Statistics on global road safety in 2018 report over 1.35 million deaths caused by on-road vehicle accidents; and one of the leading reasons for road accidents was faulty vehicles and illegal speeding. This is a loud call for drivers to maintain their vehicles in good condition. 

Among the extensive list of reasons for vehicle mishaps, misfiring cylinders is an important one to note. What exactly are the dangers of a misfired cylinder? How can you identify a misfiring cylinder? This article aims to answer these fundamental questions. 

What happens if you keep driving with a misfiring cylinder?

Vehicles have anywhere from 2 to 16 cylinders. Oxygen and fuel are burned to make energy in a process called combustion that happens within an engine’s cylinder. As the combustion gases expand, a system of gears is pushed to create motion in a vehicle’s wheels. 

A misfire can occur when the fuel, oxygen, and spark (that triggers combustion) fail to serve their purpose. Unfortunately, singular misfires are hard to detect, if other cylinders continue to function as normal. 

Having one or more misfiring cylinders could cause a number of the following symptoms: 

  • Gasoline smell: There is a thick and persisting gasoline smell in your car. If combustion does not happen in one of your cylinders, you may find excess gas accumulating there (as it is not being used). 
  • Poor acceleration: You try accelerating, but your car is resistant or unresponsive. Acceleration puts stress on the engine to work faster, but if one or more of your cylinders isn’t working, your car will not be able to run at the speed you intend it to.
  • Noisy engine: A backfire or pop sound. The noise is usually caused by worn-out cylinder walls.
  • Underperformance: Your car runs slowly and reacts numbly to commands. Low-level combustion causes engines to lose over 25% of their power.
  • Reduced fuel efficiency: You have to refill your gas tanks more often. As there are less ‘hands on deck’ to power your car, your functioning cylinders have to work harder and, therefore, consume more fuel. 
  • Engine damage: Needless to say, the engine performance will deteriorate and also may need to be replaced if not diagnosed early. Misfiring damages the catalytic converter and the engine pistons. While these not seem obvious early on, the effect becomes more noticeable over time. 

How to diagnose the misfiring cylinder

Now that we agree that misfiring cylinders are both unsafe and uneconomical, we should all start to learn about how to detect 

The simplest way to check whether you have a misfiring cylinder is to read your dashboard. Did code P0304 light up for you? This indicates that the cylinder in the fourth position is misfiring. 

Other methods used to identify a misfiring cylinder are:

  • Using a code scanner: In this modern era, most of the vehicles have an engine control unit. This system registers all the errors occurring in your vehicle as codes. A code scanner will is required to distinguish each issue.
  • Infer by elimination: With the right protective equipment, this would be the easiest and most accurate way to diagnose a faulty cylinder. It involves disabling one cylinder and letting the others run. If a misfiring cylinder is disabled, there will be no changes; while if a firing cylinder is disabled, there will be strong vibrations. 
  • Observe the thermal signature: This technique is best used on easily accessible engines. It works by the principle that the heat generation of a misfiring cylinder is different from a firing one. Run the engine for a few minutes, then measure the temperature with an IR temperature gauge. A cylinder with unusually low temperature is likely to be misfiring. 


Misfiring cylinders can result in underperformance, poor acceleration, noisy engine, and significant power loss. It is quite a problematic issue and may require a little bit of expertise to diagnose and fix. Some strategies you can use to identify misfiring cylinders include the elimination test, temperature checks, or using a code scanner. 


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