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Why Is Your Engine Ticking? 6 Important Causes

Engine Knocking Causes

Understanding “why is your engine ticking?” Is very crucial to prevent major engine damages. Here are the top causes for engine ticking sounds: 

  • Drop in engine oil level 

  • Worn-out lifters

  • Leaks in the exhaust system 

  • Bad valves 

  • A malfunctioning spark plug 

  • Damaged drive pulleys 


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In the world of automobile, any weird noise coming from the vehicle indicates an internal issue. Some of these issues might be very simple and can be fixed easily. However, other issues are links to major damages and require immediate attention. 

Since the engine is one of the most crucial components in your vehicle, monitoring any weird noises coming from the engine is crucial to prevent significant engine damages. Engine ticking is very common, and this ticking can start slowly but it might increase as you switch to idle or hit the brakes.

Understanding what causes engine ticking helps you detect the root problem and solve it immediately. This article answers the question of “why is your engine ticking?” It highlights all possible causes to check for to identify the culprit. 

What does it mean when your car starts ticking and is it OK? 

Ticking noise is very common in any vehicle. Sometimes the ticking noise might be linked to a major issue that could concern drivers but, there are many situations where the ticking noise is very normal and does not require any intervention. 

Here are some of the situations where ticking noise is not concerning: 

  • Ticking noise from the purge valve 

The purge valve is responsible for storing some of the gases generated through the combustion process. After the combustion process is done and at a certain point, the purge valve is supposed to release the gases and allow it to go through the intake manifold so they can be burnt again. 

It's not rare when the purge valve releases these gases that you hear some ticking noise because that's how it operates. 

  • Ticking noise from the PCV valve 

Since the PCV valve is not designed to last forever, as it ages, you might start hearing some ticking noises. Although these noises indicate that the PC valve is reaching its end of lifetime, it should not be very alarming because the PCV valve can easily be replaced and should not cause a lot of trouble. 

  • Ticking noise from the fuel injectors 

The fuel injectors are very small tubes responsible for injecting and spraying the fuel at the right time with the right frequency to the cylinders. Since these injectors rely on electronic signals to operate, you might hear some buzzing or ticking noise coming from then. This noise should not be concerning because again, that's how these fuel injectors operate. 

Why is your engine ticking? And how do I fix sticky noise in my engine? 

Although there are plenty of causes for hearing ticking noises that are not linked to major problems, there are some instances where the ticking noise has to do with a big problem.

Let's take a closer look at what automotive experts indicate that alarming causes for engine ticking noises:

  • Drop in engine oil level 

When your engine makes some ticking noise, consider checking the oil level. Experts noticed that once the oil level drops below a certain level, the engine will not receive the right level of lubrication and therefore, the internal moving components of the engine will grind against each other and might make some ticking noises. 

Ignoring a low engine oil is a big deal and can lead to major engine damage is due to overheating and premature wear out.

How to fix engine ticking due to low oil level? 


When your engine is ticking due to low oil, and problem is very critical, and you must take care of it immediately. With that, you're advised to check the oil level and top it off if needed.

Sometimes, the oil is dropping because of an oil leak. Thus, take a closer look beneath the vehicle and see if there are any signs of external leak. Unfortunately, oil leaks are hard to detect and if your car suffers from oil leak, you might not be able to drive the vehicle and inch.


Thus, you recommended to consult your mechanic and confirm that you can drive the vehicle or not otherwise, have your vehicle towed to the nearest repair shop. Once you get to the shop, your mechanic will use certain tool set to help him detect the leaks location and fix it depending on the severity of the leak. 

  • Worn-out lifters

Another common cause for engine ticking is when the lifters wear out. Since your engine relies on a list of lifters to help itself open mechanically, these lifters can get damaged at some point of time.

Obviously, the lifters will not stay in the vehicle forever and once they wear out, it's your responsibility to replace them immediately to prevent major engine problems. As the lifters wear out, they allow internal metal components to hit against each other to cause the ticking noise. 

If your vehicle has the right level of engine oil, your next step is to look at the lifters and ensure they are in good condition. Otherwise, you must get them replaced to resolve the issue. Some experts found that certain oil additives help reduce the ticking noise coming from the lifters temporarily.

How to fix engine ticking due to worn out lifters? 

