Q: Engine grinds something in the cold

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Every time I start the engine in my 2009 Honda Accord cold, i.e. in the morning and after work, there is a kind of grinding noise coming from the engine. This sound goes away after driving for a moment with the transmission in drive. What could cause this, and is it a real concern? This car only has 60,000 miles on it, so I hope there are no major repairs needed at this point.

Any abnormal noise coming from a car always gives me an uneasy feeling, so I can understand the concern here. In fact, this is an issue I am quite familiar with. Our first step would begin with checking the level of the vehicle’s engine oil. It’s always best to check the oil level with the vehicle cold and on a very flat, level surface. Low and/or dirty oil can replicate a grinding condition upon startup, which may be what you are hearing. The noise tends to come from a part known as a Variable Valve Timing Control actuator (VTC). This VTC actuator allows the camshaft to adjust, as needed, at different RPMs to maximize engine performance and fuel economy. When oil is dirty or low, there is not enough pressure to allow the VTC to do its job. This is a known concern with Honda and they have issued a technical service bulletin to guide your certified mechanic on how to resolve this issue for their customers. I recommend that you have a certified mechanic diagnose the noise your vehicle is making to confirm that this is indeed the problem that you are experiencing. This repair is not considered major and can be done in a couple of hours.

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