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What Causes a Lifter Tick, and How to Fix it?

Lifter Tick

If you hear a ticking or tapping noise in your vehicle’s engine, it is a lifter tick.

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Lifter tick can be continuous or occasional, and it can be tapping, ticking, or clicking. The type of noise and the duration can indicate the severity of the internal problem.


In general, the lifter tick will not stop your car from running. Many people do not even pay attention to the ticking sound. Other people can simply raise the radio to not listen to it. 


It is recommended that you do not ignore any weird sounds in your vehicle as they might cause severe damages in the long run.


Unfortunately, engine ticking sound requires maintenance. However, the good news is that the repair can be as simple as an oil change. In rare cases, you might need to change the whole lifter to get rid of the annoying ticking sound.


Despite the causes of the engine sound, you need to get it fixed.


In this article, we will highlight the leading causes for lifter tick, and the best solution for how to fix a sticking lifter sound.


What is a lifter?


The lifter, or what is called the hydraulic valve lifter, is a small cylinder located right next to the hydraulic valve. The lifter and the hydraulic valve are connected by a small rod called the rocker arm.


The lifter is responsible for making sure that the engine is running quietly and performing efficiently.


In some older or poorly maintained vehicles, the lifter might start making some ticking, tapping or clicking sound. This sound can be continuous or now and then.


Fixing the ticking sound is cheap most of the time, except for rare scenarios. You need to get the ticking noise taken care of to avoid causing major engine problems and, therefore, damage the entire car in the future.


Why does is my engine making a clicking sound?


As we mentioned before, clicking engine sound is due to issues with your lifter. Many reasons can cause a lifter to tick, including:



  • Dirty engine oil



The engine depends on the oil to provide lubrication to ensure that the engine performs efficiently.


During the life of your vehicle, the engine oil can pick up some dirt due to tear and wear. That’s why it is recommended that you change your engine oil regularly. 


If you did not change the engine oil, the dirt and sludge will build up and clog the engine lifter causing it to make the clicking sound. Therefore, you need to pay attention to changing your engine oil regularly. If you do not know how often to change your engine oil, check with your mechanic or look through the vehicle’s owner’s manual. 


The new engine oil will help clean the dirt and cut down the engine clicking sound. If you changed the engine oil and you still hear the clicking noise, then there is another problem causing the clicking, and it requires more complicated repairs than the simple oil change fix.



  • Issues with your engine’s lifter



While it is not the leading cause of engine clicking noise, a faulty lifter could cause the problem.


If you had a faulty lifter, the only way for you to address the problem is to change the entire lifter, which is unfortunate.


Moreover, changing an engine lifter is very complicated and will require a lot of hours from very skilled labor.



  • High vehicle mileage



It is not surprising that older vehicles will suffer from car ticking more than a newer vehicle. 


The higher the mileage on the vehicle, the more tear, and wear affecting all internal components. Therefore, older cars have higher potential for faulty lifters and, therefore, ticking noise than others.



  • Poor maintenance



Experts always say that if you want your vehicle to stay with you longer, you need to take good care of it. This includes regular and appropriate vehicle maintenance.


You might be doing regular maintenance for your vehicle; however, you might not be choosing the right people or the right material to do it. Therefore, the less support, the weaker the car performance. 


The lifter, like any other part in the engine, must go through regular maintenance to keep it functioning well and to avoid the ticking sound.



  • Low engine oil



As we mentioned before, the oil provides the engine with the required lubrication to keep it functioning well. 


Low oil level can cause similar issues as dirty oil. The engine will not have the required level of lubrication, and therefore, when the metal parts get in touch with each other, they will start making the ticking sound.


One way to check for low engine oil levels is to look at the vehicle’s board and find if the engine oil light is on. 


With or without ticking sound, if the engine oil level is low, you need to take your vehicle to a mechanic immediately and get it fixed to avoid future engine damages.



  • Not using the correct oil



Not all oil engines are the same. They have something called “viscosity rating.” The viscosity simply means how fast the oil flows, how thick the oil is.


It is crucial to choose the right oil for your vehicle. In other words, heaving oil is not right all the time and vice versa. 


In winter, for example, you should be looking for lighter or less viscous oil. The lighter oil will flow faster and will and will not make the engine suffer during low temperatures.


On the other hand, in summer, you need to find thicker oils to accommodate higher temperatures. More abundant oil will provide more power to engines in summer.


It is not as simple as it sounds to choose the right oil viscosity to your engine. You need to reach out to professional mechanics or simply review the vehicle’s owner’s manual. 

Luckily, there are some oils called “all-season engine oils.” They adapt themselves to change in season and temperature patterns to work best with your engine. However, these oils are a little pricier than regular engine oils.


One example of the all-season engine oil is the 5W-30 engine oil.



