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Let’s be honest: there’s nothing worse than getting in your car and firing it up only to hear an ominous ticking noise from the engine a few minutes later.
At first, this ticking may be nothing more than a nuisance—something that you hardly notice unless you pay attention. If you’re like some, you may be tempted to turn the radio up and ignore it. However, this policy will only serve you for so long, and it may end up doing even more damage to your vehicle.
Unfortunately, if your engine is ticking, you’re going to have to do some repair work. Take it from me: this isn’t something that you’re going to want to ignore.
But what’s causing this ticking noise, and what can you do about it? The reality is that there can be various causes, with one of the most common being a problem with your lifter.
Below, I’ll go over what you need to know about what can cause your lifter to go a little crazy. What’s more, I’ll tell you how you can help prevent this problem from happening to your car.
What’s a Lifter?
If you’re not a car-savvy person, you may not have come across this term before. Regardless, however, the lifter performs important functions within your engine. It’s also connected to other critical components that need to be in top-working order for your car to run smoothly.
But what does a lifter do, exactly?
Also known as a hydraulic tappet, lifters play an important role in engine valve functions. Without a properly-running lifter, your vehicle may experience engine valve and other issues—often causing the dreaded ticking noise.
What Causes a Lifter to Tick?
A ticking lifter can be caused by a number of different factors, including the lifter itself. These different causes differ in severity, so if you’re experiencing a ticking lifter, you’ll want to see an experienced mechanic.
If you’re looking to get to the bottom of what may be causing your ticking engine for yourself, however, I’ve got you covered. Below, I’ve put together some of the most common reasons why your lifter might be ticking—and what you can do about it.
1. Dirty Oil Deposits
Fortunately, some causes of a lifter ticking noise can be easily treated. That’s right—just because your engine is ticking, it doesn’t mean that you’ve got to replace an entire part.
But remember when I said that poor maintenance can make it more likely that your lifter will malfunction?
Well, it can cause other problems, too. And it’s these problems that can, left untreated, make your entire lifter get worse.
For starters, if you’re not regularly changing your oil, your lifter could be getting jammed with dirty oil deposits. These lifters require the use of oil as lubrication to fully lift, and dirty oil prevents them from working to their full potential.
When this happens, your lifter will begin to struggle, and the engine will begin to exhibit that characteristic ticking sound.
If your car is still at this stage, I’ve got good news for you. Fixing this lifter ticking noise should be a relatively-easy fix. In fact, you should be able to do it even with limited mechanical knowledge.
What’s more, you’ll be able to diagnose and treat this problem all at the same time! Sounds too good to be true? Trust me—it’s not.
So what’s this magical cure-all that can have your engine up and running again?
You heard me—if it’s really dirty oil deposits causing your engine-ticking woes, you’ll be able to tell by changing the oil. This should flush out the dirty oil deposit and have your engine running and sounding like new.
However, if you perform an oil change and you still have this pesky problem, this indicates you likely have another cause on your hands. And as we’ve seen, these can be a good bit more difficult and expensive to deal with.
Here is a great video that explains the process.
2. Bad Lifter
What would appear to be the most obvious reason is that your lifter might be bad. A bad lifter can result from a number of different factors, and it’s one of the more complicated conditions to repair.
Because unless you’ve been professionally trained, you’re likely going to need to take your car to the shop. If your lifter goes bad, you’ll need to replace it entirely, and this can often take hours of hard and skilled labor.
Keep in mind that there are a number of reasons that your lifter may start to go bad. For example, your lifter may be experiencing issues if any of the following are true:
Your Vehicle Is Old or Has A Lot of Mileage
If your lifter has gone bad, it’s likely due to natural wear and tear. Even the best of lifters are subject to degradation over time—and this increases with the number of miles and amount of time driven.
For this reason, it shouldn’t be all-too-surprising if you start to experience issues with your lifter if your vehicle is getting on in years. In fact, it’s nearly unavoidable that even with the best of care, your lifter will eventually go out.
As with other parts of your vehicle, you can expect that the quality of your care will affect its lifespan. That proves especially true here, with the lifter being susceptible to your levels of care.
In other words, the better care you take of your vehicle, the longer you can expect your lifter to last. For your lifter, proper maintenance includes using higher-grade oils and performing regular oil changes. Without taking these actions, you can significantly decrease the overall lifespan of your lifter.
Keep in mind that should your lifter go out, you’ll need to invest in professional assistance to get your vehicle back up in running order. Operating your vehicle without a properly-running lifter can lead to even more extensive engine damage in the future. Because of this, make sure that you address the issue as soon as it arises.
3. Low Oil Levels
But that’s not always the case. Another common reason that your engine may start ticking is that your oil levels are simply too low.
