Last Updated: 23.12.2021

Engine noise issues can be alarming. Thus, it’s crucial to know the different causes of engine noise, and particularly, learn how to fix ticking noise in engine.

But first, you have to make sure the noise you’re hearing is actually coming from inside of your engine. The noise has to come from an internal source to the engine and not something from the outside.

You might have a loose heat shield that is causing the noise whenever you rev the engine and end up mistaking it for a ticking noise in the engine.

Keep on reading to learn more!

What Causes Ticking Noise in Engine?

These are the most common causes of ticking noise in the engine.

Normal Wear

car mechanic checking car engine

Your vehicle will not stay at peak condition all the time. Daily operation and normal wear will force something to go wrong somewhere, especially in the engine. But you’ve got to know how to distinguish between normal operation noises and problematic ones.

If you’ve got a fuel injection engine, you are likely to hear ticks whenever the injectors are firing. The injectors open and close quickly to allow the injection of the ideal amount of fuel into your engine’s internal combustion. You may hear a pointed pencil tapping sound whenever the injectors open and close. In some situations, the fuel injectors might be faulty and that’s why you hear the sound.

Sometimes you may have a loose heat shield on your vehicle, especially on the exhaust, which is a common thing to happen. Every time you rev the engine of your car, the loose heat shield vibrates and hits against your engine, and makes a very distinct noise. If you aren’t familiar with that noise, you may easily mistake it for a ticking noise in the engine.

Another ticking noise that should be addressed but not coming from the engine is the one caused by an exhaust manifold leak. A crack in the manifold will allow a high-pressure exhaust to escape. The escaping high-pressure exhaust will produce a ticking sound. 

Problems With the Lifter

Lifters are hydraulic or mechanical/solid connections between the valves and the camshaft. They follow the contour of the cam holes to lift the valve off its seat.

Hydraulic lifters use oil to absorb the resultant shock of valvetrain operation, while solid lifters offer a rigid connection. They control the closing and opening of the exhaust and intake valves. They make sure the timing is perfect every time the valves close and open.

It’s quite normal for hydraulic lifters to generate some rattle or ticking sounds when you attempt a cold engine start-up. This is so since they lost oil when the engine wasn’t in operation. If the rattle or tick sound doesn’t disappear, then it could be an indication of a worn-out lifter or blocked oil feed.

Valvetrain Problems

Valvetrain problems can cause a loud ticking sound inside the engine. Pushing with your finger placed on the valve spring retainer while the engine idles will produce a shock each time the loose valve hits its seat.

A valvetrain noise usually occurs at half the speed of engine rpm because the camshaft only turns once for every two turns of the crankshaft. Valvetrain noise can be excessive if your engine features solid lifters or a collapsed hydraulic valve filter. Another possibility could be a bent pushrod.

On engines with adjustable rockers, getting rid of a valvetrain noise may be only a matter of adjusting the clearance. If you can’t solve a noisy valvetrain by adjusting the valve, you will have to remove and check the parts until you pinpoint the root of the problem. 

Low Oil Level

If the engine has a low oil level, then poor engine lubrication is the cause of the ticking sound. It’s common knowledge that oil helps to lubricate the engine.

In other words, oil acts as a microscopic barrier between engine parts that rub against each other. So, a low oil level will surely cause engine parts to come into direct contact, producing ticking noise. You might blame the rocker arms, valve stems, or valve filter, but the problem is low engine oil.

Rod Knock

A rod knock occurs when your rod bearings get worn out beyond a certain limit. The worn-out bearings create a lack between the cap and the crankshaft.

When that happens, every time the connecting rod goes up and down, it’s going to smack against other parts, making that distinct knocking or ticking noise.

The engine is normally engineered with gap tolerances to allow oil to sneak in and lubricate the surfaces of the bearings. The oil film simply creates a barrier between the metallic surfaces. Worn-out bearings create uneven gaps that lead to rod knock. 

What usually causes rod knock or premature wearing out of the bearings is usually poor maintenance. This can include poor oil circulation through your engine due to a faulty component.

