Engines can make all sorts of funny sounds, and honestly, we shouldn’t be surprised when they do. There are all sorts of things in motion from engine parts, rotating shafts, to pistons and valves, not to mention explosions, so it’s surprising your engine isn’t louder. Engines can make all sorts of noises from humming to screeching, or clunking and clicking noises when turning. In this article, we’re going to talk through why your car’s engine makes a ticking or clicking sound, what the problem might be, and how to repair it.
Why is My Car Making a Clicking or Ticking Noise?
The first thing to realize if you have a tick in your engine is that it is likely due to one of the reciprocating components rather than a rotating component. Things like bad bearings or worn out accessories will usually make whirring or whining noises as they rotate while reciprocating components like your pistons, rods, valves, and pushrods usually make ticks, clunks or ratcheting type sounds.
Possible Engine Ticking Causes:
- Normal wear and operating noise
- Valves out of adjustment
- Rod knock or noisy lifter
- Low oil level
Normal Wear and Operating Noise
The tick in your engine could be normal based on the design of your engine or could just be from normal wear from your engine running. First, let’s talk through some ticks your motor may have that aren’t a problem. If you have a fuel injected car one of the ticks you could be hearing could be your injectors firing. Your fuel injectors are small electrical valves that open and close very quickly allowing a certain amount of fuel to be injected with the air your engine is drawing in. Some vehicles, like many Subarus, have injectors that you can actually hear opening and closing at idle. It should sound like a sharp pencil tapping on a desk and be very rhythmic. Injectors ticking are not a problem and you can drive with confidence. Another tick could be from an exhaust manifold leak. As high-pressure exhaust escapes from a crack in the manifold or a leak in the gasket it will sound like ticking or clicking especially at idle or low engine RPMs. This tick also isn’t dangerous for your engine, but should be fixed as soon as possible to keep exhaust gases where they should be.
Valves Out of Adjustment
The most common cause of engine ticking is a noisy valve train. Your valves have to open and close once for every 2 times your engine spins around. In an overhead cam engine, the camshaft lobes themselves depresses the valve while in single cam engines, the cam actuates push rods that open the valves by moving a lever called the rocker arm. Since your valves move very quickly and only move a short distance, the distance from the cam or pushrod to the valve needs to be very precise. These distances are controlled using shims or other adjustments and as normal wear occurs those distances can move out of tolerance. If there is excessive play in these components you can usually hear them “tick” as they shift around while your engine is running. This clearance can sometimes be removed by adjusting the rocker arms and sometimes requires installing new shims. If you have a pushrod style engine with solid lifters, may want to make sure the lifters are clean as there can be oil deposits built up on them which can also cause noise. This is the least expensive fix as you can typically change the motor oil in your car and the lifter tick will go away.
Lifter Tick or Rod Knock?
If your engine ticks along with engine RPM and the ticking sounds slower, say once every engine revolution it could indicate that you’ve got rod knock. Rod knock comes from a bad bearing in your connecting rod. As the bearing wears out it will allow movement and that play will sound like tapping or clunking depending on how bad it is. If you’ve got rod knock the sound will change with engine RPM and will not change with engine temperature or load. Unfortunately, if you’ve got rod knock, the only answer is rebuilding your motor.
Low Oil Level
A low oil level can cause engine ticking noises as valvetrain components aren’t getting the proper lubrication and start to get noisy. If you hear a tick coming from your motor, check the oil level immediately. If you find that you have a low oil level, consider adding an oil additive such as BlueDevil Oil Stop Leak as you top off your engine oil. BlueDevil Oil Stop Leak is specially formulated to restore the seals and gaskets in your engine to stop both large and small oil leaks. Ensuring you have a leak-free engine will make sure you have enough oil in your engine eliminating your tick and making sure everything says lubricated and safe.
You can pick up BlueDevil Oil Stop leak from any of our partnering local auto parts stores like:
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