Low oil levels can cause many of the same problems as dirty and contaminated oil. Without the proper level of oil for lubrication, hydraulic lifters will suffer in function. Without oil, they won’t be able to maintain their lifting power, causing them to malfunction.
Fortunately, this is another easy fix. With an oil change, you can get your lifter running as good as new. Be careful, however, to be prompt in your repairs, as delaying this could cause more serious complications for your engine—including your lifter permanently malfunctioning.
A good indicator that your ticking noise is being caused by low oil levels is that it’s accompanied by your car’s flashing low oil light. This either means that the oil pressure is being obstructed or that current oil levels are low. Either way, you’re due for an oil change.
4. Using the Right Oil
Making sure that your lifters are taken care of, however, isn’t just a matter of changing the oil. You’re going to want to choose the right oil for your engine so that you can better protect your lifters.
When it comes to choosing the right oil, you’re going to want to watch out for what is known as oil viscosity. Oil viscosity ratings help you determine which oil is right for your engine. If you’re looking to cut down on wear and tear on your engine’s lifters, it’s critical that you choose the oil with the right viscosity.
But choosing this oil may be more complicated than it seems at first. That’s because different viscosity levels may be more effective in different environments and seasons.
Here is a helpful video on choosing the right oil.
For example, you’ll likely want lighter oils during colder weather, because of their ability to flow. Using heavier, higher viscosity oils during the winter can often be counter-intuitive, as they’re unable to flow as readily or provide enough pressure to sufficiently lubricate your lifters.
On the other hand, the tables are turned during the summer. When the weather gets hot, these heavier oils will be your friend. They’ll provide you with the flow power you need to properly lubricate your lifters and keep them in top-running order. This will help reduce the natural wear and tear they receive because of their use. Keep in mind, however, that the same oils that you used in winter now likely don’t have enough power, as they aren’t able to flow as well in higher temperatures.
Balancing the right oil viscosity can be challenging, especially if you don’t know much about cars. For this reason, you may decide to invest in an all-season engine oil. These oils work well in all types of weather, making it easier for you to know which ones to buy. 5W-30 is a popular all-season engine oil for many manufacturers and car owners.
5. One Final Note About Your Oil …
Finally, there may be one more area of oil maintenance that, if neglected, can damage your lifter and lead to a ticking noise.
Your oil filter.
If you haven’t been changing your oil screen or filter often, you could wind up with dirty and clogged oil. This critical component helps make sure that dirt and other debris don’t get into your oil stream.
This means that if you’ve been neglecting changing your filter, you could be putting your lifter at risk. This dirty oil will lead to decreased flow and power, hurting your lifter’s ability to do its job. This will lead to the ticking noise that is often associated with a damaged lifter.
Fortunately, as we’ve seen, at this stage, the damage is still correctable with an oil change. However, you’ll also want to make sure that you change your filter so that you can keep your oil fresher for longer.
With fresher oil, you can make sure that your engine is getting enough pressure, helping your lifters perform as they should. And remember, the longer that you go without changing your oil or replacing your filter, the more likely it is that you could damage your engine.
6. Poor Lifter Spacing
Sometimes the ticking noise has nothing to do with the oil at all. Instead, it can result from lifters that aren’t adjusted correctly. This can lead to poor spacing that causes the lifters to rattle when your vehicle is in operation.
Typically speaking, when the lifters are spaced too far away, this causes the annoying rattling noise. To better imagine how this works, you’ll need to first have an understanding of the engine’s design and where the lifter sits.
These lifters are positioned between the push rods and the cam shafts. When the adjustment is too wide or loose, this creates a problem where the lifter often doesn’t come into contact with either of these two parts. When this happens, its function is impaired.
Properly spacing the lifter can be tricky, as you’ll want to avoid making it too tight, as well. Because the valve stem expands as the engine warms up when the vehicle is in motion, you’ll want to leave enough space to accommodate for this growth. Having too little space can cause these parts to transfer too much heat between them, damaging the valve.
For this reason, if you feel as though your lifter spacing may be off, it’s important to take your vehicle to the shop. Properly addressing this issue early on can cut down on the ticking noise while possibly preventing your vehicle from unnecessary damage.
Also read: 3 Reasons Why Your Car Brakes Squeak
Fixing Your Car’s Ticking Noise
Now that you know what might be causing your car’s ticking noise, it’s time to address what’s probably the more difficult of the two questions.
How do you go about fixing it?
As we’ve seen, because there may be many different causes behind your lifter’s ticking sound, there are several different solutions. Join me below as I walk through some of the most common ways to fix this annoying problem.
1. Replacement Lifter
As we’ve seen, sometimes there’s nothing you can do but replace the lifter itself. This is one of the most expensive and time consuming options for those with ticking engines.
