How To Check Engine Compression (Ford 4.6L, 5.4L)

One of the most over-looked tests, when troubleshooting a hard to solve misfire, is the engine compression test.

Over the years, I've run across many situations where the customer (or another tech or mechanic) just about replaced everything on their Ford 4.6L or 5.4L V8 and still the car (or SUV or pick up) continued to misfire!

This tutorial will explore the compression test as one of the key tests to troubleshoot a misfire code or codes (P0300, P0301, P0302, P303, P0304, P0305, P0306, P0307, P0308).

This article is a part of a series of articles that explore the different tests that are done to find the exact cause of a misfire condition on the 4.6L and 5.4L equipped Ford and Mercury vehicles. The series starts with the article: How To Diagnose Misfire Codes Ford 4.6l & 5.4L 8 Cylinder (P0300-P0308).

En Español You can find this tutorial in Spanish here: Cómo Probar La Compresión Del Motor (Ford 4.6L, 5.4L) (at: autotecnico-online.com).

Tools You'll Need:

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

Which Compression Tester Should I Buy?

There are lot of engine compression testers to choose from and many places to buy them. I'm gonna' make two recommendations to you:

1) Which one to buy:  The engine compression tester that I have always used is the Actron CP7827 Compression Tester Kit. My only complaint about this engine compression tester is that it does not come with a case to store it in.

Engine Compression Gauge Testers

2) Where to buy:  You can buy an engine compression tester just about anywhere, but you'll end up paying more for it (especially at your local auto parts store). The above links will help you comparison shop. I think you'll agree it's the better way to save money on the compression tester!

TEST 1: ‘Dry’ Engine Compression Test

How To Check Engine Compression (Ford 4.6L, 5.4L)

Each cylinder, besides needing air, fuel, and spark, to contribute to engine power, also needs to be in good mechanical condition. If either the cylinder head valves or the engine piston rings are worn and letting the compression created on the power stroke escape, then that cylinder will misfire.

This test article assumes that the engine starts and runs and that you're testing a misfire condition. Also, the test applies to both the Ignition coil pack and Coil-On-Plug ignition coil equipped 4.6L and 5.4L engines.

NOTE: The engine should NOT be HOT (normal operating temperature) and yet, it should be not be COLD. So, if you've just turned off the engine, after an extended run time, let it cool down about 30 minutes. If the engine is cold, start’er up and let’er run about 15 minutes. If the engine in your vehicle doesn't start, then don't worry about it being warm or not for the test, since a compression test can still be done.

Let's get started:

  1. 1

    Disconnect all 8 fuel injectors from their electrical connectors. This will prevent fuel injectors from injecting fuel into the engine cylinders.

  2. 2

    Disable the ignition system.

    If your specific 4.6L V8 has the two coil pack ignition system, you must disconnect both coil packs. This is important, since the ignition system has to be disabled and unable to produce spark. If your 4.6L V8 engine is equipped with individual Coil-On-Plug (COP) ignition coils you don't have to worry about this.

  3. 3

    Disconnect and remove all of the 8 ignition coils (if your vehicle is equipped with one individual Coil-On-Plug ignition coil for each spark plug).

  4. 4

    Remove all of the 8 spark plugs.

  5. 5

    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.

  6. 6

    When everything is ready, have your helper crank the engine. Keep your eyes glued on the compression tester gauge.

  7. 7

    Once the needle stops climbing, have your helper stop cranking the engine. Repeat this test twice, and record the second reading on a piece of paper.

  8. 8

    Repeat steps 5 thru' 7 on the remaining 7 cylinders.

Let's examine your test results:

CASE 1: All eight cylinders had 0 PSI. This test result tells you that the engine has an internal mechanical problem.

The most common cause of this condition is a broken timing chain or a blown head gasket.

Your next step should be to check the condition of the timing chain and perform a blown head gasket test.

CASE 2: One or more cylinders had a low compression value compared to the others. This could be normal or it could be causing a problem.

To find out if the compression values are normal or not, go to: How To Interpret The Engine Compression Test Results.

CASE 3: All eight compression values were similar and above 120 PSI. This lets you know that a compression problem is not behind the no start or misfire problem you're trying to troubleshoot.



Ford Vehicles:

  • Crown Victoria
    • 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005
  • E150, E250, E350
    • 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002
  • Expedition
    • 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009

Ford Vehicles:

  • Explorer (4.6L)
    • 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005
  • F150, F250
    • 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008
  • Mustang (GT & Cobra)
    • 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005

Ford Vehicles:

  • Thunderbird
    • 1995, 1996, 1997

Lincoln Vehicles:

  • Aviator
    • 2003, 2004, 2005
  • Mark VIII
    • 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998

Lincoln Vehicles:

  • Navigator
    • 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009
  • Town Car
    • 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005

Mercury Vehicles:

  • Cougar
    • 1995, 1996, 1997
  • Grand Marquis
    • 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005
  • Mountaineer (4.6L)
    • 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005