1992 Tempo: Engine Clanks at Idle

I just purchaed a 1992 Tempo yesterday, I posted a message about the blown lamp. Well, something more serious--and it WAS disclosed to me at the time
of purchase.
At idle, the engine makes a clanking sound. Sounds SORT of like knocking, but it's much louder; you can't hear it over the stereo, but if the stereo is off you can totally hear it. It only does it at idle, the minute you accelerate it's gone. If you put the car in Neutral at idle and give it even just a hair of gas, it ends.
The people who sold the car don't recall what the shop said the issue was called, but that it would cost about $140 or so. I could call them and probably will, but at the risk of sounding racist (I'm totally not) they're oriental (Chinese) and it's hard to understand what they're saying. Besides, I'm not sure if they remember exactly what the issue was.
What would be the LIKELY cause of such a noise? Valve job maybe?
LRH
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Larry R Harrison Jr opined in

No
I would bet driving into the lot of a popular local independent mech.. and raising the hood for him, he would probably tell you in about 10 seconds..
If it's lifter noise on a 2.3 L.. and I bet it is, from the mileage... it was driven on a lot of short trips. This builds up condensate gunk in the engine
If you want to clear it up over time... just use Mobil 1 -NOT OTHER BRAND!- and change filter once between first change. Drive a long trip every week at the minimum
DO NOT DO "engine flush"!!!!!
--
- Yes, I'm a crusty old geezer curmudgeon.. deal with it! -

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Larry R Harrison Jr wrote:

This sounds like the sound my '86 made. My Ford tech & I went over the whole engine, w/ a stethoscope, and belts removed, and could not isolate the noise. We started guessing that it could be a timing chain noise... so I kept on driving it(this was at about 140K miles) and listening for any change. I sold the car in perfect running condition, still with the noise, at 209K miles.
It could be a sloppy timing chain. Mine never let go or skipped, so you may not want to sink a lot of $$ into it.
Rob
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I had a mechanic do a quick 2-3 minute spot-check on it. He suspects the timing chain, not likely the lifters. He said that's a multi-hundred dollar cost. Why so much? I seem to recall timing chains or belts costing about $100, not several hundred.
LRH
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Larry R Harrison Jr wrote:

Lots of labor. I seriously doubt it's the timing chain. Never seen one fail in a 2.3. It's most likely the harmonic balancer.
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Tom Adkins wrote:

That my point. It seemed to be the chain making the noise, but it never failed.
Rob
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Larry R Harrison Jr wrote:

Larry, This is a pretty common problem on the Tempo\Topaz (I'm assuming 2.3L engine). The likely cause is either: 1: the accesory drive belt has stretched to the point that the tensioner is knocking against the end of its travel. This noise is more of a fast rattle. Not real common but it happens.
2: The harmonic balancer has failed. The rubber bond breaks and it knocks loudly at idle. The noise will go away under load. Very common. I used to do 2-3 per week in the dealership.
IIRC, the failed balancer can be a fooler. If you remove the belt and run the engine the noise appears to go away. Remove the belt and try to move the pulley around the hub. If it moves, even a little bit, the balancer has failed.
                Tom Adkins
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Thanks Tom. Are either of these problems serious or expensive?
LRHs

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Larry R Harrison Jr wrote:

If it is the belt and\or tensioner, it's about $50 to DIY for both. More if you have it done. Serious? If the belt breaks it could leave you stranded at the worst possible time, overheat the motor, etc.
I've never seen the failed balancer cause damage but since this part dampens the torsional vibrations in the crankshaft it very well could. About $100 to DIY. This may be the $140 repair that the previous owners mentioned. Sounds close.
Expensive is a relative term. If by serious you mean" Can I not fix it and deal with the noise", the answer is simple; something on your car is broken, get it fixed. One ignored repair will lead to another one and you will soon be driving a POS.             Tom Adkins
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The front crank damper is broken, there was a recall on it.

