Vacuum leaks reduce the engine’s longevity and can lead to a costly trip to the garage, even if they are small.
The good news is that how to check and fix vacuum leaks is something you can handle—at least before seeking help from a mechanic.
Most modern vehicles use the Manifold Absolute Pressure Sensor (MAP) to distribute combustion mixture in the cylinder heads. When a fault occurs, several symptoms may show and stall the car.
It is unwise to replace different vacuum system components blindly. This writing will loop you into how you can find leaks and repair them on time.
Vacuum hoses and engine gaskets are prime causes of leaks. After being in use for some time, they harden, soften, split, or wear out.
Doing a preliminary inspection of the vacuum and engine is the perfect starting point to detect leaks.
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Some symptoms you will notice include:
- Hard start
- Low engine power
- Poor acceleration
- Rough idling
- Poor fuel economy
- Poor brake performance
Checking and fixing vacuum leaks
1. Ignite the car and listen for a hissing sound
If the vacuum leaks, it produces a hissing sound when the engine runs. You can open the hood to listen to the noise well.
Try to pinpoint the location of the hissing, but ensure the hood is cool to avoid burning. You can again use a mechanical stethoscope to amplify the vacuum hissing sound.
2. Look for broken or detached hoses
Sometimes, trying to pinpoint a leak by listening for a hissing sound may be unfruitful. Your next best shot is to inspect the hoses physically.
Look for crack shreds or loose ends since they are also culprits of vacuum leaks. You can even use a flashlight to assess the dark underside angles of the engine and hoses.
If a visual inspection fails to unearth the leaks, use your hand to feel possible hardened, rough, or cracked hoses.
3. Assess hoses clamps
Vacuum leaks often occur at the attachments of the engine’s solid pieces. More so, the hoses can be intact, but the clamps are loose and leaking.
A wise way to affirm clamps are intact is to move them with your hand. You can also detach the hoses and check if contaminants like oil or coolant loosen the clamps.
But again, ensure the engine is off and cool before you touch any of the parts.
If you detect any movements or foreign substances on the hoses, clean, refit, and tighten the clamp screws with clamp pliers.
4. Spray soapy water
Using soapy water is another effective way to find and fix leak problems in a car. First, put the soapy water in a spray bottle and spray it on the suspected area.
Ensure the engine is running for optimal results. This is because leakages often result from the intake gasket between the manifold and cylinder head, carburetor, or throttle body.
Also, spray several times to note the exact leaking spots. If the car’s idling smooths out, chances are there is a leak, and the soapy water has sealed it temporarily. You may also see bubbles appear on the leaking parts.
5. Pressure test affected hoses
A pressure vacuum gauge is an excellent tool you can use if soapy water fails. First, detach affected hoses and ignite the engine.
Let it idle for a few minutes before attaching the vacuum pressure gauge to the hoses’ ends. If the pressure gauge reading isn’t between 17 and 20 inches, the hose may have a vacuum leak.
6. Spray carburetor cleaner or starter fluid
Applying carburetor cleaner or starter fluid to spot vacuum leaks is somehow risky but effective.
The two substances accelerate combustion and can cause a fire if a spark strays from the car engine. Be careful when using this method.
That said, you need a spray bottle and either the cleaner or the fluid. Next, start the engine and spray some of the substance on the area you suspect.
You will notice the engine run quicker for a moment before resuming its normal idling if there is a leak.
7. Check the engine light flash
A car engine light can flash because of different reasons—vacuum leaks are some of them.
The problems shrink the engine’s efficiency, making it hard for the car to accelerate. You will notice this when you press the fuel pedal hard but see a minimal speed increase.
But again, if the light comes on, it is wise you take your car to a mechanic for specialized assessment and repairs.
Your car computer system can adjust the air/fuel ratio, so the engine looks and sounds okay.
8. Assess the idling of the car
When vacuum leaks, extra air gets in the engine, affecting the revolutions per minute (RPM).
If the rpm is higher than usual, the engine produces jittering sounds and vibrates harder (idle). The car may also fail to draw enough fuel from the injectors, causing it to stall.
You can unplug the throttle position sensor or the oxygen sensor to force the engine to run in hard code. Achieving this will make it easier to hear the rough idling and vacuum leaks.
Frequently Asked Questions on Vacuum Leaks
How do you fix an intake manifold leak?
Tighten the bolts while following the crisscross pattern. If this doesn’t solve the problem, replace the gasket between the intake manifold or carburetor.
How can you repair a leaking vacuum hose?
You can cut off the damaged part of the hose, reconnect, and secure it back. Be careful to avoid confusion when repairing several interconnected vacuum hoses.
Why is the rpm shooting up after replacing the manifold gasket?
There could still be a leak. You can use a smoke detector machine to find the leakage by attaching it to the brake booster hose.
Achieving this will provide helpful information on how the engine and vacuum system interconnect.
But again, if you can’t find or fix the problems after using the above tips, reach out to a professional mechanic for help.