The Ford EcoBoost has a reputation for being a well-built and reliable series of turbocharged engines. Ranging in size from a 1.3L inline 3-cylinder to a 3.5L V6, the Ford EcoBoost engine series can be found in almost every model in the modern Ford lineup. Like many other manufacturers, Ford moved away from the large-displacement, high-cylinder count engine strategy towards smaller, forced induction options. Overall, they have done a great job with that. However, there were some teething problems, especially in the earlier years of the EcoBoost.
One of the primary issues with some of the first-gen Ford EcoBoost engine models, especially the 3.5L EcoBoost, is timing chain rattle. 2010-2015 3.5L EcoBoost timing chain rattle is the result of the engine’s timing chain stretching out over time, causing it to come in contact with other surrounding engine components and potentially jump timing. Due to the fact that the 3.5L EcoBoost is an interference engine, excessive timing chain play can be catastrophic to the engine if not properly repaired in a timely manner.
While timing chain rattle was resolved with the generational jump to the second version of the 3.5L EcoBoost, another 3.5L EcoBoost problem also exists with the second generation model. Instead of timing chain rattle caused by a stretched chain, second-generation 3.5L EcoBoosts have cam phaser rattle from their CVT system. We’ll write a dedicated article about the second-generation 3.5L EcoBoost cam phaser issue in the near future.
In this guide, we’ll cover Ford 3.5L EcoBoost timing chain rattle, the symptoms associated with it, and how to fix it. Check out our Complete 3.5L EcoBoost Problems Guide for more information about additional 3.5L engine problems.
What Is 3.5L EcoBoost Timing Chain Rattle?
Ford Technical Service Bulletins:
For the purpose of increasing reliability and extending service intervals between replacements, Ford opted to use timing chains for all of its EcoBoost. The essential job of a timing chain is to synchronize the rotation of the camshafts to ensure that the engine’s valves open and close with correct timing. This is a very important task. If timing is off, numerous engine internals, like the valves and pistons, can get critically damaged. The main problem comes from early 3.5L EcoBoost timing chain stretching.
Over time, the timing chain gathers play which allows it to move erratically, making a loud noise. This is especially prominent during startup, before the timing chain guide can gather the slack. The noise that it makes is very distinctive and is often accompanied by loss of power and an engine light. If you haven’t heard Ford 3.5L EcoBoost timing chain rattle, here is a clip of an affected engine:
What Causes 3.5L EcoBoost Timing Chain Rattle?
On early Ford 3.5L EcoBoost models, the timing chain and cam phasers were the sources of the issue. There are an array of speculations as to why the 3.5L EcoBoost timing chains stretch over time. The most common explanation has to do with the 3.5L EcoBoost’s cam phasers. In Ford’s technical service bulletin regarding the 3.5L EcoBoost timing chain rattle issue, they recommend replacing not only the timing chain itself, but the intake and exhaust phasers as well. This has led most people to believe that the original phasers were stretching the timing chain due to their design.
Some Ford mechanics state that the issue is due to Ford using subpar materials to construct the earlier timing chains. These subpar metals would allow for play to build up over time due to stretching. While not the direct cause, many other Ford experts say that timing chain rattle can result from neglecting proper maintenance or using incorrect oil. Ford suggests changing the oil in your 3.5L EcoBoost every 7,500 miles. However, most EcoBoost owners say that is far too long to wait. Changing your EcoBoosts oil every 2,500 to 5,000 miles is a much safer figure. Timing chain rattle/stretching is made worse by low oil levels or dirty oil. As such, not changing your 3.5L EcoBoosts oil frequently enough can exacerbate the issue.
While there are some tentative explanations and things that can make the issue worse, there isn’t really a unified conclusion on what causes 3.5L EcoBoost timing chain stretching and rattle. While some 3.5L EcoBoost owners have experienced timing chain rattle as early as 30,000 miles on their first-gen EcoBoost. Others don’t experience the issue until well into the 200,000-mile mark. Unfortunately, there is no real way of predicting if the issue will happen to you or not.
3.5L EcoBoost Timing Chain Rattle Symptoms
When it comes to the symptoms associated with 3.5L EcoBoost timing chain rattle, there are a few common ones that spring up more than others. Here are the most common symptoms of 3.5L EcoBoost timing chain rattle:
- Loud audible rattle coming from the front of the engine on startup (after sitting for 5-8 hours)
- Loss of low-end power
- Loss of boost/turbo performance
- Check engine light
- Engine Code P0016
One of the most obvious signs that your 3.5L EcoBoost likely has a timing chain stretching issue is the sound of timing chain rattle on startup. This is most common when the vehicle has been sitting for an extended amount of time. The sound is the result of the timing chain guide not taking up the chain’s slack immediately on startup. Once the timing chain guides activate, the sound stops after a couple of seconds. Those that have experienced the issue will know that it is a very difficult sound to ignore, as it is loud and abrasive. Here is what timing chain rattle sounds like on a 3.5L EcoBoost-powered Ford F150.
Sometimes other symptoms manifest before the 3.5L EcoBoost timing chain rattle starts. Some Ford owners claim that the first thing that they noticed before the rattle started was a lack of power. Most say that it is especially noticeable in the low end. Many other 3.5 owners claim that a check engine light accompanied by limp mode was one of the first symptoms. This CEL is most often caused by the engine jumping timing. This will more than likely trigger a P0016 engine code, which is a near guarantee that your engine has a stretched timing chain.
