P0301 – Cylinder 1 misfire detected

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By Mia (Contact Me)
Last Updated 2022-11-14
ASE Master Tech
CodeFault LocationProbable Cause
P0301 Cylinder 1 -misfire detected
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Engine mechanical fault, wiring, ignition/fuel system, injector, ECT/MAF sensor, ECM

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Table of Contents

  1. What Does Code P0301 Mean?
  2. What are the common causes of code P0301?
  3. How expensive is it to fix code P0301?
  4. How serious is code P0301?
  5. How safe is it to still drive the car with code P0301?
  6. Frequently Asked Questions
  7. Get Help with P0301

What Does Code P0301 Mean?

A misfire is just what it sounds like; a cylinder that is not firing as it should. The P0301 code is caused by a misfire on the number one cylinder. The Misfire monitor diagnostic is based on variation in crankshaft velocity. The PCM determines this information using the crankshaft position sensor and camshaft position sensor. A misfiring cylinder slows down momentarily, so by monitoring the cam and crank sensor signals, the PCM can calculate when a misfire occurs. A P0301 code tells you only that a misfire has been detected, not WHY the cylinder is misfiring. That’s why with this code, a thorough diagnosis is mandatory.

What are the common causes of code P0301?

A single cylinder misfire is typically caused by one of the following:

(1)  Spark problem

(2)  Compression problem

(3)  Fuel injection problem

1. Spark Problem

The ignition system converts battery voltage into the high voltage used to ignite the cylinder air/fuel mixture. The low voltage side of the system is referred to as primary circuit. It includes the battery, ignition switch, primary coil winding, a triggering mechanism (such as a crankshaft sensor) and switching device (such as an ignition module or ECU). The high voltage side of the system is called the secondary circuit. It includes the secondary coil winding, spark plugs and spark plug wires. In a system that uses a distributor, the secondary circuit also includes the cap and rotor.

It’s fairly easy to check if spark is being delivered to the plugs. All you need is an inline spark tester. The tester is installed with one end connected to the plug wire and the other to a good ground. If the spark tester lights up, the primary side of your ignition circuit is good, along with the plug wires and/or coil.

What the spark tester doesn’t reveal is whether the spark plug itself is bad. The best way to test the entire ignition system, including the plugs, is with an oscilloscope. Attaching the scope ignition lead to one of the spark plug wires will provide you with a trace of the entire ignition waveform pattern. Then, you can compare a known good waveform pattern to the waveform pattern of the vehicle being tested. Using a scope, you can properly diagnosis everything from a bad coil pack to a worn spark plug.


Oscilloscope ignition waveform pattern

(Courtesy: subaruforester.org)

Of course, if you don’t have access to a scope, you can test the spark being delivered to the plug using a spark tester. Then pull the park plug out and inspect it for wear or damage.

2. Compression Problem

Mechanical issues can also cause a cylinder misfire. These issues can be pinpointed by performing a compression and/or leak down test.

Testing the compression of a cylinder is easy.  Attach your pressure gauge to the test cylinder and obtain a pressure reading by starting the engine.  A good cylinder reading is generally around 140 PSI.  Make sure you disable the ignition coil, fuel injectors, and spark plugs before testing the cylinder so that the car does not start during the test.  Also, make sure your battery is fully charged or the pressure readings will be low.  For more information, Linn Benton Community college has an excellent article on compression testing: http://www.linnbenton.edu/auto/perform/compress.html

A relative compression test should be performed on the engine to verify what a good cylinder reading is for your car.  The relative compression test is performed by testing one of the non-misfiring cylinders.  The low compression reading for the two cylinders should be within 70% of the high reading.

If a cylinder is found to have low compression, perform a “wet compression” test by squirting a small amount of oil into the cylinder. If the new reading increases significantly over the initial reading, the piston rings are worn. If the results don’t change, you should move on to performing a cylinder leak down test.

Before performing a leak down test, ensure the cylinder is at top dead center on the compression stroke. Next, use the compression tester to fill the cylinder with air while monitoring the gauges and listening for air leaks. Air heard coming from the oil fill area with the cap removed indicates excessive ring leakage. Air escaping out of the tailpipe points to a leaking exhaust valve and air leaking from the throttle body indicates a leaking intake valve. Finally, remove the radiator cap to check for air bubbles in the coolant, indicating a bad head gasket or cracked head. Here’s a video on performing a leak down test: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ofSiTGeLXvc


How to hook up a leak down tester

(Courtesy: lovehorsepower.com)

3.    Fuel Injection Problem

In the past, most fuel injected engine used a continuous return system. However, more and more modern vehicles are using a returnless system.

With the continuous system, fuel is delivered from the fuel pump to a fuel meter assembly. The pump is designed to deliver more fuel than the engine requires. A regulator maintains the required fuel pressure by routing the excess fuel bank to the tank via a return line.


Continuous return system

(Courtesy: aa1car.com)

A returnless system on the other hand, has no return line. Instead, excess fuel is returned to the tank through a passage in the tank-mounted regulator. This system is widely used on newer vehicles because it reduces emissions.


returnless fuel system

(Courtesy: us1.webpublications.com)

Port injection and direct injection are the two fuel injection methods in use today. With port injection, fuel is sprayed into the intake ports. With direct injection, fuel is sprayed directly into the combustion chamber.