If your engine is ticking due to a problem with the lifters, your mechanic must inspect the lifters and replace them to get rid of the problem. Otherwise, the problem will continue to increase and get louder if ignored. 

  • Leaks in the exhaust system 

Sometimes your vehicle might make a ticking noise that sounds like it's coming from the engine. However, it could be linked to a different system. For example, when the exhaust system leaks some gases, it will make some ticking noise as well.

Therefore, when you hear the ticking noise, do not limit your inspection to the engine component because the issue could be linked to something else. Consult your mechanic and have him perform a thorough inspection to detect the root of the problem. 

How to fix engine ticking due to leaks in the exhaust system? 

Similar to the oil leaks, exhausts leaks are also very labor intensive. Unfortunately, it is one of those critical problems that takes a lot of time and effort to get fixed. It also is not something that you can do on your own because the mechanics must do their specific toolsets too identify the location of the leak and fix it.

In general, fixing exhaust system leaks are considered very expensive at might approach the value of your entire vehicle. 

  • Bad valves 

Your vehicle's engine relies on a set of valves to help complete the combustion process. For example, the intake valve allows for air to flow inside the cylinders while the exhaust valves help gases escape the cylinders after the demolition process.

These valves require regular checkup to ensure that they work properly, and they are cleared. Any issue with the valves results in multiple problems and these problems are shown in different ways including some ticking noise.

How to fix engine ticking due to bad valves? 

If the ticking problem is coming from a poorly adjusted valve, your mechanic has to fix the issue by mounting the valve properly and replacing the faulty component that is causing this issue. Again, ignoring the ticking noise from faulty valves can also lead to significant damages that might cost you thousands of dollars of dollars. 

  • A malfunctioning spark plug 

The spark plugs are those small components attached to each cylinder and are responsible for producing the required spark at the right time with the right frequency for the combustion process to complete. Over time of use, the spark plug might experience all sorts of wear outs and damages. Thus, mechanics typically are required to replace these spark plugs.

If the spark plug was not installed properly and if they were not tightened enough due to some damages, any escaped gases from the combustion process might lead to some ticking noises. 

How to fix engine ticking due to malfunctioning spark plug? 

When the ticking problem is coming from an issue with the spark plug, start by wiggling the spark plug and see if it's moving. A loose spark plug results into ticking noises and your solution in this case would be to tighten it up securely. 

On the other hand, if the spark plug has major issues like cracks or other damage is, you only want solution would be to replace it. If you waited very long on a bad spark plug, the damage might reach the cylinders making repairs more challenging and increasing repair costs. 

  • Damaged drive pulleys 

Your engine is equipped with a lot of pulleys that are responsible for different jobs. These pulleys are connected to sets of bearings to ensure the best rotation smoothly. Once the bearings wear out or get damaged, the pulleys will make some ticking noise and it will sound like coming from the engine. 

How to fix engine ticking due to damaged drive pulleys? 

Finally, If you discovered that the police are not in good condition, you only one solution would be to replace them to get rid of the ticking noise. Do not underestimate the role of the police in your vehicle because the longer you wait on the ticking noise the worse it gets and the more you have to pay for fixing the problem. 

How long will a ticking engine last? 

Waiting on the ticking noise depends on the route of the problem. For example, experts indicated that you might be able to drive up to 100 miles with some ticking noise coming due to a bad lifter. However, automotive experts never recommend driving a single mile when the ticking noise is happening due to a significant low oil level.

In general, we always recommend that you get the problem resolved immediately and never wait on any weird noises coming from the vehicle even if those not related to the ticking. The longer you wait, the harder it gets to fix the problem and the higher the repair costs. 


Any weird noises coming from the vehicle’s components might indicate an internal problem. While some of these noises can be normal and we might hear them in our daily basis, some significant problems are linked to specific types of noises.

Engine ticking is very common and when the engine ticks, the problem could be linked to a variety of culprits. For example, your engine will tick due to an issue with the low oil level, the worn-out lifters, the leak in the exhaust system, the bad valves, the malfunctioning spark plug, and the damaged drive pulley. 

While some of these problems and issues can be solvable, others are not solvable unless you replace the component. There are some engine ticking situations where repair costs increased significantly approaching the value of the vehicle here at if that's the case, you advised to sell your vehicle instead of wasting your time and effort trying to get it to work.

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