The 3 Most Common Nissan KA24DE Engine Problems

Austin Parsons

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Austin holds a technical writing degree and has 5 years of experience working as a Technical Product Specialist at BMW. He is an avid car enthusiast who is constantly watching F1, consuming automotive content, racing on his simulator, and working on his Toyota’s and BMW’s. Austin’s technical writing skills, extensive automotive knowledge, and hands-on experience make him an excellent resource for our readers.

In the Nissan community, the KA24DE inline-4 engine is a cult classic, popularized by its use in 240SX drift builds. The KA24DE was the final iteration in Nissan’s KA engine family and is known for its reliability, ease of maintenance, and power potential. 

The minimal stock horsepower combined with a well-built engine result in strong reliability and longevity. The KA24 really doesn’t suffer any serious problems but is known to run into issues with the valve cover gasket, distributor, and timing chain. We’re going to look at each of these problems below and discuss overall reliability.


Nissan KA24DE Engine Problems

  • Valve Cover Gasket Failure
  • Faulty Distributor
  • Timing Chain Rattle

In stock form, the KA24DE is known to be a tank of an engine. As the block is cast iron with a strong, aluminum cylinder head, it can withstand a fair amount of abuse before issues start to surface. The engine has a comparably low compression ratio as well, meaning that there isn’t a high load of internal pressure which benefits longevity.

1) Valve Cover Gasket Failure

One of the most common KA24DE issues is a blown or failing valve cover gasket. While factors like aggressive driving and over-revving can contribute to the failure of a KA24DE valve cover gasket, old age is the most common destroyer of the part. With most US-spec KA24DEs approaching 30-years in age, a valve cover gasket replacement is a smart investment. This is especially true if you can see oil dripping down the engine block from the valve cover.

Symptoms & Replacement

  • Burning oil smell
  • Dirty valve cover from leaking oil
  • Engine running rough or misfiring

Fortunately, a KA24DE valve cover replacement is a straightforward and inexpensive fix. The valve cover gasket can still be purchased from Nissan for under $20. The replacement job also requires the spark plug seals to be replaced to prevent oil from leaking into the spark tubes. Spark plug seals can also be purchased from Nissan for a cost of around $30. If you have basic tools laying around, the replacement can be performed by anyone by following a quick tutorial.

2) Bad Distributor 

Another frequently cited issue for KA24DE engines is a failed distributor. Age is the most common reason that the distributors fail. The distributor’s main job is to supply the spark plugs with ample voltage current in the correct firing order and in the correct duration of time. If a distributor fails, it can have adverse consequences on engine performance.

Symptoms & Replacement

  • Rough engine idle
  • Difficulty starting
  • Loud whining noise

Replacing a KA24DE distributor is another simple and cheap job. Distributors typically cost somewhere in the ballpark of $250 for an OEM-spec unit. Once again, if you have even rudimentary hands-on experience, replacing it should be a piece of cake. 

3) Timing Chain Rattle

KA24’s often suffer from extremely pronounced timing chain rattle. This can be a serious annoyance and potentially lead to issues down the line if neglected. The main cause of this annoyance is the engine’s overall construction. Due to the fact that it is a 4-cylinder with a flat-plane crank, it has an imperfect secondary balance. Most other 4-cylinders with similar construction resolve this problem with balance shafts to smooth out the engine’s performance, whereas the KA24DE doesn’t.

Due to the “rattley” nature of the problem, issues can arise from the timing guides internally rubbing against the valve cover. During the early stages of this occurring, it is mostly an auditory annoyance, as the rubbing causes a sound that is often described as similar to marbles in a tin can. However, if left unchecked, the timing chain can get caught on a coarse part of the valve cover and jump the timing, or sever the timing chain altogether. 

Since the KA24DE is an interference motor, a timing chain issue can cause serious damage to the engine’s internal components. If you notice an odd sound coming from the valve cover area, it should be assessed and addressed sooner rather than later.

Timing Chain Rattle Symptoms

Due to the fact that this issue is simply caused by the timing chain rubbing against the valve cover, there aren’t very many symptoms to note. Other than auditory cues, there aren’t any other performance-based symptoms of note. As a matter of fact, most KA24DE owners that experience this issue let the issue persist as the rattle does not affect performance directly. 

  • “Marbles in a tin can” sound
  • Persistent squeaking or rattling from the valve cover area

Timing Chain Rattle Fix

Ultimately, there are a few noted solutions to fix the KA24DE’s timing chain rattle issue. In quite a few cases, the noise is caused by a broken or misaligned top or side timing guide that has wedged itself into a problematic position. 

This can be diagnosed by removing the valve cover and inspecting the timing guides for any signs of damage. Since the KA24DE’s release, Nissan has deemed the timing guides on the engines unnecessary. To fix the issue, you can simply remove the top timing guide at no sacrifice to the engine’s performance.

If the noise still persists following the removal of the timing guides, there is likely an issue with another component of the timing chain system. The next steps would be to replace the upper chain, tensioner, and guide. More than likely, that will solve the issue.

Nissan KA24DE Reliability

The Nissan KA24DE is notoriously reliable over every other aspect of the engine. While it might not have the performance of the more advanced and modernized SR20DE, it will get you where you need to go without any fuss. 

Other than general maintenance and time-related repairs, the KA42DE is a strong engine that has few common issues. While valve cover gaskets and distributors tend to fail after decades of use, those are commonly replaced items on virtually any old engine. Those issues have less to do with the quality of the engine itself and more to do with those individual components’ estimated lifespan.

While the dreaded timing chain rattle can potentially produce serious issues if left unchecked, it is a simple problem to fix most of the time. As the solution is simply to remove an unnecessary part that can be reached from under the valve cover, a fix to this problem is easy to perform and free provided that you have tools on hand.

The key to the KA24DEs reliability rests in its simplicity. It featured no high-tech or groundbreaking technology during the time of its production. As a result, the KA24DE is a bulletproof engine that is easy to work on and cheap to repair. While it is an underwhelming engine as far as performance is concerned, aftermarket performance upgrades can turn it into a beast.

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