3.5 Nissan Engine Noise – Tapping at Cold Start Up

10:34 am Consumer, Drivetrain and Noises, Nissan, Service Writer, Tech/Mechanic


© DenLorsTools.com Summary: In this article we point out a common problem with Nissan automobiles equipped with the 3.5 Liter engine that causes engine tapping noises typically on cold start up. The engine has variable timing cam sprockets, three timing chains, three tensioners and three guides. Vehicles subject to similar issues may include Nissan Altima, Maxima, Murano, 350Z, Infiniti G35, G37, EX, FX, M series and QX4.

Nissan has stated before that a slight tap on cold start up that lasts for only a second is normal and acceptable. The tapping noise the vehicle in this auto repair blog had lasted much longer than that. When the car was allowed to cool down prior to starting, a tapping noise was present as long as the car was kept at idle; when the idle was raised to 1500 RPM’s he tapping would fade away. The noise when listened to with a stethoscope seemed to be coming mainly from the right bank near the firewall. This vehicle had excessive movement in the main timing chain from wear in the chain and guides. The main timing chain tensioner is pushed out to tighten the chain by engine oil pressure. The higher the RPM’s the more oil pressure is supplied. It also ratchets out like a self adjuster (similar to an adjuster for drum brakes) to maintain adjustment as wear occurs. As the chain and guides wear over time it ratchets out further and further. Once there is so much wear that it cannot extend any more, only the oil pressure from the engine pushing the tensioner, can reduce some of the excessive chain movement. That’s why at higher RPM’s the rattling subsides. Also as the engine warms up, more oil is circulated and heat expansion can help to reduce the play somewhat. The simplest way to check for excessive timing chain wear is to remove the rear access cover that will reveal the main timing chain tensioner. If the adjustment seems to be fully extended out of it’s bore – most likely the timing chain and guides have excessive wear causing the problem.


Other Possible Causes

This is not to say that the only possible cause of a rattle upon cold start up is the main timing chain and guides. The most obvious cause of this condition would simply be low oil level. Not surprising, if there’s not enough oil circulating in the engine it will make noise! Also an engine that hasn’t had regular oil changes can become sludged and oil passages, including the one that leads to the timing chain tensioner can become restricted. Also Nissan has had some problems with variable timing sprockets making noise sometimes and some tensioners that weren’t up to par. It’s important to diagnose the particular problem at hand and not assume that this is definitely the cause, but checking for a loose main timing chain is one of the most logical places to start.

The Fix

The confirmed fix for the car in this article (2004 Maxima 101,000 miles) was the primary timing chain, guides and tensioner. The job normally calls for about 11 book hours which includes removing the exhaust, starter, AC compressor and upper oil pan. The repair was done without removing those components which saved a lot of time.

113 Responses
  1. Nicole Coleman :

    Date: May 1, 2015 @ 12:23 pm

    after driving a car 2008 Nissan Altima 6 cylinder I hear a ticking noise once the car is off someone told me I may have sludge in my engine should I do it engine flush please help thank you

  2. Nicole Coleman :

    Date: May 1, 2015 @ 12:26 pm

    I have a 2008 Nissan Altima the six cylinder I hear noise ticking noise when I stop the car the car is off after driving I will hear a ticking noise

  3. Jonn :

    Date: May 13, 2015 @ 8:14 am

    I almost bought this car thinking it was reliable because it was a Nissan. I was aware that Renault had some influence but I dismissed it thinking it wouldn’t affect reliability. After reading through this,I’m so glad I avoided this and Nissans in general. Nissans reliability problems since Renault are no myth. Thanks for sharing your stories.

  4. dennisb - Auto Tool Sales :

    Date: May 13, 2015 @ 8:23 am

    I own two Nissan’s. A 2013 Nissan Frontier and a 2013 Infiniti G37. Neither one reminds me remotely of a Renault – quality wise or in any other capacity. Any car with over a hundred thousand miles on it is bound to have some issues and no manufacturer is perfect, they all have flaws. Purchase what you like and be prepared to do some repairs, especially if you keep the vehicle long enough.

  5. Danilea :

    Date: September 10, 2015 @ 2:32 am

    I have an 2005 Nissan altima se 3.5l and every time I start it no matter when it has a ticking/ratteling noise that comes and goes! Some days its louder and stays longer! Not only when its cold. I’ve had a couple people listen and got a couple different opinions and i don’t know what one to go with!

  6. dennisb - Auto Tool Sales :

    Date: September 10, 2015 @ 6:59 am

    Danilea, I’m at a disadvantage here, since I don’t have the benefit of hearing the engine before offering an opinion – but from your description I’d say it’s probably a lifter. Good Luck.

  7. truckdriver :

    Date: December 10, 2015 @ 12:48 pm

    I have an 02 Altima 3.5 auto. Mine makes almost the same noise as timimg tensioners, but only while driving, not while at idle. It’s the loudest when cold, but will sometimes do it very quietly while at cruising speed. Step on the gas good and it goes away. if you barely feather the throttle it will do it. I thought it might be torque converter, but it’s definitely coming from passenger side of car. I’m on the road now but my girlfriend said that the CEL light is now on. If you have any ideas I would appreciate them. Thank you.

  8. dennisb - Auto Tool Sales :

    Date: December 10, 2015 @ 2:37 pm

    Possibly lifters. I’d check the code and go from there. May or may not be related, but you won’t know until you check. Good Luck.

  9. jay :

    Date: February 25, 2016 @ 9:59 am

    After buying a 2012 Nissan Maxima ,I started hearing a tapping/clanking type noise that only was heard at a cold startup and at a idle that would go away once I was driving ,but as soon as I would park it and start it back up ,again the tapping/clinging noise was noticeable ,but as before only @ a idle or upon starting it up to let the engine warm up. We took it to a Nissan Dealership ,but they acted like they couldn’t hear it ,so I tried 2 other Dealerships & after I informed them about the “TSB” saying that there were problems w the #1 & sometimes #2 “Main Bearing” on the 09-14 3.5 Maxima’s. After the dealership replaced several parts like the belt tensioner ,alt ect. It was in fact the #1 main bearing. As the TSB Stated!

  10. dennisb - Auto Tool Sales :

    Date: February 25, 2016 @ 10:01 am

    Thanks for the post.

  11. Dustin Moore :

    Date: August 3, 2016 @ 6:28 pm

    Hey, on cold start only, I have a more than tap, less than hard knock in the timing chain area of my 05 Altima 3.5 but the sound goes away after less than 2 minutes and doesn’t return until next day (or extremely reduced in volume) no matter how many times I restart in the day. I am also getting an “A” camshaft position timing over-advanced code (p0011). My question is, is there any real fix to this without tearing into the timing case (like is something plugged up? the car sat for almost 3 years) and is it safe to drive until I can have a timing chain job done on it? Thanks for all the responses!

  12. dennisb - Auto Tool Sales :

    Date: August 4, 2016 @ 9:14 am

    When there’s noise there’s wear occurring and 2 minutes is a long time for this to be going on. The code may be from excessive play (or movement) caused from the chain being loose. Sorry no ban aids. Good Luck.