Home » What Is a Cam Phaser And 5 Signs It’s Gone Bad

What Is a Cam Phaser And 5 Signs It’s Gone Bad

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Your car gives you the right amount of torque or horsepower, depending on what you are doing with it. Your engine knows how to do that using a cam phaser. But do you know what is a cam phaser and the five signs it’s gone bad? You need this information to keep your vehicle running smoothly.

A cam phaser is an electromechanical sprocket guided through computer control to manage the torque and horsepower delivered to the drive shaft. Some cars have one cam phaser either on the exhaust or intake camshaft. Other vehicles have phasers on both of these camshafts.

What is a Cam Phaser?

A cam phaser is an adjustable mechanical wheel with teeth or grooves, usually called a sprocket, that interacts with the crankshaft sprocket. A timing chain connects the cam phaser and crankshaft sprockets to sync them and enable the engine to run smoothly in different driving conditions.

The phaser controls the camshaft, determining how long intake and exhaust valves stay open and how far they open. These valves determine how much torque or horsepower is delivered to the drivetrain. Opening the valves wider for longer durations produces high revolutions per minute and horsepower.

On the other hand, opening the valves narrowly for a short duration of time delivers more torque at low revolutions per minute. The cam phaser determines how long these valves stay open and how much they are opened to deliver the right energy needed to the drivetrain.

5 Signs Your Cam Phaser Has Gone Bad

Signs Your Cam Phaser Has Gone Bad

Your cam phaser can go bad over time when it goes through wear and tear from either high mileage or consistent use. It can also get worn out when you do not give it adequate lubrication from engine oil. Old engine oil full of impurities can cause quick wearing out of phasers. 

These are the five signs your cam phaser has gone bad.

1. Check Engine Light

Your check engine light will come on as one of the signs the cam phaser has gone bad. While the check engine sign can turn on because of different engine issues, you can diagnose whether the cam phaser has a problem by checking the error code generated using an OBD2 scanner. You can then check the code generated in your car manual or online.

2. Engine Power Loss

Your engine will give you the most visible sign when it underpowers, even when you try and accelerate. You will not get the available power you used to get, which can compromise your safety. Loss of power can occur when you take off or even overtake. This unpredictable loss means your vehicle does not accelerate as it would and could put you in a compromising position.

3. Reduced Fuel Efficiency

Your vehicle will then increase its fuel consumption as it tries to compensate for low power. It will burn more fuel while compensating for its reduced power output. Coupled with reduced power output, reduced fuel efficiency is indicative of a spoilt cam phaser.

4. Engine Noise

A spoilt cam phaser will also cause the engine to produce loud tapping noises. You can find the source of the tapping coming from the valves. You can also hear knocking sounds coming from the top of the engine. These sounds come from a loose cam phaser when the engine is idling. The phaser is designed to lock in place when the engine is idling.

5. Throttle Surge

A throttle surge is another possible symptom of failing cam phasers. Spoilt phasers will cause the engine to decelerate or accelerate unnaturally, even when you give the car a constant throttle.

How Does the Cam Phaser Control Velocity?

A servo motor controls the cam phaser. The servomotor enables the phaser to supply more torque to the engine at low revolutions per minute or more horsepower at high revolutions per minute. The servo is computer-controlled to help it understand whether the car needs torque or velocity at any particular time.

How Much Does It Cost To Replace Cam Phasers?

It costs between $550 and $3,000 to replace a cam phaser. This difference is dependent on various circumstances. Getting the replacement done at a local mechanic costs between $550 and $850. Replacing the phaser through dealership costs between $1,500 and $3,000.

How Much Does It Cost To Replace Cam Phasers

The model and year of your vehicle also determine how much it costs to replace your phaser. 

Can You Replace A Cam Phaser Yourself?

If you are well versed in a car’s engine, you can replace the cam phaser yourself. But it is a laborious and complicated process. You must diagnose the car and confirm that the phaser is the problem. You will then need to purchase a suitable phaser for your vehicle. The process for phaser replacement varies from vehicle to vehicle.

It is best to have this part replaced by a qualified mechanic if you are not well versed in cam phaser changing so you do not add trouble to your engine. One of the possible errors you could make is moving the engine timing. The video link above gives you a step-by-step procedure for changing the cam phasers in a Ford 5.4L 3v engine, including the kit you will need.

