P0300 series codes indicate an engine misfire. They can be very mysterious, and expensive if not addressed logically. With a few simple tools, a little thought, and these tips, most enthusiasts can cure the engine misfires.
What sets diagnostic trouble code P0300?
An internal-combustion engine needs four things to run. They need fuel, mixed with air, in a ratio of 14.7 to one. An ignition-spark lights the fuel and air mixture, creating combustion. Compression of the fuel and air mixture makes it explosive. The final necessity is proper timing, of the components. All these things must take place at the correct time.
The lack of any of the four key-ingredients will cause the cylinder to misfire. That means the power-producing explosion, in the cylinder does not take place. This waste fuel, causes a rough running condition and can damage the catalytic converter. Most modern vehicle operating systems track misfires, because they are so dangerous.
When the computer recognizes a misfire, a diagnostic trouble code or DTC is set. P0300 is the code that shows a misfire. The computer often identifies a specific cylinder as causing the problem. When it does, they append the cylinder number to the DTC. For instance, a misfire on cylinder one, sets code P0301. Cylinder three would generate code P0303 and so on. With an OBDII code reader, we can retrieve this data.
Interpreting the scan tool data
Unfortunately, scan tool data only tells that a problem is occurring and not what is wrong. It is similar to a fire alarm, in a multistory building. The warning states something is wrong, but not where or what it will take to correct it. This is where we use other tests, and a logical approach to learn the cause.
People without experience often take a diagnostic trouble code literally. This leads to costly part replacement and further from finding the cause of the problem. Most of what the computer reports is an effect, and not a cause. For instance, a misfire will often set an oxygen sensor code. The sensor reads out of range, because combustion is incomplete. Replacing the oxygen sensor does not help and may create other issues.
Two basic types of misfires exist
First is a multiple-cylinder, which affects several cylinders equally. The other is a single-cylinder, which only afflicts one. A unique code shows a misfire on one cylinder, such as P0307. They show multiple-cylinder faults as several codes, such as P0302, P0304 and P0306 or just a generic P0300. Knowing the type of misfire eliminates many possible causes.
For example, a fuel filter does not cause a single-cylinder misfire. Fuel filters affect all cylinders equally. An air flow meter also controls all cylinders and will not produce a single misfire. Components that serve all engine-cylinders do not cause single-misfires. The same is true with multiple-misfires. A burned valve causes a miss only on the cylinder where the problem exists.
The importance of knowing how cylinders are numbered
They number engine cylinders in many different ways. GM will often name the left front number one and then alternate side to side. Ford often starts on the right side and progresses to the rear on the same bank, before switching to the left. Below are examples of a few common engines.
We gain insight from the relationship of misfires
Several missing cylinders, on a single bank, suggest a problem with that side of the engine. A V-6 with one bank out of time, a vacuum-leak on one side or a damaged fuel rail would be possible causes. It is unlikely all of the spark plugs on one bank would fail. Consider where the misfires exist and check components that control the area.
When all cylinders misfire equally, the causes will be things that influence the entire engine. Low fuel pressure causes misfires on every cylinder. If this is suspected, a fuel pressure test will confirm the problem.
A logical approach starts with a theory. We test this, and study the results. We take action based on the result and not on what we thought would happen. For instance, if we suspect a bad fuel pump, replacing it is silly without tests to see if it is bad. We check the fuel pressure. If fuel pressure is good, when the misfire occurs, we revise our theory and start again.
Applying logic, the PDSA method, and testing parts we think are bad, will lead to the cause. This is far less expensive and quicker than replacing parts and hoping to fix the problem. In part-two of this series, we cover single-cylinder misfire diagnosis.