No compression in my Prizm

Man, I’m down and out. I have a 2001 Chevy Prizm and noticed that there was a loss of power last weekend during a 70 mile drive home from seeing my kids. I finally took it to a dealer. I asked them to diagnose the problem and change the oil too. He recommended an engine flush to help clean the engine as this may help solve the problem. They changed the plugs and found one that had a crack in the ceramic part. Upon testing the cylinder pressure, that one had zero compression pressure. They said they basically had no clue. It was giving no apparent sounds that would lead them to a diagnosis. But for $900 they would diagnose it during their 9 hour process. I am an aspiring non-traditional chiropractic student. I live on loans and have no capital to speak of. So, I have my car back in the same running condition plus clean oil for $500. That is a months rent for me. HELP!!! Please…

It is time for a second opinion. hopefully the 0 reading was a mistake.

Yeah, don’t take it to a dealer as they’re much more expensive and there’s no reason to be taking a car this old to one-- any competent independent should have no problems with this car.

Secondly, don’t ever go back to that place even for directions. Maybe there was some sort of disconnect between the actual mechanics and the front desk, but from what you’ve mentioned it sounds like they don’t have the first clue as to how an internal combustion engine works.

If the compression is zero in one cylinder but okay in the rest, it’s probably a valve problem. It could be as simple as a broken lifter or valve that’s massively out of adjustment, or it could be a burnt valve. Any mechanic who has had high-school auto shop should be able to figure it in an hour, tops.

If these people can’t tell what’s causing a zero compression problem on one or more cylinders and claim that it takes 9 hours to diagnose it they should all burn their uniforms and tool boxes.

Diagnosing this should not take more than 15 minutes.

For 500 bucks you were gigged, pure and simple and an engine flush is not going to cure anything. You must have been dealing with the Mother of All Ignorant Service Writers.

One thing you cannot do is continue to drive the car if it’s running poorly. This just creates more problems.

If the spark plug was cracked then this could have very well killed something else in the secondary ignition; probably the ignition coil.
Do you know anyone even half mechanically inclined that could help you with this?

Without getting too deep into running a compression test to verify this zero compression thing, you could try replacing the coil and see if that cures it. Your car has 4 and you need only change the one on the cylinder in question.

You sir, have been had big time by what is apparently the biggest Ship of Fools on the planet.
Nine hour process and 900 bucks to diagnose. Jeez.

Kids, (plural) divorced, chiropractic student, broke, Chevy Prizm, unknown mileage, goes to dealer and for $500 gets an oil change and for $900 more, they might be able to tell you what is wrong with your $2500 car… What’s wrong with this picture??

Forget chiropractic, go to trade school and learn Auto Repair and after two years, earn more than 80% of the chiropractors and be on the receiving end of the money you just parted with. Let me know when you see a “help Wanted-Chiropractor” sign…

Sounds like a stuck valve. Removal of the valve cover will tell the tale. One hour labor. $100 tops. $400-$500 to install rebuilt head and cure the problem.

A stuck valve is a possibility but if a valve happened to be stuck open the engine should have a pretty good clatter from the excessive valve lash.
It should also be huffing out the intake or ehaust depending on which valve was stuck open.

Since the zero compression thing could be a shaky diagnosis, especially based on the other things that happened here, I’m wondering if the cylinder has good compression and if a zero reading really was present if it could be caused by a sticking Schrader valve on the compression tester. In a nutshell, not an engine problem but a tool problem and a careless tech problem.

I’ve had testers act up on me several times and this is why I always repeat a compression test with another gauge if a problem shows up.
Compression testers have been known to not only get an erratic Schrader valve but can sometimes get a piece of debris blown out of the cylinder into the gauge, where it will then stick in the Schrader valve and prevent it from closing. When that happens a zero reading occurs. Just wonderin’ anyway.

