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Old 11-05-2017, 07:09 PM   #1
rsg3
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Default Rattle/Clatter at idle

Whenever my car (99 SL, 111k miles) is warmed up, and therefore idling normally around 850-900rpm, I get a pretty loud (though not totally consistent) rattle from the accessory belt side of the engine. It seems worse when the ambient temperature is lower.

I've never been able to totally pinpoint the source. But I'm thinking it has to be the tensioner and/or idler pulley.

Before I owned it, someone swapped in a '97 engine because a previous owner killed the OE engine. I'm pretty sure the tensioner is not OEM, because it had a 15mm bolt instead of the OEM 14mm bolt (I think?) when I took off the belt to do the water pump (about a year, ~3k miles ago).

The swap was like 20-30k miles ago. I'd have to check records to be sure.

The only other thing that occurs to me is that the belt is the wrong size. Mine's unusual in that it has A/C, but no power steering. So I wonder if it's off by a few millimeters and is causing the tensioner to be noisy.

I hesitate to throw a new idler, tensioner, and belt at it just as a test. This is a car that I bought for $1200 three years ago, and I know the tensioner is a hassle to replace. I struggled enough with the water pump & starter.

Above idle though, the thing runs perfectly and I don't want to replace the car if I don't have to. But I also don't want the thing to rattle itself apart and leave me stranded in the winter.

Thoughts?

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Old 11-05-2017, 07:16 PM   #2
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Default Re: Rattle/Clatter at idle

"But I also don't want the thing to rattle itself apart and leave me stranded in the winter."
That's the situation facing you.
If it were me, I would purchase a genuine AC Delco belt tensioner. I finally did that after using at least 2 other brands and those failed easily within a year of installation. Biting the bullet, and paying more for a tensioner yielded ME much, because yes, it is not the most pleasant item to replace, I have never had to replace it again.
No power steering?? Did someone remove the pump or just never put one on when the 97 engine was installed? Are the PS hydraulic hoses still feeding into the steering rack? Plugged off so no moisture or junk can get into them, or are they just completely gone?

Last edited by toggenburg; 11-05-2017 at 07:22 PM..

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Old 11-05-2017, 07:22 PM   #3
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Default Re: Rattle/Clatter at idle

Quote:
Originally Posted by toggenburg View Post
But I also don't want the thing to rattle itself apart and leave me stranded in the winter.
Right. This is why I would like to try to diagnose and isolate the problem rather than just throw parts at an aging, inexpensive car.

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Old 11-05-2017, 07:32 PM   #4
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Default Re: Rattle/Clatter at idle

Correct, so to help you out, have the car in Park, open the hood, and watch the serpentine belt. At idle you should still see some bouncing of the belt midway. OR, turn off engine, open hood, and by pushing down on that belt, kinda midway from front to back, it should hardly flex if the thing is still good....if it moves like more than 3/4" downwards, it is most likely the tensioner. IF indeed the correct belt is NOT on the tensioner, you might have a tensioner slapping noise if that belt is either too long or stretched out.
Can you make out what numbers are stamped on the belt??

https://www.amazon.com/ACDelco-38112...ype=automotive

$62.99

Wait, 111K miles on it, and in a years time you have put only 3,000 miles??

Unfortunately, we have no carpooling, or public transportation to get me to & from work, and as a result, I put on at lease 2K per month on my car, and even more miles added onto my other 3 vehicles through out the year.

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Old 11-05-2017, 10:02 PM   #5
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Default Re: Rattle/Clatter at idle

Have you run the engine with the serp belt off, to verify the noise really is coming from something down there? Even when the engine is fully warmed it won't hurt it to idle it for a minute or less without the water pump turning.

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Old 11-06-2017, 10:49 AM   #6
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Default Re: Rattle/Clatter at idle

Could it be the timing chain? Our 99 sl2 is noisy at idle and 2600, but fine otherwise.

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Old 11-06-2017, 03:44 PM   #7
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Default Re: Rattle/Clatter at idle

Quote:
Originally Posted by rsg3 View Post
I'm pretty sure the tensioner is not OEM, because it had a 15mm bolt instead of the OEM 14mm bolt (I think?) when I took off the belt to do the water pump (about a year, ~3k miles ago). . . . The only other thing that occurs to me is that the belt is the wrong size. Mine's unusual in that it has A/C, but no power steering. So I wonder if it's off by a few millimeters and is causing the tensioner to be noisy.
A few people have had noise when there was a mismatch between an aftermarket tensioner's pulley diameter and the prescribed belt. The parts books assume certain size pulleys in determining the belt length

If you find some of those threads, you'll see the pulley diameter mentioned for the OE tensioner
Quote:
Originally Posted by billr
Have you run the engine with the serp belt off, to verify the noise really is coming from something down there? Even when the engine is fully warmed it won't hurt it to idle it for a minute or less without the water pump turning.
This would be a good first step.

