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Engine makes clicking noise...usually

My 2003 Ford Windstar 6 cyl makes a “clicking” noise, but it doesn’t sound like it is metal. At times it is very fast and loud, other times it is not. This sounds accelerates and decelerates with your RPM. The heat works while driving, but does not seem to work well when idled. It sounds like it is coming from the top of the engine (I know absolutely nothing about engines) so I am unsure what this is or what we should do, other than take it in and have a mechanic hunt for the issue.

It is very likely that some of your hydraulically-operated valve lifters are “sticking”. The usual cause of this situation is not having changed the oil often enough, particularly if the vehicle is used for a lot of local driving. Does this description sound like your Windstar by any chance?

How many miles are on the odometer?
How often (in terms of both elapsed time and in terms of odometer mileage) do you normally have the oil changed?
Is the vehicle used for a lot of local driving?

There are other possibilities, but my prime suspect would be sticking lifters. If this is not remedied, you will wind up with very expensive repairs to the engine. As it is currently, your mechanic may be able to remedy the situation by cleaning out the engine by hand and/or with an engine flush–assuming that the problem is sticking valve lifters.

Regarding the heater problem, have you at least checked the level of coolant/antifreeze in the radiator? This could be as simple as needing to add coolant. Be sure to do the checking when the radiator is completely cold.

Just be sure to AVOID any chain operations like Midas, Meineke, Monro, Sears, AAMCO, etc.
Ask friends, neighbors, relatives, and co-workers for recommendations on a local independent mechanic who is honest and competent.

Thank you. We have the oil changed every 3,000 - 5,000 miles. Now, there have been times over the life of the vehicle where we most likely exceeded this, but for the most part we stick to it. The van has just about 150,000 miles on it and is used for local and long distance driving. We visit “back home” every few months and this is about a 700 mile one way trip. We love the van and want to be able to keep it for quite a while, but we also want to be smart about spending money to fix problems, versus value, etc…

Thank you so much. I guess we should think about taking it to the local dealership to have it looked at.

You are very welcome.
However, there is no reason to take a 6 year old vehicle to the dealership. The possible issues can be dealt with by any competent mechanic, most likely for far less than the dealership would charge.

I forgot to ask one last question ( I promise!) I am assuming driving it, right now, for the next couple of days around town, is a bad idea?

That is really not possible to answer with any accuracy. I have given you my best guess as to the cause of the clicking problem, but from a distance I could certainly be wrong. If it is “just” sticky lifters, then you can drive it, but I would attempt to limit the driving if possible just in case it is actually a more serious problem. This really amounts to a judgment call on your part.

As to the possibility that the vehicle is low on coolant/antifreeze, I would suggest that you look into this possibility before driving it, as low coolant can lead to severe engine damage. Check it when the radiator is cold and replenish if necessary. Coolant/antifreeze can be bought at most supermarkets, so there is no need to go to an auto parts store if it is not convenient.

While you are at it, I would suggest that you check the oil level also. It is possible that the engine noise is due to a dangerously low level of motor oil. If you need it, the oil can also be obtained at a supermarket. The viscosity that is needed should be embossed on the engine’s oil filler cap, or can be found in the Owner’s Manual.

After you get a diagnosis, please post back with that information so we can provide further advice if necessary.
Good luck!

Great! Thank you so much, I greatly appreciate it. Take care!

Thanks again. I found that there was basically no anti-freeze in there. This is shocking since I had no warning lights, no over-heating and when I had the oil changed 2 weeks ago, was told that all levels were fine. I sure hope this didn’t cause the damage to the engine…

I greatly appreciate your time but if you think this could have caused the damage, let me know. I plan on getting this into a mechanic tomorrow and I want to be as accurate as possible when talking with them so that they can make the best and most informed decision possible. I hope you have a blessed weekend.

Hmmm…Was the oil change done by a “quicky lube” place?
If it was, the level of incompetence at those places makes any statement from them suspect.

