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Rod Knock Sound: Causes and How to Fix

Among the most concerning internal engine noises a driver can encounter is rod knocking or rod knock. It not only entails immediate action on the owner’s behalf but also signifies that substantial engine damage is already at play. That said, hearing that tapping metal-to-metal sound should never be ignored, as rod knock can quickly progress to the ejection of your piston or connecting rod if left untreated.

Most reasons behind the rod knock sound include oil-related inconsistencies, worn components, and improper upkeep/assembly. In other cases, it is due to excessive driving behaviors. Heeding OEM instructions and some TLC should address most issues. Otherwise, seek the expertise of a professional.

Determining what triggers rod knocking makes for a more accurate diagnosis and spares you from mistaking this distinct metallic sound for other engine noises. Here is an extensive list of the most prevalent causes of a rod knock:

  1. Improper break-in
  2. Oil-related irregularities
  3. Over-revving the engine
  4. Faulty engine component assembly
  5. Worn or damaged crankshaft
  6. Overheating or detonation (pre-ignition)
  7. Excessive engine wear or high mileage
  8. Vibration due to looseness or damage
  9. Excessive piston-to-cylinder clearance
  10. Loose or bent connecting rod
  11. Water seepage in the engine
  12. Loose or broken timing belt tensioner
  13. Degraded alternator bearings

Whether you are dealing with engine oil issues, worn bearings, or damaged engine components, timely diagnosis, repair, and a momentary abstinence from driving is crucial. So stick around and continue reading as you learn more about rod knock causes, symptoms, and fixes in this article.

Broken Piston Connecting Rod

What Is a Rod Knock?

According to RX Mechanic, a rod knock is a sound made by one or more connecting rods that hit the crankshaft while rotating in the cylinder bores. This occurs when the bearings inside the rod are worn, leading to excessive clearance where there shouldn’t be any, allowing the rod to move around the crankshaft and ultimately resulting in knocking.

Now you may be wondering, “How is this even possible?” Although the connecting rods and their bushings are all made of metal, the latter is softer than the rod itself and has a greater propensity to break or be threaded in. And as if that were not enough, several other circumstances further exacerbate this — bringing us to the gist of today’s guide.

What Causes That Knocking Rod Sound?

Factors ranging from insufficient oil pressure to looseness or damage to the harmonic balancer (among others) may cause a rod knock sound. In this section, let’s take a closer look into the top reasons behind rod knocking:

1. Improper break-in

Rod knocking isn’t an issue that happens overnight. It is a result of compounded unresolved issues that start as early as a vehicle’s break-in period.

During this time, the engine and its components are not yet fully lubricated and still seating themselves into place. As such, any episode of hard acceleration or high RPMs can easily lead to excessive stress and premature wear of the engine’s internal components.

2. Oil-related irregularities

One of the first things to look into when determining the cause of rod knocking is any anomaly with your vehicle’s lubrication. The reason is that the connecting rod and its bearings/bushings rely heavily on lubrication to function optimally.

Any discrepancy with the quantity or quality of engine oil is bound to give off telltale signs of an impending problem even before you hear that rod knock sound.

Specifically, here are inconsistencies you should keep an eye out for:

Lack of lubrication (a.k.a. spun bearing)

This is a condition where the bearing connecting the crankshaft to the connecting rod fails or ‘spins’ due to a lack of lubrication. When this happens, excessive movement of the affected connecting rod causes the piston to strike the cylinder wall, leading to a rod knock sound.

There are several reasons behind inadequate lubrication. The most common are oil leaks, infrequent oil changes, and a damaged oil pump.

A less popular reason is improper bolt tightening leading to an increased clearance between the crankshaft and connecting rod bearing. The latter scenario usually occurs during an engine rebuild.

Incorrect oil viscosity or oil type used

All vehicle owners are akin to the understanding that using engine oil with the correct viscosity grade is crucial to a rig’s heath. Mismatched multigrade oils can result in excessive engine component wear (connecting rod included).

Thankfully, this scenario is highly manageable, and heeding OEM recommendations on what engine oil to buy effectively prevents any mishap.

Insufficient oil pressure or oil level

One of the more apparent symptoms of oil-related inconsistencies, low oil pressure, signifies many other problems (some overlapping with other irregularities). Among these issues are clogged passages, a faulty oil pressure sensor, a compromised oil pump or pressure relief valve, and deteriorated connecting rod/camshaft bearings (to name a few).

