Second Chance Garage
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Second Chance Garage
All About Car Restoration


1953-1960 Classic Car Engines Troubleshooting Guide: Engine Noises

Things to Look For:

Loose Main Bearing

A loose main bearing is indicated by a powerful but dull thud or knock when the engine is pulling. If all main bearings are loose a noticeable clatter will be audible.

The thud occurs regularly every other revolution. The knock can be confirmed by shorting spark plugs on cylinders adjacent to the bearing. Knock will disappear or be less when plugs are shorted. This test should be made at a fast idle equivalent to 15 mph in high gear. If bearing is not quite loose enough to produce a knock by itself, the bearing may knock if oil is too thin or if there is no oil at the bearing.

Loose Flywheel

A thud or click which is usually irregular. To test, idle the engine at about 20 mph and shut off the ignition. If thud is heard, the flywheel may be loose.

Loose Rod Bearing

A metallic knock which is usually loudest at about 30 mph with throttle closed. Knock can be reduced or even eliminated by shorting spark plug. If bearing is not loose enough to produce a knock by itself, the bearing may knock if oil is too thin or if there is no oil at the bearing.

Piston Pin

Piston pin, piston and connecting rod noises are difficult to tell apart.

A loose piston pin causes a sharp double knock which is usually heard when engine is idling. Severity of knock should increase when spa/k plug to this cylinder is short-circuited. However, on some engines the knock becomes more noticeable at 25 to 35 mph on the road.

Piston pin rubs against cylinder wall, caused by lock screw being loose or snap ring broken.

Piston & Rings

  1. Excessive clearance between pistons and cylinders (piston slap).
  2. Out-of-round or tapered bores.
  3. Top piston ring strikes ridge at top of cylinder bore.
  4. Carbon deposit on top of piston strikes cylinder head.
  5. Piston rubs against cylinder head gasket.
  6. Broken piston ring.
  7. Excessive side clearance of ring in groove.
  8. Worn or broken piston ring lands.
  9. Broken piston.


  1. Valve click due to too much tappet clearance, hydraulic tappet not working properly, warped valve, sticking valve, binding rocker arm.
  2. Insufficient oil to valve mechanism, especially overhead valves.
  3. Worn or scored parts anywhere in valve mechanism.
  4. Broken valve springs.
  5. Weak valve springs.
  6. Cocked valve springs.
  7. Excessive tappet guide clearance.
  8. Lower end of tappet scored, chipped, rough, worn or broken.
  9. Very rough surface on cams.
  10. Excessive valve stem-to-guide clearance.
  11. Valve face not concentric with valve stem.
  12. Valve seat face not concentric with valve stem.
  13. Valve covers on overhead valve engines tightened excessively will amplify normal valve noise.

Hydraulic Lifters

The malfunctioning of a hydraulic valve lifter is almost always accompanied by a clicking or tapping noise. More or less hydraulic lifter noise may be expected when the engine is cold but if lifters are functioning properly the noise should disappear when the engine warms up.

If all or nearly all lifters are noisy, they may be stuck because of dirty or gummy oil.

If all lifters are noisy, oil pressure to them may be inadequate. Foaming oil may also cause this trouble. If oil foams there will be bubbles on the oil level dipstick. Foaming may be caused by water in the oil or by too high an oil level or by a very low oil level.

If the hydraulic plungers require an initial adjustment, they will be noisy if this adjustment is incorrect.

If one lifter is noisy the cause may be:

  1. Plunger too tight in lifter body.
  2. Weak or broken plunger spring.
  3. Ball valve leaks.
  4. Plunger worn.
  5. Lock ring (if any) improperly installed or missing.
  6. Lack of oil pressure to this plunger.

If ball valve leaks, clean plunger in special solvent such as acetone and reinstall. Too often, plungers are condemned as faulty when all they need is a thorough cleaning.

Gum and dirty oil are the most common causes of hydraulic valve lifter trouble. Engine oil must be free of dirt. Select a standard brand of engine oil and use no other. Mixing up one standard brand with another may cause gummy oil and sticking plungers. Do not use any special oils unless recommended by the car manufacturer and change oil filter or element at recommended intervals.

Timing Gears

  1. Gears loose on hubs or shafts.
  2. Gears misaligned.
  3. Excessive gear backlash.
  4. Eccentric gear, usually due to high key.
  5. Teeth meshed too tight (new oversize gear).
  6. Too much end play in camshaft or crankshaft.
  7. Front crankshaft bearing clearance excessive.
  8. Chipped tooth usually on camshaft gear.

Timing Chain

  1. Chain loose due to wear.
  2. Sprocket teeth worn.
  3. Sprockets loose on hubs or shafts.
  4. Sprockets misaligned.
  5. Front camshaft bearing clearance excessive.
  6. Front main bearing clearance excessive.
  7. Loose vibration damper or drive pulley.

Loose Engine Mountings

Occasional thud with car in operation. Most likely to be noticed at the moment the throttle is opened or closed.

Excessive Crankshaft End Play

A rather sharp rap which occurs at idling speed but may be heard at higher speeds also. The noise should disappear when clutch is disengaged.

Water Pump

  1. Water pump shaft pulley loose.
  2. Impeller loose on shaft.
  3. Too much end play in pump shaft.
  4. Too much clearance between shaft and bearings.
  5. Impeller blades rubbing against pump housing.
  6. Impeller pin sheared off or impeller broken.
  7. Rough bearing.
  8. Pump seal too hard.

Fan Belt

  1. Belt worn or burned.
  2. Wrong belt. Does not fit pulley grooves properly.
  3. Belt too tight. Squeaks.
  4. Belt or pulley dirty or sticky with gummy oil.
  5. Pulley bent, cracked or broken.
  6. Belt pulleys misaligned.
  7. Belt loose; squeaks when engine is accelerated.


  1. Fan blades bent.
  2. Fan blades loose on hub.
  3. Fan out of balance when made.
  4. Fan blades strike radiator.
  5. Fan shaft end play excessive.
  6. Fan shaft loose on its bearings.
  7. Defective fan bearings.
  8. Bearings need lubrication.

Engine Vibration

  1. Unequal compression in cylinders.
  2. Missing at high speed.
  3. Unbalanced fan or loose fan blade.
  4. Incorrect adjustment of engine mounts, or damaged mounts.
  5. Loose engine mounts.
  6. Engine support loose on frame or cylinder block.
  7. Unbalanced or sprung crankshaft.
  8. Excessive engine friction due to tight pistons, etc.
  9. Defective vibration damper.

The Complete Guide to Troubleshooting 1953-1960 Era American Classic Car Engines

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