2.2 Ecotec Common Problems

4 Common GM 2.2 Ecotec Engine Problems

Jake Mayock

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Jake is a founder of 8020 Media and TuningPro. He has over a decade of experience in the automotive industry including parts sales, writing, DIY modifications & repairs, and more. Jake is currently converting his N54 to a single turbo and building a Miata track car. He’s an experienced, hands-on automotive enthusiast who delivers in-depth, well-researched content.

The 2.2 Ecotec might not be an engine for performance enthusiasts, but it’s a reliable, fuel efficient, and affordable engine. These engines are capable of making it beyond 250,000 without any major problems when properly maintained.

Despite its stout reliability, the 2.2 Ecotec still does suffer from some common problems, albeit very few. The engine is known to experience timing chain tensioner failure and oil and gasket leaks. We’re going to discuss each of these problems in-depth below and provide some commentary on overall engine reliability.

2.2 Ecotec Problems and Reliability

2.2 Ecotec Common Problems

  • Timing Chain Tensioner Failure
  • Leaking Intake Manifold Gaskets
  • Oil Leaks & Gasket Leaks
  • High Mileage Maintenance

1) Timing Chain Failure

On the 2.2 Ecotec, the timing chain tensioner commonly fails. This problem is most common for 2000-2004 models. These early model engines had a design flaw that caused the timing chain tensioners to not receive enough oil at idle. When not enough oil is received, the tensioners are starved of lubrication which causes excess friction and heat to be produced, causing the tensioners to fail.

In 2005 engines the oiling issue was fixed, mitigating timing chain failure. With that being said, timing chains are still prone to fail on any engine. Low oil levels and engine overheating are two common things that can cause timing chains to fail in later model 2.2’s.

Failure Symptoms

  • Cylinder misfires
  • Knocking noise from engine
  • Poor idling
  • Engine no start
  • Overall poor performance
  • Oil has metal shavings in it

For more detailed information on timing chains, check out our detailed guide on timing chain failure.

2) Leaking Intake Manifold Gaskets

When air enters the engine it travels through the intake air filter, through the intake piping, to the intake manifold. The intake manifold takes the air from the intake system and evenly distributes it to the each of the 4-cylinders on the 2.2 Ecotec. The manifold is made of thick plastic and bolts directly up to the intake ports on the engine block. In between the intake manifold and the block are gaskets.

Unlike traditional manifold gaskets that are usually one-piece, the 2.2 Ecotec actually uses individual gaskets for each cylinder. The gaskets are circular shaped and made of rubber. As is with any gasket, they naturally fail over time from constant wear and tear. Gaskets are subject to lots of pressure, vibrations, and high temperatures. The gaskets on Gen I 2.2’s tend to fail more frequently. When the gaskets fail they can let air escape from the intake system causing performance decreases.

Symptoms of Bad Intake Manifold Gaskets

  • Misfires, rough idling
  • Lack of power, acceleration, etc.
  • Milky looking substance in engine oil cap
  • Rich AFRs due to limited airflow

3) Oil Leak Problems

As some of these 2.2 Ecotec’s are pushing upwards of 20+ years in ago now, oil leaks and other common maintenance problems will start to arise. While this isn’t necessarily a “common” problem, oil leaks are bound to start to appear once you get upwards of 150,000 miles on these older engines.

Things like the valve cover gasket, head gasket, oil pan gasket, main seals, intake manifold gasket, etc. are prone to leaking. Most of these failures are the result of gasket failure. Gaskets naturally wear down over time from pressure and heat and can cause oil leaks and air leaks. While oil leaks are usually okay to drive on for a period of time, make sure you don’t run low on engine oil otherwise you can starve the timing chain and cause that to fail.

Replacing gaskets can be cheap for the DIY enthusiast. However, while the parts themselves are very cheap, labor for replacing items such as main seals or oil pan gaskets can get quite pricey.

4) General High Mileage Maintenance

While not a common problem again, we wanted to point out general maintenance items as these cars become older and higher mileage.

Like the above gaskets and oil leaks, other maintenance items are likely to appear once you surpass the 150,000 mile mark. While the engine itself and transmission are extremely strong you can expect to run into a few issues with various support systems. Things such as hoses, water pumps, spark plugs, O2 sensors, power steering system, and other items commonly need to be replaced.

