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Ford F-150 is the most widespread variation of the F-Series trucks, which themselves stand out as one of the best-selling vehicles in history. Despite being a capable and usually reliable workhorse, the F-150 doesn’t come without issues. In this article, we’ll focus on the Ford F-150 clicking noise when starting and the reasons behind it.
The most common causes of clicking noise when starting the F-150 are related to the battery or other components of the starting system. This is nothing out of the ordinary as pretty much every car, including other models from Ford’s lineup, sometimes come across the same issue. However, a ticking noise upon startup can also come from the engine with timing chain issues.
If you’ve come across the issue with clicking noise while trying to start your Ford F-150, read on to find out the reasons behind it and their common solutions. It might be worthwhile to take a glance even if you’re looking into buying an F-150 in the future. You never know when you might come across this relatively common problem.
Most Common Causes of Clicking Noise When Starting the F-150
The most common Ford F-150 clicking noises when starting can be traced back to one of the ignition system’s components, but engine problems are also known to manifest themselves in that manner. Here’s the list of common clicking noise culprits when starting your F-150.
Dead, weak, or drained battery
A dead, weak, or drained battery is arguably the most common cause of clicking noises when trying to start pretty much any car. It’s also the simplest of problems to check and fix. If your vehicle refuses to turn on and the dashboard fails to light up in the process, a drained or dead battery is the likely culprit. Even if your dashboard and accessories, such as wipers, do work, don’t exclude the possibility of a weak battery. These require much lower voltage than the starter, so they might still work even if your car refuses to start.
Since the battery provides electricity for the starter, any issues with the battery will be felt immediately. If the battery is unable to provide the necessary voltage for the starter to crank up the engine, your vehicle won’t be able to turn on. Instead, you’ll get a clicking noise or a multitude of rapid clicks. The former takes place if the battery doesn’t have enough juice to even move the starter solenoid. The latter happens if there is enough juice to move the starter solenoid, but not enough to crank up the engine. The rapid clicking sound can also come from the starter relay.
Damaged wiring or corroded battery terminals are other possible culprits if your F-150 emits a clicking noise when starting. Cleaning the terminals, checking the wiring, and even checking if the clamps are properly connected should be your first order of business. The next solution is to charge or replace your battery, depending on its state. If the clicking sound persists, then the problem lies somewhere else.
Bad ground connection
Aside from the battery, the engine also needs to be grounded. While the battery’s negative terminal provides the ground by being connected to the F-150’s chassis, the engine relies on a different method. Due to its rubber motor mounts, the conductive connection between the engine and chassis is impossible to establish. Instead, the engine relies on a ground strap/wire technique.
The F-150 uses a ground strap that connects the engine block with the firewall. If this short strap gets disconnected or somehow goes bad – due to corrosion, for instance – your truck will exhibit numerous electrical issues, including a possibility of a failed start accompanied by a clicking noise.
The clicking noise itself will come from the starter as it relies on a good ground connection to function properly. If either the battery or engine ground fails, the starter solenoid will show signs of life due to lower electricity requirements but won’t be able to turn over the engine.
Faulty starter or bad starter motor
If the battery is fine and you still have trouble starting your F-150, then this issue may lie in the starter motor. The starter needs to crank the engine so that it can continue operating under its power. If the starter fails for some reason, instead of successfully starting your car, you’ll hear a clicking noise.
The starter itself doesn’t have to be faulty. The problem might be in bad or corroded connectors. It’s advisable to first check the starter, but bear in mind that reaching it isn’t that easy. The F-150’s starter is located under the passenger side of the lower engine block. The easiest way to find it is by following the red cable connecting it with the battery. Speaking of which, checking this cable (alongside others) should be your first order of business when troubleshooting the starter. They might be disconnected, damaged, or simply have corroded connectors.
Finally, the starter motor itself might fail, leaving a replacement unit as the only recourse. If everything else seems to be fine with the starter motor’s connectors, then the starter should be replaced. It’s neither an expensive nor time-consuming fix, but replacing the F-150’s starter might still be annoying due to its position within the engine bay. You can also try the tried and tested starter shock treatment by using a hammer to gently hit it a few times while simultaneously trying to start the car. Sometimes the starter might get stuck, and this procedure can be worth a try before moving on to the replacement.
A portion of battery juice will be spent every time you start your car. The alternator is responsible for recharging the battery during the vehicle’s operation. A faulty alternator won’t be able to do so, and since the conventional car batteries don’t have large capacities, this could lead to the above-described problems.
Furthermore, in a rare case scenario where the vehicle is only used for numerous short-distance trips, you might experience the same problems regardless of the state of the alternator. In such cases, the alternator won’t be able to recharge the lost battery juice due to a lack of working time.
Replacing an alternator is typically a $600 job, but you can save some money if you’re a DIY person. Note that the replacement takes a while due to numerous obstructive components along the way, however. The components which you’ll have to remove depend on the F-150 generation you’re working on and include the air filter-throttle body tubing, intake, MAF sensors, etc.
Stretched timing chain
In truth, the stretched timing chain emits more of a rattling than clicking noise, but we’ll cover it as well. It affects the 2011-2014 Ford F-150s with the 3.5 L EcoBoost engines. When starting up your F-150, you’ll hear a clicking or rattling noise that should last for a couple of seconds before disappearing. Although everything quickly returns to normal, the rattling noise shouldn’t be disregarded since it comes from the stretched timing chain and can lead to potentially catastrophic engine damage if left unchecked for too long.
Taking the truck for the OBD will throw the P0016 code related to the stretching of the chain. The timing chain is stretched at startup due to a lack of oil pressure in the tensioner. Once the tensioner fills with oil, it straightens out, and the rattling noise disappears.
As soon as you start experiencing this issue, it’s imperative to recognize and address it. Otherwise, the check engine light will pop up before long, and the problem will become more severe. Replacing the timing chain is a job best left to a certified mechanic, as any timing errors can only make things worse.
If your Ford F-150 emits a clicking noise when starting or trying to start, you most likely have an issue with one of the ignition system components. A dead battery, a faulty starter or alternator, corroded connectors or terminals, bad or damaged wiring – a fault can be anywhere. Luckily, fixing or replacing any of these components is inexpensive and relatively straightforward. On a more serious note, the newer EcoBoost-powered F-150s can experience a timing chain stretch issue that exhibits similar symptoms. Unlike a battery or starter replacement, however, timing chain replacement requires a bit more know-how and elbow grease and costs more in accordance.
Why is my Ford F-150 making a clicking noise when starting?
Your Ford F-150 is likely making a clicking noise when starting due to failure or poor state of one of the components responsible for starting the engine, such as the battery, starter, or alternator. However, there might be a more sinister reason that has to do with timing chain stretching issues and can cause much more severe problems.
Is a clicking noise when starting the F-150 a reason for concern?
If a problem comes from the battery, starter, or alternator, there aren’t too many reasons for concern. These components are relatively inexpensive and somewhat easy to replace. However, the timing chain stretch in EcoBoost engines is a different story. You should address it as soon as possible before it can cause irreparable damage.
How much does it cost to fix the clicking noise when starting an F-150?
The cost of rectifying the Ford F-150 clicking noise when starting depends on the failing component. In case of a dead battery, it’s typically under $100. Replacing the starter or alternator will cost a few hundred dollars. Let your EcoBoost timing chain stretch beyond repair, and you’re looking at an engine replacement that costs at least $5,000.