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Valve Noise at Startup

Hi all. I have a 2003 Maxima with 82,000 miles. Occasionally when I start it up first thing in the morning I hear a rattle that to me sounds like the valves. It usually lasts less than 2 seconds and then it is fine for the rest of the day. I also get some smoke. This does not happen every day or with any kind of predictability. A few days ago the sound was REALLY loud and it didn’t stop after 5 seconds, and I turned it off. After restarting the engine was fine. I do not live in a cold climate.



A little history: I bought the car new. I have had a problem with sludge in the engine in the past despite 5000 mile oil changes. About a year ago I switched to synthetic oil and I have not noticed sludge on the dip stick since. I have noticed that it is nearly impossible to get an accurate reading on the dip stick. The oil is usually splattered at least 1/4 the way up the dip stick.



Is this a timing chain issue? My local dealership, who I DO NOT trust, recommends new chains, tensioners and guides without looking at it. We have no one locally who specialized in Nissan. Thanks for your thoughts.

I think the timing chains should last quite a long time without replacement. Since you do not trust the dealership anyway find a good independent mechanic to take your car to.

Make sure you put the correct synthetic oil in your car, did you look in the owner’s manual ?

Check the oil with the engine stone cold for a more accurate reading.

Not sure about the noise though, someone with more expertise will have to get back with you.

Thanks for the reply Jeff. I am using 5W 30 as recommended with a Nissan filter. To me it sounds like there isn’t oil at the valves at start up but I am no mechanic. I am in NW Georgia if anyone knows of a good Nissan mechanic.

Are you using OEM oil filters? SOme aftermarket oil filters have a poor anti-drainback valve that allows oil to drain out of the filter when the engine sits. Then it takes a few seconds for the pump to refill the filter and build pressure.

Oil smoke at start up could be drain holes in the cylinder head clogged with sludge. Then too much oil sits in the top of the engine and leaks down the valve stems. It could also be worn valve guides or bad guide seals. I would get a mechanic to take off a valve cover and look for sludge.

The diagnosis of timing chains etc. sounds like nonsense to me.

I have started back using OEM Nissan filter at my last oil change, about 3000 miles ago. Prior to that I was using mostly Fram. I thought they were a reputable manufacturer and easy to find.

I agree with the oil pressure issue. This is why I started back with the OEM filters. The guy that works on my truck suggested switching back. He doesn’t do major mechanical work and suggested finding someone who specializes in Nissan. The noise I heard a few days ago was really bad.

Try the mechanic finder thingy on the CarTalk home page. This isn’t an uncommon car and perhaps a reputable independent mechanic could help you. I know mine could, but I live in KY so afraid I can’t help you there. Good luck.

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Nissan vehicles aren’t so special that you need a Nissan mechanic to work on them. Any good independent mechanic will have no problem working on this vehicle.

You can try changing filter brands to see if that makes a difference. But I seriously doubt it will.

This does not sound like a valve rattle to me and I have to respectfully but strongly disagree that an oil filter has anything to do with a valve rattle. It has zero, zilch, and nada to do wit that. Fram filters are fine so that is not an issue either.

From memory here, it seems to me your engine has solid valve lifters with adjustable lash. This means a rattling valve is not going to shut up in a few seconds no matter what.

JMHO, but the noise is likely one of 2 problems.

  1. The most likely is a timing chain problem; not unheard of on these cars. A worn chain guide causes excess looseness in the chain. The tensioner is oil pressure operated and that’s why the noise and the delay in quietening it down. It takes a few seconds for oil prssure to take the slack out of the chain assembly.

  2. Another possibility is a rod bearing knock. Worn bearings are excessively loose and just like the timing chain tensioner, a few seconds of oil pressure shuts it up.

You state you have had an oil sludge issue. That could very well have contributed to the current problem and in some cases a 5k miles oil change interval is not near often enough. In some cases 3k miles or 3-4 months is required.

I think the dealer you do not trust was steering you in the right direction.
(And for what it’s worth, solid lifter engine should have the valve lash inspected every 30k miles. Look at the underhood sticker and it should give a lash spec. This means they’re adjustable and should be checked on a regular basis.)