Insufficient oil pressure may or may not happen alongside rod knocking, so best to inspect and fix suspected gauges and leaks before proceeding.

Dirty or contaminated oil

Like incorrect oil viscosity, engine oil contamination can wreak havoc on the connecting rod and its bearings. Contaminants typically found in dirty oil increase friction and wear of these components, which is counter-intuitive to the lubricating properties of oil for the engine’s moving parts.

To avoid having contaminated oil, adhere to scheduled oil change intervals, clean oil filters regularly, and change them as needed.

Poor oil circulation or blocked oil passages

The state of the oil passages is as important as the quality of engine oil fed through it. No matter how premium the engine oil is, it will not reach critical components if the passages are blocked.

To ensure that the connecting rod and its bushings are properly lubricated, inspect the oil pump for function and damage and flush the oil passages regularly.

3. Over-revving the engine

Missing a gear while shifting (for instance, accidentally downshifting) inadvertently leads to engine over-revving and, subsequently, to rod knocking.

How? The connecting rods transfer the piston’s motion to the crankshaft, which drives your wheels. When an engine is over-revved, the pistons move too fast — putting tremendous stress on the connecting rods and eventually causing them to bend or break. 

Operating your four-wheeler within OEM-recommended rev limits and veering away from deliberately over-revving the engine help keep rod knocking at bay, as well as proper vehicle upkeep and regular oil changes and inspections.

4. Faulty engine component assembly

When an engine is assembled, the connecting rods (alongside other internal parts) must be installed according to manufacturer specifications. Likewise, bearings or bushings must be properly aligned and lubricated to ensure smooth operation. If these components are poorly assembled, uneven wear and rod knock can develop.

A common cause of faulty assembly is incorrect torque settings of main bearing caps and connecting rod bolts. If these bits are over-torqued, inflated tension will be applied to the bolts and bearings, causing them to misalign, stretch, deform, or suffer excessive wear. Under-torqued, they can come loose and cause damage to the connecting rod and its bushings.

Incorrect bearing clearance has the same outcome since excessive play causes the connecting rod to strike the cylinder walls, producing a rod knock sound. Conversely, overly-snug bearing clearances cause excessive friction, eventually leading to metal-to-metal clattering.

5. Worn or damaged crankshaft

As part of the engine’s rotating assembly, the crankshaft converts the up-and-down piston motion into rotational motion that drives a vehicle. During this repetitive task, however, the component is significantly stressed/strained, causing the eventual wear or damage of both the crankshaft and the connecting rods. The latter could become warped, or the bearings could loosen (allowing the connecting rods’ excessive movement).

6. Overheating or detonation (pre-ignition)

Overheating, while better associated with engine damage, can lead to rod knock. That is because when an engine overheats, its metal components expand and warp — causing the bearings connecting the rods to the crankshaft to become damaged or worn.

The phenomenon causes engine oil to break down, dampening the latter’s lubricating properties. Overheating can also result in scoring or damage to the cylinder walls or pistons.

Meanwhile, detonation or pre-ignition causes sudden pressure spikes within the cylinder that can overload the bearings, leading to increased wear and damage over time.

Several factors include excessive carbon buildup on the piston or cylinder head and incorrect fuel Octane rating. Both scenarios cause the engine to run poorly and the connecting rod to knock against the crankshaft.

7. Excessive engine wear or high mileage

Understandably, the constant friction and heat generated by the engine can wear down its metal components over time (especially for older, high-mileage vehicles). This natural wear leads to an excess clearance between the connecting rods and bearings, which results in excessive movement and the connecting rod striking the cylinder walls and rubbing against the crankshaft.

In some cases, engine mods and the use of aftermarket components contribute to (if not hasten) engine wear and the development of rod knock. This happens if the aftermarket components are incompatible with the engine, regardless of vehicle age or mileage.

8. Vibration due to looseness or damage

While several factors can lead to unwarranted shuddering in the engine bay, most trace back to looseness or damage of the affected component. In the case of rod knocking, the flywheel or flex plate, harmonic balancer, and engine mounts are among the most relevant.

Flywheel or flex plate

The flywheel or flex plate is a vital component of the engine’s rotating assembly, located at the back of the mill. Its primary function is to help the clutch and transmission work smoothly. If the flywheel or flex plate is loose or damaged, it can cause excessive engine vibration, increasing the wear and tear on the connecting rod bearings.