However, it’s important that you work to replace this lifter as soon as possible. Without a properly-working lifter, your engine valves will be unable to function properly. If you drive like this long enough, you could be risking serious damage to your engine.
Unfortunately, replacing your lifter is likely something that you won’t be able to do on your own—so be sure to take it to your most-trusted mechanic as soon as possible.
2. Oil Additives
We’ve talked already about how a simple oil change can help you solve many of your ticking problems. However, it’s also important to note that you can help prevent this problem from occurring by using the right oil additive.
With this additive, you can ensure that your oil stays clean and maintains proper flow. This allows for your engine’s lifters to receive the oil they need to stay lubricated, expanding their lifespan.
But how do you know which oil additives are right for your vehicle? Check out the great options below!
Liqui Moly Hydraulic Lifter Additive
If you’re looking for an oil additive for your lifter, this Liqui Moly Additive (see it on Amazon) is right for you. Designed specifically to keep your lifter from making that dreaded ticking noise, this product has a uniquely-crafted formula.
This makes it one of the best options for ensuring that your lifters stay healthy. By using the Liqui Moly additive, you can make sure that you’re taking proper care of your lifters. What’s more, with consistent use, you can help prevent lifter issues even in older vehicles.
Marvel Mystery Oil
Marvel Mystery Oil (check it out on Amazon) proves to be another great option for those looking to keep their lifter’s ticking noises under control.
Where this additive really starts to help out is in its ability to clean your vehicle’s system. Marvel Mystery Oil is known for its ability to remove harmful gunk and debris that can cause your oil pressure to decrease.
By keeping your car’s system clean with Marvel Mystery Oil, you can increase the longevity of your lifters. This works by ensuring that your lifters have the lubrication they need to properly perform their duties.
ZMax Engine Additive and Cleaner
Finally, if you want to make sure that your lifters are around for as long as possible, consider using ZMax Engine Additive and Cleaner (see it on Walmart).
This great additive will help keep your car running as it should for longer. With ZMax, you can maintain adequate oil pressure and viscosity so that your lifters stay well adjusted and lubricated.
The video below is a guide on how you can fix lifter ticking noises through oil additives.
How Much Does It Cost to Fix a Hydraulic Lifter?
I know what you’re thinking. How much is it going to cost you to get your engine’s hydraulic lifters fixed?
Unfortunately, I can’t give you a straight answer on that one. The good news, however, is that depending on the cause, you may be able to fix your lifter for relatively cheap.
In fact, if you’re just in need of a simple oil change, you can cut out that aggravating ticking noise for less than twenty dollars.
Of course, it won’t always be so easy. If you find that your entire lifter has, in fact, gone out, you’ll need to be ready to break out the big guns. The lifter alone can run you anywhere from $300-$500 on average—and that’s just the price for the part.
Remember—the lifter is a part that you’ll likely need a professional to replace. To make matters worse, it’s one of those that takes several hours’ worth of work in order to fix. This means that you could be looking at anywhere from $1000-$1500 to fix your car when it’s all said and done.
How To Replace A Noisy Lifter Yourself
Though it’s not recommended to attempt this complicated procedure alone, you can save these labor costs by replacing the lifter yourself. To do this, you’ll need to follow strict lifter replacement procedures, including:
1. Remove the Top of the Engine
First, you’ll need to remove the top part of the engine so that you can reach the valve covers. This is done by unbolting and unhooking components that lie on top of the valve covers—such as electrical wiring.
2. Take Off the Valve Covers
Now, you’ll need to unbolt the valve covers. Once you’ve done this, you’ll need to pop off the cover—something easily done with a flat-headed screwdriver.
3. Disassemble the Intake Manifold
To get to the intake manifold, you’ll need to first move the first cylinder. To do this, you’ll need to place it in the top center position so that the valves close. Next, you’ll need to take out the intake manifold. Make sure that you’re paying attention during disassembly so that you can put it back together again.
Once this is done, make sure that you clean the parts off.
4. Take Out Hydraulic Lifters
To get to the hydraulic lifters, you’ll need to first loosen the rocker arms and move them to the side. To take out the lifters, you’ll likely need a magnet.
Once you’ve done this, you’ll want to replace them with the new lifters—making sure to reassemble the engine in reverse order, tightening bolts as you go.
The Bottom Line
No one wants to ride in a car that’s making lifter ticking noises. Not only can this prove to be very frustrating, but it can prove dangerous to your car’s longevity as well.
If you’re looking to make sure that your car stays running for as long as possible, it’s critical that you don’t ignore the first signs of ticker problems. As we’ve seen, these problems result from a number of causes.
By using my guide above, you can get started diagnosing—and fixing—your lifter issues in no time.
Thanks for reading! Check out my top recommendation for sound deadeners for car.