Ford Thunderbird Cold Start Clatter Noise

We have and enjoy our 2003 Ford thunderbird. It has the 3.9L v8. Great fun except for the first 3 seconds after starting. When you start it after it sits for more than three hours or so, it has a loud engine clatter for just a few seconds. Then it’s fine and rides great with no other noise. It certainly appears that it is not getting lubrication for that first few seconds.
Any idea what it is? Should I be concerned ? I have heard suggestions like, change the oil filter, variable timing chain, and valve seals. Please help !

My first thought was piston slap, but the 3.9L isn’t known to have that problem.
It sounds like a collapsing lifter. Hydraulic lifters (or tappets) are comprised of parts that, when the engine is running, become filled with oil and expand to take up the valvetrain “play” between the cam lobes and the valve stems. Typically when you start the engine any that aren’t full of oil (if the fill orafice is in the open position they can drain) reengorge immediately. If some are gummed up it may take a moment to get them reexpanded.

Parts stores have addititves designed to clean out the lubrication system. Try one and see if it helps.

I have an '04 T’bird which has the same motor and so far have not experienced your problem. The idle is fast for a few minutes post cold start on my bird, but no clatter. It seems like the oil isn’t getting up to the top of the motor quickly. You should be using 5W-20 oil and it should be thin enough to flow quickly. You might have some sludge blocking some oil passages. What is the mileage on the car, and how is it driven? Some T’birds sit in garages a lot.

If this were my bird with this noise I’d switch to full synthetic oil. I might also consider an additive that claims to adhere to metal and offer more protection on cold starts. There isn’t much you can do about sludge, but more frequent oil changes may be helpful. An 0W-20 full synthetic might flow better, clean out some sludge, and get to the upper part of the motor quicker to reduce the clatter.

I have some noisy lifters on another car and that noise doesn’t bother me much as long as it goes away quickly, is only on cold starts, and doesn’t get louder. If the gets worse then I get concerned.

Thanks for the input The car has about 18,000 miles on it. I have just had the oil changed a couple times, with different filters to see if it would help. No luck so far. I will try the synthetic oil !

A 2003 model with only 18k miles could very well be suffering from some engine sludge. Sludge may cause a lash adjuster rattle, cam chain rattle due to the tensioner, etc, etc.

Without being inside of the engine it’s impossible to know, but if the engine oil has become coked (meaning hardened beyond sludge) no amount of oil changing or oil type may cure this.
It may require several oil changes with a strong additive (SeaFoam, Berryman B-12, etc) to clear any problem up; assuming it can be cleared up.

I’ve seen a few extremely low miles engines (20-25k) that were horribly coked up and beyond redemption but I’m inclined to think your engine has not reached this level yet.

What would I do if the car were mine as of today and I knew the story on it? The oil pan would come off for a look-see. I’d just have to know what it looked like in there.
If there’s sludge and/or oil coking present in the pan then it’s likely present up through the entire valve train.

bjyetter, 18K miles is about 2K per year. My bird has 62K miles. Are you the original owner? And do you know the service history of the car? With such low miles per year I wonder if the oil was changed frequently enough?

If someone let the oil sit in the car for 6K miles that is 3 years and perhaps this is part of the problem.

Didnt see all the service records but there were several oil changes. Not the original owner. We’ve only put $1200 miles on it. Ours sits in the garage / storage for 6- 7 months since we are in Minnesota.

My bird is not used much in the winter either, NE PA area. I do take if for a mid winter spin once or twice a winter when there roads are are free of slush and snow. I also use a battery tender charger in the winter as the battery seems to run down if not charged every 60 days. A short period of valve clatter after a long period of not running isn’t anything I’d be concerned about. If the same clatter occurs after the car has been sitting for just an hour or so and then started, that would worry me more.

I put less than 4K miles on my bird a year and I change the oil once a year in October and so far all is going well with it. I’d suggest at least a once a year oil change regardless of miles driven, and use the 5W-20 weight recommended for the car.

Try a different brand of oil filter. Yours may have a substandard ‘anti-drainback’ valve. I had a similar problem, which went away when I switched to a Wix brand oil filter. Try synthetic oil, as some else suggested. I’d personally recommend Mobil-1 or Valvoline Synpower.

thanks oblivion. I did try Motorcraft and Napa Gold.(which is made by Wix). That has the check ball and coil spring instead of the motorcraft leaf spring.

I’d bet what you’re hearing on startup is timing chain rattle that goes away with oil pressure.


Do you know of any fix?