Harmonic balancer

This device reduces engine vibrations by absorbing and dissipating energy from the rotating assembly. If this component becomes loose or damaged, it can cause excessive engine vibration and the connecting rod bearings to suffer increased wear and tear.

Additionally, a compromised harmonic balancer can cause the engine’s timing to become out of sync. It can also make the piston hit the connecting rod with increased force, causing further wear and damage to the rod bearings.

Engine mounts

Engine mounts hold the engine in place within the engine bay. If these components become loose or damaged, they would naturally cause the engine to vibrate excessively.

Moreover, ill-fitted engine mounts can cause the engine to shift or move around within the compartment — leading to increased wear and damage to the rod bearings and causing the connecting rods to become misaligned with the crankshaft.

9. Excessive piston-to-cylinder clearance

Discrepancies in piston-to-cylinder clearance can occur due to a variety of reasons. One of them is natural engine wear and tear. Another is cylinder wall damage or wear, which can lead to increased clearance.

Other potential causes include improper engine assembly and engine mods involving an increase in bore size or installation of larger-than-stock high-performance pistons.

Thankfully, regular inspection, maintenance, proper assembly procedures, and high-quality parts keep the potentially adverse effects of these processes to a minimum.

10. Loose or bent connecting rod

The connecting rod in an engine is responsible for connecting the piston to the crankshaft, transferring power generated by air-fuel combustion to the wheels.

If it becomes loose or bent, it can cause the piston to move off-center within the cylinder, strike the cylinder wall or the cylinder head, and increase wear and tear on both the piston and rod bearings — all of which are characterized by a rod knock sound.

11. Water seepage in the engine

Many vehicle owners categorize this item under oil contamination, and I totally agree. However, I opted to list it separately due to the nature of water ingress into the engine.

While engine oil typically gets contaminated due to the normal wear and tear of engine components, water usually finds its way inside the engine bay via a damaged component.

The usual culprits include:

  • A deteriorated intake manifold gasket.
  • A compromised engine block.
  • A corroded cylinder head gasket (view on Amazon).

Let’s not forget the air intake system for folks who do deep water fording or frequently drive in inclement weather.

Either way, the bearings fail, and the connecting rod comes in contact with the crankshaft once engine oil contamination happens. Water-contaminated oil, in particular, usually locks up the motor and has a higher propensity to cause a connecting rod to bend or break.

12. Loose or broken timing belt tensioner

The timing belt tensioner keeps the timing belt taut and properly aligned and is effectively responsible for ensuring the engine valves open and close in sync with the engine’s pistons. If loose or broken, the timing belt can become slack or skip teeth — throwing the engine’s timing off and causing the pistons to strike the valves.

Any problems with either component can lead to serious consequences affecting engine operation and may involve damaged pistons, failing to connect rod bearings, or bent valves — which is why proper maintenance of the timing belt and tensioner is critical.

13. Degraded alternator bearings

The alternator generates electrical power to charge the battery and power the electrical components. It converts mechanical energy from the engine’s rotating assembly into electrical energy that powers the electrical system.

If the alternator rotor bearings become worn, it can cause an alternator malfunction and decrease electrical power output and higher operating loads. These two scenarios, in turn, cause the engine to work harder than normal — increasing wear and tear on the connecting rod bearings and eventually resulting in a tapping, rod knock sound.

To prevent worn alternator rotor bearings, it is imperative to properly maintain the alternator and address any signs of wear or damage as soon as they are spotted. This practice includes regular inspection for wear or damage, proper upkeep and cleaning, and the occasional alternator belt replacement.

How to Fix Rod Knocking

Pistons With Connecting Rod

In addition to the fixes mentioned in the previous section, here are other ways how to eradicate that rod knock sound from your vehicle:

Keep your senses alert for the following symptoms:

  • A loud metallic knocking or wrapping that increases in speed as you hit higher RPMs
  • Engine vibration or shuddering that can be felt by hand in the seat, floorboard, or steering wheel
  • Metal-to-metal clattering that does not quiet down even after warm-up
  • Observable oil pressure irregularities
  • Increased oil consumption
  • Metallic or glittery particles in the oil (metal shavings from worn components)
  • Loss of engine compression
  • Misfiring and hesitation (especially during acceleration)
  • Reduced fuel efficiency, engine performance, and power
  • Illuminated dash warning lights

Use a diagnostic tool

Use a diagnostic tool like the Autel MaxiSys MS906 Pro-TS Bi-Directional Diagnostic Scan Tool (view on Amazon) and scan for trouble codes — especially if warning lights are set off.

