Engine Troubleshoot

Car Engine Knock on Startup(What Are The Causes and Solutions)?

Car Engine Knock on Startup

A knocking sound on startup is usually characterized by a pinging or tapping noise coming from the engine, that may get louder when you increase the engine revs. However, in most cases, the knocking sound goes away on its own after a few minutes, and the engine runs smoothly afterward.

In this article we’ll look at the main causes of engine knocking on startup and investigate the possible causes and the techniques used to diagnose and repair the problem

Why Does My Car Engine Knock on Startup Then It Goes Away?

Some of the most common causes of engine knocking on startup include low quality fuel, carbon buildup, worn-out bearings and incorrect engine timing. Other factors like low oil levels, sticky lifters, and piston slap can also contribute to engine knocking. If left unchecked, engine knocking can cause long-term damage to your car’s engine, so it’s important to address the issue as soon as possible.

When a car engine knocks on startup and then goes away, it can be a worrying experience for the driver. However, there are several reasons why this happens, and many of them are not serious and are easy to fix.

Here are some of the common causes of engine knock on startup:

Cause 1. Low-quality fuel

When you use fuel with a lower octane rating than your engine was designed to burn, it can ignite spontaneously when subjected to too much pressure. This can cause the fuel to ignite before the spark plug fires, leading to engine knock.

Engine knock occurs when the air/fuel mixture in the combustion chamber ignites spontaneously, rather than being ignited by the spark plug. This can cause a knocking or pinging sound, which can be particularly noticeable on startup.

Low-quality fuel can be a contributing factor to engine knock, as it can ignite more easily than higher-quality fuel.

Higher-octane fuel is designed to resist spontaneous ignition, which can help prevent engine knock. If your engine is designed to run on higher-octane fuel and you’re using a lower-octane fuel, you may hear engine knock on startup or during acceleration.

Using the wrong fuel can cause damage to your engine over time, so it’s important to use the right type of fuel for your vehicle.

Cause 2. Incorrect ignition timing

If your engine’s ignition timing is off, it can cause the fuel to ignite at the wrong time, leading to engine knock.

The ignition timing refers to the precise moment when the spark plug fires in the combustion chamber. If the ignition timing is off, it can cause the fuel to ignite at the wrong time, leading to engine knock.

When the fuel ignites at the wrong time, it can cause a rapid increase in pressure within the combustion chamber, which can result in a knocking or pinging sound.

This can be particularly noticeable on startup, as the engine is just beginning to run and any issues may be more apparent.

Incorrect ignition timing can be caused by a variety of factors, including a faulty distributor or timing belt, worn spark plugs, or problems with the ignition system. 

Cause 3. Worn engine components

Over time, the moving parts in your engine can wear due to normal use and exposure to heat and friction. This can cause the clearances between the parts to become larger, which can lead to engine knock on startup.

For example, worn bearings can cause the crankshaft to move around more than it should, which can lead to knocking sounds.

Similarly, worn piston rings can allow too much oil to enter the combustion chamber, which can cause the fuel to ignite too early and result in engine knock.

Worn engine components can also cause other issues, such as reduced engine power and increased fuel consumption. It’s important to replace worn components as needed to prevent engine knock and other problems.

If you hear engine knock on startup or during acceleration, it’s possible that worn engine components may be the cause and you should investigate the problem further.

Cause 4. Sticky lifters

Lifter noise is a common cause of engine knock on startup.

Lifters are small hydraulic components that help to control the movement of the valves in your engine. Over time, lifters can become sticky due to the type of oil that is used, the condition of the oil pump, overall mileage, cam position on stopping, and even any recent work that involves moving them.

When lifters become sticky, they may not be able to maintain proper contact with the camshaft, which can cause a knocking or ticking sound on startup.

This sound is often more noticeable when the engine is cold, as the oil is thicker and may not be able to flow as easily to the lifters.

Sticky lifters can be caused by a variety of factors, including the use of low-quality oil, infrequent oil changes, and engine wear and tear.

