Ticking or Clicking Noise In Engine: Reasons and Fixes

Is ticking noise in the engine something you should be worried about? Well, maybe or maybe not. There are a couple of reasons for such noise. It could be a natural cause or due to faulty car parts connected to the engine. An engine works together with other parts and can make clicking noises. 

While some noise should be of great concern to you, others shouldn’t bother you. You will mostly hear the clicking noises when in motion, accelerating, idling or when starting up the vehicle. So, let me walk you through some possible causes and fixes of clicking noise in your engine.

Why My Car Engine Makes A Ticking Or Clicking Noise

First thing first, remember there are reciprocating and rotating engine components. And that the reciprocating parts may cause the clicking sound you hear in most cases. 

The rotating components such as bad bearings and other faulty accessories may also be the cause. This is because they make whining noises as they keep rotating. 

On the other hand, reciprocating engine parts tend to make clicking, clunking, or ratcheting noises as they move. Examples of reciprocating components may include rods, pistons, valves, rocker arms, and pushrods.

Another thing that plays a huge role in causing this noise is the engine oil. It works together with many reciprocating and rotating parts. So in most cases, if something goes wrong with it, it tends to affect some engine accessories it drives. As these components get affected, it directly affects the engine as well. 

Now that you know which components are likely to make such sounds, your thoughts should tell you where to check first. Knowing where the noise is coming from will direct you on how to get rid of ticking noise in the engine. However, you can still check the rotating components to be sure where the sound is coming from.

ticking noise in engine when starting

Causes Of Engine Ticking Noise

The following are reasons why your engine is making a clicking noise.

Normal Wear And Operating Noise

Ticks in the engine could be regular as a result of your engine design. It could also be a result of wear that occurs as your engine runs. Now, I will highlight some ticking noise your engine makes that shouldn’t bother you.

  • If your car uses fuel injectors, you may hear such ticks when your injectors fire. Fuel injectors are portable electric valves. They quickly open and close to allow the correct quantity of fuel into the internal combustion chamber.

In many vehicles, you will hear a sound as the injectors close and open when idle. The noise is usually like that of a pointed pencil tapping on a table with a harmonious sound. In cases where you have faulty fuel injectors, you will not hear such a sound.

  • Another tick that shouldn’t bother you is that from your exhaust manifold leak. As high fumes leave the crack in the manifold or leak from the exhaust, a click or a tick is heard. 

This happens mostly when the engine is idle or the engine is at low RPM. While this tick isn’t dangerous, you should fix it on time. This is to ensure that exhaust fumes stay where they are supposed to stay. 

  • The clicking sound could be from your purge valve. The purge valve’s job is to release fumes stored in the engine’s intake system, where they burn. So as it carries out this task, it can emit a ticking sound
  • The sound could also be from the PCV valve, especially when the valves are old. So ensure you change old PCV valves to avoid such noise.
  • Fuel pumps, especially electrical ones, tend to make a clicking sound when it starts. If the pump does not engage when you try to start the car, it means you have a bad fuel pump.
  • You can also hear an engine ticking noise when cold starting an engine. The sound may be from the valves, piston, or cylinder wall clearance. But as you keep driving, the engine warms up, and the sound disappears.

Misadjusted Valves

Misadjusted valves could also cause valve ticking noise in engine.  An engine comes with an intake and exhaust valve that allows air in and out of the combustion chambers.

There is a component known as a rocker arm that helps to open and close the valves.  The rocker arm, in turn, is controlled by the camshaft pushrods. These pushrods must be at an exact distance from the valves.

These valves open and close twice as your engine spins and moves at a short distance and time. You will hear a clicking sound if the valves do not open and close at the appropriate time and distance. 

Faulty Lifters

An engine’s cylinder head utilizes different lifters to open and close engine valves. With time, they wear out, hence causing a metal-on-metal ticking noise in engine when idle and accelerating. 

Filter Spacing issues

The filter is placed between the pushrod and a camshaft. There will be issues if the space within these three components is too loose or too tight. If the space is loose, the components will not contact properly, causing a ticking noise. 

As your car runs, engine heat causes valve stem expansion. If the space is too tight, the lifter would not have enough space to accommodate stem expansion and it’ll make the engine tick.

Low Engine Fluid

Most times, you may hear ticking noise in engine when starting, idling, or accelerating. This could be due to some engine parts not being properly lubricated due to low engine oil. Improper lubrication of engine valve train components can also cause engine ticking noise and loss of power in the engine.

Not Using The Right Oil

Every car comes up with engine oil recommendation that’s best for that specific model. Some car oils are good for summer, while some are for winter; as such, you must know which to use. So, if you use the wrong engine oil, it will cause your engine to make a ticking noise. 

Oil Filter Issues

The oil filter ensures that dirt and other debris do not enter the engine oil. If the filter becomes bad, dirt will enter the oil and contaminate it and cause a clicking sound.

Contaminated Engine Oil

As you use your vehicle, dirt can enter your engine oil due to wear or tear. This is why it is recommended to change the oil regularly. If you don’t, the dirt will pile up and block the engine filters, causing it to make a clicking noise.

Rod Knock

An engine that ticks slowly together with engine RPM, say once as your engine revolts, could mean a knocked rod. The con rod will knock if the engine bearings deteriorate, thereby causing spacing/wiggling between the main bearing cap.

So as the bearing deteriorates, it allows a movement that plays like a tap or clunk sound. This sound depends on how damaged the bearing is. 

