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Bad squeal and rattling noise


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K, so I put a vg33e in my 1993 4x4 auto recently and I've been fine tuning it for about a couple of weeks.


   A while back I snapped off my last ignition key in the passenger door lock. I managed to get the busted off keyed portion out of the lock cylinder and stuck it in the ignition cylinder, then used a flathead to start it and turn it off. 


   The ignition cylinder started to stick, so when I turned it to the starter trigger mode it wouldn't spring back to run and it kept the starter engaged until I manually turned it back to the run setting. This put a lot of wear on the starter, and I became very worried about the flywheel. 


   I finally put in a new ignition cylinder, but not an oem one that goes on the steering column, but a generic one for lawnmowers and four wheelers, i guess. It took me a while to get the wires right, but I drove the truck around for a week with this setup and it seemed to work fine, except i couldn't get the tranny control module to perform the diagnostic process and that's currently irrelevant. 


  I was driving it yesterday and it started making this loud squeal or screech. I pulled into a gas station and shut it off, then tried to start it again. It made squealed and I think it shuddered while the starter was engaged... It didn't really sound like a belt squeal so I consulted my dad and we decided it was probably the starter gear not retracting and interfering with the flywheel, producing the clacking and the squealing. 


   I went and bought a duralast gold starter, all new components, and put it in. This was a massive pain with the header on, and the new starter had a bracket for the trigger plug that was in the way, but I'm not here to complain about that. 


   It started right up and sounded fine at first, but when I backed up the slight hill and put it in drive it started clacking and squealing again, just like before. Unfortunately I don't remember if it started when I put it in gear, when I gave it some gas, or at another point. It also seemed to have a distinct lack of power, but it had a power loss problem before this which I've been trying to fix. I think it still has exhaust leaks in the new system i installed. 


   The rattling could be caused by the fact that the passenger side header isn't in the Y-pipe flange at all, but held in place by a plumbing band clamp (i know, I know, I'm getting there...). It had a subdued clack before which I attributed to the loose exhaust connection, but it's worse now. 


   Additional information:

*once it started making the noise it continued in neutral and park, only stopping when i killed the motor 

*the ac was off and i wasn't steering the whole time, so i doubt it's the ac or power steering pump belts or pulleys


   So I need to get some opinions. Do you guys (and/or girls, I'm not picky about advice) think my torque converter is loose from the flywheel? Or the flywheel is loose from the engine? I didn't change the flywheel on the engine i swapped in, it's the original one from the 3.3. I'm almost completely certain that I indexed the torque converter to the transmission correctly, but it did take me a few tries, so maybe I damaged something then? Or is it probably just a squeaky alternator pulley/belt and the exhaust rattling? I didn't check any belts when I was there, i got freaked out and came home to check my favorite forum and have some chocolate coffee beans... 


   I've been driving it for a few weeks since I first started the new 3.3 (not really new, but about 50,000 miles from a Japanese fleet Frontier) and it hasn't made any crazy squealing sound before. It's been shifting fine, though a bit late occasionally and some odd downshifting, but I figured that was because of the pinched vacuum lincoming off the air intake tube and the exhaust leaks. I was under the impression that if I hadn't properly indexed the torque converter and bolted it to the flex plate the tranny would have self destructed when i first started the swapped engine, or first put it in gear. 


   I even pulled a 6000lb Plymouth Trailduster about three miles on hills two weeks ago and it pulled it like a champ. I've been testing it against more and more difficult tasks and it just kept running better and better, and then this happens. I would really appreciate it if anyone had any idea of what's going on with my truck. 

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Hmmmmm... well one thing is for certain: if the trans is squealing then it’s probably already toast.


That said, drive the thing and ignore the squeal completely paying very close attention to the shifting. Is it shifting normally? Do the squealing and clacking go along with anything transmission related, like shift points and overall speed? Or do the sounds follow RPM?


Another thing you can do to confirm the bendix isn’t retracting is drive around for a little while and then park it. Crawl underneath and carefully feel the starter. If the bendix stayed engaged it will be SUPER HOT. Like burn you badly almost instantly hot.


