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What Does Engine Tapping Sound Like? What is Causing It?

What Does Engine Tapping Sound Like? What is Causing It?

You start your car and you are expecting to hear it’s sweet purr, but you hear some unusual sounds instead. You think you are hearing tapping noises coming from your engine, but you’re not quite sure. So you ask, what does engine tapping sound like? Engine tapping can be heard as a metallic ticking or tapping noise that seems to be coming from the engine. It is a pretty common problem when your car reaches a certain mileage or when it is not properly maintained.

Auto Repairs Are EXPENSIVE


What does engine tapping sound like or why does this sound occur? Engine tapping can be caused by a number of factors including low oil level, faulty valve lifters, exhaust leaks, using too low octane fuel, bad belt tensioner or pulleys, and worn bearings. The moment you notice engine tapping sounds, you should have it checked and repaired immediately. If you ignore it, the problem can quickly get worse and when this happens, you might have to deal with very expensive repair bills. You might just want to sell your damaged car rather than lose more money on repairs when it happens. To prevent this from happening, let us find out the causes, the solutions, and everything you need to know about this potentially destructive engine tapping noises.


What Does Engine Tapping Sound Like? – What is the Tapping Noise in My Engine?



When you turn your key in the ignition or push the start button and you hear unusual noises from your engine, it can be very alarming. Strange noises shouldn’t be there. You may hear grinding, squeaking, knocking, clicking, knocking, or tapping sounds. When you hear any of these noises, it is an indication that there is something wrong somewhere inside the engine and you will usually know what caused it by determining the sound the engine makes and when it happens.


Engine tapping sounds are quite common, they are usually caused by insufficient lubrication of the engine's moving parts, broken components, or there are some components that are about to break or fail. When this happens, you might ask, what does engine tapping sound like?


Like mentioned above, engine tapping is that metallic ticking or tapping noise you hear coming from the engine. It is a problem that occurs when your car hits a certain mileage or when your car is not getting the proper maintenance it needs. Usually, the engine tapping noise gets louder when you are accelerating, when you are idling, or during start ups.


You might ask, what is the tapping noise in my engine? You may hear engine tapping noises that can lead you to ask, “what does engine tapping sound like?”, when your car has any of these problems.


  • Low oil level.


If your car’s oil level is low, it can lead to a number of issues. It can happen since a sufficient amount of oil is required to ensure that all the moving parts of the engine are properly lubricated. Low oil level can cause some of the engine’s moving components to not receive sufficient lubrication. When this happens, it can result in clicking, ticking, or tapping noises to occur.


So you ask, what does engine tapping sound like? You may hear a constant tapping sound from your engine, particularly from the engine valve train components like the rockers, cam adjusters, camshafts, and lifters. The moment you notice this constant, tapping noises, you need to have it fixed as soon as possible. If the problem is caused by a low oil level, it can also cause other problems such as engine overheating.




Fixing oil level issues is pretty easy, as long as it is not associated with any other problems. First thing that you can do is to check your car’s oil level. Just make sure that your car is on a level ground when you are checking it. Then locate the dipstick under the hood, pull it out, and wipe any oil on it. Then put the dipstick in again and pull it out. You should be able to see the oil level on the dipstick markings. You can check your owner’s manual to determine the exact level of oil your car should have. If it’s too low, you need to top it off.


Of course, you don’t just top it off when it is low. You also need to investigate further to determine what caused your oil level to become low. Do a visual inspection and check for any signs of leaks under your car. Look closely for dripping oil or tiny spots of oil underneath it. If there is an oil leak, you also need to determine what caused it. It can be caused by worn or damaged gaskets or seals. Regardless of what caused the oil leak, you need to have it corrected immediately. It will usually cost you around $150 to have an oil leak repaired.


  • Faulty valve lifters.


A lifter or a tappet is a small cylindrical device that is connected to the end of the pushrod or rocker arm. It uses oil pressure to increase its size in order to provide a zero valve lash clearance. When the engine oil becomes dirty or contaminated over time, it tends to also increase its viscosity and this can result in the interaction between the tappets and the camshaft to begin wearing them both, until such time when there will be odd sounds heard between them every time the camshaft spins, and the lobes lift and drop the said lifters.


When this happens, you will be able to hear the engine tapping sounds. The efficiency and the performance of the engine will also be reduced. A worn lifter can cause the valve to not open to its exact lift distance, limiting the air and fuel mixture, which needs to enter into the cylinders. If you experience this problem, it is important to have it fixed right away. If you ignore it, it can damage the engine and its components, including the camshaft, which can be very expensive to repair.


The engine tapping noises you hear can also be caused by the lifters that are misadjusted. The tapping sound you hear that makes you wonder, “what does engine tapping sound like?”, can be coming from these lifters that are excessively spaced. It can happen since when the engine is warmed up, the valve stem will thermally expand. A precise spacing is needed to accommodate the said expansion. If it’s not, then you will hear the annoying tapping.




If the engine tapping noises are caused by a bad or misadjusted lifter, you can fix the problem by checking the viscosity of your oil. If it has become contaminated or dirty, you need to have it changed immediately. You can also use oil additives since they are capable of cleaning your valve, rockers, and lifters.