Why Do Ford Cam Phasers Fail?

Why Do Ford Cam Phasers Fail

Ford cam phasers have a reputation for failing. They mostly fail in their 5.4-liter V8 engine. While some people have theories that Ford built a faulty engine with poor phaser design, experts hold to the theory that the phasers fail because they do not get sufficient lubrication.

Phasers work efficiently when they have sufficient oil lubrication. They rely on pure oil to work as they should. Therefore, you are advised to change your engine oil every 3,000-5,000 miles and not go beyond this. Going beyond this means the oil becomes less and less pure, causing the phasers to get worn out more quickly than they would have.

Phasers also rely heavily on sufficient oil pressure. Several reasons would cause a Ford to have low oil pressure.

Low Oil

Your Ford may have run out of oil without your knowledge. Check the engine oil level; if it is low or is not showing, you need to add oil immediately. Failure to add oil to the engine at such times may cause it to stall or get damaged heavily.

Clogged Oil Filter

Another reason your Ford may have low oil pressure is when your oil filter gets clogged with debris. You will need to replace the oil filter so that it can sufficiently deliver clean oil to the engine and the other required parts.

Spoilt Oil Pump

The oil pump delivers oil to the engine by pumping it from the oil pan. It can wear out or get spoilt when debris clogs it up. When this happens, it will either completely fail or be unable to pump oil to the engine in adequate quantities. Replacing this part will get sufficient oil to the engine.

Dislodged Pickup Tube

The oil pump uses a pickup tube to take oil from the oil pan to the pump. This tube sometimes falls off the pump causing the pump to fail in getting to the oil in the pan. Consider checking if the tube is still intact.

Excess Oil

Excess oil in the engine may also cause similar problems with too much lubrication affecting the engine and the phasers.

Air in Oil

Aerated oil may cause the oil to get foamy, making it lose some of its lubricating properties. Air can get trapped in the oil pump when the oil pan lacks sufficient amounts of oil, causing the pump to suck in air.

You should take your vehicle to a professional mechanic anytime it indicates that it is low on oil or exhibits any bad cam phaser symptoms.

Can a Cam Phaser Be Fixed?

A cam phaser can be fixed. It will, however, cost a lot in labor as it takes a lot of time and expertise to repair a cam phaser. There is also a possibility of the phaser not working correctly even after the repairs. It might also work for only a short duration of time. These disadvantages make replacing the phaser with a new one more viable.

While cam phaser replacement looks costly, it is the preferred option instead of investing in the repair of a cam phaser. If the mechanic has correctly diagnosed the problem as a cam phaser issue, replacing it gives you more mileage with a new phaser.

Is It Worth It To Replace Can Phasers?

Your engine’s condition will determine if replacing cam phasers is worth it. A vehicle with very high mileage will ask for more parts than just the cam phasers. Another reason that would attract other parts is if your cam phasers have been spoilt for a long time and you drove the car with spoilt phasers. They probably damaged other parts of the engine.

Pistons, solenoids, the camshaft, and the crankshaft are some engine parts you can expect to get damaged when you drive with bad phasers. Replacing the whole timing kit is sometimes necessary to get everything working.

Cam Phaser Replacement Issues

There are cases where cam phasers get installed improperly when the engine is taken out of timing. That can cause a myriad of other issues. So ensure to have your replacement done by a certified mechanic.

Are There Cam Phaser Replacement Alternatives?

Kits have been developed to lock the cam phaser into a fixed timing gear. Cam phasers work by creating variable cam timing. Locking them prevents the movement that gives the knocking or tapping noises. The engines are then programmed using a custom tune to give them good performance while eliminating any future phaser issues.

Final Thoughts

Cam phasers are essential in modern vehicles to enable the engine to drive correctly. They have been continuously improved to even become electric instead of electromechanical. Electric cam phasers use electricity instead of oil pressure. Oil pressure wears them down quickly when it is not in significant quantities.

Going electric can solve some of the issues that plague cam phasers. Beyond that, when your cam phasers start to give you the signs above, then get them replaced by a certified mechanic to prevent further damage to other parts of the engine.

Have you had issues with your cam phasers before? How did you resolve them, and did you get a permanent solution? Tell us in the comments section below.

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