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I have noticed a distinct rattling sound coming from my tail pipe when I am parked and idling. After some experimenting I realized it only happens when the AC is on. If I turn the AC off it immediately stops. It will also stop if I apply a little gas so the engine is no longer idling.

This was all I could find from Googling:

you could have an exhaust shield that comes loose. The added load placed on the motor from the A/C system may be just enough to create such a rattle. There could be a loose pipe or hose that is made to rattle more with the added load of the A/C

Does that sound like the right explanation? Are there any other possible explanations? If so what are some solutions I could try to fix the problem? It isn't a serious issue, at least that I think, I might be wrong. But it can get annoying.

Thanks for your help.

  • Welcome to Motor Vehicle Maintenance & Repair! – Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2 Sep 15 at 14:08
  • Your best bet is to wiggle the tail pipe by hand and see if you can find the rattle. You'd have to jack the car up and put it on jack stands, then probably the easiest way would be to tap your exhaust system with a rubber mallet and see if you can run down where the noise is coming from. A rattling exhaust shield is most likely the culprit, but knowing that really doesn't solve your issue. Finding it and figuring out what you'll need to do to fix it is the real concern. – Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2 Sep 15 at 14:56
  • @Paulster2 Thanks for that, sounds like that is what I will have to do, find the rattle and see what it will take to secure it, I am still wondering why it only rattles when the AC is on though? – J-Rome Sep 15 at 15:21
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    If you put the vehicle in drive with the brakes applied, then bring the RPMs up just a little, I bet you'd hear the same rattle (without the ac on). It's most likely due to there being a slight load on the engine. – Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2 Sep 15 at 15:55
  • Gotcha, hey thanks for your help! I don't know much about cars so I appreciate it – J-Rome Sep 15 at 15:57
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The refrigerant compressor attached to your motor via rubber belt adds load to the engine. This in turn can lower your engine RPM, causing an object to reverberate as the frequency matches it's length or is otherwise able to excite the material, similar to a guitar's string. That's the rattle. It could be any part, any piece, and anywhere on the car, as different materials absorb different frequencies, and it's extremely hard to pinpoint rattle noises unless you can cause the rattle yourself without the car running. The best way to find the rattle is to cause it to happen and work around the car touching things until it stops. (Careful, many things on a car can severely injure you if not approached with care and common sense, especially while the engine is spinning.)

The other possible cause is the compressor itself may be on its last legs if it never shows up anywhere else. Adding refrigerant with one of those cheapo DIY kits is a great way to destroy the compressor as you can accidentally introduce moisture into the system and cause rusting/corrosion inside both the compressor itself and inside the plumbing that holds it all in.

And finally, refrigerant compressors require a fine mist of oil at all times to not destroy themselves. If a hole has formed somewhere, even a small one, the oil could have leaked from the system and adding cheap R-134a (without any oil) could also make it sorta knock and carry on until it destroys itself.

Hopefully, this helps somewhat, and you locate the rattle as being something simple and of non-concern (which little squeaks and rattles almost always are...).

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Suggesting an answer as I don't have enough rep to comment. In the same vein as Jimmio's answer, when the AC is on it's probably creating resonance along the exhaust due to RPM shifts.

I actually had a very similar issue, I'd get a rattle at very specific RPM ranges from the back of the exhaust. My issue turned out to be several slightly separated exhaust hangers. Visually they looked normal however when you moved the exhaust they weren't attached but rather held on by the pressure provided from the remaining hangers. You generally want to get hangers fixed as an exhaust falling off is a bad day for everyone - any exhaust shop can do the welds pretty quickly and cheaply assuming that's what the issue is.

If you live in an area that uses salt during the winter then it is very possible they just degraded over time. In my case, I had an aftermarket stainless steel exhaust that must have had the hangers welded on by a blind person. So this may just be an anecdotal answer, but it's generally something that could get overlooked.

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Thanks to everyone for their knowledge regarding why the exhaust would vibrate when the AC was on. To paraphrase when the AC was on the engine was under a slight load, lowering the RPM and causing the vibration.

As to the source of the rattling, I was able to investigate this weekend and it turns out my car has a tip on the tail pipe. The tip itself was slightly loose and was the cause of the rattling. Seeing as this is simply a cosmetic feature I won't worry about it unless it drives me nuts, then I can either remove the tip or get is welded so it no longer rattles.

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