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Proper Method to Break in your New Engine
|One of the most asked questions
is how do I break in my new motor? The short answer is
that no break-in is necessary. The only thing that is necessary
is to seat the rings. All clearances and fitments should be perfect
after blueprinting and precision assembly. So how many miles do
you have to drive it to seat the rings? The cylinders are round,
the rings are round, the bore is freshly honed and therefore your
engine should be ready for tuning immediately. They will continue
to seat better over a short period of time but you should be ready
to go tune right away.
Do I need to drive it 500 miles before I tune it?
Absolutely not. How about 50 miles? No. Perhaps the best thing
to do is to drive it all the way to your trailer and tow it to
a competent tuner. In second position on the “things NOT
to do list” is trying to break in an un-tuned engine by
driving it. Too lean an air/fuel will begin to heat and distort
parts, too rich will wash the oil off the cylinders causing premature
wear. What is in first place on the “things NOT to do list”?
Boost on an un-tuned motor. Within 2 to 3 seconds the pistons
and cylinders can be ruined.
Well I did put in a new base map or I’m just running off
the stock Honda computer. Can’t I drive it like that for
a few miles? I’m not even boosting. Well what is the base
map? Just someone’s idea of what numbers will start your
car. Just an educated guess by someone who does not have a clue
what components you are running in your set-up. It’s not
intended to drive on for any extended period of time. The same
with that stock Honda computer. It could be ok but it could also
be dangerously wrong.
So what exactly do I do at the first engine start-up?
Pull the spark plugs and crank the motor with your starter for
a maximum of 30 seconds or until you see the oil pressure gauge
begin to register. Re-install the plugs and wires and fire up
that candle. While keeping one eye on the oil pressure gauge,
use your other eye to scan for fuel leaks. If there are no fuel
leaks, look under the motor for any major oil or coolant leaks.
If that is ok, run the engine for 5 to 10 minutes while keeping
an eye on the temperature and pressure gauges. Keep the rpm’s
between 1000-3000. Shut the engine down and double-check everything.
You are now ready for tuning.
But my engine was already tuned from my previous set-up.
Well, what happened to your previous set-up? Did you melt a stock
piston or crack a cylinder? No problem because now you have forged
pistons and sleeves? Wrong. Although you now have stronger components
that will take more abuse, you are still not right on your air
fuel mixture. Get that thing tuned properly ASAP.
OK, I did it my way instead of yours and now I’m
burning a lot of oil. What happened? Well basically you
scarred up the skirt of the piston, messed up the surface of the
cylinder wall and maybe even egg shaped the cylinder. New pistons
are tapered smaller on the top to larger at the bottom of the
skirt. Your piston to wall clearance is measured at the bottom
of the skirt. As the engine warms up to operating temperature,
the upper portion of the piston begins to expand slightly. The
bottom of the skirt does not expand much. When you boost in a
lean condition, the upper part of the piston expands quickly.
Since the ring land area is cut smaller than the tapered skirt
below it, the first part of the piston that pushes into the cylinder
wall is just below the oil ring. Thus you will see the worst scarring
on your piston right under the ring lands where the excess heat
is the highest.
The more heat that is
generated, the harder the piston pushes into the cylinder wall.
The uninformed would blame the piston damage on bad piston to
wall clearance. Untrue. If that were the problem, the damage
would show up at the very bottom of the skirt. What has happened
is that you have expanded your piston to the point that it has
just ground itself into the cylinder wall. Keep expanding the
piston by super heating it and it will push your cylinder egg
shaped and maybe even balloon out the cylinder slightly. At
the same time this is happening, your ring lands will begin
to distort to where they will never seal properly again. Sometimes
after doing this, the engine will still run but it will be a
smoker. This all happens in a few seconds of high boost with
a lean air fuel ratio. Also it can happen from 500 freeway miles
of driving where the tune up is off enough to build excess heat
at a slower rate, thus doing the same damage over a longer period
of time…but the end results are the same. Death to your
pistons and cylinder walls.
OK, I’m just going to turn the fuel pressure way up and
run extra fat, that way I won’t hurt anything. If you
run too rich, you will “wash out” the rings. First,
excess fuel will run down the cylinders taking the lubricating
oil with it. This promotes direct metal-to-metal contact between
the rings and the cylinder wall. This contact does several things.
The upper ring begins to wear quickly. The middle ring is actually
designed as a tapered oil scraper (it is not used for compression
control at all) and the taper will begin to wear down to where
it becomes flat rather than angled. When that happens, it can
no longer control oil away from the combustion chamber. The
last thing that happens is that pretty cross hatch design begins
to wear off of the cylinder wall. While most people think that
the cross hatch is there to help seat the rings, it also has
a secondary purpose. That is to hold microscopic amounts of
oil in the grooves to help lubricate ring to cylinder walls.
With the walls smooth and no oil control help from the middle
ring and a tired upper ring, oil will begin to mix with fuel
in the combustion chamber. When this happens, your 93 octane
fuel probably hits a value of about 80. Then detonation comes
into play and begins to beat holes in the pistons, among other
So whom can I blame for this mess? The blind machinist that
honed my piston to wall clearance? That poor quality Brand X
piston manufacturer? The idiot pro engine builder that assembled
my block? My ex-friend that helped me put this all together?
Those ignorant engineers that gave me a bad base map with my
engine management system? The guy on the internet message board
whose buddy knows that it takes at least 1000 miles of break
in before you can tune an engine properly? All of the above?
Probably none of the above. Go look in a mirror and ask…who
started this engine and had no idea what the air fuel ratio
was? Who just wanted to jump on it one time to see if it would
haul? Who didn’t know that their injectors were at 100%
duty cycle at 4000 rpm but they wanted to see how it would run
at 6000 rpm? Why it was you. Get that thing tuned right away.
You will notice that the more you drive a tuned motor, the stronger
it will feel. This is just the rings seating in their final
5-10% as they thank you for tuning first.