Let’s talk food. More specifically, let’s talk spicy food. You know, those foods that make you wonder whether or not your taste buds will ever be the same? Now, I don’t mean that zing that makes you merely search for the nearest glass of water and tell your friends, “That has a kick to it!” I’m talking about the heat that doesn’t hit you until you’ve chewed and swallowed—and only gets hotter. You took the bite and ate the food, but the heat that should be going away feels like it’s intensifying. Your forehead is beading up with sweat, your face is turning red and you don’t waste time gulping water, you go straight for the milk. There’s no need to tell others at the table how hot that bite of whatever you just ate was, they see it all over your face.
While a vehicle doesn’t have taste buds, and it certainly doesn’t have to worry about eating a habanero pepper, an engine does have to worry about reaching a temperature that is too high. An engine that is too hot can cause multiple problems, including creating deposits that lead to a dirty fuel system.
Intake airflow, engine coolant and evaporating fuel cool a vehicle’s engine while it’s running. When shut off, the engine gets very hot. An engine’s hottest time is 15-30 minutes after it has been turned off. This period of time is known as the “hot soak,” and it can produce harmful carbon deposits.
Owen Heatwole is the Technical Support and Environmental Health and Safety manager for Solid Start. Heatwole’s 32 years of experience make him an excellent source of information about fuel systems, how they get grimy and how to keep them well maintained.
Heatwole explained how the hot soak period leads to a dirtier fuel system. “At each engine shut-down, fuel residues remain in critical areas: on the tips of the fuel injectors, on the intake valves and in the combustion chambers. Light fuel molecules evaporate, but sticky, waxy substances remain. These fuel residues bake during each ‘hot soak.’ With time, they can accumulate and form harmful deposits.”
Some symptoms of a dirty fuel system are reduced fuel economy and performance, but drivers should be careful because advanced technology in today’s engines makes these signs much harder to spot.
“When deposits accumulate in today’s engines, the engine’s computer adjusts engine actuators, including those that control the air/fuel mixture and ignition timing. Fuel economy and performance can drop because of deposits, but most drivers won’t even notice it’s happening because the engine has retuned itself,” Heatwole said.
When your fuel system is dirty you might notice a lack of acceleration, or hesitation, right when you press the throttle. Heatwole also warned about another significant symptom.
“You may notice ‘pinging,’ which happens in the combustion chambers when two flames, one from a spark plug and one from carbon deposit pre-ignition, hit in the middle. The sound they create is a vibration of the combustion chamber cylinder wall. Damage related to pinging can occur quickly,” Heatwole said.
A regular fuel system cleaning means a vehicle’s engine could last its intended life and never have a fuel system issue.
“If you want an engine to maintain its new-engine fuel economy and performance, it’s important to have preventative maintenance fuel system cleanings done,” Heatwole said.
That’s why professionals suggest that consumers have a preventative maintenance cleaning done every 15,000 miles or every year, whichever comes first.
The most popular fuel system cleaning process addresses the engine in three different ways, and it is important to have all three completed.
- Pour in product: The product is poured into the gas tank. As the engine runs, it cleans everywhere from the fuel tank to the exhaust.
- Throttle body cleaning: Dust, debris and sticky carbonous residues accumulate on the backside of the throttle plate and in the throttle body. Typically, an aerosol product is sprayed on the throttle plate and in the throttle body and is then wiped away with a shop rag.
- Induction cleaning: Usually, a product is poured into a delivery device that is connected to a vacuum source placed close to the throttle body. This produces cleaning vapors. The vapors clean the intake manifold and soak into hard deposits, especially intake valve and combustion chamber deposits. The vapors soften deposits so they can be removed.
“If you use a good product and take these steps as preventative maintenance, you will save a lot of money in the long-term,” Heatwole said.
Next time you bite into something that seems like it just keeps getting hotter long after you’ve swallowed, think about your car’s engine every time you shut it down and the deposits that could be forming. A little bit of maintenance will go a long way for the life of your car and your pocketbook.