Insufficient EGR Flow
Our emissions expert has put together the following information about the P0401 fault code. We have also included diagnostic procedures you can take to your repair shop if the mechanic is having difficulty analyzing the code.
OBD II Fault Code
- OBD II P0401
Fault Code Definition
- Insufficient EGR Flow
- Check Engine Light will illuminate
- In most cases, there are no adverse conditions noticed by the driver
- In some cases, there may be performance problems, such as pinging on acceleration, when the engine is under load or when driving the vehicle at higher speeds
Common Problems That Trigger the P0401 Code
- Restriction in the EGR passages, usually caused by carbon buildup
- Lack of a proper vacuum signal to the EGR Valve from EGR Vacuum Solenoid
- EGR Vacuum Modulator is defective
- EGR Temperature Sensor is defective
- EGR Valve is defective
Watch This Video for an Understanding of the EGR System
NOx gases are formed when the combustion temperature is too high (2500° F). EGR systems are used to reduce the combustion temperature, thus reducing NOx formation.
The exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) system recycles a small amount of exhaust gas from the exhaust system (usually no more than 10 percent) and mixes it with the intake manifold air entering into the combustion chambers. The addition of this inert (or non-combustible) exhaust gas limits the peak combustion temperatures to a range that is below 2500° F, where the formation of nitrogen oxide (NOx) is know to occur. In some cases where the engine is pinging and/or knocking badly from a severe lack of EGR flow, misfires can take place which allow raw hydrocarbons (HC) to be released from the tailpipe.
P0401 Diagnostic Theory for Shops and Technicians
When the computer sets a code P0401, it means that the EGR flow monitoring criteria has not been met. The EGR monitoring criteria are a set of test values and are usually run during at least two different driving conditions—steady speed freeway driving and steady speed city driving.
The engine control module determines proper EGR flow in many ways:
- Measurable amount of Manifold Pressure change when the EGR is supposed to be flowing
- Proper amount of change in the EGR Temperature Sensor
- Measurable change (usually a decrease) in the front Oxygen Sensor Signal
- Amount of Spark Knock as measured by the Knock Sensor
The code P0401 is often not a problem with the EGR valve itself. Rather, the EGR system is not allowing enough EGR to flow back into the combustion process to sufficiently cool the peak firing temperatures. Once the code P401 has been retrieved with a scan tool, the freeze frame data should be documented and analyzed in order to determine what engine conditions were present when the code was triggered. It is recommended that the vehicle be driven in such a way as to duplicate the code setting conditions with a data streaming scan tool connected, so the behavior of the EGR actuating components and feedback sensors can be monitored. Pay close attention to the DPFE readings and make sure that they are changing from a .5 to 1 range to a 3 to 4 voltage range when the EGR System is activated. Also, pay close attention to the EGR duty cycle that typically grows percentage-wise as the EGR Sytem is activated.
Common Tests to Determine Whether the Problem Is an EGR Control Problem, a Plugged or Restricted System, or a Defective Feedback Device
- Does the engine die, not just stumble, when the EGR valve is manually raised to its maximum?
(Use either a vacuum pump or bi-directional scan tool if it’s a digital EGR valve.)
- Is the EGR valve getting sufficient vacuum? (Use the manufacturer EGR vacuum spec.)
- Is the EGR system restricted? (The engine stumbles, but does not die.)
- Is the EGR system plugged? (Engine RPM does not change.)
- Does the EGR valve work?
- Raise the RPM to 3000 and check manifold vacuum. Then open the EGR valve to its maximum—the manifold vacuum should drop by at least 3" of mercury. If it does not, there is a flow and/or restriction problem.
- Test the Digital EGR Pressure Feedback Sensor (DPFE) with a data streaming scan tool to verify that the voltage or lift percentage changes according to spec.
- Verify that the front Oxygen Sensor readings drop and the Short Term Fuel Trim increases when the EGR valve opens. (EGR leans out the mixture.)
If the NOx goes down when the EGR valve is raised (this test is most commonly performed on a Dynamometer), it is likely that one or more EGR passages or cylinders are plugged or very restricted, making the EGR only go to one or two cylinders. When this occurs, you may notice misfires and even have misfire codes along with the P0401. This can occur on vehicles that use EGR "runners" for each cylinder.