Piston Rings: Here Are The Symptoms & Fixes Of A Bad Piston Ring

The entire process of combustion of fuel and air in the combustion chamber is done so that the piston moves, which in turn moves the crankshaft, ultimately generating momentum for your vehicle.

To generate enough power to move the piston in one direction, a proper seal is required in the cylinder wall so that the power or the pressure isn’t released prematurely. This seal is created with the help of piston rings. The job of the piston rings is to envelop the entire piston so there is no pressure loss.

Like any other car component, piston rings also wear and tear and suffer extreme temperatures. Ultimately, they can go bad. However, for an ordinary car owner, it is really difficult to notice the same unless they look out for the symptoms.

Bad Piston Ring Symptoms

To help you diagnose this problem, we will share numerous bad piston ring symptoms so that the next time you experience such an issue, you can detect it and fix it.

1.     Slow acceleration

Any damage to the piston ring means there will be a loss of power; therefore, the piston will not move at the same rapid pace. In such a case, your vehicle won’t generate enough power to attain the right speed. The acceleration will be too slow, and you might not attain the higher speeds you use to obtain in your car.

Young woman drives a car.

If you have been driving your car long enough, it is easy to notice the loss of acceleration.

2.     Higher oil consumption

Another job of the piston ring is to create a proper environment in the combustion chamber. This combustion environment is also contaminated whenever there is a problem with the piston ring.

While your vehicle usually releases a bit of oil, a problem with the piston ring is that much more oil enters the combustion chamber. Consequently, the oil may leak into the combustion chamber.

Excessive oil leak means that your vehicle, in turn, will consume more oil resulting in the low oil sign flashing more often. Usually, you need to change the engine oil or replenish it every 3,000 to 5,000 miles. However, the problem with the piston ring means that you might have to replenish it more often.

3.     Higher engine noise

To provide you with the required amount of power and excellent adhesion, your engine will have to work extra hard since there will be a loss of power due to a faulty piston ring. The excessive pressure on the engine will produce more noise.

Sure enough, the muffler and the insulation components of your engine will dampen that noise to a certain extent but still, it is more than your average noise. We are trying to say that the bad piston ring also results in higher noise coming out of your vehicle.

4.     Choked air filters

We have already highlighted that faulty piston rings mean more oil will enter the combustion chamber. In turn, the air released from the combustion chamber also consists of more oil-related impurities and contaminants.

Dirty car air filter.

The contaminants come in contact with the air filters, which curb these excessive contaminants and emissions from the combustion process. More contaminants mean that the air filters will get dirty at a rapid pace. This air will hamper not just the engine’s working but also your car’s cooling mechanism.

5.     More exhaust smoke

One of the most visible signs of bad piston rings is excessive exhaust smoke from your car. Usually, the smoke which comes out of your car is thin. However, when dealing with piston rings, the smoke is thick and accompanies a burning oil odor.

If you’re consistently facing the problem of your vehicle emitting thick smoke in higher volume, it certainly indicates that the pistons are not working appropriately.

6.     Oil leaks

Many people try to ignore numerous such symptoms. If you do so, the piston rings will suffer from more wear and tear. In that case, the crankcase will experience high pressure.

As the pressure on the crankcase increases, the piston rings will find it even more difficult to seal the chamber, and therefore most oil will start leaking. However, in that case, the oil will not just leak into the combustion chamber but also spill outside.

If you notice any oil leak below your vehicle when parked, verify the pressure on the crankcase. If the pressure is also higher, it clearly indicates a problem with the piston ring.

7.     Blue exhaust smoke

The symptom we are highlighting is probably the first symptom you will notice when a piston ring goes bad.

When oil mixes with air and fuel to burn, the smoke is usually blue and pretty thick. This thick and blue smoke will usually come out of your car’s exhaust system. Since the blue color is easy to notice even in the case of smoke, this symptom is hard to miss.

