Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

Fuel System Cleaning - Damaged my Car

I had a fuel system cleaning performed on my car (2005 Kia Rio, ~54k miles). I won’t mention the shop because I don’t want to drag their name through the mud (yet!).

As soon as I started the car I noticed the Check Engine light was on and a tapping noise was coming from under the hood. I drove the car for 15 miles and straight back to the shop because when I pressed down on the accelerator the noise would get louder. The sound was like a baseball card in a bicycle spoke only coming from my poor engine.

The service provider tried to tell me that the engine light was normal but supposedly looked at the car again (at least they made me wait there another hour) and told me that they checked the compression of the engine and that everything was fine in on that front and that the check engine light was due to engine misfire (spark plugs, or any number of things could be the cause.)

Long story, but the manager said he would take the engine apart but would rather that the dealership service look at it and that I needed to see if this was covered by my warranty. I made an appointment with the dealership who couldn’t get me in for a week - but the dealership’s diagnosis (99$ later) came back with this information:

Cylinder #1 Misfire. Coil, Spark Plug wires, spark plugs, all OK.

Compression test: #1 110 PSI. #2-#4 150 PSI.

(Could the compression changed drastically in a week? I think not if the engine light was on immediately after the “cleaning”)

Valve cover removed: Gasket, Camshaft, and valves all OK.

Cylinder #1 Piston lower in Cylinder #4.

Possible bent rod.

The dealership wanted over $500 to open the engine and since I didn’t have this money there was more back in forth between the original service provider and myself before the dealership then opened the car up and found the bent rod and this was caused by it being hyrdo-locked.

The original service provider finally agreed to pay for the repair (Almost $1000), but still acts like that they did nothing wrong and I am “negotitiating” to get A) A refund on their service, B) The 99 fee from the dealership, and C) My mounting rental car bill reimbursed.

The dealership did all but say that the original service provider caused this problem. They don’t want to get in the middle of it (legal reasons), but when the engine was apart the carbon deposits on the pistons(?) were extremely noticeable (I have pictures) and all signs and clues given to me point that it was caused by the service. The dealership said that if this happens the technician would have known immediately because he would have had to re-start the car. I have never had the engine die and had to re-start it like this - so I know I didn’t cause this. The dealership also pointed out that they stand by their services and all auto shops have insurance for “mistakes” that can occur.

The service provider used the Wynn’s 3-step system to screw up my engine. I’ve watched their training videos on Youtube. I’ve called Wynn’s (nice folks) who referred me to their head engineer that I am waiting to hear back from. Apparently the owner of the original service provider also contacted Wynn’s who said that this damage couldn’t poissbly be because of the fuel system cleaning and that if it did cause damage it would have been to #4. I looked at the engine diagram for my car and if this cleaning was put in through the fuel injector it seems to me that Cylinder #1 would be hit first.

What I guess I want to know is, how could the service technician caused this problem? How can I convince the owner of this shop that his technician made a mistake and tried to cover it up, and he still owes me around $600 dollars that I desperately need.

Any help is appreciated - will provide free computer advice in exchange. I’m a Systems AdministratorTechnician and would gladly exchange advice.

Well, I don’t think carbon would have deposited that quickly after a fuel system cleaning.

I’m not sure how Wynn’s works, though I did watch the video you referred to. My guess is it’s some sort of crap they add to the gas and run it through the fuel lines. That can lean out your fuel mix, which can cause pre-detonation, which can damage things like rods.

In the future, don’t get crap like this done to your car. IF you are having problems with clogged fuel systems, 1/3 can of sea foam in a full gas tank will generally work. Anything more invasive than that is an unnecessary profit generator for shady shops, and can do more harm than good.

Modern fuel systems do not require periodic maintenance-cleans. That they sold you this on a car with only 50k miles points to the fact that the original shop is staffed by crooks.

I agree that carbon should have been cleaned by this process. See attached photo of the engine parts after being dismantled at the dealer.

The original service shop owner maintains that this has never happened before. I also have learned, quite painfully, that they are crooks and that this service was unnecessary.

