you have a piston for each cylinder in the engine. This metallic component stands out because it has a cylindrical shape. It moves up and down in the cylinder to compress the combusting fuel and air mixture before capturing and transmitting the resulting force to the crankshaft.
Your car won’t work without healthy pistons, which is why the repair and replacement costs concern the average driver. This is what you should know:
What Are The Symptoms Of Damaged/Defective Pistons?
- Pistons move up and down. Therefore, they tend to make noise once they fail. Expect some rattling and knocking when the engine idles. Significant clearance between the piston and cylinder wall produces a piston slap. You hear the sound when the engine fully warms. But it can also occur because of a worn-out cylinder.
- Excess smoke will billow out of the exhaust because the increased clearance between the piston rings and cylinder walls allows oil to enter the combustion chamber. The oil will burn along with the air/fuel mixture, producing blue smoke. The color is vital because it proves that your car is burning oil. Your vehicle’s oil consumption will increase.
- A damaged piston can disrupt the combustion process, dramatically reducing the engine’s power because of the compression loss. The car won’t accelerate as sharply as you remember. Additionally, the engine may overheat.
- The ‘Check Engine’ light will come on. However, various malfunctions can cause this light to illuminate, including lousy spark plugs and defective ignition coils. You should only narrow your options down to a mechanical problem if the ‘Check Engine’ light appears in conjunction with knocking and rattling sounds, excess smoke from burning oil, and a loss of power.
How Do You Diagnose A Damaged Piston?
If you’re tempted to fix a damaged piston yourself, you must first diagnose it. Identify the source of the failure and determine whether it needs repairing or replacement. Usually, this means accessing the piston and inspecting it. You will see one or more of the following:
- Look for a hole at the top of the piston, a burn mark, or signs of melting. This points to overheating. The combustion chamber is making too much heat. This paper in Applied Thermal Engineering argues that a piston’s temperature shouldn’t exceed 66 percent of the melting point temperature of its alloy. Therefore, the damaged piston is the least of your worries. You should find out where the heat came from and why.
- Is the piston cracked? You can blame the detonation from the combustion chamber. It can overwhelm the piston because of a lean fuel mixture, low octane fuel, and a faulty knock sensor, to mention but a few.
- A scuffed piston points to excess heat from the combustion chamber. You should also look for signs of inadequate lubrication.
- Do you see grooves on the piston’s external walls? The cylinder has dirt and debris.
- A piston can shatter completely. This happens when the timing belt breaks. If you have limited clearance between the piston and valves, the direct contact that occurs when the belt breaks will destroy the piston. Sometimes, the pistons survive, but the valves bend.
- If you observe fused material on the piston, you can blame a variety of culprits, including ignition delays and bad injection nozzles.
- If you see cracks in the crown, you have a deficiency in the quantity of injected fuel, poor piston cooling, insufficient compression, etc.
MS Motor Service International GmbH has published numerous images showing the damage you may observe on a piston when it fails. Once you know what to look for, you can diagnose the damaged pistons and identify practical solutions.
Can You Drive A Car With Damaged Pistons?
Yes, you can drive a car with a damaged piston, but it is a bad idea. Pistons are vital to the engine’s work. Therefore, driving with bad pistons can do irreversible damage to the engine. The same is true for bad piston rings. Call a towing company and let them take your vehicle to a mechanic.
How Much To Replace Engine Pistons?
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You can get decent pistons for $100 or less. That $100 is all you will spend if you intend to replace the pistons and their rings yourself. But most drivers cannot replace their car’s pistons, they usually hire mechanics, which is a problem because pistons are a time-consuming component to replace. You’re looking at 15 or more hours of work.
The mechanic must remove dozens of parts before reaching and removing the pistons. They will probably ask you to leave your car at the repair shop overnight. This is problematic because mechanics can charge as much as $300 an hour in labor fees.
The more complex the engine, the longer it will take to reach the pistons and the more money you will pay in the long run. In other words, you are better off replacing the pistons yourself if you have the skills and experience.
What About The Piston Rings? How Much To Replace Them?
The price tag doesn’t change. It will take roughly the same number of hours to access the piston rings as it would the pistons. If you do it yourself, it will cost $75 to $300. But if you hire a mechanic, the cost will balloon to $3,500, depending on the labor fees mechanics charge in your area.
Defective piston rings will produce similar symptoms to those associated with damaged pistons, including poor acceleration, excess smoke from oil leaking into the combustion chamber, deteriorating vehicle performance, etc.
Can You Repair Damaged Pistons?
Damaged pistons are tricky because they compel the mechanic to take the engine apart to identify the factors that caused the piston to fail. After all, a piston cannot break without a good reason.
However, many drivers are hesitant to allow a mechanic to open their engine because so many things can go wrong when you rebuild an engine. This forces them to spend large sums on expensive repair shops with solid reputations.
But those expenses only make sense if you have a new car and the repair costs are far lower than the vehicle’s value. Keep in mind that a mechanic won’t stop at replacing the pistons. They may also install new gaskets, seals, valves, and oil, depending on the extent of the damage.
Either way, replacing damaged pistons is safer than attempting to fix them. The best case is a scenario where the piston is okay, but the rings have failed. While the process of replacing piston rings is just as taxing, rings are cheaper than pistons.
If you have a warranty, none of these issues matter to you. Take the vehicle back to the dealership. They will decide what to do.