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What the? Car in idle sounds like rocks in a tumbler - this can't be good, right?

Help, please! 2000 Ford Taurus w/ 233,000 miles. Yep, it’s been good to me, and I’ve been good to it! However, the romance may be over now. There is a not so pleasing sound of rocks in a rock tumbler when the car is in idle, or in drive waiting at stop lights. Doesn’t matter if I just started the vehicle or it’s been running awhile. Noise is definitely coming from the engine and not at the rear of the vehicle (just had the muffler replaced - noise was present before and after). I’m also burning through oil. No tell tale puddles under the car though. Any thoughts, hints, tips, suggestions, or winning lottery numbers?

It sounds like the valves are rattling. This may be an indication of bad oil pressure or gummed up oil passages. Get the oil pressure checked with a calibrated mechanical gauge. If it tests decent, then you may have gummed up passages or lifters. An oil flush may clear it up. If the pressure check finds low oil pressure, start shopping for a replacement.

Is it Vulcan or OHC motor?


Cracked piston maybe? I’ve been told it sounds like a can full of gravel. Don’t worry, it will stop soon if that is the problem. As in boom, clank, crunch - all stop…

Run a compression check, that will pinpoint the cylinder. It may be valves or piston. If you can add air to the cylinder, it should hiss through the intake or exhaust if it is a valve. With 233K, it may be time to find the nearest junkyard. (Taps plays softly in the background…)

The other responses probably hit the problem, but if you are lucky, it may be a broken motor mount allowing the exhaust system to bang against the undercarriage or the engine to be banging against the frame. If this is the case, you may be able to squeeze out few more miles. I don’t think I would have an engine rebuilt–just keep adding oil.

Others have covered some of the possible bases so I will just add a timing chain to the list of maybes. Hopefully it will be something like a rattling converter heat shield. Knock on wood.

You might try wrapping the tailpipe with a heavy rag or towel and then whacking it briskly with a hammer or the edge of a balled up fist. If you hear any rattling then it could be the heat shield.

So, the oil consumption is up and the motor is making noises . . .

Bad bearings are a possibility

Is it a low pitched noise? If so, you might want to look for a cracked flexplate

Have you had the oil pressure tested?

Just how much oil are you using?

I remember a vehicle a few years back that was rattling, because the starter drive was loose. It started the engine just fine, but then the starter drive was just rattling back and forth at idle. Replacing the starter took care of the noise

My money is on low oil pressure not keeping the hydraulic lifters full at idle and allowing the valvetrain to rattle. Some bearing knock might be mixed in too. The other possibilities mentioned are all possible, but that’s where I’d start… with an oil pressure test. A compression test would be a great idea too.

By the way, just how much oil are you “burning through”?

Post back with the results. And, just in case, start shopping for a replacement.

Timing chain loose and flopping around at idle…? One of the belt-driven accessories coming apart…?

Thanks for all the input! I’m just now starting to track oil consumption, but if I guestimate, I would say burning about 3 1/2 to 4 quarts in about 2500ish miles. Up to this point I’ve never had to add oil between oil changes. I’ve not had an oil pressure check yet. No low pitch noises. The drive belt was replaced about 9 months ago. My daily drive has changed quite a bit w/ a new job requiring lots of highway driving (and therefore, lots of cruise control). I’m taking it in this week for diagnostic. I always like to have an idea of what possiblities are beforehand. My gut tells me it’s retirement time, but wouldn’t it be great if it was something relatively painless?!

UPDATE: The rocks in a tumbler turned out to be bearings in the water pump. Replaced the pump and now I’m noise free!! Compression check and oil pressure check - no issues. I was told that older engines “just burn more oil” and to check oil level every 1,000 miles. Thanks again to everyone!

Good for you Bridget! Glad you got the problem solved.

By your description, it wasn’t looking good. At first I mean. One thing you could ask your mechanic if something like this happens again is to use a mechanic’s stethoscope to narrow down where the sound is coming from. Doing that would have likely pinpointed it as a water pump problem.

Usually as long as the oil consumption is no more than one quart per 500 miles, esp on older, higher mileage cars like this, the recommendation is to just monitor the oil level and top off as needed. Monitor frequently enough so the oil level doesn’t get more than 1/2 quart low. The Taurus is a good car and hopefully there’s a lot of more miles in it for you. To increase the odds, be sure to keep the owner’s manual suggested routine maintenance up to date. Best of luck.

Edit: I should add that one time my Ford truck developed a similar symptom, sounding like rocks in a tumbler, and that turned out to be the same thing. I noticed what it was straight away by a visual inspection as the engine fan was wobbling. You probably have an electric fan, but on that older Ford engine, the fan pulley is directly connected directly to the water pump, so when the water pump bearing failed, it showed up as the fan wobbling.

Vulcan motors are known for leaking timing covers. The labor is about 1 additional hr vs doing wp alone. But maybe your motor is one of the few that does not leak.

I would check the oil weekly at least…

I’d check the oil every time you fill up the gas tank until you feel comfortable about the rate of oil burn. That’s how I managed to save my '88 Supra.

A water (pump) that wasn’t leaking when the bearings were worn so badly that the noise was annoying… That’s unusual, isn’t it?

Had it happen to a Toyota. Looking down on the pump with the engine running, you could see the water pump pulley dancing all around, but not leaking a drop of coolant. The bearings were not just bad, but almost non-existent. Strange, but true.

“I would say burning about 3 1/2 to 4 quarts in about 2500ish miles.”

If your guesstimate is correct, that means you are burning a qt every 600-800 miles, more or less.

I would ignore the suggestion to check your oil every 1,000 miles–unless you want to definitely cause the engine to self-destruct. You should never allow the oil level to fall more than 1 qt below the full mark, and checking it only every 1,000 miles will surely cause the level to fall more than 1 qt low.

Bear in mind that oil consumption can suddenly increase, so that 600-800 miles per quart could easily become 300-400 miles per quart. As was said already, you need to check/correct the oil level once each week if you want to get some additional miles out of this car.

And, I would strongly suggest that you replace the PCV valve and the hose leading to the PCV valve. When these parts are gunked-up, one of the major effects is vastly increased oil consumption.

Perhaps you can reduce the rate of oil consumption (or at least keep it from getting worse) if you service the PCV system. And, this is a VERY cheap repair job that could yield very good results.

BustedKnuckles and Wesw - my plan is to channel my uncle and have “Sunday Service” (checking all the fluids, tire pressure, quick clean the wiperblades, quick check lights, etc.). Also thinking about switching over to high mileage oil.

Cavell - thanks, I will have that checked as well.

VDC Driver - I’ve had the PCV valve replaced twice (every 100K miles per the maintenance manual). You’re right, it’s cheap enough and will definitely have it checked again for grins.

I’m hoping to keep my baby running for awhile :slight_smile: It’s funny, everytime I rent a new car for long trips I love all the newness, but I still measure it up to my Taurus and find I’m quite happy w/ my old friend.