Solution: Troubleshooting FI Engine Code 45 and low power on Aquatrax F12-X Turbo
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  1. #1
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    Solution: Troubleshooting FI Engine Code 45 and low power on Aquatrax F12-X Turbo

    First run of the season, had this come up. On hard acceleration or above 4500rpm the warning light would come on, the alarm would blare and the engine would get limited to 3000 rpm. Did a bunch of research and did not find any what I would call comprehensive information on the turbo boost control system. Given my extensive experience in automotive turbo applications, thought I'd make this post for posterity and maybe help some sucker who is scratching his head. Minus the jet pump and the dry sump oil system, the engine in these skis is a car motor - all systems are same as you would find in any same-vintage gasoline turbo car.

    When you hear your jet ski make the loud beeping noise, alongside the red "Warning" light you will also see the dash indicating "FI" (looks like "F1".) Hold the Mode or Menu button for a few seconds to silence the beeping. Then push and hold Mode and Menu together for 5 seconds. This will make the Warning light flash a code at you. It will do long flashes followed by short flashes. Count these. Two long, three short, means error code 23 and so on. The turbo over-boost will come up as Error 45 and this is what I will be focusing on. For more engine codes, check out this link: http://jetskisint.com/media/wysiwyg/...code_check.pdf

    How Turbos Work:
    Exhaust gases leaving your engine are MUCH hotter than the intake air going into it. The result is that hot air takes up a lot more room and this is something that can be used to generate more power - hence a turbo. Because (for example) you may be sucking 1 cubic foot of cold air into the engine, but by the time it comes out it has been heated up (from combustion) and the same air now takes up 2 cubic feet. You can force the big hot exhaust air through a turbine (pretty much a fan) and make it spin. The shaft of this exhaust turbine is attached to another turbine, which is in a different chamber, but this second turbine spins to suck and compress air that is then sent into the intake side of the engine. (Look it up on how stuff works, or wikipedia). The higher he RPM of the engine, the faster your turbines spin and the faster they spin the more pre-compression they make. Compression in the engine = power.

    How Boost Control Works:
    The problem is that this can work like a chain reaction. More RPM = more exhaust = faster turbine spin = more pre-compression = more power = even more RPM = even more power. The system must have a limiter, else your engine would blow up. The limiter to the chain reaction is a Waste Gate. The waste gate opens a way for the exhaust gases leaving the engine to bypass the turbo and thus not make it spin any faster. The waste gate is pretty much a metal flap that opens and closes the bypass hole. It is moved open and closed by the Waste Gate Actuator.

    The Waste Gate Actuator is a simple mechanical device. It is effectively a diaphragm (a rubber disk) sitting in an enclosed cup with a spring pushing on one side. On the other side of the cup is a hose fitting which leads via a hose to the pressurized intake side of the turbo. The diaphragm is also attached to a metal rod which connects the actuator to the waste gate control lever. The spring tension pushes the rod into the actuator, keeping the waste gate closed and sending all of the exhaust gases from the engine into the turbo for power generation. When the air pressure from the turbo rises to a level where via the rubber hose the diaphragm has enough force to push against the spring, the rod moves out of the actuator and opens the waste gate letting exhaust gasses bypass the turbo, lowering the power it makes. Lower power = less pressure and less pressure eventually closes the waste gate. This way the system keeps itself from having a turbo chain reaction and blowing up your motor. However, given that sports engines rev up very quickly, this goofy system is not sensitive enough to act as quickly as required.

    Gasoline engines are tuned to work at a certain maximum PSI of pressure. And ideally, they want to stay right at that pressure to make maximum power, but not blow themselves up. Most factory gasoline engines are made to run on anywhere between 8-14 PSI of pressure. 1 PSI of pressure differential is A LOT! 2-3 PSI over what your engine wants to have, could destroy it! A 4 PSI over-boost is a huge deal! A straight actuator system has an inherent problem - right at the point where the spring pressure roughly equals the air pressure exerted by the diaphragm, the actuator is slow to act because it's nearly balanced. And it is right at that point when you need it to kick in quickly!

    To get around this problem, turbo systems use an Electronic Solenoid. Let's say our target boost level is 12PSI. The manufacturer will put an 8PSI waste gate. But then, they will put an electronic solenoid on a T-connection between the Waste gate actuator and the turbo's pressure port. The solenoid is controlled by computer and because the valve is not sophisticated enough to be partly open or partly closed (it can be either completely open or closed), they work by opening and closing really fast. The computer can control how fast the solenoid opens and closes and effectively how much air it is able to bleed from the system. The Solenoid is just a fancy bleeder valve that keeps the pressure trying to get to the waste gate actuator from getting there.

