Direct injection offers numerous benefits over port fuel delivery but could it be a bigger headache than it’s worth?
The automotive industry has gradually switched to direct injection over the past decade or so and for good reason. Spraying a precisely controlled amount of fuel right into an engine’s combustion chambers can result in improved efficiency and greater power density; tailpipe emissions are generally cleaner as well.
In spite of these advantages, this technology isn’t perfect. DI has a handful of downsides including additional noise, particularly at idle and dramatically higher costs, though there are other concerns.
And a big one has to do with carbon deposits. We’ve heard rumblings that blackened buildup on the backsides of intake valves is a major problem and something that could be disastrous for motorists in the coming years. To get to the bottom of this potential top-end issue we did some digging.
What’s Really Going On?
Ford has been pushing its EcoBoost engines as a way of improving fuel economy without sacrificing performance. The real-world results of this strategy may be mixed, but one thing is not: all of these powerplants feature direct injection as well as turbochargers and advanced control software.
These engines have been on the market for a number of years now and to get some empirical evidence from the front lines about how they’re holding up we reached out to Brian Laskowski, a Ford Factory Certified Technician. He also has a YouTube channel, FordTechMakuloco that highlights all sorts of automotive repairs.
Responding via e-mail Laskowski said, “Carbon deposits in Ford engines are not a widespread issue due to the advanced engine technology.” But he also mentioned that it has happened in some low-mileage EcoBoost units.
“As of today the issue seems to be isolated to certain markets with varying factors such as fuel quality,” said Laskowski. If carbon buildup becomes severe he said it can result in all kinds of issues from drivability woes to misfires, turbocharger issues and even catalytic converter damage.
Assuaging potential sky-is-falling fears, Michael Karesh, the developer of TrueDelta.com said carbon buildup is “not an issue for all direct-injected engines” based on the data he collects. His website surveys nearly 100,000 drivers of all makes and models to acquire relevant and timely data about vehicle reliability and fuel economy among other things.
But of course there are some instances of deposit-related issues that have popped up. Karesh said, “The only engines it’s reported quite a bit is [with] the VW/Audi 2.0T and then the Audi V6s.” He also said, “I know there are some BMWs that end up with carbon buildup as well.”
As for the frequency of reported problems with these Volkswagen cars he said his numbers indicate “it can be as high as one in six over the last two years,” which “is a high number” and one that he said is consistent across different models.
The 2008 Audi A3, which offered a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, also popped up in the TrueDelta data. Karesh said it’s puzzling why 2006 and 2007 models aren’t having similar carbon issues. Leaving us with more questions he said, “I’m not really seeing GTIs [popup],” which are mechanically similar to the A3.
“If there is a non-German car there might be something happening in the [Cadillac] CTS,” said Karesh, but once again he cautioned that it’s “too scattered and sporadic” to draw any definitive conclusions. Additionally he said, “I have one report of decarbonizing the engine in a Chevrolet Equinox.” Unlike the other instances, he has quite a large sample size for this particular vehicle, which clearly indicates that deposits are not a major problem at this time ...