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Causes of Melted Piston Top and Ring Land on Diesel Engines


Signs of melted piston or ring land damage include:

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• Erosion at the piston crown is visible.

• Melted areas can be seen at the piston crown (Fig. 1) – right up to a completely melted off top of the piston (Fig. 2).

• In extreme cases, there are seizure marks all along and around the piston. There is a hole in the piston.


This damage is attributed to the thermal overload of the piston. There are two causes for this.

Abnormal combustion can be diagnosed via the following features:

• The bowl edge has been “gnawed off.”

• The injection nozzles display a poor spray pattern.

• The injection pressure and the delivery rate of the injection nozzles are set incorrectly.

• The top land shows seizure marks in the piston pin axis.

An abnormal combustion can be caused by a number of factors such as if the air-fuel mixture in the combustion chamber is too rich. This can be the result of the following:

• The air supply is reduced, e.g. the air filter is clogged.

• The fuel delivery is set incorrectly.

• The start of fuel delivery is set incorrectly.

• The nozzle needle is either wedged or stiff.

• The exhaust gas system is clogged.


There is ignition delay and misfiring, which may be caused by:

• The incorrect fuel or fuel with an insufficient cetane rating is being used, or there is gasoline in the diesel.

• The valves are leaky, resulting in compression loss.

• The protrusion is too small (i.e., there is insufficient compression).

• The air pre-warming is defective (especially for very low ambient temperatures).

Overheating of the piston crown can be identified via the following features:

• The combustion bowl is not damaged.

• An excellent spray pattern can be observed at the top of the piston.

The excessive temperature level of the piston crown can be caused by:

• The cooling oil nozzle is either bent, has become detached or has not been assembled (assembly error).

• The time between oil changes is too long. In this case, there is a risk of polymerization of the engine oil, especially when using biofuels, such as rapeseed and soybean oil, which can result in the cooling oil nozzles being clogged.


• Contamination, such as gasket residue, etc., prevents the required circulation in the oil circuit.


• Set the injection amount and timing according to the manufacturer’s specifications.

• Check the injection nozzles for any leaks, the injection pressure and the spray pattern.

• Pay attention to correct alignment when assembling the cooling oil nozzles.

• Thoroughly clean the oil channels in the engine block, the crankshaft and the cylinder head.

• Make sure the pressure-regulating valve is functioning correctly.

• Ensure that the time between oil changes is much shorter when running the engine on biofuels.

–Tech Tip courtesy of MAHLE Clevite 

fig. 1 - melting at the top land of a diesel pistonFig. 2 - Melted piston crown at a diesel piston



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