April 14, 2009 6:15 AM   Subscribe

Check Engine light is on and there is a ominous whirling sound coming from my engine?

Preface: About two months ago i had to have my alternator replaced due to leaky Valve covers which i had replaced.......

2 months later ( 2 weeks ago) i took a 100 mile trip on the highway. When I got off the exit i heard what sounded like a lifter knocking (tick tick tick). I checked the oil and found that it was low (needed an oil change anyway) After the oil change the ticking only occurred when i started my car and lasted for about 10 seconds and went away if i let it idle for a few. Last night on a quick run to the store i found that my Check Engine light was on and there was a whirling sound coming from my engine. It seemed to be running ok but it did not sound good. Its a 2001 Hyundai Santa Fe with about 116,000 miles on it. What is happening?
posted by slowtree to Travel & Transportation (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The fact that the ticking happens when the oil's low or when you've just started the car sounds to me like you've got some low oil pressure problems.
The "whirling" sound is bad, real bad. Have you checked your oil again? You could be out of oil anyway, signifying something like your oil pump is breaking down or sucking air-- which would be real bum.
Do you see anything white in your engine oil or anything black in your coolant? Sad to say but this sounds like a dying engine.
posted by dunkadunc at 6:27 AM on April 14, 2009

I don't know enough about cars to diagnose your problem, but you can go to most big auto parts chains and ask them to read the code on the check engine light. Write the code and message down and look it up on google.
posted by gregr at 6:27 AM on April 14, 2009

post-preview: I mean out of oil already.
posted by dunkadunc at 6:28 AM on April 14, 2009

Honestly, this could be anything at all - from a belt rubbing to an air pump of some sort making noise, or even an intake hose coming loose. It's not possible to diagnose from 'whirring noise'.

Check you oil, top up if necessary (if it's on the dipstick it's ok to drive) and get to a garage that can check the fault code. There is absolutely no way anyone can diagnose this, or put your mind at rest, from this much information.
posted by Brockles at 6:47 AM on April 14, 2009

the oil change the ticking only occurred when i started my car and lasted for about 10 seconds and went away if i let it idle for a few.

This is a hydraulic tappet filling up as pressure rises. This is not a problem at all and you can ignore this.
posted by Brockles at 6:50 AM on April 14, 2009

I didn't think Engines just "died" unless there was some damage to the head etc. If its an oil pump can't that be replaced for a few $100? I have never seen the thermostat climb to high. The whirling sound i could liken to a low pitched drill sound (or like the little Condensate Removal Pump on furnaces as i hear mine going right now in my basement, trying to pump water that isn't there)
posted by slowtree at 7:04 AM on April 14, 2009

The noise and the CEL may be unrelated. First things first: have someone read the OBD code.

For future reference, if you ever check your oil and it's significantly low (i.e. not visible on the dipstick), WALK to a gas station and get a quart of oil. DO NOT drive it someplace to get an oil change unless you're sure that you have enough oil to make the trip without causing more damage.
posted by jon1270 at 7:19 AM on April 14, 2009

I didn't think Engines just "died" unless there was some damage to the head etc.

Nope, mine just went because of a bad cylinder. (fixable, but the repair would be as much as tossing a junkyard engine in it, and both were more than $1000). I know someone who got a new one at the expense of a oil change shop (and a lawyer) since, whoops, they forgot to put new oil in after taking the old out. It can happen, and unless it's a newer or higher value car, it's usually not worth fixing.

Pumps can be more than a couple hundred, depending on the car. Oil and fuel are usually more to fix than just water. on an older cavalier I was quoted $650 for a fuel pump once. ouch! I once paid $300 for a water pump on a mitsubishi- and that was after about ten calls since most shops flat out refused to do it since it's a pain in the ass repair- and close to eight years ago.

But really, autozone, pep boys, carquest, etc will hook it up to the little reader and tell you the code and what it means for free, you don't even have to buy anything. You can find out from them in seconds, instead of all of us guessing without hearing the sound. What you call whirling I may call mild grinding, and someone else might call rhythmic pulsing, you know?

And if you're leaking oil you might as well pick up a few bottles there just to toss in the trunk, so if you're out and about you can add more without worrying about driving with it dangerously low.
posted by Kellydamnit at 7:22 AM on April 14, 2009

The whirring sound could be your electric fan - many vehicles turn this on when the check engine light is on, especially if the code is related to the coolant temperature sensor.
posted by rfs at 8:38 AM on April 14, 2009

Waht Jon said; CEL and whirring may not be the same.

From what you said it's not possible to say for certain what the problem is but putting 2 and 2 together and coming up with 5ish...
Allowing the oil level to drop (when it's used oil anyway) will have caused the pressure to drop. It sounds like this has damaged a tappet (not a big deal, but a sign that other damage may have been caused). This may have caused the oil pump to fail (it relies on oil pressure to feed its' bearings).

Assuming this has happened;
-is the car any harder to start or does it use significantly more petrol? This would be a sign that the low oil has damaged the cylinders.
-Is there a rattle on the overrun (ie when you take your foot off the throttle). This would show damage to the con-rods.
-does the engine use any more oil or does it drip oil? This would show damage to oil seals.

It's unlikely that low oil will have caused it to overheat badly which would be the main cause of a warped head. If this has happened you will see an oil rainbow when you take the radiator cap off and white emulsion under the oil cap.

*If* it is damage due to low oil then the best solution is a new (used) engine. £500ish in the UK. The oil pump wont be easy to replace and low oil often causes problems further down the line.

Alternatively it may just be a slipping belt, needing 2 minutes with a spanner to tighten it up.

Getting the CEL code checked will tell you more.
posted by BadMiker at 8:42 AM on April 14, 2009

It does not seem any harder to start then before, usually on the first turn of the key. I have not seen any oil underneath the car at all. I cant say that i checked the radiator fluid and i dont see much "smoke" maybe condensation in the exhaust. Im pretty sure its not a slipping belt (but who knows). No rattles to report either (at least none that i can hear) I am going outside to start it up right now
posted by slowtree at 9:49 AM on April 14, 2009

Check the oil before you do.
posted by Brockles at 11:13 AM on April 14, 2009

CEL is usually something emissions or vacuum related. Have you checked your owners manual? That tells you what the light means, specifically. Sound's probably completely unrelated.

Take it to Autozone and get the codes read.

Gas cap is my guess. A loose gas cap will throw a CEL because it detects a problem with the pressure in the fuel system.
posted by luckypozzo at 4:43 PM on April 14, 2009

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