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Old 03-11-2018, 06:00 PM   #8
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Default Re: Rattle/Clatter at idle

I have a similar problem but I've checked the pulleys and tensioner by taking the belt off to eliminate problems one at a time and no change. I also removed the power steering pump due to sounding like it's coming from that area with no change. It almost sounds like the water pump bearing from YouTube videos but it's coming from the drivers side. The pumps on the passenger side tho. That eliminates those. Still has it and it's getting louder in the past few days. I'm almost afraid to keep driving it which is kind of a "Chuckle" but I'm getting a little scared here. The timing chain and gears were replaced in Nov. last year. I hoping it's not a cam or rod bearing, which was my thought the first time. Sounds like it's coming from the head somewhere. Can't find any more things to eliminate the cause. It quiets on rev-up but is still there. It's louder when it returns to Idle. I'm taking it to my mechanic tomorrow and have him listen to it to see if he has an answer to this rattle.

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Old 03-11-2018, 06:20 PM   #9
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Default Re: Rattle/Clatter at idle

Pardon me for suggesting, ...
Make sure it is not the heat shield for the exhaust pipe. The aluminum corrodes at the steel rivets and drops one end of the shield onto the exhaust pipe.
The rattle has fooled me into thinking a timing chain was failing.

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Old 03-11-2018, 07:28 PM   #10
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Default Re: Rattle/Clatter at idle

Quote:
Originally Posted by rsg3 View Post
Whenever my car (99 SL, 111k miles) is warmed up, and therefore idling normally around 850-900rpm, I get a pretty loud (though not totally consistent) rattle from the accessory belt side of the engine. It seems worse when the ambient temperature is lower.

I've never been able to totally pinpoint the source. But I'm thinking it has to be the tensioner and/or idler pulley.

Before I owned it, someone swapped in a '97 engine because a previous owner killed the OE engine. I'm pretty sure the tensioner is not OEM, because it had a 15mm bolt instead of the OEM 14mm bolt (I think?) when I took off the belt to do the water pump (about a year, ~3k miles ago).

The swap was like 20-30k miles ago. I'd have to check records to be sure.

The only other thing that occurs to me is that the belt is the wrong size. Mine's unusual in that it has A/C, but no power steering. So I wonder if it's off by a few millimeters and is causing the tensioner to be noisy.

I hesitate to throw a new idler, tensioner, and belt at it just as a test. This is a car that I bought for $1200 three years ago, and I know the tensioner is a hassle to replace. I struggled enough with the water pump & starter.

Above idle though, the thing runs perfectly and I don't want to replace the car if I don't have to. But I also don't want the thing to rattle itself apart and leave me stranded in the winter.

Thoughts?
If you have a 1999 SL, which means you would have manual steering, all manual options, and no A/C, the 1997 engine MAY have came from an SL1.(Which could have power steering & A/C).

Used engines typically aren't sold with the accessories still bolted to them(P/S, A/C, Alternator).

So, that definitely is odd, that you would have A/C on the base trim. But, IF my memory serves me correctly, I think AutoZone listed a "non-PS, w/AC" belt, when I got my new belt back in 2016. I removed my A/C system, but kept my P/S for now.(Haven't had any success with "de-powering" the 2001 SC2 rack n pinion assembly in my spare bedroom, yet). I can't clearly recall, because is has been well over a year ago(and 24,000 oil-burning miles ago).

I think Billr mentioned pulling the serpentine belt, and idling the engine, which would be a good start. Simple process of eliminating possible timing chain slap.

Now, as far as the tensioner assembly, they typically last about 150,000-200,000 miles under normal uses. There is a plastic seal, that cracks and splits, when they start going bad(on stock ACDelco units). Moisture is the biggest enemy to them, although non-use will cause the pulley bearings to seize.

You can test the pulley bearing, by spinning it by hand, when you remove the belt.

If the belt is loose, then yes, it will cause squealing. A very high-pitch squeal. You should have less than 1/8" of slack in the longest section of belt, between pulleys, as a general rule of thumb.

Plus, when you remove the belt, you can take it into a parts store and compare it to the proper fitting belt to determine IF the belt is stretched or of incorrect size.

