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Anyone who’s ever done any degree of maintenance on a car has been thrown into the vortex of “figuring it out.” Whether it’s a noise, running issue, drivability issue, electrical issue, or something else, a major aspect of DIY wrenching is troubleshooting what exactly is causing concern.

Luckily, anyone with a car made since OBDII debuted for the 1996 model year has a comprehensive resource available to point them in the right direction. But when it comes to anything mechanical, there are still a wide assortment of culprits to contend with. Greg Peters of TheCarPassionChannel on YouTube recently found himself in this position after a very enthusiastic highway pull resulted in some unsavory sounds.

For those who haven’t seen his handiwork before, Peters is a Miata mastermind. He has a deep catalog of useful and entertaining Miata content on his channel dating all the way back to 2013. He mostly specializes in NA Miata tuning, but he’s also an encyclopedia of pretty much anything pre-ND. If you’re ever inclined to learn more about standalone engine management, his videos on tuning Megasquirt are fascinating no matter what platform you’re daydreaming about adding it to.

In the video above, Peters gets down and dirty with a bunch of free tricks and methods to diagnose where exactly a new, disturbing noise is coming from. His built motor is making nearly 500 horsepower and was assembled right, so you’d think something engine-block-related wouldn’t be the issue. He examines the clutch and flywheel, is able to fire it up with the transmission detached, uses an interesting method to see if there’s any play in the rod bearings, uses the old-school long-extension-to-the-ear trick, and more. He also examines the valve train, which leads to discovering a loose timing belt. Could the engine have skipped timing?

Besides this noise, there’s nothing to indicate that’s the culprit, either. The timing is good, all cylinders have good compression, and the engine is running very smoothly.

He just uploaded a new video about finding the problem, but more importantly, there’s a valuable lesson in all of it: Don’t waste money on what you think is the problem. Instead, do as much diagnosing as possible first. 

The only thing he spent was time. He didn’t jump to the conclusion that his engine’s bottom end is toast, proceed to spend many hours removing it, and waste a shit-ton of money remedying it. He eliminated as many culprits as possible, and then came to find out that it’s most likely something bottom-end related. Imagine if he had the engine rebuilt and the noise turned out to be clutch related?

The more tools and know-how you have at your disposal to troubleshoot your car’s issues, the more money you’ll save in the end, whether that’s parts costs or for labor while having someone else take a look at it.

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