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Hands-on The valve tip can give you an idea of how the valve lash

was set.

• Tight valve lash holds valves open and wears the valve tip
• Loose valve lash increases the closing speed and stress on the
• Can also give insight into

of Reported
the condition of the rocker

Wear patterns on the stem

Valve Failures
and guides can give you an
idea of:
• Side loading
• Clearances and lubrication
• Overheating

Engines don’t typically fail at the most opportune time, or in On the valve face you’re
the most convenient locations, so gathering facts, recording looking for:
• Proper seating
conditions, preserving parts, and analyzing evidence can be
• Impact damage
a real challenge. Lab analysis, material analysis, dimensional
• Cupping of the valve face or
specifications, and material testing are important in failure
analysis, but often a more “hands-on” approach can help to
identify the root cause. Attention to small details can make a
Two high stress areas on the
difference in finding the true root cause of a failure.
valve are the fillet radius and the
Some common reasons for misdiagnosing an engine failure
keeper (lock) grooves.
• Not clearly understanding the complaint or problem Concentricity between the valve train components is critical!
• Preconceived opinions
• Evidence being discarded or destroyed
Following are some
• Not gathering and organizing the facts
examples of valve failures
• Not recording and observing the facts
• Not taking time to logically go through the evidence that can be diagnosed with a
more hands on approach.
One important area in an engine that can pose a challenge in • When a valve breaks
the diagnosis of an engine failure is the valve train. For example, in the fillet radius, it is
following are some areas you can inspect that can help you often thought that “the
understand how a valve was operating. weld failed”. However, the
weld is typically higher up
the valve stem, and not in
the fillet radius. The photo
below shows a valve that
separated at the weld.
The pin magnet on the
complete valve indicates the
line between the magnetic
stem and the non-magnetic
valve head section. The
pin magnet is a simple way
to find the weld line, but
it does not work on all
valves, and not all valves are
welded. In most cases, the
failure of the weld is very
• Having all of the parts
involved in a failure is very
important. Don’t focus
solely on the broken part.

70 JULY-SEPT 2016 engine professional

The following failure was reported to have been caused
by a defective intake valve.
The photos show:
• Intake valve head lodged in the intake port
• Multiple impact impressions in the piston crown
• Secondary impact damage to the fractured surface of
the stem, thus any evidence of bending fatigue has been
• Valve seat broken out of the cylinder head
• At the 2 o’clock position, there is a valve impression in
the piston crown
• For reference, the * indicates where the stem of the valve
would have approximately been
• Notice the locations of the circled impact impressions on
the piston crown:

Closer inspection of these impact impressions shows

distinct straight sides, not the round profile of a valve
The impressions are straight down into the piston

(continued) 71

These photos show a valve head stuck in the top of an

aluminum piston, and some miscellaneous parts laying in the
valve cover. Sometimes it’s those small abnormal details that
can lead to discovering the true root cause of a failure. In this
They are not on an angle, and are too close to the OD of the case, it was the broken rocker arm shaft and stanchion since
piston to have been created by the stem of the loose valve head. they are not normally damaged from a valve failure.

A valve failure would not loosen the head of a bolt or a Further inspection found
nut, but everything in this failure can be directly contributed to that the rocker arm shaft broke
damage caused by an engine ingesting this type of an object. directly through the oil passage
This example of a reported valve failure is from a 3306 Cat that lubricates the rocker arm,
engine that failed shortly after being rebuilt. resulting in seizure of the
rocker bushing.
In this application the
bottom of this stanchion has
an alignment dowel that fits
into a hole in the cylinder
head. Inspection of that
dowel found that it had not
aligned properly, and was
trapped between the stanchion
and cylinder head. With the
stanchion not sitting flat on
the cylinder head, it created
enough force to break the
rocker arm shaft. And with the
break being inside the bore of
the rocker arm, the arm could
not move correctly resulting in
the valve contacting the piston.
The dowel in the stanchion was
the root cause of the failure.