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Old 03-11-2018, 07:35 PM   #11
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Default Re: Rattle/Clatter at idle

Quote:
Originally Posted by Chaz9496 View Post
I have a similar problem but I've checked the pulleys and tensioner by taking the belt off to eliminate problems one at a time and no change. I also removed the power steering pump due to sounding like it's coming from that area with no change. It almost sounds like the water pump bearing from YouTube videos but it's coming from the drivers side. The pumps on the passenger side tho. That eliminates those. Still has it and it's getting louder in the past few days. I'm almost afraid to keep driving it which is kind of a "Chuckle" but I'm getting a little scared here. The timing chain and gears were replaced in Nov. last year. I hoping it's not a cam or rod bearing, which was my thought the first time. Sounds like it's coming from the head somewhere. Can't find any more things to eliminate the cause. It quiets on rev-up but is still there. It's louder when it returns to Idle. I'm taking it to my mechanic tomorrow and have him listen to it to see if he has an answer to this rattle.
Power steering pump bearings make a nasty, high-pitched squeal when they start failing. Alternators will, also. Water pumps will not always make noise, but they will ALWAYS leak coolant out the bearing "weep" hole(which protects the bearing from getting saturated with water and seizing up).

Camshaft and rod bearings will usually get worse, as engine RPM increases. They also tend to make a definitive "knocking" sound, in addition to the vibration caused by the failing bearings.

I would ask your mechanic to make a visual inspection of the engine bay, and check for something having rattled loose, as it doesn't sound like you have a serious engine issue by your description.

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Old 03-12-2018, 07:45 AM   #12
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Default Re: Rattle/Clatter at idle

I apologize by leaving an "S" Series reply here when I have an "L" . I was just looking for a similar problem to mine here. It's a 2.2 non-E Tech BTW. I'm running it over to the shop before work this morning. I'll update when I have something. This is going to be interesting on what this noise sounds like.

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Old 03-12-2018, 05:16 PM   #13
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Default Re: Rattle/Clatter at idle

Quote:
Originally Posted by Chaz9496 View Post
I apologize by leaving an "S" Series reply here when I have an "L" . I was just looking for a similar problem to mine here. It's a 2.2 non-E Tech BTW. I'm running it over to the shop before work this morning. I'll update when I have something. This is going to be interesting on what this noise sounds like.
Yours will likely be the timing chain, as that is the known problem with the L-Series 2.2L Eco-Tec engine.

There is insufficient oil flow, at idle, due to the oil flow hole being drilled too small in the chain tensioner. Once you are off-idle, the sound goes away as oil pressure/flow increases.

Aftermarket replacements have a corrected design that will not cause the timing chain to snap, with a better tensioner and better flow.

Just make sure the mechanic turns the engine over by hand after replacement to confirm there is no binding or resistance, other than compression, as the Eco-Tec is an "interference" engine design(like the Saturn 1.9L). This means the valve lash will interfere with the piston travel, when the cam timing is incorrect, and the result is bent valves/damaged pistons.

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Old 03-12-2018, 08:28 PM   #14
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Default Re: Rattle/Clatter at idle

Sorry, as I stated above the timing chain and gears were replaced 4 mon. ago. He said today that it's the flexplate. He tightened the bolts on it in 2016 due a loose one and was causing a light "ticking" noise like a lifter but this engine doesn't have lifters. Anyway, he said the bolts were loose due to the flexplate probably being cracked. You can feel it when the engines turning on the valve cover. Either way, I'll need to get to the flywheel and check the bolts. Last time he charged me $160 to tighten them. Don't have that right now or plus a flexplate as well.

Last edited by Chaz9496; 03-12-2018 at 08:33 PM.. Reason: changed wording

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Old 03-13-2018, 09:24 AM   #15
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Default Re: Rattle/Clatter at idle

Quote:
Originally Posted by Chaz9496 View Post
Sorry, as I stated above the timing chain and gears were replaced 4 mon. ago. He said today that it's the flexplate. He tightened the bolts on it in 2016 due a loose one and was causing a light "ticking" noise like a lifter but this engine doesn't have lifters. Anyway, he said the bolts were loose due to the flexplate probably being cracked. You can feel it when the engines turning on the valve cover. Either way, I'll need to get to the flywheel and check the bolts. Last time he charged me $160 to tighten them. Don't have that right now or plus a flexplate as well.
My apologies on the timing chain, I just reread your first response and seen they were replaced.

If you need a flywheel/flexplate(automatic transmission?), you can use www.car-part.com to source a used flywheel from a wrecking yard. Should be able to use the flywheel from a 2002-2005 Cavalier/Sunfire Eco-Tec, 2001-2005 Malibu, Grand Am, 2001-2004 Alero, and any year Saturn L-Series. The Vue 2.2L Eco-Tec flywheel may also interchange, since a the Eco-Tec was a "parts bin" engine used across most of GMs brands back then. Just make sure it comes from an Eco-Tec, as the Quad 4(2.4L Twin Cam) and the 2200 SFI were also engine options on some of the non-Saturn brands, back then, as well.