    So the system looks like this. Compressed air coming out of the turbo goes via a rubber hose to the waste gate actuator, but also runs through a T-connection which leads to the solenoid by which the computer can bleed the air out and prevent it from getting to the actuator.

    Let's say you punch the throttle and want to get all the power that an engine can give you. The turbo spools to make pressure. The computer keeps the solenoid mostly open to ensure that the actuator's spring keeps the waste gate closed. However, the computer is also looking at the pressure sensor in the engine and as the pressure gets to the target 12PSI, it closes the solenoid, which sends all of that pressure to the actuator. The actuator's spring, which can counter-balance 8PSI of pressure, now has 12PSI pushing on it and it compresses quickly, allowing the actuator rod to push out and open the waste gate. This lets exhaust gasses bypass the turbo and lowers the pressure. If the pressure drops below the target 12PSI, the computer will open the solenoid, which will bleed the air from the hose, allowing the actuator spring to suck the rod back in, closing the waste gate and sending the hot exhaust gasses to spin the turbo. That's boost control!

    If you understand the system, troubleshooting should be a piece of cake and you should not need any more guides. However, I will post a quick troubleshooting procedure. If this stuff makes your head hurt, stop now. Dont buy random parts and swap them yourself - you will waste money and likely make things worse.

    First of all, if your ski suddenly runs much slower and does not accelerate like it used to, the chances are you just got used to it. Every sports car, when you first get into it should scare the pee out of you (almost). But as you learn to drive it and predict it's power, it starts to feel weaker because it no longer scares you. I've been in many auto clubs and have seen dozens of guys chasing 'lost power' when in fact there was nothing wrong with their cars. That said, if you have two of these identical skis and one is noticeably weaker (I saw a post to this effect), then there is something to look at.

    If your engine is running smoothly and you don't have boost issues, then everything is likely fine. Also, boost control problems will not make your engine run rough - if your engine runs and/or idles poorly, your problem is not boost control - look at plugs, injectors, bad fuel, poor engine compression, etc.

    If your ski is weak, check your solenoid. It may have become stuck in the closed position. When this happens, the computer is unable to bleed air from the actuator and the actuator opens the waste gate waaay too early, robbing you of your power! Note, this will never throw an engine code as the codes are there to prevent damage. If you are not making enough power to cause damage, the computer won't care!

    The solenoid is a black doodad with a cable plug and two small diameter rubber hoses going into it. It is mounted via one screw towards the rear of the engine on the left side. (look up pictures in other posts). One of the hoses that goes to it is a short hose that doesnt connect to anything on the other end - it vents to air. Fish this hose out so that you can blow into it. Then disconnect the second hose from the solenoid. Now start the engine and blow into the short hose. If you cannot blow air through the solenoid (which should now be opening and closing quickly, as instructed by computer), then the solenoid is stuck closed, is not bleeding air and causing you to lose power. At first, my solenoid didn't feel right. I expected to be able to blow more air through it. I took it apart by bending back the metal tabs, inspected and lubed the insides. I saw some posts online from people who said that this fixed their problems. However, when I put mine together, I realized that this particular solenoid is just lower volume bleeder that the automotive solenoids that I was used to.

    Another reason you may be losing power is due to corrosion in the mechanical parts of the actuator, the rod and the waste gate arm. These things can rust solid, even on cars - certainly on boats. Mine looked real clean and moved freely, but I have seen rust build up in a way that kept the spring from closing the waste gate all the way. Despite the posts I've read, it is VERY RARE for the spring in the actuator to fail. I've never seen one!

    If the waste gate is closing and you can blow through the solenoid with the engine on, your power loss issues are not related to boost control.

  2. #2
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    Re: Solution: Troubleshooting FI Engine Code 45 and low power on Aquatrax F12-X Turbo

    Part 2:

    Now on to problems that will throw your Warning Alarm and generate Code 45.

    First, perform the same blow test described above. You should be able to blow through the solenoid with the engine on and you should feel the solenoid pulsing. If the air is flowing smoothly and you don't feel the pulse, then either the solenoid is probably messed up. Then turn the engine off and try blowing again. If you can still blow through the solenoid, then it's toast for sure - stuck open. This will cause air to be bled from the system all the time, which will not allow the actuator to close the waste gate, thus causing the chain reaction and over-boosting. The computer will react to brake the chain reaction by closing your throttle, blaring the alarm and not letting you rev over 3000 RPM. In the olden days (before computers could close throttles), they would cut your spark plugs and then your fuel by shutting off the injectors. This however does not stop the chain reaction as quickly and is a violent shock on your engine. As much as I often hate computers and drive-by-wire systems, I will say that giving the computer control to close the throttle is a much softer shutdown measure.

