Last Updated: 05.11.2021

The lifters are some of the most underrated but crucial parts of the engine. They are located between the cylinder valves and the camshaft. And as the camshaft moves over the lifter, they actuate and open the engine’s valves. Basically, lifters help clear the valve train when the engine undergoes thermal expansion.

But just like all the other parts of a vehicle, lifters can degrade with time after regular use due to sludge buildup and engine oil. These components weaken after quite some time, and when that happens, it can affect their performance and mobility. 

It’s therefore important to get them changed, but some claim that you have to remove the headers when changing the lifters. This is not true! 

If you want to know how to change 5.3l lifters without removing heads, please read on…

Can You Change the Lifters Without Removing the Heads?

Yes, you can change the lifters without removing the head in some engines. But if you’re doing it for the first time, then it’s safe for you to remove the heads first to access the lifters. That’s because if you’re inexperienced, you could end up doing more harm than good when replacing the lifters while not removing the heads. 

When Is the Right Time to Change the 5.3l Lifters?

lifter removed from the engine

Generally, there is no specific time frame for replacing the lifters set by vehicle or lifter manufacturer. But some manufacturers say that you should replace the lifters every 500 or 1000 miles. 

There are also signs that will tell you it’s time to replace your car’s lifters. Here are some of the reasons why you need to replace the lifters:

1. Crack and Wear

Since the lifters open the valves when the engine is expanding and hot, They are prone to cracking under the weight of the camshaft. So you can monitor them and confirm if they’re cracked or worn out after driving for 500miles or 1,000 miles. You can also inspect the camshaft while you are at it.

2. Rust

Lifters are made from steel; therefore, they are prone to rust when exposed to water. So when inspecting it for cracks, you should remove any rust on its surface. You can remove the rust using a mixture of baking soda and water. But if the corrosion is severe, then you may have to replace the lifters.

3. Stuck Lifters

lifter with lubricant

Lifters can get stuck when exposed to engine oil with too much dirt. This also happens because of faulty lifters or improper lifters spacing. When a lifter is stuck, it will make a ticking sound. This can be remedied by replacing the engine oil. You can also correct this problem by adjusting the spaces between the lifters or cleaning the lifters. In rare cases, you may have to replace the entire lifter set.

4. Collapsed Lifters

When diagnosing a misfire, everybody assumes that it’s because of a faulty oxygen sensor, clogged fuel injectors, or a damaged spark plug. But one thing that most folks forget is that damaged lifters can also cause a misfire. 

If the fuel and spark are good, then the car isn’t getting enough compressions thanks to a collapsed lifter. A collapsed lifter can prevent the cylinders from mixing and burning fuel and air, resulting in a misfire. A misfire occurs inside the combustion chamber, while a backfire occurs outside the combustion chamber.

To diagnose this issue, you can open up all the cylinders and then start the engine and see which rocker is not moving. If one of the rockers isn’t moving or is slower than the others, then the lifters of that cylinder have collapsed and need to be replaced. 

5. Vehicle Backfiring

A backfiring is triggered by an explosion or combustion that occurs when unburnt fuel is ignited. At times, a flame may be seen when your vehicle backfires. But most of the time, you will hear loud popping noises followed by a loss of forwarding motion and power. When this happens, then the problem may be damaged lifters.

Other reasons why you must replace the lifters

If the engine starts making weird noises, then chances are that the lifters are damaged. 

When one of the lifters is damaged, the rocker arm in that cylinder will become loose and start making lots of noises while the engine is running. When examining the lifters, if you discover that they are clogged with oil—which happens when there is a leakage—you need to replace them.

How to Change 5.3L Lifters Without Removing Heads

The cost of replacing the camshaft and lifters of the engine cost around $1,000. And if you ask for a quote, you will be told that the final price will depend on the amount of damage done to the engine. 

Therefore, to save yourself some cash, it’s always a great idea to change the lifters yourself. When changing the lifters, you should do the following:

Step 1: Study the Engine

From a technical perspective, replacing a damaged lifter is not hard, but it will require you to unbolt a considerable part of the engine. So, you have to know where every sensor and ducting goes. Remember, engines are different from each other, so just because you have done the job on one car doesn’t mean that it will be the same on all other engines.

