Solving Automotive Idle Problems
In addition to misadjusted throttle linkage, other mechanical problems can cause an idle problem; for starters, low or no engine oil. I know it seems obvious, but it’s true. If your engine doesn’t have the proper lubrication, it will have to work harder to stay running, and as a result it might have an idle problem. So just for the heck of it, check your oil level if you have an idle problem.
Any extra resistance on the engine can affect the idle. Certain transmission problems can cause an idle issue, such as a malfunctioning torque converter. An overheating engine can affect the idle. If your engine is running hot, it can not only affect the physical movement of the engine, but also the air fuel mixture. An exhaust restriction can affect the idle. If your engine can’t expel its exhaust, this can cause poor performance as well as idle problems. Here’s a video that can help you determine if you have an exhaust restriction.
Another thing we can’t leave out here are mechanical issues with the engine itself. If you have one or more cylinders with low compression, the engine will not be balanced as it operates. This imbalance can cause the engine to run rough or idle poorly. Also, a blown head gasket or burned valve can cause the same problem.
Incorrect mechanical timing can cause an idle problem. If you have an idle problem after changing a timing belt or timing chain, you might want to check to make sure you put the engine back in time correctly.
So don’t rule out the basic components of the engine when looking for the cause of an idle problem. If the hard parts of the engine aren’t working right, nothing works right. This is an often-overlooked item when diagnosing performance and idle issues. Use the Power Balance video above to find a cylinder that’s down on power. In addition, do a compression test, or, better yet, a leak down test to determine the engine’s mechanical health. Here are some videos you might find useful for this.
Leak down testing
Don’t rule out mechanical issues when looking for the cause of your idle problem. This is often overlooked, but should be part of any diagnosis.
Engine mounts are low on the list here for a reason. Worn or broken engine mounts can cause a rough idle, but they are not the first place I go when diagnosing an idle problem. My method is to exhaust all possibilities with engine performance before I start looking at the engine mounts. Many people come to me and say they’ve replaced their engine mounts and they still have a rough idle. Engine mounts aren’t always easy to replace, so that might be a lot of wasted work on their part. I then suggest much of what is listed above, and they eventually find the cause.
The takeaway here is that worn or broken engine mounts can cause an idle issue, but I would suggest you look there last when dealing with an idle issue. Get your engine running smoothly before you look to the engine mounts.
As I said at the beginning of this article, many things can affect the idle. Start with the obvious: Check the oil and check the computer for any stored codes. From there, look for things that can offset the air fuel mixture, such as vacuum leaks or perhaps leaking injectors. Don’t forget about the engine’s mechanical function; if the engine isn’t healthy, it likely won’t idle well.
In addition to the items mentioned above, I’ve written two articles specifically on Honda idle problems:
I hope you found this information useful. If you didn’t find what you were looking for, type a few key words into the search at the bottom of the page. You can even type in specific check engine light codes. In addition to the code meaning, you might find articles and forum posts that pertain to that code. If nothing comes up for your issue, sign up for our forum and ask your question there. We’ll be happy to help if we can. It’s free, and all you need is a valid email address. Just be sure to respond to the confirmation email to complete your registration. If you don’t see the confirmation email, check your spam or bulk folder.
Written By EricTheCarGuy
Edited By Julie Hucke