Feel like your Chevy Malibu hasn’t been reaching the high speeds it used to back when you first bought it? Or maybe you can tell the engine’s lost some of its power because you feel the need to switch gears at lower speeds than you’d previously need to? Or perhaps (and most worrying of all) the dashboard is alight with the reduced engine power indication light, promptly bringing the issue to your attention if all other signs escaped your notice?
In any of the above cases, it should be reasonably obvious that you’re dealing with an engine issue here, which you probably can’t fix on your own. Promptly taking your car to the mechanic would, in this case, be the next logical step. A mechanic would be able to pinpoint exactly what issue your car has and fix it more effectively than you ever could with your limited tools and knowledge.
That being said. However, mechanics aren’t cheap and not all problems that end up reducing your engine power have anything to do with the engine itself. In these cases, all it really takes is a few simple tools, easily available parts, and a little elbow grease to get your car running. For your Chevy Malibu suffering from reduced engine power specifically, there are four things you can check and fix right now to solve the problem yourself without having to go the mechanic. Take a look:
1 – Dirty airflow sensor
Familiar with the concept of false alarms? It’s when the system is alerted of an error or a fault when in actuality everything is working smoothly. But because the alarm was raised, the system decides to play it safe and slow down its operation so as to avoid further (non-existent) damage. Your car operates in much the same way if a false alarm is raised. And in the case of reduced engine power, the culprit for the false alarm is usually a dirt air flow sensor.
As its name suggests, the airflow sensor monitors the amount of air flowing into the engine, which needs to be regulated to ensure smooth combustion of fuel. You’d think the sensor would work measuring the volume of air going into the engine (it is and AIRFLOW sensor after all). However, the sensor works instead by measuring the temperature of heated wire, with the air flowing into the engine being passed over it causing the temperature to change.
Basically, the more air flows into the engine, the more the heated wire would be cooled, and the sensor would record this drop in temperature as an indicator for high airflow. Unfortunately, this wire gets dirty over time, making any measurements taken off of it unreliable and usually resulting in the sensor registering a lower airflow than the actual volume. This triggers a false alarm, and your engine is forced to slow down as a result.
How to fix it
Identifying the sensor as the culprit is a pretty easy task: You can start your car and leave it running while you pop open the hood. A quick search should point you to where the sensor is fixed (we recommend a quick peek into your manual if you’re having trouble). Once you find it, simply disconnect it and check your engine’s performance. If it works better, it really was just your sensor acting up.
Cleaning the sensor isn’t that big of a deal either; just buy a can of Air Sensor cleaner from a nearby auto-parts shop and spray the sensor as per the instructions on the can. After that, you can just replace the sensor, and you shouldn’t have any more problems.
2 – Clogged air filter
We all know that a combustion engine needs to pump air from the outside to allow for smooth burning of the fuel. But did you know that this air needs to pass through a filter before it can enter your engine? Why? Simple, because the outside air is laden with dust and other particles your engine can do without, so they need to be filtered off before the air can enter the engine.
However, a filter is also somewhat of a barrier to the free-flow of air into your engine. Even though this barrier is designed to allow air to flow through smoothly, it can get clogged with all the dust it catches over time. Which ultimately leads to restricted airflow and your engine not working to its maximum capacity, hence giving you poorer performance overall.
How to fix it
If your airflow sensor isn’t causing the reduced engine power malfunction, then your next best bet is a clogged air filter. Finding the air filter to inspect and clean it isn’t too hard of a task; you can easily find it yourself by looking around the engine block for a box attached to one of its sides or tucked in a corner under a fender. The box should be labeled as “Air filter container” or “Cold Air Collector” and houses the air filter itself, which is fitted so as to allow easy access for cleaning.
Once you’ve located the box and opened it up, reach in to remove the air filter and hold it up to the light. If you can see through it, it means the filter is clean and not to blame, and you should just replace it. Otherwise, give it a few light taps to shake the grime and dust off of it. If that doesn’t clean the air filter, you might have to go out and buy a replacement before you can reinstall it again.
3 – Weak fuel pump
Fuel pumps have the very important task of pulling up fuel from your car’s fuel tank and feeding it at a steady flow to your car’s engine. Therefore, it’s easy to see why an underperforming fuel pump can cause your engine to not work to its full extent. The engine’s just not getting fuel at the rate it needs it. Fuel pumps age over time, but you may unknowingly be deteriorating yours faster: Neglecting filling up your car till it’s nearly completely empty puts a lot of undue strain on your fuel pump, which can damage it over time.
How to fix it
A weak fuel pump often means you’d have to replace it altogether, which is a task you should only take up if you have the skill needed to complete it. However, if you’re lucky, you may not have to bother with this expensive (fuel pumps are quite costly) and tricky procedure. Almost all cars these days have fuel pumps with removable fuel filters, and it could just be that your fuel filter is under performing because of a dirty filter that’s restricting fuel.
Removing these filters from the fuel pump is a far less complicated task, and fixing the problem is even simpler. Just replace the dirty filter with a new one or wash it off if it’s a reusable one.
4 – Worn out a catalytic converter
Catalytic converters have been around since the 1970s and driving a car without one fitted into your exhaust is illegal these days. People have often complained that these converters block up the exhaust airflow and decrease engine performance in an attempt to justify not installing them.
And while this claim is barely significant (only about 3% drop in performance at max), their benefits more than outweigh their disadvantages. Catalytic converters convert the harmful components of the engine’s exhausts gas into far less damaging compounds like turning the toxic Carbon Monoxide into safe Carbon Dioxide. So, there’s absolutely no excuse against installing one.
A catalytic converter can, however, deteriorate over time and their inside honeycomb structure that houses the catalyst can break apart, which restricts the exhaust airflow. A blockage in the exhaust is a serious issue for the performance of an engine. And if your airflow sensor, air filters and fuel pump all check out, then the culprit behind the reduced engine power is your busted catalytic converter.
How to fix it
Fixing this issue isn’t cheap since a catalytic converter is probably the most expensive thing you may have to buy on this list. A catalytic converter is this expensive because of the precious metals that are used to make its internal (catalyst) honeycomb structure.
Unfortunately, replacing your old one with a new one is really your only option. However, having the tools and skill to do it yourself will save a lot of money since you don’t have to hire a mechanic to do it for you.
A word of caution
While we all want to save a buck here and there, it is sometimes better to throw in the towel if you feel like something is out of your league. Trying to fix your car on your own is only a good idea if you know what you’re doing.
If you’re even the slightest bit unsure about what to do, we highly recommend you consult a mechanic before you screw something up and only add to your car troubles.