Therefore, as part of the preparations, you must study the engine and know where everything goes. 

If you have never worked on the engine before, you can take a few pictures of the different parts of the engine. You can even take photographs as you work on the engine. 

You can find more information on where all the ducts, sensors, and pipes go in the owner’s manual.

Step 2: Disconnect and Remove the Sensors, Wires, and Duct Pipes

Start disconnecting the duct pipes, wires, and sensors after studying the engine. You can start with the tubing coming from the throttle box and then the intake ducting. 

Next, disconnect the others while making sure that you take pictures of every part you are working on so you know where everything goes. Make sure to stay focused and keep an eye on the engine’s sensors.

Step 3: Open the Car’s Manifold

A 5.3 L engine has two manifolds (upper and lower manifolds). To access the lower manifold, you must first remove the upper manifold. 

The upper intake manifold helps distribute air to all the engine’s cylinders. It’s usually attached to the cylinder heads. When the air enters, it distributes it evenly in all cylinders.

To remove the manifolds, you need to first remove the sensors and cables attached to them. Removing the upper manifold will require a considerable amount of time, and that is because you must remove the 6 bolts that are holding it in place.

Next, using an Allen wrench, remove the wires connected to it from the bottom or the top. You shouldn’t worry about losing any part since the fasteners will remain attached to other engine components. This will make it easy to reassemble the engine later.

Step 4: Remove the Damaged Lifter

Remove all the bolts and nuts from the vehicle’s engine, starting with the lower air intake. Then, systematically work your way through the engine compartment. Make sure you remove all the bolts and nuts, even the ones that are camouflaged. 

Next, remove the upper manifold. If it’s stuck, you can hit it gently with a rubber mallet. Don’t force it open using the screwdrivers, as it will damage the engine’s intake and heads. 

After removing the upper manifold, you can then easily access the damaged lifter set and remove it.

Step 5: Install New Lifters

Finally, you can insert your new lifters in the socket in the right pattern. Make sure you don’t mix the pattern as it will wear out faster. Don’t forget to wear a pair of gloves. Twist the lifters in the correct bores. Force the lifters in place using a wrench and fill them with oil.

Step 6: Assemble the Sensors, Wires, and Duct Pipes

After installing the new lifters and filling them with oil, you can correctly reconnect all the wires, sensors, and duct pipes. The pictures you took while opening up the engine will come in handy during this stage. With the pictures you took, you can be sure that you have reconnected everything correctly. There’s no room for mistakes here as any error you make while connecting these cables can result in more expensive damages. 

Step 7: Confirm That Everything Is Correctly Installed

Before starting the engine, you can double-check and confirm that everything is in place. 

If you notice an intermixed connection, you can correct it and then start the engine. Let the engine run for a few minutes to confirm if the new lifters are working or not. 

If the engine runs without producing too much noise, then everything is ok. But if it makes noises, then you will have to open it again and install it correctly.

Can You Drive With a Bad Lifter?

Yes, you can drive a vehicle with damaged or collapsed lifters, but it’s not advisable. If you operate an engine with a damaged lifter, then the lifter can move down until they reach the camshaft and damage it. This is the main reason why most folks have to replace both the lifters and the camshaft every time their lifters get damaged. Therefore, you should never drive for over 100 miles if the car’s lifters are damaged.

Also, check out Best Cam for 5.3 Vortec.


The lifters in your car’s engine can get clogged with lots of sludge and get damaged with time resulting in them failing. When this happens, the engine will start misfiring, backfiring, become noisy or lose some power. In most cases, the only solution for this problem is replacing the lifter set in the engine. And if you plan on saving some cash, then it’s always a good idea to repair by yourself without removing the cylinder heads. 

With a new lifter set, you won’t have to worry about the engine failing at unexpected times. The engine won’t produce clacking noises because the new lifters will keep the valves well-oiled.