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Will engine suddenly die if I ignore pinging in the engine

My 98 Honda Civic has been pinging for the last couple of years. The pinging is getting much more frequent now. Higher octane gas did not help. The head mechanic had listened to the noise when it first started but hinted that it was not worth (a.k.a. cost too much) fixing.

My question is whether the engine will die suddenly when I am accelerating in the highway – that can be a great hazard!

What should I do?

Constant engine pinging or detonation is not good for an engine. The noise you hear are the rod bearings slamming into the crankshaft when a spark occurs as the piston is still moving up the cylinder.

If there is no Check Engine light on, then the EGR circuit is still working. So that’s not the problem. The problem could be with carbon deposits built up in the combustion chambers. So at this point I would try a decarbonization of the engine and see that eliminates the pinging.


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Did the mechanic check the timing??? Granted most cars don’t go out of time these days, but it’s possible.

No, the mechanic did not check the timing. He just sat in the car and we drove around the neighborhood.

Is there some additive for decarbonization? If so, do you have any recommendation?

Your mechanic sounds unqualified to make any real diagnosis.

I would suggest finding a local independent garage with qualified technicians or ask to get a real diagnosis on this vehicle from your “mechanic”.

Also is it really ‘pinging’ (your checking engine light would be on) or is it your valve lash way out of adjustment. Your vehicle requires occasional valve lash adjustments.

The word PING is used to describe pre-detonation in the engine cylinders. The SOUND is not a “ping”, it’s more like a heavy clatter.
Now, the intake and exhaust valves will make a lighter, higher pitched, chatter. Have another mechanic listen to it. Many younger mechanic have never heard PING (pre-detonation).

Two good suggestions so far . . . decarbonizing and checking/re-setting the ignition timing . . . both are inexpensive and can only help the engine. You might want to change and re-gap the spark plugs after the decarbonizing. Good luck! Rocketman

Yes. You can decarbonize the engine yourself.

Purchase a can of SeaFoam engine tuneup.

Get the engine up to full operating temperature and shut it off.

Remove the vacuum hose from the brake booster.

Adapt a hose that will fit snuggly into the end of the brake booster vacuum hose and into the can of SeaFoam.

Take a pair of pliers and pinch this hose off.

Have someone start the engine and get the RPM’s to about 2000.

Slowly open the pliers so that the SeaFoam starts to get drawn into the engine. It’s here where the throttle must be manipulated and the rate of SeaFoam entering the engine must be metered to pevent the engine from stalling out.

Once all the Seafoam has been drawn into the engine, shut the engine off for a half hour. Reattach the brake booster vacuum hose.

Restart the engine and bring the speed back up to 2000 RPM’s until the smoke clears from the exhaust.

I must warn you. All the while you’re doing this, there will be a great amount of smoke coming out of the exhaust. But that’s just the SeaFoam doing it’s thing so it’s normal.

Try this and see if the pinging goes away.


Also, check to see if this car has a valve lash adjustment called out for in the maintenance schedule. With 10-years on the clock, if it calls for it, but never done, it is easy to do and could stop the noise.

record the sound with a digital recorder,and let us hear it. that question is like me asking a doctor when Im going to die,there is no answer.

" The noise you hear are the rod bearings slamming into the crankshaft when a spark occurs as the piston is still moving up the cylinder. "

I have to respectfully disagree. About thirty or forty years ago this was discussed in a General Motors service manual. The “ping” you hear is the noise resulting from the collision of two or more flame fronts in the combustion chamber. It’s a very violent event, as witnessed by the marks seen on the piston tops of an engine that suffers from constant pinging. The pistons look like someone’s been tapping on them with the round end of a ball peen hammer.

I will second JayWB’s reply.

On an related ironic note, there were some car tuneup procedures years ago that stated it was acceptable to have a certain amount of pinging.
I remember discussing this in my internal combustion engines class in the early 70s and the instructor passed around a service manual from the 50s-60s which described allowable pinging.

or its like asking the doctor how your lung sounds, over the internet, with no recording!

Light pinging or detonation is harmless but heavy pinging or detonation is not. We had a 1980s car that pinged lightly much of the time while driving at a steady speed down the freeway. The engine was mechanically sound when we traded the car with over 155,000 miles but the body was rusted more than I cared to be seen in. At that time, many GM cars and possibly others had this light pinging as described. Roger Smith, president of GM then, described the light pinging as the “sound of fuel economy” meaning, I suppose, that the engine was optimized for maximum fuel economy with engine control computer technology as it was then without knock sensors.

The “Ping” is the detonation shock wave hitting the piston or head…In small, low compression engines, it’s usually not powerful enough to hurt anything. Severe detonation WILL get your attention! The “ping” becomes a very loud knocking sound, the drumsticks become hammers. Left unchecked, the end result is usually holes broken in the piston tops…But again, almost impossible in a '98 Honda…

Agreed. Guess I left that part out. You don’t actually hear the collision of the flame fronts, you hear the shock wave as it resonates in the engine block.

In the early eighty’s I drove a 4 cylinder Buick Skylark as a company car. Pinged all the time. Buick said use higher octane fuel, company said use lower octane, cheaper fuel. Cheap fuel wasn’t the best choice apparently, since that engine died of broken piston rings at about 80,000 miles.

Pinging for a long time is really bad for an engine.

One item I have not seen mentioned so far is the ‘knock sensor’. This sensor detects the onset of ‘pinging’ and retards the timing to restrict it. This sensor is a piezoelectric sensor, think crystal device, that sends an electrical signel to the computer. A mechanic can do a simple test to see if the ‘knock sensor’ and computer are operating properly by connecting a timing light; tapping the head close to the sensor; and observing if the ignition timing retards.