I know this because I literally just went thru the exact same thing. Except mine was because I bent the flexplate toward the engine by leaving the torque converter bolts in the torque converter while I set the engine and bolted the bellhousing down... that caused me to have to pull the torque converter forward to meet the flexplate and also made the flexplate stay in contact with the starter bendix.


Made a hell of a noise. Screeching and squealing and grinding and clacking like crazy. I crawled underneath to pull the starter off and have a look and burned my fingers...


Sounds to me like it’s your starter. Also, it ripped my starter a new one.. but it’s still cranking my car today. Haha! So I doubt you’ll have to buy another starter.


Oh and having the torque converter pulled forward murdered my transmission... it was a flawless trans that shifted 100% perfect. Shame shame shame...


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Well, I went to look at it again today. I found out the power steering pump was loose so I tightened all that up and tried it. The squeal was gone, but it was knocking really loudly in park. It seemed to fade a bit when I put it in reverse, but when I put it in neutral it stalled. It did the same thing a couple of times, then it quit turning over at all. When the starter was engaged, it just thumped. 


I grabbed the huge wrench that fits the crankshaft bolt and crawled under the front. The engine wouldn't turn one way at all (i can't remember if it was clockwise or counter), and when i tried turning it the other way it turned without too much resistance about 320°. Then I thought I heard a clunk from back near the starter and it stopped turning. It'll turn back and forth between, but it wouldn't turn past that point. I didn't put much pressure on it to try to force it though. 


I guess next step is to get it home and see what's keeping it from turning. I'll probably start by pulling the starter back out and trying to check out the torque converter bolts. Thanks for the quick response and the advice. I'm sorry to hear about your transmission, that's a major bummer. Did you decide to go with the manual, or an Xterra tranny? Or a manual Xterra tranny? Just wondering for worst case scenario purposes. 

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Now it’s kind of sounding like a bent flex plate. Mine was magically bent in a near perfect dish shape but maybe yours is bent in one area and it’s catching the starter on the way by.


The puzzling part for me right now is that it only now has started to make such severe contact with the starter, or whatever contact is going on, and has only now become so severe that it would cause a stall.


I guess the squealing might have concealed a lot of the noise and maybe there is a newly formed burr on the aluminum part of the starter.


Well you’ll know right away if it’s contact with the starter when you remove the starter and the engine turns just fine.


I’m interested to know how this turns out.


And I got a junk yard trans from a 2002 QX4 with 158k miles. It shifts OK and I expect 50k miles out of it.



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I'd guess a torque converter bolt backed out enough to catch on something. I've heard of loose TC bolts making a racket and making people think they've got a rod knock.


Hopefully the bolt didn't chew up whatever stopped the engine, and the engine didn't mind going from idle to a dead stop suddenly.

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Nothing new to tell you, guys. It's been raining here and I've been busy and I've only just now arranged for a tow. I'm looking up torque converters and flex plates now, and I'm beginning to think that I may need a torque converter made for the 3.3...


I really appreciate the input, you're basically giving me a list of what I need to look for that I couldn't find in my FSM. Now if only it would stop raining. I'll let you know when I find out if it's a loose bolt, bent flex plate, mangled torque converter, or something even worse, then hopefully we can figure out why it happened so that hopefully others can avoid it. 


I'm still hoping for a quick fix, but in the interest of gathering information, is it better to choose a torque converter based on the engine, or the transmission? Or should I just figure out a year model which had the vg33e and the RE4R01A? Will the torque converter out of an Xterra that had a 5-speed auto work with my 4-speed? Is there anyone who makes heavy duty or racing quality torque converters or flywheels for these? 


I guess it might be a good time to put in a new(ish?) tranny, but I really don't want to. I'm hoping not to have to take the transmission out at all, and I'd almost rather not have to take the engine back out either, if it turns out to be a loose bolt or something, but I suppose I have to check the flywheel and torque converter now. 


Anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself. I still don't know if the engine will free up as soon as I pull the starter back out. I do hope that if I damaged the brand new starter it'll be covered by the limited warranty. I'm waiting for the tow truck now. I'll try to keep up with this thread as I get time to work on the truck. I can hardly wait to see what I did wrong that caused this, myself, and warn people about it. I'm almost tempted to try to get a recording of the sound it's making, but I really don't want to try to start it again until I check everything and the engine turns freely. 



