How To Test The Engine Compression (1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 3.8L Ford FWD)

In this tutorial I'll explain how to test the compression of the Ford front wheel drive (FWD) vehicles equipped with a 3.8L V6 engine.

These vehicles include: 1991-1995 3.8L Ford Taurus, 1991-1995 3.8L Mercury Sable, and 1995-2003 3.8L Ford Windstar minivan..

Also I'm going to explain how to find out if the compression of a certain cylinder with low compression is causing a cylinder misfire or rough idle.

Contents of this tutorial at a quick glance:

  1. Important Tips And Suggestions.
  2. TEST 1: Dry Compression Test.
  3. Calculating The Compression Values To See If They Are Within Range.
  4. TEST 2: Wet Compression Test.
  5. Which Compression Tester Should I Buy?

En Español You can find this tutorial in Spanish here: Cómo Probar La Compresión Del Motor (1991-2003 3.8L Ford FWD) (at: autotecnico-online.com).

Important Tips And Suggestions

TIP 1: Don't remove the spark plugs if your 3.8L Ford vehicle's engine is hot.

You run the risk of stripping the threads, of the spark plug hole, if you remove the spark plugs with a hot engine. This is a nightmare I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy.

TIP 2: Be careful and take all necessary safety precautions as you perform the engine compression test (since the engine has to be cranked).

TEST 1: Dry Compression Test

How To Test The Engine Compression (1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 3.8L Ford FWD)

In this section we're gonna' check the compression of all 6 cylinders. Checking them all will help us to find out which cylinder or cylinders are dead (due to low engine compression).

Let me tell you that depending on the age and mileage of your Ford's engine, the compression of each cylinder probably will not be similar.

Up to a certain point, this is normal. Now if the values vary too much between themselves, then this could lead to an engine cylinder misfire or rough idle condition.

Don't worry, I'll explain how to interpret your test results to find out if those dissimilar values are within a normal range or not.

Alright, these are the test steps:

  1. 1

    Disable the ignition system by disconnecting the ignition coil from its electrical connector. This will prevent the ignition coil from sparking during the test.

  2. 2

    Remove the spark plugs.

    When removing the spark plugs, be careful not to drop any of them on the floor, or you run the risk of having the spark plugs porcelain insulator crack and then you'll have a misfire on your hands.

  3. 3

    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.

  4. 4

    Have your helper crank the engine till the needle on the compression gauge stops climbing.

  5. 5

    Record the value at which the needle stopped and the number of the engine cylinder on a piece of paper.

    Repeat this test step on the remaining steps 3-5 on the remaining cylinders.

Let's take a look at what your compression test results mean:


CASE 1: You got 0 PSI in the majority of the cylinders. This tells you that your Ford's engine has serious internal problems. You should check for a:

  1. Blown head gasket.
  2. Blown engine.

Any compression value below 100 PSI (even if it does not 0 PSI) means internal mechanical engine trouble.

CASE 2: All cylinders have compression but their values are not the same. It's normal for each cylinder's compression value to vary slightly from one another. But if they vary too much, you'll have a bona-fide misfire or rough idle condition on your hands.

To find out, the next step is to go to: Calculating The Compression Values To See If They Are Within Range.