Vehicle details: Maserati Quattroporte
Engine code: M139R
Year: 2010
Symptom: Cabin vibrations,
Engine vibrations,
Author: Steve Smith | Pico Technology
Products suited to this case study*
  • Pico NVH Starter diagnostic kit (in carry case)

  • Pico NVH Starter Diagnostic kit (in foam)

  • Pico NVH Standard diagnostic kit (in carry case)

  • Pico NVH Standard Diagnostic kit (in foam)

  • *At Pico we are always looking to improve our products. The tools used in this case study may have been superseded and the products above are our latest versions used to diagnose the fault documented in this case study.

Maserati Quattroporte | NVH Cabin Vibration

As humans it is difficult to visualize electricity or vibration and we only tend to experience the effects of both. For example, we sense heat as result of current flowing through a heating element or we feel tremors as a result of vibration applied to a component. In order to measure and display the energy responsible for these effects we can apply PicoScope. 

There are 2 major skills to using PicoScope: one is the capture (scope settings etc.), and the other is the analysis of that captured data. Vibration analysis is no different but while it can be a difficult concept to grasp it is no different to measuring voltage in a circuit. We apply the relevant probe and settings to measure the effects of an energy we can feel (vibration).

For most, Pico automotive vibration diagnosis is still in its infancy but the more I use the NVH kit and review the results, the more I seem to discover.

What follows is a case study from a Maserati Quattroporte that both Top Technician winner Stuart White and I had the pleasure to diagnose and, more importantly, rectify.

Stuart who owns and runs Complete Car Maintenance (CCM) had mentioned a customer complaint of vibration on the above vehicle around 1600 rpm when stationary and moving.

The challenge with vibrations is that we all interpret them differently (which is why we should measure and not guess), but with this vehicle you could not deny a considerable vibration throughout the vehicle in a very specific engine speed range. Starting at 1450 rpm through to 1700 rpm the vibration was evident, with peak vibration occurring around 1600 rpm.

Setting up the PicoDiagnostics NVH kit we could measure the frequency and amplitude of a vibration relatively easy by following the setup wizard within the NVH software.

Obtaining engine speed is the cornerstone of any vibration analysis as the engine forms the source from which we calculate all vibrations. The frequency of all rotating components on our vehicle can be calculated once we know engine speed, transmission/differential ratios and wheel/ tire size.

In this scenario we have a vibration from the engine when stationary, so engine speed fed into the NVH software via our ELM lead was sufficient to evaluate vibrations attributed to the engine only. (The ELM lead uses the J2534 protocol to request VIN, engine and road speed data via the OBD socket.)

The accelerometer was initially attached to the RH flitch panel (engine bay) as this would appear to be the area of concern given the driver's position in this RHD vehicle.

Very quickly our vibration frequency and amplitude were displayed revealing an uncharacteristic peak vibration of over 116 mg at 40.38 Hz (remember RPM/60 = Hz).

The position of this vibration fell directly at "engine order" E1.5 (1.5 times engine speed).

Frequency chart below indicates high amplitude of vibration at 1.5 x engine speed:

To explain engine vibration orders, think about a four-stroke four cylinder engine. Firstly, all vibration orders are measured in the unit of g (acceleration due to gravity). The levels we are looking at occur at amplitudes of mg (millli-g), at various speeds expressed in Hz.

E1 (first order engine vibration) is simply engine speed, expressed in Hz (E1 x 60 = RPM). E1 vibrations can be attributed to components related to engine speed such as flywheel and pulleys.

Generally, E2 (second order engine vibration) occurs at twice engine speed and will be the highest level of vibration (for a 4-cylinder engine) given we have two combustion events for every revolution of the crankshaft (two shocks applied to the crank), generating a characteristic high E2.  E2 vibration levels can be attributed to combustion events or components rotating at twice engine speed.

On a 6 cylinder engine E3 (and not E2) would be highest, and on an 8 cylinder similarly E4 would be highest, as should be the case with our Maserati.

High vibration levels detected at E0.5 can be attributed to half engine speed components, such as camshafts and associated auxiliaries.  Going back to our Maserati, what components could be responsible for our uncharacteristic E1.5 vibration and how could we locate the source? From the above information high E1.5 orders are typically going to be associated with 3-cylinder engines, yet here we have a V8!

