How to Test Engine Compression (1999-2001 1.6L Mazda Protegé)

Engine compression problems are pretty common on small engines (such as the 1.6L Mazda engine) as they age and accumulate miles. For the most part, engine compression problems usually lead to a rough idle condition and in extreme cases a ‘cranks but does not start’ condition.

This tutorial will help you to do an engine compression test on your 1999-2001 1.6L Mazda Protegé in a step-by-step manner. More importantly, I'll show you how to interpret your test results to see if there's indeed a problem or not.

Here are the contents of this article at a quick glance:

  1. Symptoms of Low or No Engine Compression.
  2. The ‘Dry’ Engine Compression Test.
  3. ‘Wet’ Engine Compression Test.
  4. Which Compression Tester Should I Buy?

Symptoms of Low or No Engine Compression

If your 1.6L Mazda Protegé idles rough or doesn't start, there's a good chance that the engine may have cylinder compression problems.

I'm gonna' go into details about both conditions so that you can see where your specific problem falls into:

Engine Starts but Runs with a Misfire (Rough Idle):

  1. Also known as an engine miss, rough idle condition.
    1. Usually caused by very low compression in one cylinder or...
    2. Uneven engine compression that varies more than 15% across all 4 cylinders.
  2. Check Engine Light on with misfire codes:
    1. P0300 Random Cylinder Misfire.
    2. P0301 Cylinder #1 Misfire.
    3. P0302 Cylinder #2 Misfire.
    4. P0303 Cylinder #3 Misfire.
    5. P0304 Cylinder #4 Misfire.
  3. BAD gas mileage.
    1. This is caused engine not producing its optimal power output since the air/fuel mixture isn't being combusted with adequate compression pressure.
  4. Engine Pollutes More.
    1. If the air/fuel mixture isn't compressed within a certain range, it won't burn optimally and produce more unburned hydrocarbons escaping into the exhaust.

Your Mazda won't start:

This usually is caused by having 2 or all 4 cylinders with no compression. When this happens, you'll see:

  1. The engine cranks very fast.
    1. This fast cranking speed is very noticeable.
  2. The Ignition System is sparking all 4 spark plugs.
    1. This tells you that the No Start Condition is not caused by a fault in the Ignition System.
  3. The fuel injectors spray fuel.
    1. You can confirm this with a Noid Light test.
    2. Also, you can confirm this, although indirectly, by removing the spark plugs and checking to see if they are fuel soaked (fuel fouled).
  4. Fuel pump is working and providing pressure.
  5. The most common causes of no compression on 2 or all 4 cylinders are:
    1. Blown head gasket.
    2. Broken timing belt.
    3. Engine threw a rod.

OK, having covered the most common scenarios of low compression and no compression, let's get testing to see if this is the case on your 1999-2001 1.6L Mazda Protegé equipped vehicle.

The ‘Dry’ Engine Compression Test

How To Do An Engine Compression Test (1999-2001 1.6L Mazda Protegé)

OK, to get this show on the road, we're gonna' check the compression of all 4 cylinders. If you don't have an engine compression tester, you can borrow one from your local auto parts store.

If you need help deciding where to buy one or which one to buy, take a look at my recommendations: Which Compression Tester Should I Buy?.

IMPORTANT: Do not remove the spark plugs from a hot engine, or you run the risk of damaging the spark plug threads on the cylinder head. If the engine has been running for any length of time, let it cool down completely. Also, you'll be working around a cranking engine, so you have to be careful and stay alert at all times. Think safety all of the time!

Alright, these are the test steps:

  1. 1

    Disconnect all of the fuel injectors. This will prevent fuel from being injected into the cylinders as you crank the engine.

  2. 2

    Remove all the 2 ignition coils (along with the 2 spark plug wires) and remove all four 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 plugs ceramic insulator to break, and this will cause a misfire!

  3. 3

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

  4. 4

    When the tester is set up, ask your helper to crank the engine. Your job is to keep your eye on the compression tester's gauge. Once the needle on the gauge stops climbing, have your helper stop cranking the engine.

    Write down the compression value on a piece of paper. Include the number of the cylinder this reading belongs to. Now repeat steps 1 thru' 6 on the other 4 cylinders.

  5. 5

    After checking all 4 cylinders' compression, the next step is to interpret the results

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

CASE 1: Low or no compression in 2 or all 4 cylinders.. This test result indicates a serious internal problem.

The most common issues would be:

  1. Blown head gasket.
    1. To further test this, I recommend the following tutorial: How to Test for a Blown Head Gasket (1.6L Mazda Protegé).
  2. Broken timing belt.
  3. Engine threw a rod.

CASE 2: Low or no compression in one cylinder.. Getting a no or low compression test result means you've found the cause of the engine's rough idle (misfire).

If you got a low compression reading, the next step is to find out if this reading is varying by more than 15% than the other cylinders (because if it is varying by more than 15%, then this cylinder is considered ‘dead’)... 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 Mazda gave me the following compression readings:

  1. Cylinder #1 165 PSI.
  2. Cylinder #2 170 PSI.
  3. Cylinder #3 175 PSI .
  4. Cylinder #4    30 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!!

Now that you've found the cylinder with the low compression, the next step is to see if this low compression is caused by worn cylinder head valves or worn piston rings... for this test, go to ‘Wet’ Engine Compression Test.