3.5L EcoBoost Timing Chain Rattle – What Models Were Affected?
There have been multiple Ford technical service bulletins released about the 3.5L EcoBoost timing chain rattle issue. In these service bulletins, Ford outlines that the following vehicles are affected by the timing chain rattle issue:
- Ford F150 (2011-2015)
The 2011-2015 Ford F150 is the most known for displaying this issue. While not listed on the official Ford technical service bulletin, the following vehicles are also known to have timing chain rattle issues as well:
- 2010–2015 Ford Taurus SHO
- 2013–2015 Police Interceptor Sedan
- 2013–2015 Lincoln MKS
- 2013–2015 Lincoln MKT
- 2013–2015 Ford Explorer Sport
- 2016–2015 Ford Explorer Platinum
- 2013–2015 Ford Flex
Ford 3.5L V6 Timing Chain Rattle Fixes
Unfortunately, there isn’t a quick, cheap, or easy fix to the Ford 3.5L EcoBoost’s timing chain rattle issue. That is especially true if your F150 or other 3.5 EcoBoost-powered Ford is out of warranty. Even some Ford owners that had their 3.5L EcoBoost repaired under the earlier TSB 15-0044 bulletin reencountered the issue very soon after they received their vehicle back. That is mainly due to the fact that under the earlier bulletin, only the timing chain and tensioner were replaced. The later, more comprehensive, bulletin, released on October 24, 2018, outlined that not only did the timing chain and tensioner need to be replaced, but the cam phasers and other supporting elements also needed to be replaced.
Overall, the complete list of parts need to be replaced in order for the 3.5L EcoBoost timing chain rattle issue to stop happening entirely:
- Primary timing chain
- Secondary timing chains
- Exhaust and intake phasers
- Main timing chain tensioner
- All associated gaskets/o-rings/seals
That is a pretty hefty list of repair items. Due to the fact that repairing most timing-related issues is a time-consuming process, it isn’t uncommon for Ford to charge around 19-20 hours of labor to complete the job. That is in addition to paying for the parts themselves. It is also possible to do the work yourself. However, it is an in-depth job that requires quite a bit of experience and know-how. If you are interested in learning how to repair the 3.5L EcoBoost timing chain rattle issue yourself, check out the following video by FordTechMakuloco who does a fantastic job at outlining the process.
Ford 3.5L V6 Timing Chain Rattle Fix Cost, Warranty Coverage, and Ford Support
Average Price of Ford 3.5L EcoBoost Timing Chain Rattle Fix: $3,000
At this point in time, many Ford owners have faced this common issue on first-generation 3.5L EcoBoosts and have had to deal with the issue by contacting Ford directly to see if they offer any kind of support for the problem. Unfortunately, many have come away from the situation bitter and empty-handed, having to pay for the repairs out of pocket. The most common reason that Ford refuses to repair the issue under warranty is the lack of a P0016 engine code. That verifies that the affected truck has a stretched timing chain. Even if the sound is prominent and noticeable, some Ford dealers will deny repairs under warranty without the code.
Most of the (2011-2015) Ford F150s that experience timing chain issues are nearly 15 years old at this point. Most of them are out of both the 8-year emissions warranty and the 5-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty. There have been numerous cases where Ford dealers wouldn’t even accept repairs under the powertrain warranty at all. After many hours spent on the phone with ford customer service, many 3.5L V6 Ford owners have had to bite the bullet and pay for the timing chain service out of pocket, sometimes with the issue returning only days later. There have been talks swirling in Ford communities and forums for years about a potential class action lawsuit about the problem, but there isn’t one currently in the works.
Ultimately, it is a shame that Ford hasn’t done more for the people affected by this common and potentially severe issue. It is so well known and documented that the 3.5L EcoBoost engine has this problem. You would expect the manufacturer to step up to the plate. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case.
Ford EcoBoost Timing Chain Rattle Summary
Ford EcoBoost engines are often looked at with praise for their reliability, versatility, and efficiency. However, there are some issues that plagued the earlier models to a significant degree. In the first few years after the 3.5L EcoBoost debuted in the 2011 Ford F150, the first-generation Ford 3.5L EcoBoost struggled with timing chain rattle issues that wouldn’t be addressed until the second-generation model of the engine arrived.
Timing chain rattle occurs when the 3.5L EcoBoost’s timing chain is stretched from external factors. Some suspected causes are cam phaser wear over time, improper maintenance, or subpar building materials. As the timing chain collects slack, the chain will rattle on startup causing a loud noise. While seemingly harmless, the 3.5 EcoBoost timing chain can actually gather so much slack that it can cause the engine to jump timing. That can result in potentially catastrophic results for the engine.
Unfortunately, there is no quick or easy long-term fix for EcoBoost timing chain rattle. Almost every part pertaining to the timing system needs to be replaced with newer parts that remedy the issue. While the issue is clearly caused by faulty design, Ford has done a very poor job of helping the issue.
Due to the fact that 3.5 EcoBoost is a common issue on early models, you should consider looking at 2017+ Ford models with the 3.5L EcoBoost, as the second generation solved the problem.