ENGINE VACUUM LEAK DETECTION
Okay, now that we have covered what a vacuum leaks do, how do you find components that leak vacuum? One way is to visually inspect all the vacuum hoses and connections. Look for disconnected, loose or cracked hoses, broken fittings, etc. Hey, you might get lucky and find the problem in a few minutes, or you might waste half the day trying to find the mysterious leak. Vacuum leaks are often the elusive needle in a haystack. And if it is not a hose leaking vacuum but something else such as a gasket, worn throttle shaft, injector O-rings, etc, you may never find it using this technique.
A faster technique for finding intake manifold vacuum leaks is to get a bottle of propane and attach a length of rubber hose to the gas valve. Open the valve so you have a steady flow of gas. Then hold the hose near suspected leak points while the engine is idling. If there is a leak, propane will be siphoned in through the leak. The resulting "correction" in the engine's air/fuel ratio should cause a noticeable change in idle speed and/or smoothness (Note: on engines with computerized idle speed control, disconnect the idle speed control motor first).
Aerosol carburetor cleaner can also be used the same way. CAUTION: Solvent is extremely flammable, so do not smoke or use it if there are any sparks in the vicinity (arcing plug wires, for example). Spray the solvent on suspected leak points while the engine is idling. If there is a leak, the solvent will be drawn into the engine and have the same effect as the propane. The idle speed will suddenly change and smooth out.
TIP: If you have a scan tool, look at the Short Term Fuel Trim (STFT) value while you are using carb cleaner or propane to check suspected vacuum leak points. If there is a leak and some of the cleaner or propane is sucked in through the leak, you will see a momentary drop in the STFT reading. This confirms you have found a leak (keep checking because there may be multiple leaks!).
USING SMOKE TO FIND ENGINE VACUUM LEAKS
A much safer technique is to use a smoke machine. These machines feed artificial smoke into the intake manifold, The smoke may also be mixed with an ultraviolet dye to make leaks easier to see. You then look for smoke seeping out of hoses, gaskets or cracks in the manifold and/or use a UV light to find the leak. This type of equipment is often needed to find small air leaks in the EVAP (evaporative emissions) control system. Smoke machines can cost $600 to $2000 or more depending on the model and features, so they are primarily for use by professional technicians.
FINDING LEAKS WITH AN EXHAUST ANALYZER
Propane can also be used in conjunction with an exhaust analyzer (do NOT use carburetor cleaner or you may damage your analyzer!). Engine vacuum leaks almost always cause fluctuating HC readings, so an infrared exhaust analyzer can (1) tell you if there is indeed a leak, and (2) where the leak is using the propane procedure.
Two types of vacuum leaks can be diagnosed with an analyzer. The first kind is a general vacuum leak (PCV hose, brake booster, etc.) That leans out the mixture and causes a very low CO reading and only a slightly higher fluctuating HC reading. The O2 reading will also be high. The second kind of vacuum leak is a "point" leak that affects only one or two cylinders (a leaky manifold gasket or a crack or porosity leak in one of the manifold runners). This will be indicated by a normal or low CO reading combined with high fluctuating HC readings. O2 will again be high.
To find a leak, feed propane at suspected leak points until you note an improvement in idle quality and/or a change in the HC/CO/O2 readings. When you have found the leak, the idle should smooth out, HC and O2 should drop and CO rise.
It is important to note that an overly lean idle mixture will also cause a fluctuating HC reading the same as a vacuum leak. To tell one from the other, there is a simple "trick" you can use. Momentarily enrich the idle mixture to 1.5 to 2.0% CO by placing a clean shop rag over the top of the carburetor. If the engine smooths out and HC drops and remains stable, the problem is a lean idle mixture adjustment. If HC still fluctuates, however, the engine is still too lean in one or more cylinders indicating a vacuum leak.
ELECTRONIC VACUUM LEAK DETECTION
If you like gadgets, there are electronic tools designed to detect vacuum leaks. An electronic vacuum leak detector will beep or flash when it detects ultrasonic vibrations that are characteristic of a vacuum leak. These tools use a sensitive microphone to listen for certain noise frequencies. Though extremely sensitive, these tools sometimes react to tiny leaks that are not really causing a problem, or "false" leaks such as the noise created by arcing inside the distributor cap or normal bearing noise in the alternator
Friday, August 21st, 2009 AT 4:57 PM