The bar graph below indicates the high level of E1.5 vibration with the included help file:

Before diving in head-first, like any diagnosis we must never overlook the basic inspection. Engine oil and coolant level were confirmed correct; whilst hoses, brackets, harness routing and engine mounts were all checked for security, interference or fouling with the chassis.

Cylinder compressions, balance and emissions were also confirmed to be in order and the serpentine drive belt removed to eliminate any auxiliary drive components. With the vibration still evident, this was getting serious! Now it was time to evaluate the schematics of our engine and discover what components were rotating at 1.5 times engine speed.

Close inspection of the timing gear/chains arrangement revealed an elaborate engine oil pump drive assembly. The oil pump is located remote from the timing gears (rear right of the engine), but connected via a hexagonal driveshaft. Looking at the relationship between the oil pump drive gear to crankshaft timing gear we have a simple 1:1 drive ratio. Such a ratio should produce fundamental engine vibrations in the first engine order (E1) but could also produce other vibrations (harmonics) depending upon wear to the oil pump drive and components. Think of E1 and E2 in our 4-cylinder engines: E1 is the fundamental vibration, E2 is a harmonic of E1 as a result of combustion shocks induced into the crankshaft at engine speed.

Oil pump drive arrangement

So how could we confirm this area of the engine before committing to a repair? The simple answer is "we can’t". We can however search around the engine for areas of intense vibration (here we switch to using the accelerometer like a stethoscope).

To generate a vibration we need a vibrating force such as the engine, a transmission path such as the exhaust, and a vibrating element such as the vehicle body.

Make no mistake here; we are in for a big repair bill for this vehicle. Any diagnostic results we obtain that help to convince both Stuart and me that this engine has to be dismantled is welcomed with open arms.

Remember it is better to take advantage of the fact we have the fault to play with as diagnosis is to be carried out before disassembly. Once the engine is dismantled we are on our own as reproducing this fault is then impossible.

Recording vibration levels (amplitude) before and after repair in identical locations will provide far more objective test results than using our senses alone as we all interpret vibration differently.

We know our vibrating force is within the engine and the most likely transmission path is the exhaust. Careful positioning of the accelerometer quickly revealed the maximum amplitude of our E1.5 vibration at the lower right side exhaust mounting bracket, which secures the exhaust system to the transmission. 

When we consider the seating position of the driver who complained about the vibration (this is a right-hand drive vehicle), and we now know the engine oil pump speed and its location in relation to the transmission path. We can see a pattern forming … even mounting the accelerometer on the left side flitch panel produced lower vibration levels than the right-side flitch panel. The real beauty of the Pico NVH kit here is that we can take very quick and accurate vibration measurements without making assumptions.

Comparison testing is invaluable when evaluating any vehicle during diagnosis. Using PicoScope we can now test and measure vehicles in a way the manufacturer never intended. By this I mean we have a dynamic insight into component operation and behavioral functions for which we simply have no technical data to confirm our results. For example how many manufacturers quote vibration levels of their vehicles at varying engine and road speeds? Luckily for us, Stuart had been able to confirm that a donor Maserati displayed a characteristic cabin vibration at identical engine speeds, but at an expectable level consistent with this style of performance engine.

So where do we focus our attention when attempting to reduce this vibration level? The body is our vibrating element but we simply cannot quench the floor pan etc. to improve the vibration. The exhaust is our transmission path but it is simply transmitting the excessive vibration originating from the engine. We therefore have to tackle the vibrating source (the engine) which has to be best practice in this scenario as catastrophic damage could be ahead if ignored.

To summarize what we know:

  • Complaint of cabin vibration at 1600 rpm felt in driver’s seat, floor pan and steering wheel
  • Highest level of vibration measured at RH exhaust mounting bracket bolt
  • Highest vibration level occurs at E1.5 (1.5 x engine speed)
  • No fouling between engine harness, pipework, cables and bodywork
  • No misfires or cylinder imbalance, no fault codes and good emissions
  • No vibration induced from auxiliaries (auxiliary drive belt disconnected)
  • Oil pump location sits nicely with the highest vibration measured (RH rear of sump pan)

Armed with all the above we had enough evidence to request removal of the sump pan in order to reveal the components attached to the cylinder block (oil pump in particular). With the sump pan removed no further vibration measurements could be taken highlighting the importance of all the actions carried out prior to this commitment.   