To prevent engine knock caused by sticky lifters, it’s important to use high-quality oil and to change it regularly according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Cause 5. Carbon deposits

Over time, carbon can build up in your engine’s combustion chamber, which can cause knocking sounds on startup.

Carbon deposits can form on the pistons, cylinder walls, and valves, which can cause hotspots that induce pre-ignition or detonation, two types of engine knock.

When the fuel ignites too early due to hotspots caused by carbon buildup, it can cause a rapid increase in pressure within the combustion chamber, resulting in a knocking or pinging sound.

This can be particularly noticeable on startup, as the engine is just beginning to run and any issues may be more apparent.

Carbon deposits can be caused by a variety of factors, including the use of low-quality fuel, infrequent oil changes, and engine wear and tear.

To prevent engine knock caused by carbon buildup, it’s important to use high-quality fuel and to change your oil regularly according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Using fuel additives or having your engine professionally cleaned may also help to remove carbon deposits and prevent future buildup.

Cause 6. Piston slap

When you start or accelerate the engine, you may hear a “piston slap” engine noise.

Piston slap is a type of engine knock that occurs when the piston moves within the cylinder bore and causes a knocking or tapping sound. This can be particularly noticeable on startup, as the engine is just beginning to run and any issues may be more apparent.

Piston slap is often caused by worn-out pistons or worn-out spark plugs. When the pistons become worn, they may move more than they should within the cylinder bore, which can cause a knocking sound.

Worn-out spark plugs may not ignite the fuel properly, which can cause the fuel to ignite too early and result in engine knock.

Piston slap can also be caused by other factors, such as cold weather or improper engine assembly.

To prevent engine knock caused by piston slap, it’s important to have your engine inspected regularly and to replace worn-out parts as needed.

If you hear engine knock on startup or during acceleration, it’s possible that piston slap may be the cause and you should have your vehicle inspected by a qualified mechanic.

What Are The Different Types of Engine Knocking Sounds?

Engine knocking sounds can vary in intensity, frequency, and pitch, depending on the underlying cause.

Here are some different knocking sounds that you may hear when there is a problem with your engine that you are trying to troubleshoot:

  1. Pinging: Pinging is a high-pitched metallic rattling or tinkling sound that occurs during combustion. It typically indicates detonation or pre-ignition, where the air-fuel mixture ignites before the spark plug fires. Pinging is often heard under heavy load or high engine speeds.
  2. Rapping or Tapping: This type of knocking sound is characterized by a repetitive, tapping noise that resembles a metal-on-metal impact. It can indicate worn or damaged engine components, such as piston rings, connecting rod bearings, or valve train components. Rapping or tapping sounds are usually more pronounced at low engine speeds or during idle.
  3. Knocking or Thumping: Knocking or thumping noises are deep, heavy sounds resembling a knock or thud. They can suggest problems with the engine’s bottom end, such as worn crankshaft bearings, connecting rod bearings, or excessive piston-to-cylinder clearance. Knocking or thumping sounds are often heard during acceleration or under load.

Engine knocking sounds can have many causes. It’s important to be able to identify the type of engine knocking sound you’re hearing, as each can indicate a different problem with your car’s engine. Here are some of the most common types of engine knocking sounds:

  1. Detonation Knock: This is a sharp, metallic knocking sound that occurs when the air/fuel mixture in the combustion chamber ignites spontaneously, rather than being ignited by the spark plug. Detonation knock can be caused by a variety of factors, including low-quality fuel, incorrect ignition timing, and carbon buildup in the combustion chamber.
  2. Pre-Ignition Knock: This is a knocking sound that occurs when the fuel in the combustion chamber ignites before the spark plug fires. Pre-ignition knock can be caused by a variety of factors, including overheating, incorrect ignition timing, and carbon buildup in the combustion chamber.
  3. Rod Knock: This is a knocking sound that occurs when the metal bearings that connect the engine’s connecting rods to the crankshaft become worn or damaged. Rod knock can be caused by a variety of factors, including low oil pressure, insufficient oil, and engine wear and tear.
  4. Piston Slap: This is a knocking or tapping sound that occurs when the piston moves within the cylinder bore. Piston slap can be caused by worn-out pistons or spark plugs, cold weather, or improper engine assembly.
  5. Valve Train Noise: This is a ticking or tapping sound that occurs when the valves in the engine’s cylinder head become worn or damaged. Valve train noise can be caused by a variety of factors, including low oil pressure, insufficient oil, and engine wear and tear.