If there is thick blue smoke once or twice, it is not a cause for concern. That is because it might happen due to the operational leaking of oil into the combustion chamber. However, if it happens consistently or frequently, it is advisable to contact the mechanic as soon as possible.

8.     Higher fuel consumption

The loss of power will mean that the engine will have to work extra hard to provide you with the required amount of acceleration. It means that the fuel needed will also be on the higher side.

Car fuel gauge showing empty.

Consequently, your vehicle’s mileage will decrease if you drive around with a bad piston ring. At one point, the fuel consumption will be so high that it will be easy to notice, and that is when you should contact a mechanic.

9.     Frequent stalling

Usually, the symptoms highlighted above are covered during the initial phase of a piston ring going bad. However, if you continue to drive around, the piston rings will suffer from so much wear and tear that they might not be able to provide any power at all. In that case, your vehicle might stall in between as well.

The problem is that if your vehicle starts stalling while driving on the highway, it can also prove very risky.

Expert Tip: Once you keep these few symptoms in mind, it is easy for you to detect the problem in time. When you notice these symptoms, the clear-cut solution is to replace the bad piston ring

Piston Rings Replacement Cost

Usually, replacing the piston rings by hiring a mechanic can cost anywhere from $1,000-$ 5,000. The problem is the actual cost of the piston rings is only a fraction of the overall cost.

You might be thinking, why is the cost so high then?

Check out the answer below.

There are various tasks and costs involved in replacing the piston rings.

1.     Disassembling & assembling

If you’re familiar with your vehicle’s engine, piston rings are located deep inside the engine. Even though piston rings themselves are pretty small but to replace them, the entire engine needs to be disassembled.

Once the piston rings are replaced, the engine must be assembled again. Even when you hire a certified mechanic, this process can take significantly longer.

2.     Precision installation

Piston rings aren’t a component that you can install in a hurry. After disassembling the engine, you will have to first measure the ring and then install the piston rings according to the exact specifications needed.

Additionally, you have to measure the dimensions of the cylinder walls and check out for any wear and tear before replacing the piston rings. The precision installation further adds to the complexity of replacing the piston ring and adds to the time.

3.     High labor cost

Piston rings aren’t something that any new mechanic can replace. It requires high knowledge of the engine and proper experience. The entire process takes 12 to 16 hours, even if you hire a certified mechanic.

It means that when looking for a mechanic to replace the piston rings, you need to go with the experienced one who will spare a significant amount of time to complete the task. All these factors certainly add to the cost of replacing the piston ring.

4.     Vehicle make and model

Most car owners like to go with OEM components. Replacing the older piston rings with OEM ones ensures that the seal will be appropriate; therefore, enough power can be generated to drive your vehicle around.

OEM components rely heavily on the design created by the automobile manufacturer. Thus, the more expensive your vehicle, the higher the cost of components will also be. They are such a component of the combustion process that you cannot compromise on the quality of the piston rings.

Consequently, your vehicle’s make and model will significantly impact the cost of piston ring replacement. The pure cost of piston rings is around $200. The rest is usually the cost of labor.

What Happens If You Drive With Bad Piston Rings?

Because of the high replacement cost, many car owners procrastinate on this expense. However, you shouldn’t drive more than a few miles with a bad piston ring.

In case you ignore this advice and try to drive around with the same, there are quite a few problems that can occur.

Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Drive Long With Bad Piston Rings

Once you consider why you shouldn’t drive long with bad piston rings, it is easy to understand why they should be replaced as soon as possible.

1.     Impact on the engine

The consistent loss of power will keep on reducing the engine’s efficiency. Not only that, the oil and fuel consumption will keep increasing. Moreover, even if you ignore these additional costs, the wear and tear on the rings will continue.

At one point in time, they won’t be able to seal the combustion chamber at all, and your vehicle might also start stalling. This will impact the efficiency of your engine in the longer run, which can be very costly to fix.