I’m leaning towards the service being performed incorrectly - not regulating the amount of cleaner going into the engine per the manual I’m still trying to obtain. I just need to prove it. Crooks or honest mistake - I want to understand what happened.

Thanks for the input.

[i] I had a fuel system cleaning performed on my car [/i] 


Because I’m an automobile owning idiot, apparently.

It was due for an oil change, and two new tires.

A service shop recommended it. I don’t know much about cars, had not read these forums before this situation.

I bought the car with 30k miles. I don’t know how well it was taken care of before I bought it, what gas they bought, oil change history, etc. I just know that I have taken care of it.

The engine sounded a little rough when idle and I thought it would help. By sounding rough, it was nothing like the noises after the service - after the service it was 10x worse.

The service was only $99 and I thought, “What could possibly go wrong?”. Now I know.

Now I need to know exactly what could have happened, or at least enough to set the service shop owner straight. Like I said, he’s shelling out about a thousand dollars to repair the problem but I still want the $700 or so dollars for the rental car I’ve been driving, the 99$ diagnostic fee from the dealership, and a refund for the fuel system cleaning.

I understand your question of “Why?” if it was meant as I read it. To me it’s like asking a computer owner why they bought a new PC when taking care of their current one (Anti-Virus, Anti-Spyware, Free PC Maintenance Software, possibly upgrading memory) would have given the same results.

The compression figures you give show problems on all cylinders. The one with 110 is horrible and all of the others are going downhill.

At that point what should have been done is to run a wet compression test and find out if the piston rings had anything to do with this.

If a piston ring problem exists this is generally caused by improper break-in when new, irregular oil changes, overheating episodes, etc.
Did you buy this vehicle brand new, as in 4 or 5 miles on it and has there been any of the above bad influences involved with the engine?

Interesting. KIA’s initial diagnosis only mentioned that Cylinder #1 with 110 PSI was horrible, like you say, and ended up being the one with lowered piston and that was eventually determined to be a bent rod caused likely by it being hyrdolocked.

I just checked and you’re absolutely right - the standard for my engine should be 184 PSI, so I see what you mean by the others going downhill.

I don’t see the acceptable range listed. KIA’s service made no note that 150 PSI on the other cylinders being abnormal or unacceptable. The Check Engine light did not come on until the problem with Cylinder 1, so I assume where 150 is low - it’s in the acceptable range to the car’s computer and 110 PSI is definitely not. I will certainly ask. Thanks for that nugget of information.

To answer your questions, I bought the car with around 30k miles. I’ve put around 24K miles on it.
Since I’ve had the car:
Regular oil changes (around 4000 miles each time, I go with the mid-level option presented by the oil change places I go: Jiffy Lube or Midas, and now this shop that I won’t name, yet).
I always fill the gas tank fully with mid grade gas from the same station if I am in town and I’m hardly ever out of town with the car…
I’ve never had an overheating problem.

If there was a piston ring problem would this have been noticed by KIA’s shop when the valve cover gasket was removed and they checked the camshaft and valves? (Paperwork says this all was OK) I don’t know where the piston rings are located. Or would this have been discovered when the piston with the bent rod was removed? (I have talked to KIA about the situation after they pulled it all a part, but since they haven’t finished I don’t have paperwork in front of me)

If a piston ring problem existed could this have caused the bent rod? Would there have been other symptoms? Such as if there was a head gasket crack (there was not in my case) and this would show up as radiator fluids leaking into the combustion chamber?

Would the low PSI show up on both the “wet” and “dry” compression test? I don’t know what either place used and will ask about this. If the compression was checked (either method) by the initial service center on a Saturday and less than 50 miles of in town driving later checked by KIA - could the results change from a PASS to FAIL?

Apologies for any elementary questions or wording and I am extremely grateful for all input. I can do more research based upon all this information if necessary.

Update - doing some more reading here, and it sounds like if I had piston ring problems that a) I would notice a lack of engine power (did not notice this) b) I would go through a lot of oil (no oil change service has told me I was low on oil) c) smoke would be coming out the exhaust (also have not noticed, or been told by others they have noticed)

I could be wrong, though, so additional feedback is appreciated.