If doing an oil change or using additives don’t fix the issue, you will have to take your car to a mechanic and have your filter fully adjusted. You can also do the adjustment yourself by using a feeler gauge and wedge it between the rocker arm and the valve stem. Find a workshop manual since you will be able to find its factory setting there. This way, you can adjust the valve adjustment screw according to the recommended or right clearance.


If after doing all the suggested methods on how to fix the problem and you still hear the annoying engine tapping sounds, then the only thing you can do to fix it is by having the lifters replaced. While replacing lifters is not that difficult, it can be laborious since you have to unbolt or remove big chunks of your engine so you can access it. Since it requires major disassembly, it is best to have the professionals handle the replacement. It usually costs around $1,000 to $2,500 to have the lifters replaced.


  • Exhaust leaks.


Engine tapping can also be caused by exhaust leaks. This can happen when there is a damaged exhaust manifold or bad manifold bolts. You can do a visual inspection of your car’s exhaust system  to determine if this is what’s causing the engine tapping sounds. To start, inspect your exhaust manifold and look for any signs of damage like cracks or leaks.


Look carefully and inspect the surrounding area. If you notice black soot marks in the spot where the exhaust manifold connects to the cylinder head, then it is an indication that there is indeed an exhaust manifold gasket leak in the system. You should also check your exhaust manifold bolts and the gasket area where the manifold has been put in place to the system’s exhaust pipe.




If the engine tapping sound occurs because of an exhaust leak, the problem can be easily fixed. You just need to have the faulty components that are causing the leak replaced. You might need to replace the bad gaskets, seals, or the faulty manifold itself, whatever is causing the problem. When manifolds are cracked you can easily have them repaired or replaced with a new part.


If you are worried about the cost, an exhaust manifold leak can usually be repaired for around $100 to $800. If you plan on doing the repair yourself, the experts are not recommending it. To make sure that the problem will be repaired properly, you need to have the repair performed by a skilled mechanic.


  • Using fuel with too low octane.


Using fuel with too low octane, lower than what your car manufacturer is recommending, can cause engine tapping noises to occur. This can cause a problem since it can lead to the fuel and air mixture to ignite too early. In addition, high octane fuel burns much slower than the fuel with low octane. This means that the low octane one tends to burn more at a faster rate in a high pressure environment, which is probably why you are hearing the tapping noises that seem to be coming from the engine.




To fix this problem, you will have to follow the recommended type of fuel, with the right octane level, set by your car manufacturer. If you are not sure what type of fuel, including the octane rating, your car needs, you can consult your owner’s manual. You will usually find all the specific details there.


  • Bad belt tensioner or pulleys.


There are cases where the tapping sound you hear is not produced by the engine itself, but of something else. The tapping sound you hear coming from the engine can lead you to ask, “what does engine tapping sound like?” since it can be confusing. The sound can be caused by a bad belt tensioner or pulley.


When the engine is running, the belt will turn and it is connected to a number of pulleys throughout the engine bay. This belt needs to be at the precise amount of tension so it will be able to turn smoothly and quietly. If it’s not, you will most likely hear the tapping noises. This problem can happen when the belt becomes worn or stretched out and if the pulleys are bent out of shape.




To fix the problem, you will have to adjust the tension, replace the belt, or replace the bad tensioner.


  • Worn bearings.


Worn bearings can also cause engine tapping noises. The tapping noises are produced when the bearings are worn, which can happen over time. When they become worn, it can lead to the pistons knocking against the crankshafts, and this is what’s causing the tapping or knocking sound.




Fixing worn bearings can be very expensive since it will require much effort and time. The mechanic will have to get deep into the engine so the bearings can be reset. They need some resetting since they tend to become misplaced or dislodged over time. It will usually cost around $2,000 to $3,000 to have your worn bearings repaired or replaced.



Hopefully we have answered your question, “what does engine tapping sound like?”. Just make sure that when you hear the engine tapping noises, you should have your car checked immediately so you can get the right diagnoses. This way, you will be able to know what caused it and have it corrected. You can also refer to the common causes listed above and check each possible cause.




What do bad lifters sound like?


What is engine tapping? It could also equate to having bad lifters. A defective hydraulic lifter would usually generate a tapping sound rather than a knock or ping. Depending on the nature of the hydraulic lifter problem, the tapping will be rapid and may occur while the vehicle is cold or hot.


If your car's hydraulic lifter is malfunctioning, replace it as soon as possible to avoid further engine damage. A defective hydraulic lifter will almost always need to be replaced. Depending on the make and type of your car, you may be able to get away with changing just one damaged hydraulic filter. Many mechanics, however, advise that if you replace one lifter, you should replace them all because it's usually a sign that the others will fail soon.


Depending on how old your car is, you might want to consider using remanufactured lifters rather than buying new ones. For older used automobiles that may not have many more years of service left in them, refurbished hydraulic lifters will cost a lot less money and will typically do an adequate job.



What is engine tapping? It is a noise you don’t want to hear coming from the engine. The cause could be resolved with a simple fix or it may be caused by something more alarming. The most important thing is to have it checked right away before only an expensive fix can resolve it.