Low Oil Pressure

Low oil pressure can easily cause damage to a healthy engine in a very short time. As we have earlier seen, noises (including ticking sounds) in the engine are all lubrication issues.

Low oil pressure can cause valve lifters not to pump up, generating valvetrain noise. A faulty oil pressure sending unit could sometimes lead to low oil pressure reading on the electric dash gauge. You must always diagnose oil pressure before making any conclusions.

If the ticking noise is accompanied by normal oil pressure, then a deeper diagnosis of the noise in the engine is necessary.

Low oil pressure can be caused by a low oil level in the engine or oil that is too thin in the crankcase. Your problems may also be due to worn-out bearings, a damaged oil pump, or an oil leak. 

Bad Oil Pump

The oil pump is an important part of the system that ensures the engine is always lubricated. It does a great job of pumping oil from the sump and into your car’s engine.

When you’ve got a bad oil pump, however, you are going to experience several issues. The first one is the pressure warning light (low oil pressure). The oil pump is responsible for regulating oil pressure. So, a bad oil pump will lead to low oil pressure. A low oil pressure, as we discussed earlier, leads to valvetrain noise and ticking noise caused by worn-out bearings.

But the most noticeable feature of a bad oil pump is oil pump noise. It normally produces a whining or whirring sound even when your vehicle is idle.

Ticking Noise After Oil Change

When you drain the old oil out of your vehicle, screw in a new filter, and then replace the old oil with four to six quarts of new oil, a few things could go wrong.

The first one is forgetting to put new oil into the filter before attaching it to the engine. It is extremely important to do that because the oil pump needs to first pump oil into the filter and then into the engine. 

If the filter doesn’t have any oil, then the oil pump will just pump air into the system when you start the engine. This could cause the lifters to make a ticking noise.

The second one is forgetting to put the drain plug back in after draining the old engine oil. The new oil will simply come out of the bottom as a leak. So, you will have low oil levels, which will lead to other problems, including ticking noise.

The third one is using the wrong oil viscosity. If you didn’t use the manufacturer’s recommended viscosity, the oil will not be thick or thin enough to run the engine properly, causing ticking noise and other problems in the engine. 

How to Fix Ticking Noise in Engine – Helpful Tips & Tricks

Once you know the different causes of ticking noise in the engine, you can go ahead and fix the problem or problems. 

The following are the most important steps you need to follow when fixing ticking noise in engine.

Step 1: Diagnosing Common Noises in the Engine

diagnosing common noises in engine

There are several noises or sounds that are associated with your engine. So, it is pretty easy to mistake one sound from the other, and that’s why we recommend you diagnose common noises like ticking, knocking, tapping, popping, and hissing among others.

Crankshaft Knock

The first thing you should diagnose is the crankshaft knock, which is normally caused by worn-out bearings.

For this diagnosis, you will need an oil dipstick. Insert the dipstick and then remove it. Check the dipstick for metal reflections. If there are any metal shavings in your engine oil, then this should tell you that the bearings are worn out, causing the knock and you need to replace them.

Valvetrain Noise

Valvetrain noise is one of the major causes of ticking noise in the engine. Common culprits are a defective valve lifter or excessive valve clearance.

If the noise is from the valvetrain, remove the valve covers. Then run your engine to help pinpoint the faulty part. If the noise is heard at low rpm, then reduce idle speed so the oil does not splash all over. Check and confirm that the pushrods rotate and the valves open and close. If a pushrod is not rotating or a valve is not opening as much as the rest, then check for a bent pushrod or a badly worn-out lifter.

You can use a thickness gauge to check the clearance. All you’ve got to do is insert it between the valve stem and the lifter. If there’s a reduction in the noise, then you’ve got excessive clearance and correct adjustments are necessary.

If the noise persists, you probably have bad lifters. So, you have to check for weak valve springs and loose moving lifters.