An engine can run fine (apparently fine) with lowered compression. The term for 150 PSI is really not acceptable; “useable” or “tolerable” would be better terms.
The general rule of thumb for compression pressure is to multiply the compression ratio of the engine (10.0 in this case) X 20. This would mean 200 PSI and would be applicable at sea level in certain barometric conditions.
Altitude and baro. changes would lower this some so 184 would be about right.

An engine can misfire at 110 PSI but will not likely misfire at 150. There is no physical way of inspecting the rings with the valve cover or camshaft removed. This would involve a complete engine disassembly and this is also why when a compression pressure issue is involved a dry compression test should always be followed up with a wet test.
Wet test means it’s rechecked with a small squirt of oil being placed into each cyl. as it’s tested. If the pressure takes a noticeable jump up then it has a ring problem.

At this point I have no idea who caused what with this engine but my gut feeling is that this car has some issues that were likely inflicted before you bought it; likely abuse or maintenance neglect by the original owner.

(A note about compression pressures. Many shops, mechanics, and even service manuals are frequently wrong or misinformed about what constitutes “good” compression readings. Some think that 150 PSI is perfectly fine but it’s not. The only auto engines that I’m aware of in which low pressures are actually good are maybe a modified hot rod engine or the old air cooled VW Beetle or Bus engines. In the case of VW 130 PSI is fine but you’re also dealing with a completely different kettle of fish there.)

You really know your field, and I respect this and hope that others appreciate your knowledge as well.

Thank you very much for all of this detailed information. (And everyone above!)

I understand the compression aspect at this point a lot better. This explains Cylinder 2-4.

I’m still a bit lost on what happened to #1 to cause the bent rod, but I’m getting closer to the full picture.

Given your explanations I am exploring the idea the piston rings on my car were failing and that both service places failed to recognize this fact by not having performed a dry and wet compression test. (Although I have more faith that the dealership might have.) I will ask about each shops methods of testing compression and Kia’s view of the quality of the rings when they took everything apart, especially for #1.

After gathering the information from the shops, I’ll call Wynn’s again and I will ask if a damaged piston ring would present a problem during their service procedures that would result in a hyrdolocked piston and thus a bent connecting rod. If that’s possible, I’ll suggest they update their manuls to have all technicians do a dry and wet compression test before performing these servics.

The explanation from KIA was that if the piston did lock, the service technician would have heard it and had to re-start the engine. In my book, if that happened - it’s still a major customer service “No-No”.

I’m only half trying to blame somebody - the other half of me is trying to understand how and why this happened so that it doesn’t happen to somebody else. (And I will tell anyone that asks never to have this service done, after reading all the other posts about fuel system cleaning.)

If my car’s hidden problems were the cause of the fuel cleaning service creating damage I will have to admit I was wrong, apologize, and pay for this mess. I readily admit I’m wrong, and most of the time assume I am wrong – it’s just that this time I have taken care of the car and there were no signs of problems before this mess started.

We are all shooting in the dark here, since we can’t examine the car and since we have no idea of how it was really maintained by either the previous owner(s) and by you. However, you may have given us a clue in one of your recent updates:

“doing some more reading here, and it sounds like if I had piston ring problems that…I would go through a lot of oil (no oil change service has told me I was low on oil)”

If you are relying on an oil change place (especially places like Jiffly Lube [!!] and Midas) to tell you that your oil level was low when they changed it, then we may have found the smoking gun relating to poor compression/worn piston rings.

A diligent car owner will check his/her oil on a regular basis.
I can guarantee that your Owner’s Manual tells you to check the oil level every time that you fill the tank with gas. While that recommendation is a bit extreme (and represents a CYA position for car companies), the fact remains that if you never checked your oil level between oil changes, it is very possible that the engine was chronically run with a low oil level. This leads to greatly increased engine wear, unfortunately.

