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Q: clicking noise in engine

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When I was driving my 5 speed Saturn I could hear something in the engine clicking. It sounded like a bent push rod, a bad piston, or a rod bearing. The car was running without oil for a little while, and the clicking noise got worse the higher the RPMs. How can I tell what’s wrong with the car? And what’s the difference in the clicking for each problem?

Internal engine noises vary by the size of the parts making the noise and how fast they are moving. Think of drums, cymbals, or guitar strings. Smaller, lighter engine parts make clicking or tapping sounds, while bigger heavier parts make deeper, low pitched knocking sounds. The crankshaft is the heaviest, so it would have a deep, low knock, but is not as common. One or more connecting rods can knock as their bearings wear, especially if they’ve suffered from lack of lubrication. Their knock is slower and medium low pitched.

Pistons slap can be recognized by its tendency to be heard on cold start-up, diminishing as the engine warms and the pistons expand. Your Saturn doesn’t have pushrods, but it does have cam followers, (also called rocker arms) and hydraulic lifters. Those pieces are called valve train and are particularly affected by loss of oil pressure common in high-mileage engines. They are small and so they make clicking sounds similar to a ball point pen.

It’s rather difficult to talk about sounds and try to describe them rather than just listening to them. If you want to have the clicking sound diagnosed in person, a certified technician from YourMechanic can come to your car’s location to inspect the car and determine what repairs may be needed.

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