72 JULY-SEPT 2016 engine professional

Logically reviewing all damage, impressions, and signs of by the valve lock (keeper) being trapped between the rotocoil
wear can help determine the timeline and mode of failure. The and valve bridge. The damage present on the tip of the valve,
photos below show the bottom (spring side) and top (bridge and to the bottom and the top of the rotocoil, are evidence that
side) of a rotocoil. Note that there is impact damage on both the valve dropped (i.e., the only mode of failure that supports
surfaces near the center. the damage found on these components). Once the valve locks
(keepers) are out of position, the rotocoil is allowed to contact
the valve bridge above. The valve drops into the cylinder and
is driven back upward by the piston, causing the impact to the
bottom of the rotocoil and the damage to valve tip. Had the
valve head fractured first, this damage would not have happened
since the valve stem would still have been held in place.

Under magnification, the damages to the bottom of the

rotocoil have distinct curved impressions. These impressions
closely match the radius and diameter of the valve tip.

Another component that should be inspected when

investigating a valve failure is the valve springs. Testing the load
force of each spring will confirm if the spring tension is properly
closing the valve. You should also look for signs of “coil bind”.

The valve tip, shown in the photos below, has impact

damage from contact with the bottom of the rotocoil.

Coil bind occurs when the spring is compressed so far

Closer views of the damage to the top of the rotocoil are that the coils crush each other. Unfortunately this condition
shown in the photos below. The large diameter marks would be is difficult to photograph, but in the photos below, the green
consistent from contact between the rotocoil and valve bridge. arrows point to the impact damaged caused by the coil bind.
The smaller diagonal impressions are likely to have been caused This condition can force the valve too far into the cylinder and 73

result in the valve breaking from contacting the piston. It can

also cause spring failures. Over speed, or something dramatically
wrong in the valve mechanism could cause this condition.
Sometimes it’s the smallest part or impression that has the
evidence of what caused a failure. A broken valve tip (indicated
by the red circle) was suspected of causing this failure.

correct position before the

tip broke. There is no impact
damage to the top of the lock
that would have displaced
it, and breakage of the tip
would not have displaced
this lock. There is also no
However, close examination of the damage to the tip of impact to the fractured
the valve and valve lock supports a different mode of failure. surfaces of the stem or tip
Since the valve lock grooves in the valve are intact and below that would have delivered a
the fracture of the tip, this confirms that the lock was out of its force to make the impression

74 JULY-SEPT 2016 engine professional


in the lock, which confirms that the stem (tip included) were then hot combustion gasses are allowed to pass into the intake
intact when the impact occurred. The damage to the intake valve or exhaust port, resulting in overheating the valve. This reduces
lock supports that the lock came out of position prior to the tip clearances and can deplete the oil film between the stem and
of the valve breaking. guide causing the valve to stick. Likewise, the majority of the
Overheating can also weaken a valve and cause it to fail. If valves’ heat is transferred through to the seat, so anything
the valve is even slightly held open when it should be closed, trapped between the seat and the valve face reduces the valves

Farris EP2014_Layout 1 1/9/14 6:57 PM Page 1

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76 JULY-SEPT 2016 engine professional


ability to dissipate heat. This can also

cause guttering or torching of the valve
or seat (insert).
Everyone involved in an engine failure
should understand the initial inspection,
how the information is gathered, and
how the parts & evidence is preserved is
vital to failure analysis. Too often critical
information is thrown out or unprotected Steve Scott joined the service
in a rush to get the engine back up and department at IPD in 1982,
running. working with parts, service
Developing a process where you and sales for a variety of
equipment, diesel, and natural
systematically: gas engines. Since 2004,
• Inspect he has been the director of
• Organize product development and
• Record technical support for IPD.
For more information, email
AERA Automotive Machining
• Preserve all components associated
with the failure Online Training
Go online for more information about the
Setting aside time to logically review AERA Cylinder Head and Machinist Certificate
Program. To get started, call Karen at 815-526-
all findings is vital to failure analysis. A
7600, ext. 202 or email
hands-on approach, combined with your
engine knowledge and attention to detail,
can often lead you to the root cause of a

78 JULY-SEPT 2016 engine professional