As to none of the oil change places informing you that your oil level was low at the time of the oil change, it would be highly unusual for a technician to check your oil level before changing it. His job is to drain the old oil, change the oil filter, refill with oil of the correct specification, check for leaks, and verify that the oil level is correct before you leave the shop. It is the car owner’s responsibility to check the oil level on a regular basis. Even if you were informed at the time of an oil change that your oil level was low, that would be sort of like locking the barn door after the horses had escaped–i.e., the damage had already been done.

However, this apparent lax attitude toward checking your oil is not related to a bent connecting rod. The bent connecting rod was the result of ham-handed/incompetent work by the overworked/relatively untrained “technician” who performed the unnecessary fuel system cleaning on your car.

Essentially, I believe that your engine was already in bad shape as a result of chronic running with a low oil level, and that the “technician” put a bullet through the heart of this sick engine through his incompetence.

In other words, that shop did additional and fatal damage to an engine that was already badly damaged by lax maintenance. Maybe they can give you another engine (from a junk yard) with 50k-60k miles on it. If that engine was not run with a chronically low oil level, it may actually be far better than your engine was before you drove into this repair shop.

I know you’re all shooting in the dark, and I am even more so, but with your collective “blind” advice things are becoming more clear. Thank you all so much.

I am getting a “rebuilt” engine out of this, I guess… the dealership is replacing the rod and say the heads look OK. Some minor wear, but it was nothing to sneeze at.

I guess I should know better than to trust any of these discount shops at this point, eh?

They aren’t real mechanics, I realize now, in most cases… just barely trained technicians. And yes, at this particular shop — I’ll go ahead and say it “Big O Tires” they seem to be over worked and running everywhere.

I don’t know why I figured somebody would tell me the level was low. It makes sense that technicians work on step X-Y and don’t have the knowledge to see other factors or the time to do anything outside those steps.

I check my oil sporadically, but with my increasingly improved attitude on car ownership and maintenance I will set up a schedule on my PDAPhone to check it monthly from here on out.

I am still going to follow up with the KIA dealership to ask about the piston ring conditions and Wynn’s to ask about how this would cause the “fatal” damage. I just have to know. Big O is paying for the rod replacement, so I’m mostly covered — but like I said, if I can help somebody (even Big O) in the process I feel obligated to do so.

At first, before I posted here, I was leaning towards the tech. putting too much pressure into the fuel injector during the service (the video at about 1 minute into the video, talks about using the appropriate PSI for the size of engine and to refer to the manual.

Now, I realize some key underlying factors that could have contributed and some best practices for taking care of my automobile.

I knew Car Talk was a great show, but now I know you all are a great audience and community.

I’ll post back with how this turns out and send Click and Clack an e-mail or phone call to tell them how great you are. Seriously, thank you.

Also (off topic, but I offered in my original post) - you all are very smart and probably know this… but there are three great free PC maintenance programs out there that are truly free and do a great job of keeping your computer running well: CCleaner, Defraggler, and Malwarebytes Anti-Malware. CCleaner, used carefully (rtfm!) will clean up temp files and take care of registry problems and can be scheduled. Defraggler is like Window’s Disk Defrag on steroids (also should be run on a schedule), and Malwarebyte’s gets all the viruses, spyware, and malware that McAfee and Norton don’t. If any of you that have posted to this thread need specific PC advice, send me a message through this site and I will gladly help.

Thank you so much!

Thank you for the PC advice. I will definitely use it.

As to checking your oil (and other fluids), I strongly suggest that you do this every 2 weeks, rather than once a month. Just 5 minutes of your time can catch an incipient problem before it gets out of hand.

When checking your oil, the object is to NEVER allow the oil level to fall more than 1 qt below the “full” mark on the dipstick. Personally, I add oil once it shows a level half-way between the “full” and “low” marks on the stick. Just remember to add oil a little bit at a time, wait a couple of minutes for it to seep down to the crankcase, check it, and then if necessarty, add a bit more, wait…

Overfilling can be as damaging to an engine as running it with a chronically low oil level. By adding a little bit of oil, waiting a couple of minutes, and then checking again, you will be better able to fill it correctly without overfilling it.

I will join the ranks of “don’t do it” people. Now I have to make up my best guess as to why the worst case seems to happen way too often.

