Let me very candid here: I may drive around a car but I am not what you call a gearhead. Sure, I know the essentials but if something rattles around under the hood, I have no idea where to look, much less how to fix it.
So you can imagine my anxiety when one day, I noticed some rattling inside my vehicle. I had no way of knowing which part of my car was actually causing noise. Aside from being generally irritating, hearing unusual sounds while you’re driving can also be pretty risky for these reasons and then some:
- Diverts your attention away from the road
- Possibly distract you from more important sounds that you must hear, like a car or train horns
- An indication that something is really wrong with your vehicle
- Cover up more alarming sounds coming from your engine
With that said, it’s crucial to pore over every source of sound that comes from your car. Unless you’re a gearhead or someone whose second language is cars, you really might not know something is wrong with your car until it’s too late.
After talking it over with my mechanic buddy, I was made to realize that the most likely perpetrators were my hydraulic lifters. So I tried to look for ways to quiet noisy lifters.
First off, let’s see what lifters are and why they tend to make this type of noise. And later on, I’ll share several of the most effective ways of solving this problem.
Table of Contents
Don’t want to read through our whole guide? You can use our table of content to jump to the part most relevant to you!
- So, What are Lifters?
- How Can Noisy Lifters be Dangerous?
- What Causes a Lifter to Tick?
- How to Quiet Noisy Lifters
- The Bottom Line
So, What are Lifters?
Valve lifters are cylindrical parts inside of your engine that is estimated to be around the size of a finger. They usually have a tiny hole inside that lets oil grease up the inside of the cylinder. The lifter then raises the pushrod or rocker arm — which is around a quarter inch thick metal bar — up to meet the top of the valve.
Lifters should ideally function without much noise quietly and keep the whole engine going smoothly and noise-free. So, obviously, when the lifters themselves are noisy, that is already a telltale sign that something is definitely amiss.
Now, there are numerous kinds of lifters, some of which are less noisy than others. Examples are solid and mechanical roller lifters. Solid lifters need manual rocker arm adjustments, though they are a fine choice for strength and speed. And roller lifters resolve problems of solid lifters, but their price is often right up there.
The kind of lifter that you most probably find in your engine is what is called a hydraulic valve lifter. Speed is somewhat compromised when it comes to these, but they’re self-adjusting, so you won’t need to manually adjust the pushrods.
Much like any other part of an engine, all three of these kinds of lifters need consistent maintenance checks. Of course, hydraulic valves are the ones that are most likely to generate that annoying ticking noise.
How Can Noisy Lifters be Dangerous?
You would really need to be a gearhead to be able to discern that distinctive tapping noise a defective lifter would make. So at first, you’d need to ensure that there are no loose sheet metal parts clattering around your engine. The same holds true for other parts of your vehicle.
If you can still catch ticking noises after you’ve gotten your car to be as quiet as it can be, the problem might be either in the rods or the lifters. While doing my research on noises involving the engine, I found that if you let the noise go unchecked, your car’s performance will eventually deteriorate and not only will it pose a danger to your safety, you will also feel the pinch financially. It’s always ideal to let the professionals take a close look into the source of the noise to avoid having to spend a lot more money further down the line. Don’t worry though; if ever the lifters are at fault, there are easy ways to fix them.
What Causes a Lifter to Tick?
This is not an unusual issue for car owners. It can happen more often in older cars and in those that have amassed really large mileage. It can also happen in cars that aren’t serviced on a consistent basis.
The lifter tick that they are making can vary. It can go from just a few seconds to the entire while that your motor is running. The noise that a faulty lifter can make is generally just a simple ticking or tapping, but when it happens all the time, it can be really quite irritating.
If you have ever had a leaky faucet, you know what I am talking about. Those are just drops of water that are making a sound but when you are forced to listen to it all the time, it’s just downright maddening!
But not only are the tapping and ticking sounds of a damaged lifter annoying, but they can also cause or be a symptom of more serious problems on your car. If you do not take care of it in an appropriate manner, your engine might get to bear the brunt of it.
But what causes this to happen? There are a number of possible reasons:
- You’re using oil that is either too thick or too thin for your engine and its lifters
- There are dirt and grime in the lifters or along the valve train, likely caused by irregular maintenance and a shortage of oil changes.
- The lifters are showing signs of wear, which is what usually happens when it comes to used vehicles
If your lifters begin rattling, the noise might not even be clear at first. Rather, you may observe other noises, caused by the lack of suitable oil lubrication. Since the lifters are one of the primary parts of the oil circulatory system, you may see some inconsistencies when you’re evaluating the oil level. Your dashboard may even warn you about low pressure.
Finally, the engine may heat up rather quickly, since oil often functions as a coolant. If you’ve seen any of these indicators, it may be high time for a check-up. You can either go straight to a mechanic or handle it yourself, which I’ll help you with in the section below.
