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Pinging and Detonation Explained

Article by: GTRaptor Profile | E-Mail


Detonation ? Pinging ? Pre-Detonation ? Knocking ? Pre-Ignition ?

The above terms are very commonly used to describe the same thing, BUT not all of those words are interchangeable.

Lots of times you see statements like these:

"My car is pinging, and there's a lot of smoke coming out of the exhaust"
"I can hear lots of detonation"
"My 95 GT pings a lot"
"I hear a knocking sound at high RPMS"
"My car pre-detonates a lot with the A/C on"

Very often what these users hears is DETONATION, other times it is NOT.



This is an intense pressure wave within the cylinder created when a LEAN mix of air and fuel ignites before the spark is delivered.The fuel/air mixture goes off by itself a micro second before the spark plug fires, at that time you have two intense high pressure waves clapping together and that energy wave hitting each other is the sound you hear. The sound you hear is from the actual vibration of the cylinder wall

Under normal circumstances, when the fuel-air mixture in the engine burns, it does so in a controlled manner, releasing the energy that produces the force that drives the pistons. Now, if you think about it, it might seem that the correct time for the spark plug to ignite the mix would be when the piston reaches the top of its stroke. Then, as the mix burns and energy is released, the energy pushes the piston down. The problem is that it takes a certain amount of time for the mix to burn. If you wait until the top of the stroke to ignite it, the bulk of the energy will be applied to the piston only during the latter part of its downward movement.

In order to get the maximum use out of the combustion energy, the mix is ignited while the piston is still moving up. This is called "advance". As the engine speed increases, fuel has less time to burn and advance is increased accordingly. Ignition advance is controlled by the engine management computer. It varies in response to a host of other conditions but the base advance curve is a function of engine speed.

Now we have a new problem. As the mix is ignited earlier, it is not compressed as much and has a tendency to burn at an uncontrolled extremely high rate (it basically explodes). This is called "detonation". When this happens, all the energy in the fuel is released almost instantly. The resulting shock wave slams into the piston which is forced through it by the inertia of the engine and the combustion in other cylinders . The resulting stress on the engine is enormous.

Detonation can be caused by several things not just a lean condition or bad choice of fuel octane: Too much compression and too much timing can also be to blame.

The most common way to describe the sound of detonation is: "like shaking a can full of marbles", but the BEST way to verify the existence of detonation is by reading the sparkplug's. If the plugs are very white, show a very eroded electrode and signs of metal deposits, then you have DETONATION.

The Cure: Less timing and/or higher octane gas and/or colder plugs.

Higher octane gas is a good safety measure. Is the $.10 per gallon worth that extra risk? Another myth about octane is that higher octane produces more power, wrong. Higher octane fuel is less volatile, less explosive, less prone to detonation.

A more 'volatile' fuel actually produces more energy per unit volume.You just have to watch out for detonation more. That's why higher compression engines use higher octane fuel, higher compression ratio (and higher altitude, lower air pressure) increases the tendency for detonation. Run super unleaded, but don't expect to gain power from the more expensive fuel. You CAN get more power, but it's from running more compression and spark advance.

This is premature ignition before the spark plug fires, usually caused by something glowing inside the cylinder such as carbon deposits or too hot a sparkplug tip. Do not confuse this with detonation. It is not the same.

Usually pre-ignition occurs when there are lots of "red hot" carbon deposits and unburned fuel in the combustion chambers.

If you turn of the ignition and your stang wants to keep on running, then you have pre-ignition.

The Cure: Eliminate carbon deposits and/or colder plugs, check fuel system.

Glossary of Terms

Octane is a chemical molecule. When referred to as ISO-octane in testing to find the "Octane" of a sample of gasoline, it is the reference fuel with the value of 100. In the testing of gasoline we use two reference fuels. The other one is N-Heptane which has an Octane value of 0 or zero.

This is an anti-knock scale developed in the 1920's to rate the quality of a gasoline's ability to resist knocking or pinging. Samples of any gasoline are placed in a laboratory Knock Engine (this is a small, one cylinder engine with a variable combustion cylinder). While the engine is running, the combustion ratio is increased until the engine begins knocking. Now the gasoline is replaced with N-Heptane with an octane of zero and is mixed with the 100 octane ISO-Octane at various ratios until the motor "knocks." If you end up with 10% N-Heptane and 90% ISO-Octane ratio, your test sample has an octane of 90.

The exact air fuel ratio required to completely combust a fuel to water and carbon dioxide. You get all the energy out of the fuel at this point. This air fuel ratio is almost impossible to achieve. Racing gasoline ideally burns at a 14:1 ratio. (14 parts air, 1 part gas).


Detonation and pinging can destroy your engine.

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