How to Test Engine Compression
(Chrysler 3.9L, 5.2L, 5.9L)

How to Test Engine Compression (Chrysler 3.9L, 5.2L, 5.9L)

Testing the engine compression, on your V6 or V8 equipped Dodge pickup or SUV, is not as hard as people think.

In this tutorial, I'll show you how to do it and more importantly I'll also show you how to interpret the results of the compression test.

Why do an engine compression test? Well, it may help you to find out if the engine is shot and if this is the reason why it won't start or the reason behind your pickup or SUV's hard to diagnose misfire condition.

OK, to make it as easy as possible to navigate this article, here are its contents at a quick glance:

  1. Symptoms of Bad Engine Compression.
  2. The Engine Compression Test.
  3. Interpreting the Results of the Engine Compression Test.
  4. ‘Wet’ Engine Compression Test.
  5. Why an Engine Compression Test?
  6. Which Compression Tester Should I Buy?
  7. Related Test Articles.

Tools You'll Need:

  1. Compression Gauge Tester.
  2. A Helper
  3. Pen and Paper

Symptoms of Bad Engine Compression

If the V6 or V8 engine in your pickup (or SUV) still runs... then low or no compression in one or several cylinders will cause the engine to run rough when it idles and miss when you accelerate it.

To get into even more specifics, these are some of the symptoms you'll see when one or more (but not all) cylinders have low or no compression:

  1. A misfire condition with one (or more) misfire trouble codes (if OBD II equipped) lighting up the check engine light (CEL):
    1. P0300, PO301, P0302, P0303, P0304, P0305, P0306, P0307, P0308.
  2. rough idle.
  3. Misfire felt only when accelerating the vehicle.
  4. Misfire felt when the engine is idling but goes away when engine is accelerated.

When all 6 or 8 cylinders have no compression, you're looking at a no start condition.

The Engine Compression Test

The image viewer on the left, has two illustrations that will help you to identify the individual engine cylinders.

One illustration tells you the id number of each cylinder for the 3.9L V6 and the other for the 5.2L and 5.9L V8s.

OK, to get this show on the road, I'll first explain the test steps. At the end of the test steps, you'll find two possible test results that will help you to interpret your specific test results.

Alright, let's get started:

  1. 1

    The best way to do the compression test is with the engine slightly warmed up... if it starts and runs. If it doesn't , well it's no big deal... you'll still be able to accomplish the test.

    So, if it does start... crank her up and let it run for a few minutes to warm it up. If it has been running for an extended amount of time, let her cool down.

  2. 2

    The fuel system has to be disabled and you can easily do this by simply disconnecting all of the fuel injectors. This step is important, so don't skip it.

  3. 3

    The next step is to disconnect the ignition coil's electrical connector. This step is also very important, since you can not have the distributor delivering spark to each spark plug wire during the test.

  4. 4

    Now, remove all six (or eight spark plugs) spark plugs. As your taking them out, be careful and don't drop any of them on the floor, or you could cause the spark plug's ceramic insulator to break, and this will cause a misfire!

  5. 5

    Thread the engine compression gauge into the spark plug hole for the number 1 engine cylinder. Hand tighten the compression gauge only! Do not use any type of tool to get it tight.

  6. 6

    OK, when you're ready, have a helper crank up the engine while you keep your eyeballs on the compression tester's gauge. Once the needle on the gauge stops climbing, stop cranking the engine.

    Before moving on to the next cylinder, write down this compression reading on a piece of paper. Include the number of the cylinder this reading belongs to. Now repeat steps 1 thru' 6 on the other cylinders.

  7. 7

    After testing all cylinders and having written down all of your compression test readings, now you need to interpret the results.

It's important that you know that you're not gonna' see the exact same compression value on each of the 6 or 8 cylinders. What you're looking for is a compression value or compression values that are radically different than the average compression of the good cylinders.

CASE 1: One or more cylinders had low or no compression. The next step is to make sure that compression between cylinders should not vary more than 15% and this is how you can find out:

  1. Grab a calculator and multiply the highest compression reading that you recorded by .15.
    1. So, let's say that cylinder #4 gave you the highest reading of 170 PSI. Well 170 X .15 gives you 26 (25.5 rounded off).
  2. Now, the next step is to subtract 26 from 170... which gives us 144 PSI.
  3. So then, 144 PSI is the lowest possible compression reading that any one of the rest of the engine cylinders can have. Any compression reading below this.. and that engine cylinder will misfire.

Now, so that this calculation can make more sense to you... let's say that my Dodge Ram pick up (with a 3.9L) gave me the following compression readings:

  1. Cylinder #1 175 PSI.
  2. Cylinder #2 170 PSI.
  3. Cylinder #3 165 PSI .
  4. Cylinder #4 30 PSI .
  5. Cylinder #5 160 PSI.
  6. Cylinder #6 165 PSI .

The next step is to do the math: 175 x .15= 26, 175-26= 149. So, now I know that cylinder #4 is the one causing the misfire!!

CASE 2: compression values are above 120 PSI for each cylinder and do not vary more than 15% between them. This test result tells you that bad compression IS NOT behind the misfire.

If you're having a rough idle or a no start condition and your compression test results are OK, the following tutorials may be of help:

  1. How to Diagnose Misfire Codes (Dodge 3.9L, 5.2L, 5.9L).
  2. How to Test a No Start Condition (Dodge 3.9L, 5.2L, 5.9L).

CASE 3: All cylinders had low (90 PSI or less) or 0 PSI compression. This is bad news and indicates serious engine wear and tear or damage.

This test result usually indicates that the engine is due for a major overhaul.



Dodge Vehicles:

  • B150, B250, B350 3.9L, 5.2L, 5.9L
    • 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994
  • B1500, B2500, B3500 3.9L, 5.2L, 5.9L
    • 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998
  • D150, D250, D350 3.9L, 5.2L, 5.9L
    • 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994

Dodge Vehicles:

  • Dakota 3.9L, 5.2L, 5.9L
    • 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1997, 1998, 1999
  • Durango 3.2L, 5.2L, 5.9L
    • 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003
  • Ram 1500, 2500, 3500 3.9L, 5.2L, 5.9L
    • 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003

Dodge Vehicles:

  • RamCharger 5.2L, 5.9L
    • 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996
  • Ram Van 1500, 2500, 3500 3.9L, 5.2L, 5.9L
    • 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003

Jeep Vehicles:

  • Grand Cherokee 5.2L, 5.9L
    • 1997, 1998

“As a child, my family’s menu consisted of two choices: take it or leave it.”
Buddy Hackett

MORE TUTORIALS: