What Is A Vacuum Leak?
A vacuum leak happens when additional air flows into the combustion engine. This extra amount of air is not detected or “read” by the engine computer, which calculates the ideal amount of fuel to inject into the engine, thus creates an incorrect air-fuel mixture usually referred to as “lean” air-fuel ratio. The result is the engine will run poorly or stall.
Where can a vacuum leak develop?
To know how to find a vacuum leak with ease, you should know where a vacuum can most likely occur. A vacuum leak can develop in many engine parts, including the following most common spots:
- The intake manifold: the engine part that supplies the air-fuel mixture into the cylinders.
- The intake manifold gasket: the seal that seals the intake manifold tightly to the engine.
- The throttle body: the part of the intake manifold that houses the butterfly plate, which closes and opens to control the amount of air entering the engine’s combustion chamber.
- The throttle body gasket: the seal that prevents air from leaking into the space between the intake manifold and throttle body.
- Vacuum tubes and hoses: Under-hood temperature can cause rubber and plastic vacuum tubes and hoses to break or crack, causing a leak. These rubber and plastic tubes and hoses connect with different parts of a car that consume the engine’s vacuum to function, such as the exhaust gas recirculation valves, fuel pressure regulators and vacuum-operated actuators.
The parts that the vacuum tubes and hoses connect to can fail and cause a leak too:
- The EGR (Exhaust gas recirculation) valves: which redirects exhaust gases back into the intake manifold and thereby reduces a car’s emissions.
- The fuel pressure regulators: This regulator controls the pressure of fuel that is supplied to an engine via the fuel injectors, thereby ensuring that these fuel injectors receive and distribute fuel at a certain rate.
- The vacuum-operated actuator: a vacuum-operated actuator uses the engine’s vacuum to operate headlights, air conditioning and cruise control system, as opposed to electrical actuators in other cars that don’t use the engine’s vacuum.
- The brake booster: is used to reduce the amount of pressure a driver needs to exert on the pedal for braking. To do this, when the brake pedal is pressed down, the brake booster uses vacuum from the engine to amplify the force that the brake pedal puts on the brake master cylinder, which converts this force into hydraulic pressure used for braking. If the diaphragm in the brake booster fails, a leak can occur. A symptom of this failure will be a brake pedal that’s hard to press.
An imbalance of air and fuel in the combustion engine can result in the following:
Symptoms of a vacuum leak
1. The Check Engine light is illuminated on the dashboard.
2. Increase in emissions: an engine with too much air will burn hotter thus generates more oxide emissions.
3. Fuel economy decreases: With too much air, the engine controller will try to compensate by adding more fuel to the air-fuel mixture, resulting in a deteriorated fuel economy.
4. A stalling engine.
5. Engine idles faster than usual.
6. Engine idles roughly.
7. A hissing sound coming from the engine area when the car is running.
8. Poor acceleration.
Fixing a vacuum leak is pretty straightforward. Simply replace the failing tubes or hoses, the most common causes of a vacuum leak. In some cases, if the damage is at one end of a vacuum hose, you can cut away at most half an inch and reconnect the hose.
How to fix a vacuum leak
A temporary fix before you can make the replacement is wrapping double-thick, tough all-weather shell duct tape like Gorilla tape around the failing hose to keep the leak sealed.
How to prevent a vacuum leak
Since a vacuum leak can be difficult to find, preventing it makes much more sense.
Simply regularly inspect your vacuum tubes and hoses and replace them if they have become hard and brittle due to under-hood temperature. Do not wait until they crack or break, causing a troublesome vacuum leak.
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