Jared Holstein detonation damage

Suck, Squish, Bang, Blow part 4- The Five Deadly Sins of the Beginner

By Mike Kojima

We all make mistakes, especially when we are starting out as beginner enthusiasts. Cars can be very unforgiving machines, especially modified cars that have been tweaked for more performance. Unfortunately many seemingly minor mistakes can have very devastating and costly consequences.

I have isolated 5 common and easy to avoid mistakes that I have seen cost many of my friends, customers and racers a lot of expensive damage. Although these mistakes are very basic, many a beginning enthusiast has fallen victim to these five very easily preventable beginners' goofs. Don't do this stuff or let your friends do it either and a larger percentage of failures can be avoided. Take advantage of our experience so you don't have to!

For part one of the series click here!

For part two of this series click here!

For part three of the series click here!

1. Do not run your engine out of oil!

This seems like a no brainer but I have seen innumerable engines on street and race cars destroyed like this. This is probably my #1 problem that has cost more engines than anything else. Engines burn a small bit of oil with every revolution as it escapes past the valve guides and rings of even most well built engine. Oil can also leak past seals and gaskets or get blown out of the engine's crankcase vent system. Worn engines burn more oil. Because of these loss factors, which are different for every engine, you must diligently track your engine's oil consumption.

Bearing Damage due to low oil pressure
Well no duh, running your engine low on oil hurts it.  Usually the soft metal bearings die first followed by crank, rods, pistons, the valvetrain and the whole engine if you are especially dense and keep on going.  What most people don't realize is how fast this can happen.  I have run into many people who don't seem freaked out when their dipstick shows no oil.  They ask stuff like "Can I add some next week?  I am busy now".  At high load and RPM a loss of oil pressure can destroy an engine in milliseconds.  I hate to insult many of our reader's intelligence but this comes up so many times from people I could have sworn know better.

Oil is your engine's life blood. Your engine's bearings are made of soft metals like lead, tin and copper that depend upon a pressurized oil film to eliminate metal to metal contact. Without oil they can be destroyed in seconds. When the bearings go, the rods and crankshaft are millseconds behind. Pistons, rings and cams will only last minutes or even seconds without a film of protecting lubricating oil.

Check your oil periodically (like with every tank of gas until you get a feel for your engine's oil consumption rate) and change it at the manufacturer's recommended intervals or sooner. 3000 miles per oil change is not unreasonable if you like to drive in a spirited manner. For race cars or track driven cars, check your oil level every session on the track. Synthetic oils like Motul or Mobil One can keep your engine running at its peak longer by reducing friction and wear.

Synthetics are just about mandatory when running your street car on the track.  Street cars typically don't have enough oil cooling for track use and sump temperatures of over 300 degrees are common if you are a decent driver on a summer day at the track. Modern heavy metal free bearings start to deteriorate at 270 degrees and mineral oil starts to oxidize and deteriorate rapidly at temps over 250.  Do yourself a favor and run synthetics at the track and change them right afterwards.


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Tuesday, August 10, 2010 1:13 AM
Good article, its funny how many people come into the dealer and say "my engine is running rough" and you take a look at the temp gauge and its pegged max. People these days are so oblivious, concentrating on everything else (phone,music,food etc) except driving.

I have a header on my QR instead of the "prone to grenading engines" manifold/pre-cat assembly. Sorry, nothing against emissions but i'm not gonna take the chance of having my engine suck in catalyst material. I'm much happier with more peice of mind to have that thing out of there. Still have the post-cat though, don't intend to take it out. Don't want my street car that loud.

On a side note, Mike, the Sebring International Racetrack is having their first Redline Time Attack are you gonna be there or anyone from motoiq? Can't believe they're actually doing one here, i'm stoked.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010 1:18 AM
...FFF... FastFuriousFanboys?

Is all damaging detonation audible? I've heard yes and no... What do you guys think? I bought a TXS Knocklite, but I think ... well, I just don't trust it.

BTW.. I'm a "home tuner" [using Nistune; very conservative on the timing till I can get it on the dyno], but in trying not to fall into the idiot classification. ;[ I've done everything to my car myself except the cage and paint.

p.s. Are youguys going to Sebring this weekend?]
Tuesday, August 10, 2010 1:35 AM
Oh.. don't worry... I don't take offense! A very stubborn car buddy of mine just made his STi piston look very similar to the one in the above pic w/ a Cobb tuner, and nothing [including knowledge] except a butt dyno.
Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Tuesday, August 10, 2010 1:47 AM
If you can hear it, its definitely doing damage. On an engine like a Subaru, with stock pistons, just a few good knocks can break the ring lands. On most boosted engines with stock piston and cranked up boost, just a good pull through one gear while knocking will do in an engine.