We had these fuel system cleaning things in the eighties when most engines were safe, low performance, will take a lot of abuse motors. There was a lot of room in one of those combustion chambers and you could pour whatever abuse you had into that chamber.

Your engine has domed “doomed!” pistons and has little room to spare in the chamber. It is a lot more vulnerable to hydro-locking related damage. One malfunction of a fuel injector could have contributed to the damage. High engine speed during the cleaning may have damaged the engine all by itself. You may never find out what happened but a bent rod is typical of hydro-lock.

The fuel system cleaning business may have outlived its capabilities. The higher performance of our engines may be the reason. We were also warned by the salesman (in the 1980’s) that the chemicals used were dangerous to our health. He said to do the cleaning outside if at all possible.

I would feel safer with the can of Sea-Foam or whatever other stuff that can be poured into a fuel tank. The catalytic converter might be better off without a fuel system cleaning too. Car repair places don’t mind doing experiments on YOUR car.

I have considered trading in my new-fangled gas saver for an older more reliable car. Car maintenance and repair is just something that wasn’t taught in my family. I think it would be a great hobby/skill. I see your point about the small margin of error within the engine and can almost envision the engine being revved and the injector spitting out too much “fuel” (I use quotes because I think the engine was running on the cleaning product) - the domed piston having nowhere to go and bending the rod.

That’s scary that the salesmen could walk in, sell you on a cleaning product, and then say “By the way, this stuff could really mess you up - you better take that outside”.

You’re right about car repair establishments, or any other business nowadays, testing things out on consumers.

I wonder if the offending shop owner in this case would let me read up on the manual for the process and clean his fuel system. I’ll have to ask him when we meet next week. =)

I’ll just throw in a random comment about how this tapping and bent rod might have come to be.
Not being familiar with their procedure on fuel system cleaning (and keep in mind this is theory only) maybe the engine was overloaded during the process with cleaner and this caused a hydrolock on one cylinder; hydrolock meaning a cylinder could not expel fluid faster than it was coming in. Fluid is not compressible so this means that a piston/rod moving up in the engine will slam to a stop. Sometimes no damage occurs, sometimes it does.

Some of the older VWs were prone to this with their CIS fuel injection systems. They would develop a hiccup in which a cylinder, or cylinders, would fill with gasoline and the engine would instantly stop with the starter motor being unable to even turn the engine over. Most of the time the engine was not damaged but in some cases it would be depending on the alignment of the stars.

Maybe this problem happened during the fuel system service and someone decided to call it quits right then and there; followed by running your car out the door and praying they would never hear about it. The bottom line is that no pre-existing compression problem due to rings or whatever would cause a bent rod.
That’s just a theory anyway.

(As to Big O, I’m not that big a fan of chain places like this. There’s a Big O franchise here that goes through hired help pretty regularly.)

I’m sorry to hear about your car trouble. I have read some of the postings on this trouble but not all of them. After seeing the picture of the damaged piston and noting the low compression levels I am wondering if the trouble was really caused by a hydrolock situation. I looks to me that the trouble may have been caused by a slipped timing belt since the valves hit the piston and the compression is low on the other cylinders. Hydrolocking can bend a rod but I’m not so sure about the valves hitting the piston. If anything, the piston should be further away from the valves if it was hydrolocked and the valves would need to be closed for it to hydrolock. Bad valve timing will cause all the cylinder pressures to show different than normal readings and damage the pistons as shown in the picture. But regardless of how it was damaged it is certain that the shop caused the problem. As for the money you want to get back for the car rental and other expenses you may need to sue the shop owner for that.

I will tell you exactly what happened because they did it to my truck this week! There are 2 kinds of fluid they inject. One is meant to go in the induction and burn off. The second goes in the fuel rails and doesn’t burn off. They put the fuel rail fluid in your induction. It doesn’t burn off which creates a back pressure in the engine… causing miss fire and can literally bend your valves and cause catastrophic damage to your engine. I’m just now in this situation with ford and they haven’t figured out how to fix it yet.

Thank you for awakening a nine year old thread with useless mis-information.