What Happens When Cam Phasers Go Bad?


Cam phasers are a component included in various engines, helping them run efficiently, especially at low rpm. However, cam phasers are prone to some issues. So what happens to car engines when cam phasers fail to function properly? 

When cam phasers go bad, they can cause damage to the Variable Camshaft Tuning (VCT). Such an issue can cause an engine’s timing to go astray, preventing the engine from functioning. Severely damaged cam phasers may prevent the engine from starting or cause them to go idle. 

Keep reading to learn more in detail about cam phasers and when they go bad. I’ll also discuss how you can protect yourself against lousy cam phasers and what causes cam phasers to deteriorate in the first place. By the end of this piece, you’ll better understand what maintenance your car needs and how to best care for your cam phasers. 

What Is a Cam Phaser?

Before exploring deeper into the potential issues that may arise when cam phasers malfunction, let’s first explore what cam phasers are.

A cam phaser is an adjustable camshaft sprocket controlled via a computer. The cam phaser adjusts the camshaft position to alter the engine’s valve timing. Altering valve timing significantly impacts how the engine functions, particularly for power and volume. 

The cam phaser will advance or retard the camshaft in the engine. When the cam phaser advances, it causes the engine to perform in a more civilized manner with less aggressive noises and acceleration; however, the engine will produce less horsepower, especially at high rpm. 

When the cam phases retards the cam, it alters the valves to more aggressive engine performance. The engine will have more horsepower. However, the engine will produce more noise, even when idle. 

Can phasers automatically adjust to advance or retard the cam to best suit the circumstances needed? For example, the cam phaser may retard when driving on the highway and advance the camshaft when driving at lower speeds in residential areas. It allows for maximum performance with minimal noise pollution or disruption caused by traffic. 

How Do I Know When Cam Phasers Go Bad? 

Now that you know what a cam phaser does and what can happen when cam phasers malfunction, it’s time that you learn how to spot when your cam phaser is on the way out. What signs should you watch out for to indicate that cam phasers are deteriorating in your engine? 

When cam phasers go bad, an engine will produce more noise than usual. A distinct ticking noise is commonly associated with bad cam phasers. When cam phasers go wrong, they also cause lubrication issues in the engine, producing excessive noise and harsh sounds

When cam phasers go bad, the engine will suffer performance and efficiency. Your car will start to consume more gasoline than before, and the engine may lose power when you try to accelerate. The check engine light may also turn on to indicate issues with the cam phaser. 

Paying attention to indications that your car phasers are poor is vital in maintaining your vehicle. Bad cam phasers regularly go bad, which may cause safety issues and severe engine damage. Engine damages will result in expensive repairs, and the longer the damaged can phaser is left untreated, the more damage it causes to the engine. 

Therefore, by sporting the signs of lousy cam phasers early, you can save a fortune on potential repairs in the future. 

What Causes Cam Phasers To Go Bad?

Cam phasers are one of the most common causes of engine failure every year. They’re prone to damage and often need repair. But what happens in the engine that causes so much damage to cam phasers? Is it just due to wear and tear or an indication of other issues in a car’s engine?

Some of the things that cause cam phasers to go bad are as follows:

  • Dirt or sludge in the engine 
  • Using wrong engine oil 
  • Poor oil pressure 
  • Poor engine maintenance 
  • Electrical control unit issues
  • Damaged gears 

See below for more about how these scenarios cause your cam phasers to go bad. 

There’s Dirt or Sludge in the Engine

A build-up of dirt in your engine will likely make its way into the engine oil. This dirt can then block up the cam phaser as it passes through the engine oil. It can hurt your car’s performance and cause your cam phaser to deteriorate. 

You’re Using the Wrong Engine Oil

Engine oil comes in a variety of viscosities. The viscosity of the engine oil is effectively how thick the oil is. If you’re using engine oil that isn’t the appropriate viscosity, it may lead to issues in your engine and damages to your cam phasers. 

Your Car Is Dealing With Poor Oil Pressure

If your car has issues with the engine oil pump or oil pressure issues, it’ll likely cause harm to the cam phaser. Low-pressure oil can wear down the metals inside the cam phasers, causing severe damages to the engine and its performance. 

Your Engine Is Poorly Maintained

Car engines require some crucial regular maintenance to prevent damages from occurring. Changing the engine oil is a print example of necessary engine maintenance. If your engine is not maintained correctly, it may damage essential parts of the car, including the cam phasers.

There Are Electrical Control Unit Issues in Your Car

Cam phasers are controlled via a computer. The computer that controls the cam phaser is the electrical control unit in your car. If the electrical control unit is damaged or malfunctioning, it can lead to issues for your cam phaser. 

Your Car Has Damaged Gears 

Worn or damaged gears may disrupt how your engine functions. It causes the cam phaser to malfunction, which may result in damages. Maintaining gears is an excellent way of reducing the risk of cam phasers spoiling., which will likely result in expensive repairs. 

Can You Drive With Bad Cam Phasers?

You can’t drive with bad cam phasers, and you shouldn’t. Driving with bad cam phasers can lead to a life or death situation. Cam phaser failures contributed to about 5% of fatal accidents in recent years. 

You should get your cam phasers fixed the minute you realize they’re bad. Sure, you might be able to drive with bad cam phasers for a while (if they don’t break down), but the cam phasers won’t last long. Eventually, you’ll need to get them fixed. Besides, do you want to drive with bad cam phasers with annoying shrieking sounds?

How Do You Stop Cam Phaser Problems? 

Now that you know what causes cam phasers to go bad and what happens when they go wrong, it’s time to figure out the best ways to prevent cam phaser problems. So what steps should you take to prevent cam phasers from spoiling? 

You can stop cam phaser problems by ensuring that you undertake the necessary engine maintenance. Get your car serviced every 18 months to two years and ensure that you regularly change the engine oil. Ensuring that you use the correct engine oil is also crucial. 

Ensuring that your vehicle receives the correct maintenance is best to protect yourself against cam phases issues. One essential aspect of maintenance that protects cam phasers is cleaning and replacing the solenoids. Doing this prevents build-ups of first which cause harm to cam phasers. 

Having a professional mechanic to repair cam phasers will cost you anywhere from $800 to $2,500. Therefore it’s best to pay for the required maintenance for your car, as it’s far cheaper than covering the expensive damages that can occur when cam phasers are not cared for adequately. 

Final Thoughts 

When cam phasers go wrong, they disrupt the valve timing systems in the engine, thus, causing the engine to lose power when traveling or idle. Cam phasers are essential components in your engine, and several factors can damage them. Damages to cam phasers often result in the need for expensive repairs. 

Poor engine oil or insufficient engine oil pressure may use phasers, which will provide gurt engine performance. To protect your car against cam phaser issues, you must regularly hire a professional to service your vehicle. Doing so can prevent damages and save you money on expensive repairs. 

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