Inaudible detonation or rough combustion is more likely to do harm on an engine on the racetrack.

Eric uses headphones while tuning to really hear the knock.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010 2:07 AM
"On most boosted engines with stock piston and cranked up boost, just a good pull through one gear while knocking will do in an engine."

Does that include WPC treated stock SR pistons?

Eric Hsu
Eric Hsulink
Tuesday, August 10, 2010 3:13 AM
"Audible" is actually a relative statement. Very little is audible if you have a wastegate that dumps to atmosphere. Almost everything is audible with a stock exhaust.

Regardless, in my experience, a lot of very light det (ping) can damage things with long term ignorance. Ignore it for long enough and a piston will eventually fail with corroded deck/ring lands, melted deck/lands, bent rod, toasted rod bearing, etc. Loud det causes more damage more quickly for obvious reasons (aka the imaginary hammer is pounding on your parts a lot harder).

I use a medical grade stethoscope most of the time to listen for knock. Once in a while I use a knock sensor/mic with head phone arrangement.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010 4:42 AM
Detonation is actually NOT the same as Pre-Ignition. While both are abnormal combustion phenomenons, they are different. Mainly, detonation occurs AFTER the spark plug has initiated the combustion process whereas PRE-Ignition is when the air/fuel mixture is ignited BEFORE the spark plug ignites it. Both are BAD and both situations should be avoided.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010 4:49 AM
The low oil thing is spot on. Some bunghole drained my oil for me and within a few miles I had a rod break and go through the side of my SR20's block. At the shop I work at, we once had a lady bring in her car with a sever rod knock. She had gone 20,000 miles without an oil change and all the oil had burned out of her car! After running out the sludge, we added Lucas Oil stabilizer and a much thicker oil, but the damage had been done. We also once had a car that was filled to the valve cover with oil. The owner tried DIYing it and thought you filled the engine like a gas tank and couldn't figure out why his engine wouldn't turn over.

On that same SR20, the water pump was going bad and leaking, causing an overheat on hot days despite an aluminum radiator and electric fans. When I tore down the motor, the headgasket was very close to blowing out. It was worn similar to the one shown, but not quite as bad.

On the emissions bit, I recently had to replace the OEM exhaust on my Integra. In a salt state, the 5 year old exhaust had rusted through and broken off. I had to remove it and wait a few days for the new one to arrive. The car lost a lot of torque and lost about 30% in fuel mileage because of the loss of exhaust flow. When the new exhaust came I had to remove the cat converter to knock out the studs (which took a few days since they're hardened steel and were rusted to the cat). Not only did the car get louder, it got even slower! OEMs spend a lot of time optimizing their stuff to work, and this was proof positive, even on a 15 year old beater.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010 4:57 AM
Phu, I've already had that conversation with Mike before. Let me see if I can find it and save Mike the time.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010 4:59 AM
Tuesday, August 10, 2010 5:26 AM
One thing that always bugged me was the mindset that removing catalytic converters on race vehicles is A-OK because they are race vehicles... I understand they are generally not driven as much as street vehicles, but I wish more sactioning bodies would require them. We still have a cat on our time attack vehicle regardless of if the rules require it or not.

Just my two cents.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010 5:42 AM
Thanks guys! Great information for guys like me looking for a reliable source of tuning information w/o fragging engines.

How do you distinguish between inaudible detonation/rough combustion, from loosing spark?

Also, Eric, where do you place the stethoscope when listening? under the intake, on the hood? Most typically problematic cylinder of the particular engine?? Do u use the ones w/ rod attachments like the ones from Snap-on?

Ok, Ok, sry... I ask lots of questions, I know!
Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Tuesday, August 10, 2010 6:48 AM
Pre-ignition and detonation are the same thing, Ben put a link to the previous discussion on the subject. Detonation is the result of uncontrolled combustion caused by numerous different things.
Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Tuesday, August 10, 2010 6:51 AM
Cats are required on all the cars at Nurburgring for instance. I think many euro racing sanctioning bodies require them.
Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Tuesday, August 10, 2010 7:02 AM
Rough combustion/light detonation has a distinct sound that is sort of hard to explain but you can spot, it comes with experience.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010 7:51 AM
"Detonation", as commonly defined by Damn Near Everyone to be uncontrolled combustion after the plug has fired, is most definitely not the same thing as "pre-ignition". Pre-ignition can happen anywhere between the instant the intake valve opens and the instant before the plug fires, which gives it a completely different in-cylidner effect than detonation. Therefore, it is obviously not the same thing and should not be treated as such. One does not properly solve pre-ignition due to an overly hot plug electrode by reducing compression, adding octane, etc.