Step 2: Check and Fix All Engine Oil Related Issues

We have seen throughout this article that the most common causes of ticking noise in the engine are somehow associated with engine oil. You will know you’ve got oil-related issues when you see the gauge warning light. This usually tells you that your oil pressure is low.

Check Engine Oil Level

check engine oil level

The first thing to check and rule out is the engine oil level. There are a few things you have to do before checking engine oil level. Start by switching your car engine off, allow the engine to cool down before checking the oil level, and make sure your vehicle is parked on stable ground to get an accurate reading.

Access the engine bay and locate the engine oil dipstick, which normally has a bright yellow ring on top. Pull out the entire dipstick stem and immediately wipe it off because it’s going to have oil that was splashed on it when the engine was running. 

Reinsert the dipstick all the way in and pull it out again and check the oil level. There are two curved markings for minimum and maximum levels. If the oil is full, then the problem must be something else.

But you will need to replace the oil in case of low oil levels or if the oil is dirty or contaminated.

Change Engine Oil

change engine oil

You will have to change engine oil when you’ve got low oil levels or contaminated engine oil. It is advisable to use the manufacturer’s recommended engine oil replacement.

The oil you use must have the correct viscosity to avoid problems. The viscosity could be increased, however, whenever the engine mileage increases. If you were using 5W-30 when your vehicle was new, you could use 10W-30. 

Avoid putting low-grade oil into your engine because it can cause sludge, leading to premature wear and failure inside your engine.

To change engine oil, you will need a heavy-duty jack stand, a long extension, and the ideal socket. Raise your vehicle with the help of your jack stand. Then locate the drain plug and use the socket attached to the extension bar to get it loose. 

Slowly loosen the drain plug and put the drain pan into position to catch the old oil when it drains. Let your old engine oil drain for about 5 to 10 minutes.

It is recommended to get a new gasket for the drain plug whenever you are doing an oil change to avoid leakages. When all the old oil is out, put the drain plug back into position, and tighten it to prevent leakages. It is also a good idea to change the oil filter while changing the oil.

Pour some oil into the new filter before mounting. This will ensure that no air is pumped into the engine when you start the vehicle. Go back under the hood and pour the correct amount of oil into the engine. Take your old oil to a recycling center instead of harming the environment with it. 

Check the Oil Pressure Sending Unit

check the oil pressure sending unit

If you have the correct oil level, then you probably have a bad or failing oil pressure sending component. The sending component tells your engine what the oil pressure is and it often wears out with time, giving a false reading. 

The location of the oil pressure sending component may a bit difficult to find, depending on your vehicle. Find and replace the sending unit to remedy the problem.

Step 3: Quiet Noisy Lifters With Engine Oil Treatment

use engine oil treatment

Lifter sounds are the most common cause of ticking under the hood. The lifters might be worn out or you simply have a blocked oil feed.

An engine oil treatment is formulated to help clear up gunk inside the lifters. The manufacturer’s recommended product will loosen up a lot of mess and hopefully quiet your engine. The treatment is usually added to the oil. But there are some important instructions to be followed.

The problem should go away after driving a hundred miles or so. But if the problem doesn’t go away, then you might have worn-out filters that need to be replaced.

FAQs

Can I drive a vehicle with a ticking noise in the engine?

It depends on the source of the ticking noise. Fuel-injected engines, for example, produce a ticking noise when the injectors are firing. So, in this case, the ticking is normal. But if the ticking is accompanied by a gauge warning light, you probably have low oil pressure and several issues that need to be addressed.

Will an engine oil treatment stop the ticking noise problem?

If the ticking is because of old oil, low oil level, or gunk buildup, then the treatment should help quiet the noise. But if lifters or bearings are worn out, then much closer inspection and fixing will be required. 

The Bottom Line

When diagnosing engine noises and learning how to fix them, you need a good foundation to start with. That’s why it is important to know how to pinpoint the cause of the noise. Knowing that the ticking noise in your engine is caused by lifter problems, valvetrain noise, and low oil level or pressure could help you come up with a good fixing plan.