    Next check to make sure your actuator is working. You will need to remove the black divider thing that has the air intake box in it (look up directions if you need to). Find the hose going to the actuator and get your hands on an air compressor. MAKE SURE not to shoot a stupid amount of air pressure into the system! You need a pressure regulator and make sure that you dont send more than about 10-12 PSI into the actuator. If you fail to do this, you may rapture the diaphragm and toast your actuator. First of all, you should not be able to blow any air with your mouth through the actuator - if you can, then the diaphragm is torn. When you hit it with the 10PSI of air, you should see the rod push out about an inch - maybe half. If it's moving with pressure and coming back when you let out, then the actuator is doing its job.

    If the diaphragm is torn, you are screwed! Nicer (external) waste gates have user-serviceable diaphragms. They cost a negligible amount and are easy to change. The actuator on this ski is not the nicer kind and because you cannot service them you got to get a replacement. And better yet, I've read that you cannot buy them anymore since Honda doesnt make them or something... I found a post saying that these actuators will work/fit (http://www.h2oxtremeworldwide.com/ma...gate-actuators). However, I have to tell you that actuators are not rocket science. You can pretty much take any actuator and make it fit. The important thing is to match the spring pressure. I would guess that honda uses an 8psi actuator, which are very common in automotive circles. The differences are the rod length and mounting points. If you got a welder and know how to work metal, you can make another actuator fit in less than an hour. If you don't, find a friend that does

    If you've tested the solenoid and actuator, both are working properly and you are still getting error code 45 (like me) then you got to think out of the box. Possibly the computer went bad and dealers will jump on this one. They make more than 100% mark-up on these things, they are easy to change and its easy money. Usually they fix the small underlying problem also and you are $1500 poorer and non-the-wiser. Let's look at some other things...

    First, the computer knows that it's over-boosting based on the reading that it gets from the manifold air pressure (MAP) sensor. From what I've read, this ski has two identical MAP sensors, but the book calls them different things. One will cause error 45. The other will cause another error code. One suggestion posted was to flip-flop the two sensors and see if the error code changes. It sounds like a good idea. Also, if you happen to have a boost gauge laying around, you could connect it to see if the engine actually is over-boosting. I didnt get to flip-flopping sensors, but did confirm that my boost pressure was spiking to about 14.5psi under load.

    In my case, the hose that connects the actuator/solenoid to the intake, goes through the small bent elbow that comes form the turbo housing. When I was doing blow tests on various hoses in the system, I noted that I could not blow air from the hoses back into the turbo. At first, I thought that honda for some reason put a 1-way valve into the nipple housing.

    Hippy tree-huger regulations force a lot of stupid one-way valves into these kinds of systems to prevent the one drop of fuel per year from escaping the engine, going into the ground water and poisoning the green turtles. In reality, when these valves brake, the malfunctions and repairs they cause result in much more wasted fuel and carbon emissions than the stupid thing would have ever prevented had it worked right. Car makers go along with it because repairs force people to buy new cars, but it not only fails to save the planet, they actually contribute to pollution.

    After taking the intake pipe off and trying to blow air the other way, I could see that there was no valve there - it seemed like the tube was blocked, explaining my overboost condition. With my marine engines, because they sit over our long Seattle winter, I've more than once had various bugs that miraculously find their way into small passages, lay eggs and cause blockages. I then tried to send a wire through the hole, but it hit something and would not go through. The bend in the tube would not let the wire through. I tried blasting it with 150PSI of compressed air - nothing. After a few attempts with various wires I was not able to get around the bend in the tube. Finally, I decided to take pliers and gently bend the tube to be straight. The wires still would not push through, nor would air. I took a small drill bit and spun it with just my fingers. To my surprise, the drill bit dug up a ton of rust! The hole was literally rusted shut yet there was no rust to be seen anywhere on the outside! Never, seen this on a car! Anyway, after clearing the hose and putting everything back together, my engine codes went away and the ski worked perfectly up to 58mph / 6000RPM.

    I can only imagine how much crap the dealer would have changed out at random before figuring this out and sticking me with a 4-figure bill. I would not be surprised if I ended up with a new turbo, actuator, solenoid, computer and wire harness.

    Lesson - learn to work on your own stuff and don't get your pants pulled down!

  3. #3
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    Re: Solution: Troubleshooting FI Engine Code 45 and low power on Aquatrax F12-X Turbo

    By the way, while researching, I kept finding pages from what looked to be a pretty good factory shop manual for these skis - like the one I linked to with the engine codes. If anyone could tell me where I could find this whole manual, that would be very cool!