  • Problems with your engine oil filter



The engine oil filter is responsible for keeping the dirt and sludge away from your engine oil. The longer you keep the filters, the more dirt and clogging it will have. A clogged engine oil filter can cause an engine clicking sound.


Therefore, to keep your engine and lifter live longer, consider changing the engine oil filter regularly.



  • Issues with lifter spacing



In some cases, the lifter ticking sound does not have to do with engine oil. It might be issued with the lifter adjustment. 


The lifter is located between the pushrod and the camshaft. If there is a loose space between the three parts, they can not get in contact with each other, and this will cause engine ticking sound.


On the other hand, a tight lifter can affect the engine from functioning correctly. When the car is running, the engine heat causes the valve stem to expand. If the lifter does not have the proper space to accommodate the stem expansion, the engine will not function properly. 


From that, there should be a balance in the lifter adjustment. You need to have a mechanic check the lifter spacing to avoid further future engine failure.


How can I fix the engine ticking sound?


Since there are many causes for the lifter ticking sound, there are different solutions to get rid of the problem. Below are the suggested answers for the lifter tick. The solutions in order, and usually, you will get rid of the sound from the first couple of proposed solutions. 



  • Change your engine oil



Most of the lifter tick sound has to do with engine oil. Whether it is dirty engine oil or low engine oil levels, the first step to fix the lifter tick is to change your engine oil.



  • Clean the engine lifter with oil additive



The oil additive is a specific liquid that can clean the engine oil. 


This liquid does not affect the engine oil viscosity. It does not only clean the engine lifter, but also it can clean the valves, the rockers, and the other engine parts.


It is recommended that you use engine oil additives to clean the oil regularly. You will notice a clear difference in your vehicle’s performance.


You can check your vehicle’s owner’s manual for more information about which oil additive works best for your car and how often you should use it.


Here are some examples of engine oil additives:


  • Liquid Moly hydraulic lifter additive. You can find this on Amazon.
  • Marvel Mystery oil. This is also available on Amazon.
  • Z Max engine additive and cleaner. You can find this additive on Walmart.


Usually, you will not need to do any of the further steps to get rid of the engine lifter tick sound. However, if the noise cause is more complicated, you might need to try any of the following suggestions:



  • Adjust the lifter spacing



As we mentioned earlier, the spacing between the lifter and the other engine components does not have to be very loose of very tight; there should be a balance.


Unfortunately, getting the right balance for your lifter spacing is not an easy task that you can perform on your own. You need to have a professional mechanic do it for you. You can also check the vehicle’s owner’s manual for more information about the correct spacing.



  • Change the engine’s push rod



If you prefer to drive on higher speeds, you might cause the engine push rod to bend.


Although this is an infrequent cause for engine lifter click sound, you need to replace the bent pushrod.


Like the lifter spacing adjustment, it is very challenging to change the pushrod on your own. You need to take your vehicle to a professional mechanic to change it for you.


Although the rod cost is very cheap (i.e., $20), it might take a professional mechanic up to six hours to replace it. Therefore, changing the pushrod is relatively pricy.


How much does it cost to fix the lifter tick sound?


As we discussed before, the leading cause of lifters tick sound is your engine’s oil. 

Therefore, the first and the most common fix is to change your engine oil, which is relatively cheap.


The average cost for an oil change is about $46. It could be as low as $25 and as high as $50 depending on the vehicle’s make, model and year, and the type of oil.


However, in more complicated situations, you might need to change the entire lifter, which costs between $300 to $400 on parts only. Moreover, replacing the engine lifter is a very complicated procedure and requires high skilled labors and long repair hours. Therefore, do not be surprised to pay from $1,000 to $1,500 to replace your engine lifter.


Changing the engine’s push rod is also considered pricy and time-consuming. Expect to pay from $600 to $1,000 to get it replaced.


How to change the engine lifter?


In general, it is not recommended to change the engine lifter on your own. It is a very complicated, risky process. If you have done it wrong, you can cause significant damages to your engine.


The main steps to change the engine lifter include:

  • Take off the engine top
  • Remove the valve cover
  • Take out the engine intake manifold
  • Take out the lifter the faulty lifter
  • Install the new lifter 
  • Finally, put the parts back the opposite way you took it out.



In old or poorly maintained vehicles, you might hear ticking, tapping, or clicking engine sound.


This sound is mostly coming from the engine lifter. The lifter is a small cylinder that keeps the engine quiet. 


Lifter tick can happen due to dirt in your engine oil, low engine oil levels, improper lifter spacing, or overall faulty lifters.


You can get rid of the lifter ticking sound by changing the engine oil, clean the lifter with oil additives, adjust the lifter spacing, and in rare cases replace the entire lifter.


It is recommended that you do not ignore any weird noises in any part of your vehicle to avoid future complicated problems and, therefore, higher repair costs.


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