(Updated on August 24, 2020)
The timing chain is an important component because it keeps the camshaft and crankshaft connected and synchronized as they rotate. If you’ve ever seen a bicycle chain before, the timing chain looks very similar.
There are several pulleys and gears which provide power to the camshaft, crankshaft, and other mechanical components of the system. The timing of the rotation is extremely important for the engine to function properly.
This can only happen if the timing chain rotates smoothly on the gears. If there is any kind of hesitation or resistance in these movements, it could cause problems for the engine.
Related: Timing Chain vs Timing Belt
Top Causes of Timing Chain Noise
Timing chains tend to work for a long time, longer than timing belts. But they are also very fragile components too, which means they won’t stay strong forever. If you ever start having timing chain issues, one of the first symptoms you’ll notice is noise.
As the timing chain moves, it will generate a noise which may become intolerable as time goes on. The solution may be to replace the timing chain, depending on what the actual cause of the noise is.
Sometimes the cause can be directly linked to the chain while other times, it is another component that it is connected to. You need to figure out what the cause is and fix it to get rid of the noise.
Below are five of the most common causes of noise from the timing chain.
1) Wear and Tear
The most common cause of timing chain noise is when the timing chain is simply wearing out. All the wear and tear it incurs over the years will diminish its ability to function properly.
Even if you have gotten the proper oil changes and performed regular maintenance on your engine, it still won’t completely prevent problems with your timing chain.
Those actions will merely extend their lifespan. But eventually, the timing chain will wear out. Noise will be the first sign of this.
2) Not Changing Engine Oil
You’re supposed to get oil changes every 3,000 to 5,000 miles in most cases or whatever oil change interval your car’s manufacturer recommends. Oil is important for the lubrication of your engine’s components, including the timing chain.
If you don’t get regular oil changes, the quality of the oil will diminish. This means that it won’t be able to lubricate as well as it used to. Once that happens, your timing chain will wear out faster than normal.
3) Wrong Engine Oil
In addition to getting your oil changes regularly, you need to use the right kind of oil in your engine too. Check the owner’s manual of your vehicle and see which oil grade and viscosity your manufacturer recommends.
You should also choose an oil which has anti-wear additives too. You’ll find these with most synthetic oil options. Even though you’ll need to pay more money for synthetic oil, it is a worthy investment in many cases because these additives help prolong the life of the timing chain.
Otherwise, if you choose an oil with the wrong viscosity for your engine, it could cause the timing chain to wear faster and make more noise.
4) Bad Oil Filter
Oil filters are positioned either on top of the engine or on the side of it. These filters have an anti-drain-back valve which stops oil from leaving the filter after the engine is turned off.
But if this valve goes bad or malfunctions, the oil flow will get delayed when you go to start the engine again. This causes a delay in the lubrication for the engine, including the timing chain.
So, you will likely hear a lot of noises soon after the engine is turned on. Spending a few dollars extra on a high quality oil filter is worth the peace of mind.
5) Heavy Loads
Adding more weight to your vehicle causes more stress on your engine. Anytime you add more stress to your engine, it causes more wear to the timing chain. If the timing chain is already in bad shape, you can expect the noise to make itself apparent a lot faster.
6) Faulty Tensioner
The timing chain tensioner provides the correct tension on the timing chain for a correctly timed engine. It usually holds tension with a spring or hydraulic force.
If this part goes bad, you may experience rattling or chain noise, especially on startup. In more extreme cases, your timing could be off causing rough idle, check engine lights, or limp mode.