Outside of engine problems, these cars with the 2.2 Ecotec are known to have weaker front ends. This can result in a fair bit of maintenance with the shocks/struts, ball joints, endlinks, etc. and various other front suspension components.

GM 2.2L Ecotec Reliability

Overall, the 2.2 Ecotec is a very reliable engine. 2004 and prior models tend to be less reliable due to the commonality of timing chain failure. 2005 and onwards models don’t really have any common problems outside of general maintenance items once the engine reaches high mileage.

The transmission and engine block, head, internals, etc. are all very stout and will last the life of the engine. When problems arise they tend to be with ancillary engine systems along with front suspension components.

The 2.2 Ecotec is capable of surpassing 250,000 miles with regular maintenance.

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15 Comments

  1. I love the Chevy HHR s. On one I ran it to 295K miles.the only reason it’s retired is I hit one too many deer with it. It was a 2007. The one I’m driving now has 242K. I love these cars.

    1. 2006 2.4 ecotec HHR. Good work car. Good performance. Very annoying oil leak at the block split line. Not worth tearing engine apart to reseal with silicone. Leaks despite the vented oil cap and no sign of EGR plugged. Oil cooler used to leak bad but replaced the gaskets.

      1. I have a 2003 Alero 2.2 I got it from a 19 year old kid who didn’t do anything to it. So when I got it it was in bad shape three of the five timing chain guides were dry rooted and broke in the oil pan, the valve cover was like mashed potatoes from dried up oil I really don’t know how it was still running the water pump was out and after I tore the whole top end apart and rebuild it then dropped the oil pan to get the broken guides out I put it all back together not at idle it smokes so I am guessing the rings are going out.

  2. 2007 hhr, 125,000 mile something broke thru Block, still runs its parked looking for replacement motor….

    1. I can’t tell you how many similar situations I’ve seen fixed with a moldable epoxy like JB Weld.

      Lawn tractor threw a rod right through the block. Even a USED block was more than I wanted to put into this thing…

      So I plugged the hole with JB Weld. Replaced the rod & bearings – Still cuts like new!

  3. I have a 2005 Malibu classic with 132000 miles. 2.2 ecotec rings are shot. So I say bullshit to the 250k claim. I have owned for 12 years, it had 27k miles on it when I got it. Now has 132k and engine is worn out. Kept up with all maintenance. I think engine was too weak and overworked. But I don’t believe your 250k mileage claim. That’s a lie

    1. So because “Bret” had issues, it is a lie? That is shear ignorance man. There are exception to every rule. The most reliable engines in the world still have lemons among them. There was literally millions of L61’s produced, and because yours puked the entire line is junk? Ignorance is bliss. Will I buy another L61? Of course! Law of averages rules, this is a reliable long lasting engine when properly maintained and the percentage of catastrophic failures is negligible.

      On the flip side, I own a GM Northstar v8 with 276k on it. Is it a great engine? Hell no! It goes down as one the most unreliable engines ever made! I am a lucky exception to the rule. Will I buy another one because mine still runs great? Of course not! Law of averages rules, the Northstar is junk and the percentage of catastrophic failures is absurdly high.

      1. Hi Jeff,

        Well said and all very valid points. Any internal combustion engine is prone to faults and even reliable engines see the occasional major failures – well maintained or not. That’s especially true with high production engines. An ICE has hundreds of moving parts with small margins for error. Multiply that by millions of engines produced and catastrophic problems are going to happen.

        Regards,
        Zach

  4. Really happy with my 2.2 Ecotec. Have replaced the timing chain and updated the oiler in my 02′ Saturn Vue. It has over 265K in 2023 and runs like a champ. It dues use a bit of oil between changes though. I may just pull it apart to replace the piston rings and do a valve job. Because, why not. I should get another 260K out of the car, no problem.

  5. Love my 04 Chevy classic, only issue I have is the water pump/thermostat. My mechanic wants 800 bucks. And I also have an oil leak somewhere towards the bottom of the engine but overall amazing engine. My timing chain hasn’t have any issues and I think it’s original but I might do some preventative maintenance on it soon just to make sure by the way this was very helpful and thank you to everybody that commented on this thread.

  6. I have a 2009 HHR 2.2 L engine. There is water in the oil and oil in the water. What could becausing this. The head gasket is ok.

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