Edit: I just realized that flywheels are fot manual transmissions and flexplates are for automatic transmissions and they're not synonymous. So...my mistake, I meant flexplate the whole time. 

Edited by Wroth
I'm a NOOB!!! Don't tell anyone.
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I see a slight difference in the placement of the bendix. The bellhousing on the RE4 fitted to a VG30 might be a little different than the bell housing fitted for the VG33.

I assume the bellhousing differences between all the separate RE4 applications aren’t reflected anywhere in the part number. Just like you can get a “2WD” RE4 and the only difference is the extension housing, the RE4 fitted to your original VG30 might have a different bellhousing. Since it mated to the VG33 engine just fine and the torque converter bolts lined up, I’d say the only difference is the area where the starter mounts.

I had to use multiple shims to get my starter back a solid half inch so it would stop contacting the flex plate and before the shims I couldn’t turn the engine over even with a huge breaker bar. I remember thinking that I could just leave it with 1 set of shims and maybe eventually it’ll eat away at the metal until it’s not touching anymore. Maybe something similar is going on with yours.

Maybe the bendix was indeed staying engaged and it finally broke in some way that is now only catching the flexplate in a certain position.

Or maybe the different starter mounting caused the starter to contact the flexplate, bending the flexplate, and now it is making contact on each revolution.

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Oh, good question. I didn't even think about that. When I bought the engine it didn't have a starter on it, so I put my old one back in at first. I remember the VG33 had a weird starter bracket on it so I pulled the starter bracket off the 30, cleaned it up and painted it red, and put it on the 33. The starter seemed to fit fine and I didn't have to use shims, but now I wonder how far out the paint spaced it. It started beautifully the first time I tried it even though I had some harness plugs for the idle and egr switched around accidentally. 


When it first started doing this i got a Duralast Gold starter for the 3.0 because the old one had been working until that point and I think the one i looked up for the frontier i think my engine came from was more expensive. What I should have done is check the flexplate and tc bolts when I put the new starter in a couple days ago. 


I didn't really know what i was doing when I first started my engine swap. I couldn't turn the old engine so I couldn't have taken the torque converter off the flexplate anyway, but I didn't know I needed to. Then when I went to put the engine back in i didn't know to index the torque converter into the transmission. I had my dad telling me that it was the other way around and I had to put it on the flexplate but not tighten the bolts. So for a while I was trying to stick the engine in with the torque converter on it until I realized that it couldn't possibly be the right way to do it and that nissans are not like mopars at all. I may have damaged something back then. 


Then one of the times when I was pulling the engine in or out of the truck one of my straps broke and the rear of the engine dropped about eight inches and may have struck the flexplate on the torque converter. Not to mention how difficult it was to use the torque wrench with two feet of extensions and a swivel from the front of the engine to torque the torque converter, or that i kept losing count trying to get an even tightening pattern. And i forgot to install the lower dust cover bolts into the bell housing. . But most of that happened before I drove it around for a few weeks. 


The most recent problem was the sticking ignition switch which was keeping the bendix in the old starter engaged way too long when i forgot to turn it back manually. I checked out the bendix on the old starter and it didn't look too bad but I thought i could see the wear. Now I'm thinking something in the bell housing worked loose. 


I think I figured out what torque converter and flexplate I might need, and now I want a heavy duty rebuild kit and stage 2 valve body for the tranny, but if I'm being honest with myself I can't afford that right now. But in my head I've already spent a lot of theoretical money on level 10 bulletproof stuff and an Oregon high stall torque converter. Funny how when I first picked up the WD21 I thought there weren't many options for upgrading the little truck... 

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The VG30 starter and bracket are the right ones to use so that shouldn’t be the issue and the paint should be just fine also.


The 8in drop could definitely have bent the flexplate. Just curious, what’s the torque spec on the torque converter bolts if you remember off the top of your head? I always tighten those bolts with every ounce of my strength. I cuss myself to hell and back when I have to break them loose but I know they’re not backing out. What did the torque spec feel like? Did you really have to wrench it or did you feel like you could have tightened them some more?


Did you tighten down the bell housing bolts at all while you had the torque converter bolted to the flexplate?