The car may he drivable for a limited amount of time with the cracked/bad flywheel, but continued vibration will disrupt the rear main seal. That will cause a major oil leak. Bearing damage/wear may result from the increased vibration, as well.

Not sure what a used flywheel would run you, but the labor to change it out may get costly because he'll have to separate the engine from the transmission, which will be about probably an 8-10hr job from start to finish.

The flywheel bolts holding it into the crankshaft should have at least blue thread locker compound on them. The torque converter bolts(if applicable for automatic, as it sounds like you have an auto) should have RED thread locking compound on them, to prevent them from backing themselves out.

Re-torqueing them will just cause the problem to come back from centrifugal forces of the spinning and normal vibrations within the engine.

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Old 03-13-2018, 11:20 AM   #16
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Default Re: Rattle/Clatter at idle

"E-Tech?"
Whats this, Variable Valve Timing that saturn secretly used?

Thinking of V-tech?

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Old 03-13-2018, 07:15 PM   #17
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Default Re: Rattle/Clatter at idle

Nope, E-tech...Eco. It's not Echo because there's no "H" in it. It's short for Economy. Just saying due to hearing it as "Echo" Tech which as I'm pointing that out because, how do you get Echo from Eco ? It's actually not pronounced that way. Just drives me "Batty" being called that. lol. OK, another thing, how would you tighten the bolts ? I'm not sure whether it's the torque converter bolts that are coming loose or the crankshaft bolts. The center usually breaks out. From what I've seen on YouTube they're is no torque converter bolts on the outsides, they're bolted in the middle. My mechanic tightened the flywheel bolts 2 years ago, whatever that consists of. Is there an inspection plate or do you get to them via the starter which was my thought. Please correct me if I'm wrong about the bolt location. We're talking about an automatic trans.

Last edited by Chaz9496; 03-13-2018 at 07:21 PM.. Reason: Added Comment

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Old 03-13-2018, 08:12 PM   #18
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Default Re: Rattle/Clatter at idle

I don't have any manuals for the Saturn L-Series, on hand. If my memory recalls, as it has been over 10 years since I worked on wrecking yards and tearing apart cars for a living, there should be an inspection plate at the very base of the engine. It should cover part of the oil pan and bolt to the bottom of the transmission.

If there is no inspection plate, then you may have to remove the starter motor, which is on the front of the engine and buried under the intake manifold.(And Saturn S-Series fans think the 1.9L engine position for the starter is bad....)

Once the starter/inspection cover is removed, you should have at least three torque converter bolts, which will be 18mm 6-point. The engine will need to be rotated, by hand, from the harmonic balancer bolt. They are in the "middle" of the torque converter face.

The flywheel bolts are inaccessible, unless the engine is removed from the transmission assembly. There is a machined center of the torque converter body, that fits dead center into the crankshaft, and through the flywheel assembly.

There will be eight flywheel bolts, with a small, steel ring between them and the actual flywheel assembly. I don't know that the size if those bolts are, off hand. If you mess with the flywheel bolts, make sure you have a helper hold a breaker bar assembly on the balancer bolt. This will prevent the engine from being rotated backwards, which WILL cause potential damage to the timing chain guides and tensioner assembly. Get a Haynes manual, or find the FSM specifications for torqueing these bolts, because too tight will snap them off in the crankshaft, amd too loose will put you right back where you are currently at.

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Old 03-13-2018, 08:17 PM   #19
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Default Re: Rattle/Clatter at idle

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Originally Posted by Jonasan308 View Post
"E-Tech?"
Whats this, Variable Valve Timing that saturn secretly used?

Thinking of V-tech?
Actually, there was a GM "E-Tec" engine family. It was used by their former Korean brand: Daewoo(The Korean assembly plant for Daewoo currently makes the Chevy Aveo models and ships them over here, with a variant of the original Daewoo engine family).

As far as the Eco-Tec, Eco-Tec, it is assumed that the E is "short", when it is actually a "long" sounding E for the correct pronunciation of the engine family.

At a paltry 22mpg city/32 highway, they weren't very "economical" in the early 2000s.

...
"What does a Saturn owner do, at the gas station?"

"He checks the gas, and fills the oil....."

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Old 03-13-2018, 08:56 PM   #20
Chaz9496
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2001 L-Series 2.2L Sedan
2003 L-Series 2.2L Sedan
Default Re: Rattle/Clatter at idle

Quote:
Originally Posted by Saturn Night View Post
At a paltry 22mpg city/32 highway, they weren't very "economical" in the early 2000s.
Man that's for sure.

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