I guess it's related to their basically running off knocking, but if I were to explain it to someone like this, it wouldn't convince me neither.

[Edit] From http://www.ford-trucks.com/forums/369700-what-exactly-causes-the-diesel-noise.html

The Loud knock is caused by the introduction of high pressure cold fuel into very high cylinder pressures.

Now, who's right?

  • Forgot to upvote your question. +1 Good question. Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 0:02
  • Only indirectly but I suppose from a certain perspective that is true. I think it's more because of the actual combustion that generates the sound not the injection itself. The valve that opens may have a sort of ticking noise with the timing. Also I was to understand the question to be more about diesel as opposed to gasoline, and the intrinsic differential factors are of course the compression ignition and not in how the fuel is injected although it is done so somewhat differently in diesel engines.
    – JaredW82
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 0:08

4 Answers 4


The engine operates on high compression to ignite the fuel at very low RPMs which gives it it's distinctive sound. The lower RPM makes the ignition of each cylinder easier to hear and the compression ignition system gives it it's rattle like sound. This is as opposed to gasoline engines that operate by a spark/compression ignition system. The key to understanding this lies in understanding the diesel engine. See: the Wiki page for this.

In short, the distinctiveness of your typical diesel sound comes from a combination of it's properties of low RPMs and the high compression ignition system. The actual sounds are generated at combustion and the opening and closing of valves. You really cannot hear the injection of the fluids into the chambers. Also, as another poster first pointed out (DucatiKiller), there is sometimes a piston slap that make a audible sound but not always in newer engines.

Piston SlapPiston Slap2

The high pitch hiss noise you hear from some diesels as they accelerate comes from the turbo charger turbine spinning up and sucking in air at a high rate. Don't mistake the hiss I refer to with the air-brake system, as this is altogether something else.

See:How a Turbo Charger works.

  • 1
    atypical should probably be replaced by typical unless you meant that for some reason
    – cat
    Commented Feb 25, 2016 at 0:41

Two types of sounds

There are two sound types that emerge from a diesel engine.

  • Combustion Noise

  • Mechanical Noise

Combustion noise is created by the compression ignition process which compresses the air fuel mixture of the gas which creates higher temperatures upon increased compression until combustion occurs.

Mechanical noise is created primarily by piston slap where the piston rocks back and forth upon the wrist pin in the bore of the cylinder making a tapping noise that transfers through the solid case and emanates from the surface.


Diesel Engine System Design

Combustion Noise from a Running Diesel Engine Based on Transient Combustion Noise Generation Model

  • I would rephrase the Combustion noise statement. With the compression ignition first the air is compressed until it is very hot, there is no fuel in the cylinder at that time. Once the compression is near complete an injector sprays the fuel directly into the cylinder. The interaction of the fuel with the hot air as it ignites is what creates that unique noise.
    – vini_i
    Commented Feb 25, 2016 at 9:50

Ok guys! The all famous diesel Clatter, correct terminology, is caused by ignition lag, which occurs between the start of injection and the start of ignition. A small amount of fuel builds up in the combustion chamber before it ignites, and when it does, the rapid ignition of accumulated fuel causes a shock wave the resonates the combustion chamber. I'm studying to become a diesel technician, I know guys are leary of female answers on these sites.

  • 1
    Not all guys are averse to females in traditionally male occupations. Those that are like that are slowly dying off. By all means share your knowledge and expertise. Knock yourself out ,
    – Old_Fossil
    Commented Dec 7, 2016 at 4:42
  • How is this different from spark-ignited engines advance? Commented Dec 7, 2016 at 19:54
  • I suppose in a spark ignited (gasoline) engine the flame front starts very small around the plug and then advances smoothly through the cylinder. The diesel ignition lag means a larger amount of fuel/air is ignited simultaneously.
    – avl_sweden
    Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 9:46

Injector timing has a lot to do with diesel clatter. Just like a gas engine will Ping when the timing is to far advanced. Inject the diesel fuel to early and clatter is the result. Notice how quiet the new GM diesels are. Why is that? Why are the Cummings diesel so loud. So worn out sounding? With today's computer control fuel delivery there is no reason a diesel should be any louder than a gas direct injected motor. All it takes is some effort in the fuel delivery system and decent build tolerances.


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