How to Quiet Noisy Lifters
Before moving forward with any DIY solutions, you should initially conduct some regular checks. If you haven’t used your car in a while, the lifters may emit some clicking because the oil has drained out. If that is the case, you simply need to let your engine run for a bit, until oil gets going again. So the noise should stop on its own. Or you can do this:
1. You Can Change the Oil
Your car’s motor needs appropriate care and lubrication. If you are using oil that is not ideal for your car, like for example, it is more or less heavy than your car basically needs, it will not lubricate as well as it should, and it can possibly result in some problems for your vehicle.
This incorrect lubrication can cause metal parts that come in contact with one another to make the lifter tick noise that we have been discussing in this article. If this tapping and rubbing persist, the engine’s oil filters can amass dirt and sludge in them, which can result in the prevention of lubrication to other parts of the engine.
To put a stop to this problem and keep your engine from running itself, you must give it appropriate lubrication, which can be done the right way with the suitable kind of oil. You will have to find the right degree of oil for your engine and alter it.
2. Use Oil Additives to Clean Your Car’s Lifters
There is a way to keep that tapping in your car engine from happening: by cleaning the lifters with the use of oil additives, but not only lifters.
You can use oil additives to tidy up rockers and valves from all the dirt and sludge that has collected inside of your engine. And if you are worried about ruining the oil especially now that you have finally found the right one for your car, you absolutely have nothing to worry about, as these oil additives do not modify the viscosity of the oil that is utilized in your engine.
I would legitimately suggest doing this every so often because it can change a lot in your car, and it can, in the long run, save a lot of money. Eradicating all the dirt in your engine is the cheapest thing to do when it comes to resolving the noisy lifters. It won’t just keep that tapping noise from annoying you out of your mind, it will help you maximize your engine’s use and durability.
3. Make Some Modifications to Your Lifters
If you have already tried adjusting your car’s oil and it has not silenced the lifters, and if you have cleaned them with oil additives and they are still creaky, don’t worry. It’s not the end of the world; there is still something that you can do.
What you have to do is to make some modifications to the engine’s lifters.
To accomplish this, you will need several things. The first is a Feeler Gauge that will be used to adjust the rocker arm of your engine and a valve stem. You will have to modify the valve adjustment screw to the right clearance, but before doing that, you have to remember to always check the manual. It will be of pretty significant to find the correct factory settings to alter to in order not to mess the lifters even more.
As with any engine trouble, you should probably perform some regular checks first. For example, if you haven’t driven your car in a while, the lifters may start clicking simply because the oil has drained out. In that case, you simply need to let your engine run for a while, about 20-30 minutes until the oil starts circulating again. So the noise should stop on its own.
However, if the ticking persists, you should start by checking the valve train for faulty components.
4. Swap Out Damaged Pushrods
If the ticking noise can still be heard, the second part of the valve train that may be damaged are the pushrods. Assess if all of the pushrods are straight and if you find that one of them is bent, it could be hitting other parts of the engine every time the lifter pushes it.
Usually, a bent rod would tell you that you’ve been a bit too “pushy” with the gas pedal. If you see a faulty pushrod, you should just swap it out with a new one. There are some that cost just $20 online, so this really won’t set you back too much.
How to do it? Unscrew the rocker arms, and remove the pushrods. Then, you can check if any of them are bent by rolling them across a flat surface.
However, I would recommend that you get a mechanic to do it. If the damaged pushrod is left unattended, it could really do substantial damage, so it’s best to replace it at the soonest possible time.
5. Buy New Lifters
The last thing you could do to hopefully put an end to your noisy lifter woes is just purchase new lifters. Depending on your engine, they can set you back anywhere from a couple of dollars to $20. But you should expect to find them in packs since a lot of people need to replace more than just one lifter. Replacing all of the lifters at once might raise your total up to $200–$400.
If you want to get your hands dirty and take the lifters out yourself, there are tools that can extricate the lifter without having to remove the whole engine. You could get this one from Performance Tools, or a more wallet-friendly one from OEM Tools.
If you are going to tap the services of a mechanic might increase the overall cost of lifter replacement to more than $1,000. Hopefully, by now you already recognize the virtue of performing regular and consistent maintenance checks.
The Bottom line
There you have it! These are all the things that can go sideways with your hydraulic valve lifters that can potentially lead to the overall unruliness of your vehicle.
Do take note that in order to be able to notice when something is wrong with your engine, you need to silence all of the other origins of noise. Fortunately, there are plenty of efficient deadening mats that won’t ask you to rob a bank just to be able to acquire them.
Once you’ve made sure that you’re not hearing the vibrations of loose metal, a hasty check of the valve train will determine if there’s something physically wrong with any of the parts. If you don’t find any, it’s entirely possible that a flushing agent and an oil additive added to the fresh oil will resolve the matter and silence your lifters.
Heed these suggestions and in time, you’ll be able to drive — around town or even across the country — without worrying about having an engine that sounds like a ticking time bomb!