Inspect engine parts

Do a thorough visual inspection of all relevant and suspected engine parts and components. The process should include:

  • Checking for engine damage or wear.
  • Inspecting engine components.
  • Examining the oil for pressure, level, and signs of contamination or irregularities (among other things).

You can do this last bit by using a dipstick or draining the oil and examining it closely.

Break in the engine

If the cause of the rod knock is an improper break-in, properly break in the engine to prevent further damage. Otherwise, the power mill should be taken apart, and the crankshaft should be reconditioned or replaced. Bearings and connecting rods may also need to be replaced depending on their state. 

Check the oil

Oil-related irregularities, on the other hand, require changing the oil and oil filter. If the oil pressure is low, check and replace the pump if needed. If the oil is contaminated, then flush the reservoir and passages. Also, use the correct oil viscosity and type for your engine.


Engine disassembly and inspection are required if over-revving triggered the rod knock sound or an engine component is compromised. Depending on the severity and extent of damage, the component may be repaired or machined to restore to its proper function.

For severe damage, however, the entire engine may need replacement. If so, the engine should be reassembled with proper torque specifications.


For rod knocking caused by overheating or detonation, inspect the connecting rod bearings, cylinder walls, and pistons and identify which components are damaged and should be replaced. While at it, check for proper coolant flow and correct ignition timing.


Shuddering due to loose or damaged components warrants identifying the affected component’s vibration source or premature wear. Loose bolts or damaged components should be replaced. And like other items in this section, engine reassembly should follow proper torque specifications.

Piston-to-cylinder clearance

The same goes when addressing excessive piston-to-cylinder clearance — except that you will be dealing with the piston, cylinder, or both. If the gap can be remedied, you will need a piston ring compressor, oversized pistons or sleeves, or a new set of piston rings. Otherwise, replace old pistons and hone the cylinder walls.

Water seepage

If water seepage in the engine is causing rod knocking, first determine the source of the leak. Addressing it could involve:

  • Replacing a damaged gasket or seal.
  • Fixing a crack in the engine block/cylinder head.
  • Repairing a rusted water pump.

Once the leak source has been fixed, flush the engine with a specialized cleaning solution to remove any traces of water. After which, use an oil additive and refill with fresh oil.

Alternator bearings

Don’t forget the alternator bearings. To ascertain whether or not they cause rod knocking, check the alternator and alternator bearings.

Additionally, examine the entire electrical system to prevent future alternator failure. During your inspection, include parts that depend on the alternator, such as the starter and fuel pump.


In doing these steps, use proper tools and techniques to ensure that nuts, bolts, and bearings are torqued correctly and installed with the proper clearances. Some of the tools commonly used in addressing rod knocking are as follows:

  • Socket set like Bruder Mannesmann Socket Set — 215 Pieces (view on Amazon)
  • Torque wrench
  • Pliers
  • Pry bar
  • Oil pressure gauge
  • Engine oil flush
  • Oil additive
  • Engine assembly lube
  • Piston ring compressor
  • Hoist or crane
  • Engine stand
  • Bearing driver set
  • Dial indicator
  • Micrometer
  • Feeler gauge

Conclusion — Rod Knocking: Causes & Fixes

To recap, here are 13 of the most prevalent causes of rod knocking:

  1. Improper break-in
  2. Oil-related irregularities
  3. Over-revving the engine
  4. Faulty engine component assembly
  5. Worn or damaged crankshaft
  6. Overheating or detonation (pre-ignition)
  7. Excessive engine wear or high mileage
  8. Vibration due to looseness or damage
  9. Excessive piston-to-cylinder clearance
  10. Loose or bent connecting rod
  11. Water seepage in the engine
  12. Loose or broken timing belt tensioner
  13. Degraded alternator bearings

In addressing rod knocking, first, identify the correct problem source and fix it promptly. This way, you can prevent further damage to the engine.

But depending on the damage already present, you may need to replace the engine completely. Hopefully, you only have to do a thorough inspection and an engine oil flush to get rid of that tapping/knocking sound.