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It's 33-43 ft/lbs. I felt like I could have tightened it further, but I was worried about stripping threads or snapping bolts. It was hard to tell since I was using the extensions and swivel, and especially since my dad was pushing the other way on the crankshaft with a wrench to keep it still. 


I think I put the torque converter in the tranny, spinning it until it seated in three times (apparently how to index a tc in a tranny) then lined up the back of the engine with the bell housing and started the three bell housing bolts i could reach at that point. I tightened those, put in the rest across the top, and then I believe I put in the motor mounts and tranny mount before I put in the torque converter bolts. 


I wish I'd taken notes and pictures since I started the swap. For one thing I'd be able to tell you exactly what I did in which order, and for another it wouldn't hurt to have another write up for the 3.3L WD21 on here. 


I feel like there is a distinct lack of information in my FSM regarding the removal and installation of a motor. I couldn't find anything about indexing a torque converter, but on the other hand it doesn't seem to want you to take the tc out of the tranny in the first place. I didn't have this option as my old motor was seized.


I guess it's probably all down to my inexperience with this level of repair. But I'm determined to fix my own truck if I possibly can. I'd rather spend what money I can on parts and stuff than to have someone else do the work for me. Plus I'm aiming for rights to put an "I built mine, you bought yours" sticker on the back window. 


Incidentally, I think my FSM might be incomplete. I picked it up from ebay, it's just one large thick book. I think some of the listings showed pictures of several differently sized books, and the book I have definitely doesn't have an index. Apparently it's the 1993 service manual revised for truck (serial no. 351227 for usa produced and 426001 for Japanese) and Pathfinder. I think i paid about $35 for it and it's been both massively helpful and frequently frustrating. 

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Oh wow, yeah that’s not a lot of torque. The swivel can also reduce the delivered torque a little. I do frequently underestimate torque though.. but one thing about using a torque wrench is that if there is a nick on any of the threads or even just dirt/crusties then you can get a pop from the wrench way before the bolt produces the desired clamping force.


I’m sure someone might argue with me on this but unless it’s a cylinder head or something really special, put the He-Man on it.


I may have misunderstood but didn’t you have the torque converter loosely bolted to the flexplate during engine installation at one point. If so, did you put any bellhousing bolts in with it like that?

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Yeah, it didn't seem like a lot to me either. I did try to clean up the threads on the bolts with a wire brush. I would have used a thread cutter die to be sure but I couldn't find an M10x1.25. The torque wrench that pops like that trips me out, I'm more used to the kind with the needle which gets bent and never reads correctly again after you exceed about forty foot pounds. I used the adjustable slip one though.


I actually found a note on the cylinder head bolts in the FSM. It said that sometimes you have to use an angular tightening method for the cylinder head bolts and the connecting rod end bolts. It said that the final torque torque was different using torque was different with this technique, and that the force produced by a torque wrench could be up 2-3X the force of the angular tightening of a similar numerical torque specification. It did not explain what that meant or how the angular tightening method works. I wish I'd known that when I replaced the cylinder head last year... 


I think I bolted the bell housing before I loosely bolted on the torque converter. If i remember correctly, i didn't even start threading the torque converter bolts through the flexplate until I'd torqued the bell housing to the engine block. I just turned the crankshaft beforehand to get one of the bolt holes in the starter slot, mated the block and bell housing, and then a few days later I went back and lined up the torque converter by reaching in behind the flexplate to turn it until the bolt hole lined up. Then I started a bolt, turned the crankshaft 180°,started the second bolt, turned the crankshaft 90°, start the third, rotate another 180°, start the fourth. Then i tightened them in the same pattern in stages to keep them even and prevent binding. 


I have no idea if I did that correctly. At that point I had about two weeks to get it running and help my dad move, and I was under a lot of pressure. I had my transmission pulled back and tilted so the oil pan would clear the front differential, but it would have been much easier to take out the differential and leave the transmission mounted in place. The FSM actually says to completely remove the transmission from the vehicle, but you still have to put in the tranny from below and the engine from above.


I had my dad telling me that I should pull out the engine and transmission bolted together like he did with his old Belvedere. I kept telling him that my truck was a 4x4 and smaller than a Belvedere and there was too much awesomeness packed in the compact frame to have much elbow room in the engine compartment. Or especially between the oil pan and the differential... 