What Next – How To Diagnose And Repair Engine Knocking On Startup That Goes Away When Driving

If you’re experiencing engine knocking on startup that goes away soon after the engine starts, there are several steps you can take to diagnose and repair the issue.

First, I recommend you start off by carrying out a diagnostic readout of the ECU memory. This can reveal any diagnostic trouble codes (DTCs) that may help you to pinpoint the cause of the knocking.

The most common DTCs are related to the knock sensor, but you may also see codes related to oil pressure, engine misfires and issues with the crankshaft or camshaft sensors. Here are a few common DTCs that may show up:

Diagnostic Trouble Code (DTC)DescriptionRelationship to Knocking Noise
P0325Knock Sensor Circuit MalfunctionA faulty knock sensor can lead to inaccurate detection of engine knock, affecting timing.
P0326Knock Sensor Circuit Range/PerformanceA knock sensor circuit that is outside the expected range can result in timing issues.
P0327Knock Sensor Circuit Low InputLow input from the knock sensor may cause improper timing, leading to engine knock.
P0328Knock Sensor Circuit High InputHigh input from the knock sensor may cause timing adjustments that result in knocking.
P0329Knock Sensor Circuit IntermittentIntermittent signal from the knock sensor can lead to inconsistent timing adjustments.
P0330Knock Sensor 2 Circuit Malfunction (Bank 2)A malfunctioning knock sensor 2 (on Bank 2) can cause inaccurate timing adjustments.
P0331Knock Sensor 2 Circuit Range/Performance (Bank 2)A range or performance issue with knock sensor 2 (Bank 2) can affect timing control.
P0332Knock Sensor 2 Circuit Low Input (Bank 2)Low input from knock sensor 2 (Bank 2) can cause improper timing, resulting in knock.
P0333Knock Sensor 2 Circuit High Input (Bank 2)High input from knock sensor 2 (Bank 2) can lead to timing adjustments that cause knock.
P0334Knock Sensor 2 Circuit Intermittent (Bank 2)Intermittent signal from knock sensor 2 (Bank 2) can result in inconsistent timing.
P0340Camshaft Position Sensor A Circuit (Bank 1 or Single Sensor) MalfunctionA faulty camshaft position sensor can cause incorrect timing, leading to knock.
P0345Camshaft Position Sensor A Circuit (Bank 2) MalfunctionA malfunctioning camshaft position sensor can impact timing control and contribute to knock.
Diagnostic trouble codes associated with Engine Knocking On Startup

These DTCs are associated with issues such as malfunctioning knock sensors, improper input or range from the sensors, or problems with the camshaft position sensor. These issues can affect the engine’s timing control, leading to improper combustion and engine knock. Proper diagnosis and repair of these components are necessary to address the underlying cause of the knocking noise.

If there are no OBD codes, or if they don’t reveal any obvious cause of the knocking then there are some other diagnostic steps you can follow.

  1. Identify the type of engine knocking sound: As mentioned earlier, there are different types of engine knocking sounds that can indicate different problems with your car’s engine. Try to identify the type of engine knocking sound you’re hearing, as this can help you diagnose the issue more accurately.
  2. Check the oil level and quality: Low oil pressure or insufficient oil can cause engine knocking on startup. Check the oil level and quality, and change it if necessary.
  3. Check for carbon buildup: Carbon buildup in the combustion chamber can cause engine knocking on startup. Consider using fuel additives or having your engine professionally cleaned to remove carbon buildup.
  4. Check the spark plugs: Worn-out spark plugs can cause engine knocking on startup. Check the spark plugs and replace them if necessary.
  5. Check the timing belt: A worn or damaged timing belt can cause engine knocking on startup. Check the timing belt and replace it if necessary.
  6. Check the engine bearings: Worn-out engine bearings can cause engine knocking on startup. Have your engine inspected by a qualified mechanic to determine if this is the issue.
  7. Check the valve train: Worn or damaged valves can cause engine knocking on startup. If you are not experienced in engine rebuilding then have your engine inspected by a qualified mechanic to determine if this is the issue.
  8. Consider using higher-octane fuel: If your engine requires higher-octane fuel, using a lower-octane fuel can cause engine knocking on startup. Consider using a higher-octane fuel to prevent this issue.

