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2005 Subaru Outback Engine Noise - Loud Clicking


I own a 2005 Subaru Outback, LL Bean Edition with 3.0L engine. The car has approximately 148,000 miles.

It runs very well, but the car makes a loud clicking/ticking noise when it is at idle. The noise disappears about 1,500 rpm. As far as I can tell, the sound comes from the driver’s side, front of the engine.

I have an audio/video file of the noise on YouTube:

I would like to get an idea of what I may be dealing with before I take the car to my mechanic.



I’m thinking exhaust manifold leak.

Not a manifold leak. Sounds like it could be valves or something loose.

First off, check the dipstick. After that, if you have a discarded length of garden hose, you might could use it as a stethoscope to narrow down more precisely where the noise is originating from. That’s where I’d start if I had that problem.

Has the engine every been run low on oil, ever overheated, have you always used the correct spec for the oil, and have the oil & filter changes been done to the manufacture’s mileage schedule?

Assuming the oil level is fine you might consider a loose valve. Valve lash should be inspected and adjusted every 30k miles but this is seldom ever done.

If it’s excessive lash and as loud as it is it would not surprise me if there is some valve train damage. Damaged cam lobe, rocker, or mushroomed adjuster and valve stem. Hopefully not.

For valves it does not sound consistent: at first it repeats regularly, then starts skipping ticks, while RPMs are constant.

Can it be a loose bearing in serpentine belt pulley or one of accessories?
Looks like belt itself is shiny/replaced, but were these components replaced in the same time?

Take the serpentine belt off and run the engine briefly. If the noise doesn’t happen, you know where to look. I am thinking belt tensioner.


Thanks for all the suggestions and replies.

I am not the original owner of the car, but according to the Car Fax report, the car did receive routine maintenance - at least, as far as I can tell. The car is in very good condition given its age and mileage.

Whenever I change the oil or any fluid, I do so according to what is spec’d in the owner’s manual. The oil level is also just fine.

Could the ticking come from one of the accessories other than an idler/tensioner pulley? If I remove the serpentine belt and run the engine for a brief amount of time, what constitutes “brief?”



I’m not sure if belt drives water pump: this would be a “no go” for long belt removal.

IMHO if you take it off for 1 minute, your car will be OK

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Try the garden hose method before going to all the trouble of removing the accessory belt(s). It might be enough to pinpoint the problem.

Thanks for the garden hose suggestion. I’ll give it a try this weekend.


I was able to get my hands on a stethoscope. The sound seems to be come from the oil fill area. When I put the stethoscope on top of the cap or on the aluminum casting below the cap, the sound is loudest. Thoughts? This is looking like I will need to remove the large aluminum casting across the front of the engine…

the oil fill cap is usually on the valve covers, so you probably are looking at some kind of valve issue there. Valve clearance problem, timing chain noise, damaged lifter, worn valve guides, etc. If your cars sports variable valve timing, it might be the vvt actuator is failing. Low oil pressure or blocked oil transmission paths could cause it too, as the top of the engine would be oil-deprived due to the force of gravity. My guess is you got some kind of vvt problem. Normally that would turn on the check engine light, but not always. Might be worth it to check for diagnostic codes anyway, there may be some pending codes there, even tho the check engine light isn’t on.

…but not on this engine.
If you think about it, the location of the valve covers on a horizontally-opposed engine would make it pretty difficult to place the oil filler on a valve cover.

The Subaru six cylinder engines have the oil fill cap on the timing chain cover, which leads me to think that the problem may be related to the timing chain–and that’s not good!

Since the OP is not the original owner, he would not be aware of exactly how the previous owner(s) operated and maintained the vehicle, but if any of the previous owners used “extended” oil change intervals, this could be a case of excessive timing chain wear as a result of lubrication problems.

Personally speaking, with a sound that ominous, the only place that I would be driving the car would be to a competent mechanic’s shop.

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