I’ve heard that gas ports drilled into pistons for race engines could also be used for hot street engines but that they don’t work very well because eventually the ports become clogged with carbon and quit functioning. I’ve also heard that these ports accelerate ring wear to the extent that the engine needs new rings after only maybe 5,000 miles.

So if that’s the case, then wouldn’t those gas ported top rings that I’ve heard about wear just as quickly? These sound like they would work for a race engine but would just wear out a street engine just as quickly. Thanks for your time.  


I’ve heard two race engine builders talk about street engines running gas-ported pistons and they both said that the gas ported rings wear out rather quickly but I never really thought about it much because my attention was always on engines intended for the street.

The gas porting technique is to drill 8 holes through the top of the piston to intersect with the inside of the top ring land. The idea is to direct cylinder pressure behind the rings to improve ring seal. The problem with this idea on the street is that eventually carbon will build up in these rather small 0.043 inch holes and prevent the cylinder pressure from doing its job.

Some high performance forged pistons have come with lateral gas port holes drilled to intersect the top of the top ring land—assuming sufficient room between this lateral gas port and the top of the piston. Generally there are four to six of these holes with the intent to direct combustion pressure behind the top ring.

We spoke with Lake Speed, Jr. of Total Seal to get his take on this question of gas porting and also for a description of Total Seal’s new gas ported top rings. Lake said that detergents in the oil do not do as great a job of cleaning deposits in aluminum pistons as they do against iron or steel. Plus, while the top and second piston rings continue to turn in the ring groove, the drilled holes concentrate the pressure in the same location which can increase bore wear in these spots.

In describing the Total Seal gas ported rings, Lake says they have 15 gas ports cut into the top of the ring and since the ring is continually rotating inside the groove, there is no set concentration of pressure against the cylinder wall but instead offering an even distribution of pressure across the entire ring.

As a personal reference, Lake said he is currently running a set of the lateral gas ported top rings in his daily driver Porsche which now has over 10,000 miles on the rings. He said the factory engine uses an oil separator system that maintains a vacuum inside the crankcase.

This offers a great opportunity to create a constant check on ring seal because if the ring seal begins to deteriorate, this would allow more blow-by past the rings and the vacuum in the crankcase would drop or turn into pressure. Lake reports that after 10,000 miles the engine is still pulling the same vacuum in the pan as it did just after the rings were installed.

Much of this comes down to how trick you want to make your next street engine. The Total Seal gas ported rings are a bit more than twice the cost of an otherwise conventional Total Seal ring set for a 4.030 inch moly top 1/16, 1/16, 3/16 inch ring set. From testing we’ve seen, there can be a double-digit (meaning in the teens) horsepower improvement on even a mild a 400 hp street small block Chevy. At this point it then becomes a question of power return versus the investment. Overall there does not appear to be a durability tradeoff.

This is a photo of a Total Seal gas ported top piston ring. Note the multiple grooves cut into the top ring that allows cylinder pressure to enter the area behind the ring and then push outward, creating a better ring seal. (Image/Total Seal)
This Total Seal illustration shows the difference between a vertical gas ported piston (left) and a horizontal or lateral gas ported piston ring (right). (Image/Total Seal)
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Author: Jeff Smith

Jeff Smith has had a passion for cars since he began working at his grandfather's gas station at the age 10. After graduating from Iowa State University with a journalism degree in 1978, he combined his two passions: cars and writing. Smith began writing for Car Craft magazine in 1979 and became editor in 1984. In 1987, he assumed the role of editor for Hot Rod magazine before returning to his first love of writing technical stories. Since 2003, Jeff has held various positions at Car Craft (including editor), has written books on small block Chevy performance, and even cultivated an impressive collection of 1965 and 1966 Chevelles. Now he serves as a regular contributor to OnAllCylinders.