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pick one wrote:

ding, ding,ding.... Thats 2 for the dampener\balancer.
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Tom Adkins opined

You win! Good info
:)
--
- Yes, I'm a crusty old geezer curmudgeon.. deal with it! -

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If it is the dampener/balancer, in your earlier post you were saying that it's typically a $100 part and the car's original owner was saying that one shop quoted him $140 to fix it.
Well unfortunately I've heard otherwise. One guy who 2-3 years ago asked this same question replied to an inquiry I made tonight. In his case it was the harmonic balancer or whatever (as you were saying) and he said that in order to replace it they had to drop the whole engine out--and he was quoted a price of $800 to do this. It's a simple part apparently, but since there's no room to put the rubber thingie in their without removing the engine you have to remove the engine & that's what made it cost that much.
Apparently, this is what the guy said, if you don't change it then apparently it ends up breaking & you're left without power steering and a water pump.
Does this sound familiar?
LRH
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Following up on my previous post (where I heard from a previous poster whom I contacted)--a different local shop recognized what I was talking about & seemed to think it was harmonic balancers (and said if I were to pull up--they were closed at that time--he could probably tell in seconds if that's what it was). He also said he was aware of the Tempo's peculiarities with regards to having to remove the engine to get in there, but he had managed in the past to do so without removing the engine--and that total it would likely come out to be $250-300 or so.
He also speculated that it SEEMED to be just an irritating noise issue, but didn't verify it was nothing more than that. Me, even though we're broke (why else are we buying $600 cars?), I intend to fix it because I otherwise have found the car pleasant to drive & expereience and want to hang on to it for awhile. It's the most pleasant car we've owned in sometime, although given what we've owned before that's not surprising.
LRH
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I agree with what Tom said, crank pulleys were a pretty common failure. Even though the job calls for engine removal I've always just dropped the engine down 5 or 6 inches and snuck the new pulley on. Bob

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Larry R Harrison Jr wrote:

I haven't done one of these in about 5 years and was speculating on the price. I just checked Auto Zone, $110.99 for the part. I was way off. I was thinking ~$60.
You don't "have" to remove the motor although this is what it calls for in the shop manual. To replace the balancer, first support the motor,remove the belt and the right side engine mount and lower the engine. Raise and support the front of the car and remove the right front wheel. Remove the balancer bolt. Have an assistant pry the motor downward with the longest prybar he can find, pretty much using all his strength(watch where you put the pry bar!!) While doing this, watch out for stretched hoses and wiring. You should Juuussst be able to slip the balancer off of the crank. Put the new balancer in place before your assistants arms give out. Put everything back together. Offer your assistant a cold beer to ease the muscles in his arms. That's how it's done, although my description was a bit tongue in cheek. I have seen some guys bend the pinch weld on the subframe out to gain a little more clearance,then bend it back into place. It works,I guess, it just isn't pretty when you're done. You mentioned that you don't know much about cars. In that case I wouldn't recommend doing this job by yourself. Try to find someone who knows a bit about auto repair to give you a hand.             Good Luck, Tom
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Thanks SO much for the tips, Tom & the rest of you. Really helpful.
Like I said, one shop I called obviously had done this before as they mentioned details which made it obvious they knew of the details of this, particularly with Tempos. They mentioned having done this WITHOUT removing the engine & it costing $250-300. It was quite reassuring. The only thing I'm left kind of unsure of is whether all of this is a matter of significant need or just easing a noise. Either way, the noise is aggravating enough that even if it were just a case of noise that alone would STILL be enough of a reason to do this.
Besides, otherwise, it looks like we got a deal on this. Unless the title from the previous owner 2 places back (that is, not us, not the prior owner, but the owner prior to that) was wrong (it stated 30-odd thousand miles, we got it with 65-odd thousand miles), then we got a car with only 65,000 miles on it. It's in good shape, everything else is fine and it cost us $600--half what Kelly Blue Book stated was its value. I found it FAR more pleasant to drive than the 1988 Mercury Grand Marquis Station Wagon before it, which was so huge & ungainly and it made it difficult in tight places. This car is MUCH easier on me. It could possibly provide us transportation for the next 2-3 years, so we should do what we can to see to this.
LRH

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It is rather important too fix it. When the balancer finally breaks all the drive belts stop. So no water pump. The engine does not need to come out. The manual says to drop the whole engine transmission but that is not necessary. That is assuming the problem is the balancer.

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