  4. #4
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    Re: Solution: Troubleshooting FI Engine Code 45 and low power on Aquatrax F12-X Turbo

    Thats great info there tyson. How you describe how a turbo works. I can picture it in my head now. If you google your ski model , you can download it.
    2002 Honda AquaTrax F-12X

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    Re: Solution: Troubleshooting FI Engine Code 45 and low power on Aquatrax F12-X Turbo

    I'm confused on what bent tube your talking about in the last paragraph are you referring to this one on the turbo that the little hose goes to with the restrictor in it


  6. #6
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    Re: Solution: Troubleshooting FI Engine Code 45 and low power on Aquatrax F12-X Turbo

    That's the one! Mine looked to be clear from both ends (I used a mirror to look in the other end) and was as clean looking from the outside as the one pictured, but it was about 98% restrictive to air flow - if I blew or sucked hard, a little would go through. And I would say that about 80% of it was packed internally with rust. My turbo and everything down there is actually in good looking shape. Some rust on the exhaust side of the turbine, but I've never seen a turbocharger (on a car or otherwise) that wasn't rusty there. Really bizarre!
    Last edited by tyson0317; 07-26-2014 at 02:01 PM.

  7. #7
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    Re: Solution: Troubleshooting FI Engine Code 45 and low power on Aquatrax F12-X Turbo

    Another tip:
    When you have a problematic boost control system, one of the side effects is that your engine will be producing a lot more power than it should. The FI Code45, or as in the olden days, ignition and fuel cuts are emergency measures taken by the computer after your engine is already over-boosting. By fixing the boost control problem, you may discover that you no longer have some of the pep that you may have been used to. Acceleration in particular will be noticeably milder. This is normal because your engine is no longer skating on the thin edge of detonation.

    Some years ago, I remember a guy in the club who bragged to have had a really fast Audi 5000 Turbo. He could take anyone off the line and bragged about having a totally unmodified car that the germans must have 'put together right'. It had only one problem - before reaching the red line under hard acceleration, he said the car would buck - he thought it was a suspension problem because the whole car would lurch. He learned to accelerate under these conditions and before the lurch, just ease on the gas pedal, preventing it from happening. When I test-drove the car, I immediately recognized that he had no functional boost control whatsoever and the 'suspension problem' was actually fuel cut. He drove like this for years and it was a miracle that he had not broken a rod or cracked a piston - a testament to German metallurgy. After discovering a torn diaphragm in his waste gate actuator and helping him replace it, the car would accelerate balls out all the way to red line. However, we both felt that the 'put together right' jump and pull in the low RPMs was gone. Against my advice, he proceeded to install a piggyback aftermarket boost controller, which gave him some of the pep back. I lost touch with him, but given the multiple hard hits that his engine took over the years of suffering through violent fuel cuts, I would not be surprised to hear that it finally gave in one day...

  8. #8
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    Re: Solution: Troubleshooting FI Engine Code 45 and low power on Aquatrax F12-X Turbo

    Quote Originally Posted by tyson0317 View Post
    That's the one! Mine looked to be clear from both ends (I used a mirror to look in the other end) and was as clean looking from the outside as the one pictured, but it was about 98% restrictive to air flow - if I blew or sucked hard, a little would go through. And I would say that about 80% of it was packed internally with rust. My turbo and everything down there is actually in good looking shape. Some rust on the exhaust side of the turbine, but I've never seen a turbocharger (on a car or otherwise) that wasn't rusty there. Really bizarre!

    Thanks for your detailed post. Lots of good info. My F12X threw a 45 code today, and I've begun troubleshooting. I know the wastegate solenoid switch was working a month ago when I connected it to a 9v battery and heard it click open and closed. I also believe my actuator rod moves freely with about 10 psi of pressure, but this was a very primitive test with a bike pump where I could not control the PSI.

    As far as the small tube you found ... I was told that has in it a boost "pill" that restricts air flow. I read on here that you could buy a welding tip with xx opening that would work fine in its place. I put it in, but I did not cut it down to 1/2 inch. It's about 1 inch. Could that cause my code 45? Did you notice a thin pill in that hose? I wonder if it was the restrictor pill that disintegrated that you were seeing. Anyway, did you end up having nothing in that short hose that connects from the bent elbow on the turbo to the plastic "T" splitter? To be clear, coming from that plastic T above the turbo intake hose, ther are three smaller diameter hoses. One leads to the bent elbow on the turbo and is a very short hose, about 3 inches. One leads to the wastegate actuator diaphrahm/rod area. One leads to the wastegate solenoid switch/sensor.

    Great post. Am anxious to hear your response, as I've done a lot to repair my ski and feel it's close to being back to good since replacing turbo, reverse cable, changing oil, plugs, etc ...

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