If you’re unable to diagnose or repair the issue on your own, it’s best to have your engine inspected by a qualified mechanic.

They can diagnose the issue more accurately and recommend the necessary repairs to prevent any long term damage to your car’s engine.

How Can You Help Prevent Engine Knock On Startup?

1. Use the Recommended Fuel Octane Rating

Always use the fuel octane rating recommended by your vehicle manufacturer. Using a lower octane fuel than what is required can increase the likelihood of engine knock. Higher octane fuel helps resist premature combustion and reduces the risk of knock.

2. Avoid Prolonged Idling

Limit excessive idling of your vehicle. Extended periods of idling can lead to a buildup of carbon deposits in the combustion chamber, which can contribute to engine knock. Instead, turn off the engine if you anticipate a stationary period of more than a minute.

3. Regularly Maintain the Engine

Follow the recommended maintenance schedule for your vehicle, including regular oil changes, air filter replacements, and spark plug inspections. Keeping the engine in good condition helps ensure proper combustion and reduces the chances of knock.

4. Use High-Quality Fuel

Opt for reputable fuel stations that provide high-quality fuel. Poor-quality fuel may contain contaminants that can affect combustion and increase the likelihood of engine knock. Choose fuel from trusted sources to minimize the risk.

5. Avoid Overloading or Overworking the Engine

Be mindful of excessive loads or heavy towing. Putting excessive strain on the engine can lead to increased heat and pressure, which can contribute to knock. Stay within the recommended weight limits and avoid overworking the engine unnecessarily.

6. Maintain Proper Cooling System Function

Ensure your vehicle’s cooling system is in good working order. Overheating can lead to engine knock, so regularly check coolant levels, inspect hoses for leaks or cracks, and ensure the radiator is clean and free from obstructions.

7. Address Engine Performance Issues Promptly

If you notice any signs of reduced engine performance, unusual noises, or vibrations, have your vehicle inspected by a qualified mechanic. Ignoring potential problems can lead to increased engine stress and potentially result in engine knock.

By following these preventive measures, you can minimize the risk of engine knock on startup.

However, normal engine wear and tear can still cause engine problems, even if you take good care of your vehicle.

If you experience persistent or severe engine knock despite these precautions, it is advisable to have your vehicle checked by a mechanic to help diagnose and address any problems before they cause long term damage.

FAQs

1. Can Engine Knocking Cause Permanent Damage?

Yes, engine knocking can cause permanent damage to your vehicle’s engine. If left unchecked, engine knocking can lead to serious problems such as cracked pistons, damaged bearings, and even engine failure. It is important to address engine knocking as soon as possible to prevent further damage to your engine.

2. Can Weather Conditions Affect Engine Knocking?

Yes, weather conditions can affect engine knocking. Extreme temperatures can cause changes in the air-fuel mixture, which can lead to engine knocking. High humidity can also cause engine knocking by affecting the combustion process. It is important to be aware of the weather conditions and to take steps to prevent engine knocking, such as using a higher octane fuel or having your vehicle’s timing adjusted.

About the author

The Motor Guy

The Motor Guy is a passionate car enthusiast with a love for troubleshooting and diagnosing all sorts of vehicle problems.

With years of experience in OBD diagnostics, he has become an expert in identifying and solving complex automotive issues.

Through TheMotorGuy.com, he shares his knowledge and expertise with others, providing valuable insights and tips on how to keep your vehicle running smoothly.

Qualifications:
- 12 years experience in the automotive industry
- ASE Master Automobile Technician
- A Series: Automobile and Light Truck Certification, A9 Light Vehicle Diesel Engine Certification
- Bachelor's Degree in Information Systems