When Good Injectors Go Bad

Although they are rarely the star of the show, your car's fuel injectors are one of its most important components. When they begin to fail, the symptoms can be varied and sometimes subtle – at least at first. Fuel injection is present in all modern consumer cars and its benefits are undisputed. Unfortunately, your car's fuel injectors, like any other component, have the potential to fail due to age, manufacturing defects, or even driver error. Understanding the role that your fuel injectors play and the signs of their failure can help you to keep your car in tip-top driving condition.

What Are Fuel Injectors?

If you're old enough to remember the 80s, then you know that fuel injection was a huge automotive buzzword at the time. This is the decade where carbureted engines finally met their demise as they were slowly but surely replaced with fuel-injected models. Although fuel injection systems can be complex, the basic idea is straightforward. In a carbureted engine, fuel and air are mixed in a carburetor before being delivered to the combustion chamber. This is a mechanical process and the engine is highly dependent on the carburetor performing properly.

By contrast, fuel injection systems inject fuel directly into the engine using devices known as fuel injectors. The fuel injectors are electronically controlled by the car's computer and deliver the proper amount of fuel into the combustion chambers based on the amount of air that is entering the engine. Although fuel injection systems are complex and involve numerous sensors and components, fuel injectors themselves are essentially just electronically controlled valves and are not particularly complex parts.

The Symptoms of a Failing Injector

Fuel injectors generally fail in one of two ways: either they become clogged or they begin to leak. A clogged injector is incapable of delivering the proper amount of fuel into the combustion chamber, while a leaking injector will either deliver too much fuel or will leak externally and lose fuel outside of the combustion chamber.

In both cases, the symptoms are simply poor driving characteristics. Failing injectors can cause a rough or uneven idle, poor acceleration, unusually high fuel consumption, or even problems getting the car started. Unfortunately, there are a huge number of other potential culprits for these symptoms as well. A completely clogged injector will prevent one cylinder from firing, however, and this is a problem that a professional can usually diagnose fairly easily.

Note that leaking injectors can sometimes cause an odor of fuel to enter the car. Never wait to have a problem like this diagnosed. If you smell gasoline in or near your car, stop driving immediately and have the car taken to a professional for evaluation.

Keeping Your Injectors Clean

The reality is that fuel injectors often clog for reasons that are largely out of your control. Running your vehicle low on fuel can cause other problems with your fuel system (such as wearing out your fuel pump), but with modern fuel tanks and fuel systems, it is unlikely that you will pick up dirt or debris from the bottom of your tank. The best things you can do to keep your injectors healthy and happy is to follow your recommended maintenance schedule for fuel filter changes and use quality gasoline. If you follow these simple steps, your fuel injectors will likely last for a long and trouble-free life.

Reach out to an auto repair shop to learn more.