The oil pump and drive were removed to enable access and inspection of all visible components in the crankcase ensuring good security (bolt check) and no visible interference or witness markings. All were OK.

Given E1.5 was our vibration of concern, the oil pump was then dismantled and measured for wear between: pump housing and driven rotor, drive and driven rotor and driven rotor side clearance. Whilst some evidence of scoring was visible to the pump housing, all measurements were correct (no real surprise here given that the engine had not suffered any oil pressure related issues).

With no faults allocated to the pump assembly our attention shifted towards the hexagonal pump drive. Looking at the locating points at either end of the hexagonal drive we can clearly see the witness markings on the drive face as a result of drive thrust from the timing gear and pump opposition (load) during the generation of oil pressure.

Both these forces oppose one another, ultimately resulting in the rotation of the oil pump drive rotor and pressurization of the engine oil. Offering the hexagonal drive into the drive rotor, revealed excessive free rotation (backlash) before any transfer of drive to the drive rotor. Witness markings to the drive face at either end of our hexagonal drive indicate varying-sized contact areas between the drive rotor and timing gear, suggesting both wear and deformation in the hexagonal drive.

A straight edge and feeler gauge were applied to the hexagonal drive to highlight any distortion and returned a value of 0.076 mm towards the oil pump drive rotor (no specifications exist for this measurement).

So here we now have decision to make surrounding what components to replace based upon our visual inspection, vibration test results, and measurements taken. At the center of all this information we have the vibration evident at 1.5 x engine speed (E1.5).

We know a crankshaft imbalance would display a first order engine vibration (E1) and our crankshaft is subjected to a fourth order engine vibration (E4) as a result of combustion (4 x power strokes per rev) neither of these is relevant in our test results.

The oil pump drive rotor will rotate at engine speed (1:1 ratio with the crankshaft) but is subjected to 6 x pulses applied as a result of oil compression between the drive and driven rotor. This would be a sixth order engine vibration (E6) and one which is simply not evident. Could the loading of the oil pump upon the hexagonal drive with a partially worn or distorted hex drive produce an E1.5 vibration?

Oil pump and drive load (from the engine) applied to the hex drive which has good face contact would produce little or no vibration, whilst load applied to a worn hex drive face has the potential to generate noise/vibration (remember noise and vibration are one and the same).

Based on the cost of repair to replace the oil pump, hexagonal drive and timing gear, the customer authorized the replacement of the oil pump and hexagonal drive only. To include the timing gear would dramatically increase labor costs as a result of timing chain removal.

Upon reassembly it became immediately apparent there was minimal rotation (backlash) between the hexagonal drive and oil pump drive rotor resulting in an instant transfer of drive to the oil pump. The engine was reassembled and the accelerometer placed in the identical position to measure the vibration level at 1600 rpm.

Immediately the vibration level at 1600 rpm throughout the vehicle had improved (not completely removed) and the values obtained speak volumes, 113 mg before fix and 6 mg after fix.

A combination of wear to the hexagonal drive face, backlash between the hexagonal drive and oil pump drive rotor and the alignment of the hexagonal drive between the timing gear and drive rotor all contributed to the excessive E1.5 engine order vibration.

It is worth noting here, throughout the evaluation of our vibration we were able to eliminate numerous engine components based upon their respective vibrational frequencies. We were looking for a component responsible for an E1.5 vibration order from a list of engine components, but these components were all rotating at other frequencies.

With hindsight it would have been fantastic to analyze the fluctuations in engine oil pressure using the WPS500X pressure transducer before and after fix. Could it have been possible to see fluctuations in oil pressure at 1600 rpm as a result of the wear in our oil pump drive? I guess we will never know but worth considering now we have PicoScope and all these new measurement techniques at our disposal. 

Once again, it is invaluable to not only prove what is vibrating, but to rapidly prove what is not.

Objective results before and after fix have proved invaluable as a characteristic engine vibration remained evident at 1600 rpm but much improved and backed up with undeniable evidence presented by our NVH kit confirming the repair.  A big thank you to Stuart White at CCM for his assistance and support throughout this challenging and rewarding case study.  


10 comments | Add comment

Steve Smith
July 05 2016

Hello deanz and thank you for your feedback and a great question.

Believe me, I too pondered this very same issue surrounding a 1.5 vibration order.