Somewhere on this URL is a section called something like Mechanic(s) files. There may be recommendations for a mechanic near you. A year or so ago, my son’s wife’s car wouldn’t turn over, and he had it towed to a mechanic, who told him the motor was shot, and he needed a used engine for $1500.

He mailed me, and I looked up the mechanics in his small city. He called the top recommended one, and had the car towed over there. The problem was the a/c was frozen. The mechanic took off the belt, which ran nothing else and the car has been driven across country a few times.

Do they still test compression mechanically?? Even 30 years most “compression testing” was done electronically without ever removing a spark plug…

I’m familiar with electronic testing but using a gauge screwed into the spark plug hole is still the best method in my opinion.
With electronic testing, variations in cranking speed are measured against each other, but if all cylinders are equally weak the actual readings are up for debate due to an estimate. And what if the “strongest” cylinder is still a problem one?
I would prefer a gauge reading over a printed estimate but that’s just me.
Besides, if a problem is shown to exist then the plugs need to come out in an effort to do further tests to determine if it’s rings, valves, or both.

I’ve never worked for a dealer or shop that used electronic testing and don’t even know any mechanics that use it or ever have.

I have used an oscilloscope to pinpoint a problem as a low firing line on a scope pattern is usually a sign of low compression or a narrowed plug gap. Since the latter is unlikely to close up it’s often a quick indicator of low compression which is then followed up by a real compression test.

I actually ran into this same thing a few years back. Came back from lunch one day and found a slick Nissan Sentra parked by the door. The owner of the business next door came over and gave me a phone number of the owner and the keys which had been left with him. Apparently this out of town guy had heard about me and trailerd his daughter’s car in with instructions to rebuild the engine because it was seized up.

Since the car appeared as new both inside and out, only had 60k miles on it, and was full of oil, this struck me as odd that it would seize. After calling the guy he told me his daughter was driving and it simply locked and screeched to a halt.
He also said the oil had been changed every 3k miles and the car had been pampered.
I told him that this did not sound right and his reply was hang the cost, rebuild the engine no matter the cost.

The engine would simply clunk when the key was turned and the engine would not rotate even with a socket on the crank pulley.
After taking a closer look the next day I noticed the idler pulley for the A/C belt had a slight purple tint in the center. I loosened the idler (which was frozen) removed the belt and the car ran like a new one.
Simply replaced the idler pulley bearing and let him have it back.

Even on the phone he refused to believe the engine was fine and when he showed up to pick up the car was amazed that a small bearing like that actually froze the engine solid.

what kind of cost do you think I should expect? I know there are several possible choices for what is wrong. Would a used motor be a better option?

If the cylinder wasn’t firing, the gasoline might have washed the oil off the rings and it could take a little driving to make it work right. You could be one of the lucky ones. If nothing goes right for the engine, I always recommend that you start calling relatives like aunts or uncles who may be willing to help you out. If you end up needing a new engine, forget it and go for the whole car. I wouldn’t say no to either of the people I’m an uncle to.

what about using a product like “seafoam” how do I do this?

What’s unknown here is if the engine really has a cylinder with 0 compression. Piston rings are not at all likely to be behind a reading like that. Zero compression usually points to a valve problem in the cylinder head; bent valve, burnt valve or seat, etc.

What’s strange to me is that these guys can’t diagnose this? A problem like this falls under Mechanics 101 and should not require more than a few minutes to figure out.

If one assumes this cylinder really does have zero compression and there’s not a compression tester gauge error involved, the cause is likely in the valve train. This means a cylinder head removal and a valve job along with possibly replacing any bad valves. Add a cylinder head surfacing also to that amount.
Since the cost can vary wildly based on locale, shop rates, etc. you could probably figure on 700-1000 dollars, but that’s strictly guessing.

Engines flushes and additives, even SeaFoam, will not cure a problem like this. Any comments of mine are based on the assumption that the engine does have a cylinder down to zero. Hope some of that helps anyway.