Port injection vs. direct injection

(Courtesy: http://shopdap.com)

When the solenoid inside a fuel injector is energized, it lifts a valve off inside the injector and fuel is sprayed into the engine. Typically, there is always battery power at one of the two injector terminals. When fuel injection is required, the ECU grounds the other terminal. This completes the circuit and fuel is sprayed into the cylinder.

If an injector is bad either electrically or mechanically, it can cause a cylinder misfire. The easiest way to check if the control circuit to the injector is good is by using a noid light. You simply disconnect the injector and insert the light into connector. If the noid light flashes when cranking then engine, the control circuit is functioning properly.


Testing with a noid light

(Courtesy: automotivetroubleshootingsecrets.com)

To test the electronic portion of the injector, measure the resistance between its two terminals. The manufactures resistance value specifications can be found in the vehicle repair manual. Of course, an over limit reading (OL) on your meter, indicates there is an open circuit and your injector requires replacement.


Checking the injector with a digital multimeter

(Courtesy: autozone.com)

Sometimes, however, a static resistance test is not enough to pinpoint a bad injector. The best tool for determining injector health is a digital oscilloscope. Using a scope, you can view a waveform pattern of the injector circuit operation. By comparing the waveform on the screen to that of a known good injector, you can quickly pinpoint injector circuit faults.


Oscilloscope injector waveform pattern

(Courtesy: autodiagnosticsandpublishing.com)

In addition to electrical problems, injectors can experience mechanical failure and become clogged. To determine if the injectors are restricted, an injector balance test should be performed using a dedicated tester. Here’s is a good video showing how to perform an injector balance test: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K7STocr9FBI

How expensive is it to fix code P0301?

A spark plug, an ignition coil, an injector, and the labor to diagnose and install, all should be relatively inexpensive (under $500, especially if you’re so inclined to try to fix it yourself by trying a spark plug or even an ignition coil for coil on plug applications). If it’s a compression loss on cylinder #1, then the costs begin to climb (over $1000). In these instances, find a competent automotive technician to diagnose the reason for the cylinder #1 misfire.

How serious is code P0301?

It should be addressed as soon as possible due to all the issues that come with an engine misfire. As outlined in prior questions, a single-cylinder misfire is usually a relatively inexpensive repair. If the warnings are not heeded, loss of fuel economy, loss of power, and eventually catalyst damage will occur.

How safe is it to still drive the car with code P0301?

Just like the PSA from back in the 80s put: Just Say No. It is never a good idea to continue to drive a car that has a misfire. Forget the possible damages that can occur after driving with a misfire. Loss of fuel economy these days should be enough, not to mention the loss of power. If the misfire becomes worse, the “Check Engine” light will begin to flash. This indicates that the misfire is bad enough to damage the catalytic converter. The misfire issue to repair may be bad; having to replace a catalytic converter on top of it would be even worse.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can a bad O2 sensor cause a misfire in cylinder 1?

The answer to this one is easy. No. Not in one single cylinder. It may be possible to get an engine to run rough, either too lean or too rich, if the O2 sensor was giving the wrong signal. But again, this would be one bank of cylinders (V or W design engines) or the entire engine (inline 4-, 5-, or 6-cylinders design).

In reality, a misfire can appear as a lean running engine by the O2 sensor.

When there is a misfire, air and fuel enter the cylinder. Because there is no ignition of the air-fuel mixture, air and fuel leave the cylinder. Air leaving out the exhaust looks like a lean engine to the O2 sensor. It may actually be too lean, but it also may be too rich, or even something entirely else (ignition misfire, low compression, etc.).

How long does it take a misfire to damage the catalytic converter?

Not long at all. In a matter of miles (depending on how you drive, anywhere between 50 and 100 miles) your catalytic converter will be hot enough to melt the precious metals inside (above 1500-2000 degrees Fahrenheit.) Keep going long enough, and the metals inside will melt together and block the exhaust to the point that the vehicle will no longer have enough power to get you down the road. I have personally seen some so badly blocked the engine would not even start.

What does an engine misfire feel like?  How does a car act?

It can feel like several things. First is a lack of power. The engine won’t get the car or truck going fast enough to keep up with traffic. At the same time, you will see a loss of fuel economy (can easily be 25% or more fuel economy loss). If it gets bad enough it can feel like a shudder, or bucking. Some say it feels like there’s a trailer attached to the back of the car or truck and it’s going back and forth (speeding up and slowing down).

Most importantly, as stated earlier, if the “Check Engine” light comes on, then the misfire is bad. If the light begins to flash, then it has gotten to the point of needing to pull over and find out what’s wrong. Catalyst damage will commence shortly. If you continue to drive, the next light that comes on is the “Check Money” light!

Can low oil cause misfires?

Let’s start by defining how low the oil is. If there is no oil on the dipstick, and you have to add several quarts of oil to get it to register on the dipstick, there may be engine misfires, but adding oil won’t cure them. The damage has been done. If on the other hand, it is around a quart low, then no, you shouldn’t be experiencing misfires for this reason.

Having prefaced that, on those engines with variable valve timing, it is possible to experience misfires with too low an oil level (more than a quart low) and will experience misfires if the wrong oil viscosity is used. Usually, there is also a fault code for the variable valve timing system along with the misfire. If not enough oil or the wrong oil is used, the variable valve timing system will not be able to operate properly, if at all.

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