If you want to take an abnormal / pedantic view of the word "detonation", according to a dictionary or in generalized terms -- which would be really silly -- then one could argue they're the same thing.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010 8:19 AM
If this is going to turn into another geek out over detonation vs. pre-ignition I'm going to have to ignore all the commentary here. Other than that, thanks for another good look at the dynamics of the gasoline internal combustion engine. Holstein sure did a number on that piston :)
Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Tuesday, August 10, 2010 8:29 AM
The trouble is people get hung up on this which is just semantic noise and don't concentrate on eliminating the root cause of the problem. Pre-ignition is an old hot rodders term that needs to go away like dynamic compression ratio, proper amount of back pressure and other retarded things. Detonation can be caused by things commonly attributed to "pre-ignition", like hot glowing edges, wrong heat range plugs, too much compression.

The truth is in the world that most people tune in, most detonation is not caused by these things. Most damaging detonation is caused by too aggressive of a tune, too much compression and or much boost. All with not enough octane.

Glowing edge stuff and even plug issues are more common when the engine spends a lot of time at WOT. I came to this conclusion because I see that most engines destroyed by detonation don't have the signs of long term detonation like darkening under the piston domes, erosion and pitting of the piston dome and combustion chamber and flaking of the rod bearings. This stuff is more common on real racing engines.

I usually see damage caused by severe detonation of a short duration like, fissured valves, melted plugs, fissured upper ring land, blown head gasket, broken ring lands and pinched rings. Typically caused by some idiot turning up the boost without a clue on pump gas or FFF home tuners without a clue.
Eric Hsu
Eric Hsulink
Tuesday, August 10, 2010 9:07 AM
Spray paint or brush paint...they're both paint and they change the color of a wall.

Pre-igntion or detonation...they're both unintended combustion and they're they're both destructive.

Like Mike says, "....concentrate of eliminating the root cause of the problem."
Wednesday, August 11, 2010 12:30 AM
That's exactly what it sounds like...

Ok, but don't laugh! ;[
Refreshed KA24DE ]stock 97' long block[ only 165psi from compression test, but it is even.. +/- 5psi
56 trim 2871r 3" inlet, .64 turbine housing running 11psi ]this will better suit my VTC SR that I'm slowly building now[
3" turbo back exhaust
555 cc Deatschwerks
255l F. pump and FPR set at 43psi
z32 MAF
Magnicore 8.5mm plug wires
NGK BRK7E copper plugs
AEM wideband ]logged via Nistune[ 11.2-11.8 afr's in boost
Chevron or shell 93 pump gas]
Wednesday, August 11, 2010 1:42 AM
Does it sound like a really rough skip? It usually happens around peak tq area for my engine. In the datalog shows a temp sudden drop in rpm, so I didn't know if it was loosing spark, or something worse.

WTH is up w/ the spam whore^^

Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Wednesday, August 11, 2010 2:26 AM
The first thing I would do is go to a .86 ar exhaust housing, you won't believe how much more happy your engine gets. It will even probably be less inclined to miss and the lag will hardly get worse. It will tolerate more advance and probably gain you over 30 hp at the same boost level.

I would also tune slightly richer, like high tens low 11's and try to run more timing.

Engine should run really nicely.
Wednesday, August 11, 2010 3:53 AM
If you want to teach people that uncontrolled combustion during compression is identical to uncontrolled combustion during power stroke, or so rare (in your experience...) that one should not even consider its existence, far be it from me to intervene.

The site slogan might need changing though.
Wednesday, August 11, 2010 4:46 AM
your absolutely right about the .86! That's what I had for my last turbo. It matched the KA very well.

I traded it off for a my Sr swap [motor has to be rebuilt/melted piston], two transmissions, IC pipes, and a S15 turbo. The s15 turbo was blown so I got this one for a really, really good price; couldn't resist it!

I do have the option to trade housings tho. I had decided to keep the .64 b/c of the future plans for the SR. Then again, the SR has VTC, so maybe that would ~makeup for the slightly slower response of the .86 on the 2L...