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Oh yeah man that would have been a monster to remove altogether. I guess you could do it but you would need a gantry crane and the front clip removed. Or maybe you could do it with a cherry picker and a trans jack together.

Anyway I think theres really only a couple or so different possibilities:

1. A TC bolt has worked loose and it catching on something.
2. The flex plate is bent and is catching on something.
3. Maybe there is still something going on with the starter and ignition switch, ie the bendix isn’t retracting.

Let us know what you find.

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  • 2 weeks later...

So I finally got a chance to work on the truck. I pulled out the starter and confirmed that the engine will not rotate freely. In fact, I was way off on my rotation estimate before, i could only rotate it far enough to check two torque converter bolts. This means that i can't properly unhook the torque converter from the flexplate this time either. It also means that the starter isn't the problem. 


The two torque converter bolts i could check were fine. Guess I'm pulling the engine again. I figured this time it would be easier to pull the front differential out to get the room to pull the torque converter out of the bell housing. What I didn't figure on is the fact that I haven't done this before and the bolts are TIGHT. I had to get a jack under the ratchet handle to break loose the two mount bolts on the crossmember between the front wheels. 


Now the front differential is completely loose, but the crossmember under the rear of it won't drop because it's hung up between the two torsion bars. I'm not sure how to spread them apart the inch or two i need to clear them, but I haven't removed the motor mounts or lifted it to get wiggle room to get the differential out of the way. 


The FSM says to remove the tranny to get the engine out but that's a massive pain in the neck unless maybe if you have a lift for the vehicle and a special transmission jack. Based on my experience last time, the main issue with pulling the engine is that the oil pan has that deep sump behind the differential. It blocks the engine from being pulled forward until you lift it up about six inches. I figured if I dropped the differential i could pull the engine forward until the torque converter cleared and then lift. 


Anyway, this is all very frustrating but I love my truck so I'm doing it. Plus I can't afford to have someone else do it or to get a new vehicle. If I could get a new vehicle, it would probably be another pathy. And I'm learning a lot about this truck along the way. 


I'll post more progress when I get any, but it's supposed to be raining again tomorrow and I'm not crazy enough to go lay in a puddle to fix it anymore. Still appreciate the prior input, guys, and any forthcoming as well. Wish me luck? May be a little late for that... 

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How long did the VG33 run before the squealing/clacking started? I mean like from when you installed it to the time that the issue first started.


I didn’t think of this until just now but when I spun bearings in my first engine it would run normal when cold until it got close to normal temperature, then it would start this awful screeching and loud crunching sound until finally it would stall. Then I could let it cool down and it would start normally again and repeat the process. Then I revved it after the screeching started and it got even louder and began to bog down until finally it seized completely. I barely got it broken free..


I’m worried about your engine now. Can you please wipe clean the sump where your oil drain plug is and then drain the oil into a completely clean container?? Then put a paper towel into a clean funnel to drain some oil thru. Or with clean hands stick your hand into the oil and stir it up and then look at your hands. Do you see what looks like glitter??


I am praying for you and your car right now.

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If I remember correctly, it ran mostly fine for at least two weeks, and I probably drove it at least fifteen miles a day during that time. I say mostly fine because I had an exhaust leak and a couple of pinched vacuum lines i hadn't gotten to yet. 


I hope it's not similar to the issue you had (sorry to hear about that by the way, i wouldn't wish car problems on anyone short of Hitler). The first time it started making that sound it was after driving about twelve miles, so it could have been when it hit operating temperature. But after that first time it was doing it even before it warmed up. 


Good idea to check for metal shavings in the oil, I'll check that next time I get to work on the truck. I always check for that when I check the oil level, but it's more likely to show up in the sump before it shows on the dipstick. Random thought:  I wonder if I could magnetize the dipstick? Hmm... 


Thank you for your concern for me, it means a lot that basically random strangers who just happen to also have nissans actually care about me and my personal problems (as most ford owners around here would put it). 


Funny story, right after the truck went down again this guy told me that i should buy a new Ford ranger. I told him that aside from the fact that my three kids wouldn't fit in a Ford ranger comfortably, I didn't like the idea of having a CVT that's rubber band driven or having computer controlled brakes and steering. I don't like newer vehicles. I figure my cutoff is about 2000-2004, if it's newer than that i don't even want to drive it (no offense to anyone with a newer vehicle, if you like it great but you're not likely to convince me...). 