2.     Possibility of getting a ticket

The high noise and thick smoke, especially the blue one can attract the attention of the cops resulting in a ticket for noise disturbance or unsafe vehicle. Of course, this can vary from one state to another, but there is a possibility that you might end up getting a ticket because of the bad piston ring problems.

3.     Loss of fuel

The fuel consumption will keep increasing until you fix the bad piston. It means that if you decide to drive around with such a piston, the running expense of your vehicle will certainly go up with every passing day.

4.     Possibility of fire

By now, you’re already aware that a bad piston ring will increase the fuel consumption in your vehicle. However, fuel leaks might also take place. Similarly, an oil leak might also take place.

Warning: Leakage of both these liquids means that there is always a risk of fire. Thus driving around a vehicle with a bad piston ring means that you are always at risk of your vehicle catching fire.

Can You Fix It Yourself?

Technically, anyone can replace the piston ring if they have detailed knowledge of the engine block. However, it is best to let a certified mechanic do so because of the precision required. However, a temporary fix is possible that can help you drive till you reach the mechanic.

It is best to use heavier oil when you spot a bad piston ring. There are various reasons for the same that we will highlight below.

1.     Aids the ring in sealing

The heavier oil will work with the piston ring to seal properly. It will strengthen the rings, which will help you reduce the flow of excessive oil into the combustion chamber. Not only that, it will reduce the pressure on your rings and thereby reduce wear and tear.

When that happens, you will notice that most symptoms of a bad piston ring are significantly reduced as well.

Not only that, but the chances of the piston ring breaking entirely are also significantly reduced when you use heavier oil.

However, replacing your current oil with a heavier one is best rather than mixing both. Only then will you be able to get the advantage of heavier oil.

2.     Better lubrication

Whenever there is a problem with the piston ring, the efficiency of your vehicle reduces because of the piston not moving by the required amount.

In such a case, you need to try everything that can increase the efficiency of your engine so that proper movement is generated for the piston. One way in which you can improve the efficiency of your vehicle is to lubricate the piston and various parts of the engine appropriately.

You can easily do so with thicker oil. It has been proven time and again that the level of lubrication provided by thicker oils is better. By switching over to thicker oil until you get the piston ring fixed, you not only deal with the sealing problem but also increase the efficiency of the piston movement by better lubricating the engine.

The lubrication generated by the thicker oils can last for a longer period of time as well. It means that if you’re worried about replenishing the oil, again and again, that won’t be required.

Thus, as a temporary solution using thicker oil certainly seems to be a decent option.

3.     Less leaks

The thicker the oil, the slower will be the flow of the oil. It means that the chances of the oil leaking to the ground or to any other part of the engine are significantly reduced as well.

With the lesser leaks, not only the consumption of oil is reduced, but the chances of the vehicle catching fire are also reduced significantly. It means that the running cost of your vehicle is reduced as well.

If you’re thinking that by switching over to heavier oil, you will be able to delay the replacement of the piston rings for a long time, then you’re wrong.

Replacing your current oil with a heavier one is just a temporary solution because thicker oils have their own disadvantages as well. For example, if you consistently use thicker oils, the maintenance which your engine requires might increase. Not only that, if you do so for months or perhaps weeks together, the engine’s life span can also be reduced.

Thus, you can fix the problem temporarily by switching over to thicker oil but it is best to eventually get the piston ring replaced by contacting a professional mechanic.


The next time you notice any of these symptoms, you can spot the problem immediately. While it is true that for the average car owner, detecting a bad piston ring is not easy, once you keep in mind a few symptoms we have highlighted above, you shouldn’t have a problem doing so.

However, instead of ignoring this problem, it is best to get it fixed as soon as possible by taking your vehicle to a garage. A professional should replace the piston ring so that it is done with precision and you do not face the same problem ever again.

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About Brock Rangel

Hi, I am Brock, and I am the lead editor/photographer for TheCarColony. I have been a mechanic for over 14 years now, and I am here to spread my car knowledge across the web!

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