I like the idea of adding fuel and timing. I'm also going to try the hose+stethoscope trick discussed above (& in the tuning section of the MIQ forum). and re-tune next week. Going to Sebring this weekend for RTA! Hope to see u there; I want a t-shirt! ;P

Thank you very much for the tips and information... We really appreciate what you guys are doing for the community.
Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Wednesday, August 11, 2010 5:14 AM
The .86 works way better on the SR as well. Unfortunatly we are busy with getting ready for the Las Vegas Fromula D leg so I cannot make it to Sebring.
Eric Hsu
Eric Hsulink
Wednesday, August 11, 2010 6:21 AM
Jeff2: Could you try to get your point across without being a smart ass next time? We value your comments and input since you seem to be one of the more knowledgeable members, but I'm sure Mike can do without having to defend himself from smart ass comments. If you present your idea without the smart ass remarks your ideas would get across just fine. Remember Mike is not another joe bloe that THINKS he knows his shit. He ACTUALLY knows his shit. I'm not saying that Mike shouldn't be questioned, but he isn't some newbie on NASIOC that needs to be put in his place either.

It wouldn't kill you to take a more respectful approach to questioning the man who dumps a shitload of time, effort, and money into MotoIQ which gives many serious enthusiasts, like yourself, a place to shoot the shit and hang out. I'm pretty damn sure he has better things to do than to have to put out fires and answer to smart ass comments.
Eric Hsu
Eric Hsulink
Wednesday, August 11, 2010 6:39 AM
Just: With a KA you should be rocking a GT3071. With a good exhaust, exhaust manifold, cams, and some cam timing work, you should have zero lag issues. I used to run an old school T3/T04 (.82a/r turbine and 57T compressor) and it had ridiculous response.
Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Wednesday, August 11, 2010 7:42 AM
I agree with Eric, The 3071 rocks. On a KA it will spool really fast with an .86 housing.

I can vouch for Eric's old super KA, it was one of the few street cars that could give my race car a hard time on the track.
Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Wednesday, August 11, 2010 7:56 AM
I didn't say uncontrolled combustion on the power stroke doesn't exist, That would be asinine. I said its the same thing no matter where in the cycle it happens and has the same group of root causes, so pre-igntion is a dated term and its not worth trying to define it as a separate phenomena. What we are talking about is uncontrolled combustion with a drastic rise in cylinder pressure and temperature, sometimes highly localized due to converging wave fronts. Thats the point I was talking about if you didn't understand what I was saying in the first place, my bad for not writing concisely enough.

Plus what I am not sure you understood what I said is rare by how you used of the word in your above post. Rare is too hot of a plug, and glowing edges on a typical mixed use performance engine that is trying to get the most from pump gas.

I have tried to solve detonation by extremely detailing piston domes and combustion chambers and it hardly helps in mixed use engines. I have even gone as far as changing quench and port flow patterns with marginal results. I have also yet to see a plug change to a colder plug inhibit detonation on a mixed use engine. These are all things that should stop classic "pre-igntion".

On race engines that run race fuel and see extended WOT yes this stuff helps greathly but not on a pump gas engine as the far limiting factor is pump gas. This article is written as info for a beginner which means to me someone tuning there own car.

Thank you for defending your opposing viewpoint making this interesting discussion.
Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Wednesday, August 11, 2010 7:58 AM
It sounds like a sharp rapid miss. One way to tell if it's a spark miss is to really close down your plug gap to 0.020 or less. If the sound goes away or changes a lot, then its a miss.

A little background on your engine might help.
Wednesday, August 11, 2010 11:32 PM
Knowing that you used to rock a KA makes me wonder if I should just do a stock rebuild on the SR and buy internals for the KA...

Thursday, August 12, 2010 1:57 AM
Jeff2, you and I will just have to respectfully disagree with Mike in this instance. That's all.
Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Friday, August 13, 2010 6:19 AM
I mean an .82 housing, there is not a .86 housing for a 3071.
Monday, August 16, 2010 12:52 AM
I bought a stethoscope today; trading for the .86 next weekend.. Thanks again for the tips!

I had a blast at Sebring; I should be driving next year if RTA comes back. As a side note... All the 240's there was running KA's...
Friday, October 01, 2010 6:43 PM
i can understand the cat thing from a ethical and environment reasons but dont say 0-3 hp. Maybe on n/a cars but hell even on my 100% stock turbo car picked up 12hp with a test pipe. Now on that same car i was curious and did a little testing. 20 hp loss putting on a stock cat from test pipe. The i tried a 100cell car and lost 10hp from a test pipe
Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Saturday, October 02, 2010 5:29 AM
You are right, turbo cars may see a higher gain, especially larger displacement big power ones or ones running lots of boost.
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