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I actually feel the same way. 2004 and earlier only for me. The economy was already in serious trouble in 2005 and most of the behemoth companies already knew what was about to happen and started putting out straight junk crap starting in 2005-06 and thru until 2012 or so.. aside from the Camry(Subaru I think was the actual problem..) Toyota mostly didn’t follow suit so I’d still buy 2005-2012 Toyota.


Anyways, car trouble sucks. And it sucks even worse for guys like us who work on our own stuff because the burden of fixing it is also placed on us as well as the burden of finding transportation during the repair and not to mention the, albeit less, financial strain. And my wife seems to think repairing the cars is fun for me or something as well so there’s almost negative support there...


Yeah I don’t mean to worry you unnecessarily about the engine, but if it is a catastrophic failure it would be better to know right off the bat instead of high hopes crushed at the end of a bunch of hard work getting it out of the car.


And messing around in the bottom of the engine seemed a lot easier than the top, to me at least. And if it is something crazy like a bearing, man you can rip the crank out of there, clean it up, and slap some new bearings on!


Hopefully it’s just a torque converter bolt though.. have you tried to have someone turn the engine back and forth while you listen close to the starter hole. Is there any scraping noises in there??


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Found the problem. I finally got the engine out and it still wouldn't turn. I took off the oil pan and found these. IMG-20181103-170756206.jpgLooks like the cap off the #2 connector rod came loose while I was driving. It struck the oil pick up tube and damaged it, bent the cap, and appears to have not damaged anything else. I think I can just push the piston back down and reconnect everything with a new cap... Means I have to find an engine stand though, i can't work on the top and bottom at the same time as is. 

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I'm starting to think that the bolts were working loose when the bearing spun and started squealing (good call, by the way) and then after i shut it off the rod came completely off and started to interfere with the crankshaft while I was turning it by hand. And when the cap was loose it was beating the crap out of the oil pickup tube, causing the clattering. If I got extremely lucky, I didn't damage the valve pushing the piston up into it... But I won't know that until I get the head off and check it out. Yes I am definitely taking the head off, if only to check for damage to the valve. Fortunately I've done a head before. 


An endoscope is an excellent idea, I'll have to check around to see if I can get my hands on one. Honestly I'm a bit irritated about the fact that the engine essentially crapped out after two weeks of running. It's no longer covered by the warranty (90 day and startup), so I get to fix it out of pocket. Woo hoo. I've informed the ebay seller that I purchased the engine from that there was an issue, but I don't expect them to do anything about it. 


Mostly I'm blown away by the eerie similarity to the way the last motor went. It threw a rod through the oil pan and when I took that oil pan off I found two shattered rods. This time is much less disastrous. 

IMG-20180511-172806281.jpg It's a bit strange that i didn't find any metal in the oil pan, but I'm hoping it's a good sign. I have to figure a way to mount the engine so I can start into it (a stand would be ideal but I'm not sure if I know anyone with one and I hesitate to go buy one since I hope not to need it again for several years), and I'll keep posting what I find as i find it. Oh yeah, and I'm in Arkansas. Near Hot Springs if that means anything to anyone. 

Edited by Wroth
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I think the journal is fine... IMG-20181104-114300739.jpgand the rod looks OK too, except for the double stuffed spun bearing stamped together and stuck to it. IMG-20181104-123236941.jpg

And I think the ECU would have caught the problem and at least thrown a code if not for thisIMG-20181104-123534193.jpgIt turns out that a rat chewed off my knock sensor! Bastard. He chewed up a bunch of my security switch wires too and I had thought his ravaging had been limited to the interior. Oh well, i'm going to get something to set the engine on soon so I can dig into the top end and check the valve. I think it's ok, but I need to know. 


Guys, I think I got extremely lucky that it didn't let go when the engine was running. So far the most damage I've found is to the oil pick up tube. IMG-20181104-114248382.jpg


Man, it's gotten easier to post pictures lately. I'll have to put up some good ones once I get it running again and get the roof rack installed. 

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