Valve Springs – Function – Failure symptoms, causing possible damage.

Valve Springs - Function - Failure symptoms, causing possible damage.
Valve Springs - Function - Failure symptoms, causing possible damage.

Valve Springs in your engine, have a very basic job, but how they do it is very important.

So, one very important point to keep in mind is that, they all lose tension and weaken over time.

By the time original equipment valve springs have 100,000 or more miles on them; they have probably lost up to 10% or more, of the tension they had when they were new.

The main function of valve springs is, to keep the valves closed to build up engine compression. The second function is, to maintain specific pressure, on all moving parts to follow the camshaft lobe.

So, the camshaft, pushrods, lifters and rocker arms, do all the work, in opening the valves. But, when their job is done, the valve springs take over, to make sure the valves keep closed.

Valve Springs
Valve Springs

So, the valve springs also, push back against all the other parts; like the rocker arm, pushrod and lifters, to maintain pressure on the cam lobe. And, in most stock engines, the pressure exerted by the springs when the valves are closed, is around 85 pounds.

But, when the valves are pushed, all the way open by the valvetrain; the pressure exerted by the springs, may go as high as 200 pounds.

As a result, at some point the valve spring will wear out and start causing issues.

Possible Failure Signs Include:

What Can Cause Valve Springs To Fail

So, to maintain correct valve operation at normal engine speeds; all of the valve springs, must exert a certain amount of spring pressure. Consequently, too low or week valve spring pressure; may cause valves to not completely seal or float under higher (RPM). While, too high a pressure, may cause premature wear, of other valve train parts.

Cracked Or Broken Valve Springs

A broken valve spring in an engine, can cause many different drivability and performance problems. Also, broken springs can cause, excessive valve noise; compression loss and severe internal engine damage. The actual breaking of the valve springs, is not always the most serious consequence.

Broken Valve Springs
Broken Valve Springs

Actions following the breaking, cause the most serious damage to the engine. When valve springs break; they may collapse just enough to allow the valve, to drop into the cylinder. As a result, the piston may strike it, causing severe damage to; the piston cylinder head, and other nearby parts.

What Can Cause Floating Valves

Valves can float, when the springs can’t keep up with the engine’s speed. At high (RPM) (anything above 5000 RPM), the valves are opening and closing very rapidly. The camshaft rotates at, half the speed of the crankshaft. So, at 5000 (RPM); the cam is spinning, at 2500 (RPM); pushing the valves open over 40 times a second!

So, if the valve springs are weak; the springs may not be able to push the valves all the way shut, before the next opening cycle begins. If the valves don’t completely close; the cylinders will lose compression, causing the engine to misfire and lose power.

What Can Cause Hydraulic Valve Lifters To “Pump Up”

In addition, valve float can also allow hydraulic lifters to “pump up”. Hydraulic valve lifters, have an internal piston that is supported by oil pressure. Oil pressure pushes the piston up; forcing the pushrod to remain tight against the rocker arm. This maintains, zero lash in the valvetrain, for quiet operation. If the engine experiences valve float at high (RPM); it can allow the pistons inside the lifters, to move up slightly; as they try to take up slack in the valvetrain.

Valve Lifter Illustration
Valve Lifter Illustration

When the engine slows down; the lifters are overfilled with oil and may prevent the valves from fully closing. Consequently, causing the engine again to lose compression and misfire. Eventually, the lifters will settle down and normal operation will return.

Valve Float Damage, On Interference Engines

Valve float due to weak valve springs, is bad not only for performance; but also for the valves themselves. If a valve remains open too long in an engine with close piston-to-valve clearances; (as is the case with most “interference” engines); one or more valves, may actually hit a piston, causing serious engine damage.

Engine Damage
Engine Damage

The resulting damage, may be:

  • Bents valves.
  • Cracked pistons.
  • Damaged cylinder walls.
  • Cracked heads or block.

Valve Float, Causing Burnt Valves

Valve float, can also cause exhaust valves to, run hot burn and fail. Exhaust valves, are cooled when the valve closes and rests on its valve seat. Now the heat is conducted away from the valve, into the seat and cylinder head.

Burnt Valve In Cylinder Head
Burnt Valve In Cylinder Head

If the engine is running at high speed and the valve is not fully seating; the exhaust valves can overheat. This can lead to burning or cracking, in the head of the valve. A burned valve will leak compression, causing a steady misfire, in the affected cylinder.

Diagnosing Weak Or Broken Valve Springs, With A Vacuum Gauge

To narrow down the list of possible causes, of your engine performance problem; connect a vacuum gauge to a vacuum port on the intake manifold. Then start the engine and observe the vacuum gauge readings; at idle and at progressively higher engine speeds. If weak valve springs are causing your problem; the vacuum readings on the gauge, will oscillate as engine speed increases.

Fluctuating Needle On Vacuum Gauge Image
Fluctuating Needle On Vacuum Gauge Image

However, a rapid vibration or variation in the vacuum gauge reading, at increased engine speed; can also be caused by:

  • Leaking intake manifold gasket.
  • Leaking head gasket.
  • Burnt valves.
  • Ignition misfire.
Cracked Or Broken Valve Springs
Cracked Or Broken Valve Springs

A broken spring, will cause the gauge needle to drop sharply; each time the affected valve tries to close. You need to rule out these other possibilities, before even thinking about, replacing the springs.


So, always start by checking for engine misfire codes. Next, do a compression test. And finally, a cylinder leak down test. This will get you well on the way, to diagnosing the actual problem.

Thank You !