With any luck, the low coolant is just due to a loose hose clamp or a leaking hose. In addition to the radiator hoses, a pinhole leak in a heater hose could drain a huge amount of your coolant in just 2 weeks, so I am going to assume at this point that you only have a loose hose clamp or a hose leak. Well, at least I am praying for you that this is the case.

Even if you did not think the engine was overheating, it is very possible that it was. Since the coolant temperature sensor was likely not immersed in coolant (due to the low coolant level), the temperature gauge or temp warning light may not have registered a high temperature. So, it is entirely possible that the clicking noise that you heard from the engine is an ominous sign of severe damage (main bearings and other highly sensitive parts) to the engine as a result of overheating.

Have the car towed to an independent mechanic in your area who has a good reputation. Or if your comfort level is such that you only trust the dealership, then have it towed to them. DO NOT take it to a chain operation! Do NOT start the engine or drive the car!

Please post back with the diagnosis from the repair shop as soon as they give you their verdict.

Thanks. I’ll let you know the outcome…and maybe what kind of car my wife will now be driving…

Sometimes an exhaust leak can make a noise that sounds like a clicking noise. I had a bad exhaust manifold gasket that sounded like a clicking noise and would increase in frequency as the car went faster.

Any diagnosis yet from the mechanic?
Please let us know what he finds.

Hmmmm…Two days with no update on the diagnosis.
I guess that we will not be hearing anything further, unfortunately.

We have the van back!! We had it towed to a mechanic that we were referred to as the most honest and best around. One of two things happened: 1. He said that the engine was out of water(?), which I don’t understand, but he added it and said he could not recreate the noise, coupled with, he said, that I had filled the anti-freeze, he said it could have helped. I don’t know. 2. My wife prayed and started a prayer chain of sorts for the car. She loves her van!

The mechanic did a pressure test of several systems and could not find a single thing wrong with the engine, or for that matter, the van. I had them flush the engine and the radiator. Total bill including the tow…$127.

I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your help. This mechanic will receive my work again!

Sorry it took me so long to get back to you. Since the mechanic couldn’t get it to replicate yesterday, I asked him to keep it overnight and see what happens when he starts it when cold. We got it back around 5:00 and then celebrated my oldest daughter’s 14th birthday, so I just got home.

Thanks again, I greatly appreciate everything!

Well, today the alternator went out on the van. We took it to Fred’s here in Columbus Georgia and they replaced it, very fast. When we picked it up after work and started it, it started making the noise again. Terry came right out and had another mechanic listen to it. He suggested it could have something to do with the oil pump but they don’t do that type of work. He told me to go down the road, about 1/2 mile, to Sherman’s. Terry called ahead and when we got there, Carson was waiting outside for us! He suggested that it sounded more like sticky lifters (just as you suggested!) He said to get the oil changed and add Engine Restore to it and then do this over the next two oil changes. He would have done it for us, but his guys had already gone home. I called Fred’s and Terry said to bring it back and he would do it right away (even though they were closing). I was able to take my son to his guitar lessons and my wife went to Fred’s where they did the job. We have an estimate of the worse case scenario from Sherman’s which means in a worse case scenario, it sounds like it may only be a few hundred dollars, which is a heck of a lot better than a car payment!

I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your help and advice! I also would like people to know about Fred’s and Sherman’s here in Columbus, Georgia because I don’t know that I have ever had such caring and genuinely great service from a mechanic in my life!!

Thanks again!!!

You are very welcome!

I’m not sure that I understand the “engine was out of water” stuff. Did you ask about leaks? Engines do not “run out of water” (actually coolant/antifreeze mixed with water) unless there is a leak or a mechanical problem. Please follow up with this issue.

For the short-term at least, it sounds like you lucked out, and that makes me very glad.
It also sounds like you found a couple of good mechanics who are also decent people.
The next time that you take the car in for an oil change or any other work, be sure to bring them some home-baked cookies or brownies!

This is very strange.
On the list of recent posts, this thread is shown to have had a reply at 6:15 AM today. However, the only posts prior to the one I am writing right now are the ones that the OP & I traded–over two months ago.

What gives?

Deleted a spammer.

Thank you for the clarification, cyberbabe!