To the best of our knowledge and referring to “parts” information, the oil pump drive was 1:1 which moved the diagnosis away from oil pump fundamental speed/frequency.
However, it did not eliminate the Hex drive link and the varying size witness marks accompanied with “backlash” when located into the oil pump drive and timing gear. (“Runout” also had to be considered here)

Referring to the case study
“Oil pump and drive load (from the engine) applied to the hex drive which has good face contact would produce little or no vibration, whilst load applied to a worn hex drive face has the potential to generate noise/vibration” 

This is where I feel the offending vibration originates as we have a true repetitive E1.5 vibration order under certain load condition.

“With hindsight it would have been fantastic to analyze the fluctuations in engine oil pressure using the WPS500X pressure transducer before and after fix. Could it have been possible to see fluctuations in oil pressure at 1600 rpm as a result of the wear in our oil pump drive?

I do wonder what it would be like to revisit this fault with the new 3 axis measurement NVH kit rather than the single output device used during this case study. (3 axis measurement had not been launched at the time of test)

June 20 2016

good end result however the unsolved question is

How does a 5 sided (input gear) gerotor pump create E1.5 vibration ?

Maybe some thing upstream of the pump is loading and unloading it at E1.5 and/or the pump is not run at 1:1 verses crank speed.


November 08 2015

We live and work in a world where technoligies are changing rapidly, not least in the automobile industry. The complexities of vehicles, and the inaccessibility of compoentents often means that the time taken to change components can be considerable, and thus risky and expensive: particulary if we make the wrong call!
Having a better understanding of the prinicpals of operation, as well as the resulting side ‘side effects’ of wear, helps us to reduce those wrong calls. The challenge is always greater when the possibilies are numerous and the cause invisible.

This study is another superb contribution to the vast array of resources available to all who own and use the PicoScope and its wide range of accessories.

Another interesting lesson, and clearly another ‘fine mess’ avoided!


Dave B
July 30 2015

Hex drive shafts are a nightmare in general!  They were well known trouble spots back in the Ford V4 and V6 days (Mk1 Transits etc) as they only “drive” on a small fraction of the “face” of the Hex, and are dificult to lubricate effectively.

When the end’s wear unevenly like that, the shaft as a whole can run off-center, so creating the vibration as it is in essance out of ballance.  Cant help wondering why they didn’t use a round rod with splined ends (like other manufactures) other than cost…  I’d not be suprised to hear that is a known troublespot with those engines.

Good that you tracked it down, and as usual very well explained as to the principles used and why etc.  Without a fix, the usual outcome is pump drive failure, with inevitable engine damage due to lack of oil.  (Dont ask me how I know, happened to me on a motorway!)  Plus in that engine maybe with a large metal rod flailing about in the sump too.  Nice…


Dave B.

mark mckeen
July 29 2015

outstanding !!! nvh is always a tough repair shows again why a scope is a must have tool

Chris Stacey
July 29 2015

Thanks for sharing! Really incredible pinpointing!

July 29 2015

Yes, If you can measure then you could analyze it!!!!
Good Job!

Malcolm Towrie
July 29 2015

Wow. Good diagnostics and good fix.

Regarding the oddball vibration frequency, I worked with pumps in a nuke plant for many years and I relied heavily on in-house vibe experts to resolve weird vibration problems like yours. Those guys would have loved this problem. They would have looked at resonant torsional and bending frequencies of that relatively long, unsupported drive shaft, especially as the tapering wear marks indicate bending of the shaft. They would have looked at acoustic resonance (the organ pipe effect) of the oil in the pump suction transmitting vibration to the sump bottom, combined with resonance of the sump bottom. Because, otherwise how would vibration of the drive shaft/pump assembly transmit such high vibration across to the sump since there is no direct contact between them? And they would have looked at resonance of that exhaust support and exhaust.

I know, a lot of high tech gobbledygook, but that’s what they did and you realize after a while that’s what it takes to understand why these things happen. In your case, you didn’t need to know the “why” to fix it, but many times you do. 


Ian Petersen
July 29 2015

Congratulations on your exceptional detective work and brilliant clear explanation.

Rob Nicholson
July 28 2015

Impressive, that would have taken some guts to start a tear down looking for the culprit armed with your ear and a stethoscope!

Without the NVH guidance this probably would have been ‘lived with’ until the drive failed with most likely expensive consequences!

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Case study: NVH Cabin Vibration