When the rod knocks, the engine’s RPM sound changes, but the engine’s load or temperature sound remains the same. The only way to rectify a knocking rod is to rebuild your motor. This is quite expensive, but you will need to do it later on.

Damaged Spark Plugs

Old or bad spark plugs can cause a clicking noise in the engine, especially in vehicles with high mileage.

In other cases, a misaligned spark plug can cause this noise. This is because a spark plug not seated properly allows exhaust fumes to bypass and make an engine tick.

Faulty Drive Pulleys

Pulleys use bearings to turn, just like skateboard wheels. And as time goes by, they get worn out. When they are worn out, they cause an irritating noise when idle or during acceleration. 

Poor Maintenance

Regular and proper maintenance will make your vehicle stay longer. One thing is to maintain your car regularly, and another is using the right persons and tools. Not using the right tools and persons will cause your engine components to get worse and cause ticking noise.

how to fix ticking noise in engine

How Do I Fix A Ticking Noise In My Engine?

How to fix ticking noise in engine depends on different things that can cause such noise. As such different approaches will need to be utilized in solving this issue.

Change Or Top Your Engine oil

Some engine ticks come from engine oil. When it’s dirty, you should change. If it’s low, try topping with recommended oil additives. 

Low oil levels could result from leaks due to worn-out gaskets or seals. So you can use additives like Blue devil oil to stop the leaks. A leak-free engine will always have enough oil in it. Thus, eliminate ticking noise and keep your engine component lubricated always

Use Oil Additives to Clean Oil and Engine parts

Oil additives are special fluids used to clean engine oil. This fluid does not affect the viscosity (thickness or lightness) of the oil.  Aside from making the oil clean, it can also clean engine parts such as lifters, rocker arms, valves, etc.

Using oil additives to clean your engine oil regularly will increase your car’s performance. For oil additives suitable for your vehicle, please check your owner’s manual for recommended additives.

Change Damaged Spark plugs

Spark plugs seat on the head of the internal combustion engine. If worn out, they won’t seat properly, thus, causing fumes to bypass and causing the engine to click. To eliminate this licking noise, you should replace bad spark plugs.

Adjust Valves 

The pushrods must be at a specified distance from the valves. If the valves are not properly aligned, they will not open and close at the right time. If this happens, there will be an engine clicking noise. 

So to ensure the right timing for valves to open and close, make sure they are correctly adjusted. This is particularly true, especially for cars that have higher mileage.

Adjust Lifter Spacing 

When the lifter is too loose or too tight, it will cause a clicking noise in the engine. So ensure it is balanced to eliminate this noise. Lifter adjustments are tedious, so you may need an expert mechanic to adjust them for you. However, you can check your car owner’s manual for specific instructions on how to adjust lifters.

Replace Engine Pushrods

The pushrods work together with the valves and lifters. If they are bent or worn out, they affect the lifters and other engine parts and cause an engine clicking noise. To eliminate this noise, change the engine pushrods.

Replace Bad Oil Filters

Oil filters ensure that dirt does not enter the engine oil. Bad filters will allow dirt into the engine oil and will cause a clicking noise in the engine. To avoid this, ensure you change faulty oil filters.

Change Faulty Or Worn Out Pulley Drives

Faulty or worn-out pulleys will not turn appropriately with bearings. So long they don’t spin properly, you will hear a ticking noise in the engine when accelerating or idling. To avoid this, get a mechanic to have them replaced.

Change bad bearings

Bad bearings connected to rods will cause the rods to knock and make engine noise. So ensure you change bad bearings so they don’t affect the rods. If your rod knocks due to a bad bearing, it will need you to rebuild the entire engine to fix the noise. This task is expensive to do, so avoid it.

Fix Exhaust Manifold leaks.

Aside from the engine clicking noise, exhaust manifold leaks release dangerous fumes containing carbon monoxide into the atmosphere. This slows the time for warm-up, causing an increase instead of reducing fuel consumption. So ensure you replace the exhaust manifold in a timely.

Is A Ticking Engine Bad?

Engine ticks because of many reasons. It could be because of engine operations or faulty engine parts. If the tick is due to engine operation, as the movement of fuel injectors, it is not bad. 

But if it’s those caused by faulty engine components, then it is bad. It would help if you learned how to stop ticking noise in the engine that is dangerous to avoid engine problems.

What Is Clicking Noise Under The Hood?

Clicking Sound under the hood could be a result of lifters. Bad lifters, contaminated oil, and bent pushrods can cause the lifter to make an irritating noise. 

What Does It Mean When Your Car Starts Ticking?

If your car won’t start yet, it keeps ticking; it could be because of faulty electrical parts such as the alternator, battery, spark plugs, etc. If the tick sounds once and stops after turning your ignition on, it could be a faulty starter. 

How Long Can You Drive With A Ticking Lifter?

A ticking lifter indicates that your lifter is faulty. When it ticks, do not drive your car for more than 100 miles. 

If you keep driving for long with ticking lifters, it will damage costly engine parts and the engine itself and cause you to spend thousands of dollars to get these damages fixed.

Can A Bad Spark Plug Cause A Ticking Sound?

Bad spark plugs can cause ticking sounds. This is because they are supposed to sit properly on the engine’s head. But if they are bad, they won’t be able to sit correctly, causing a ticking sound in the engine.

Why Is My Engine Ticking After An Oil Change?

Engine ticking after changing your oil could be because of different reasons.

Engine oil level: It is possible that after changing your oil, it didn’t get to its required level. What you should do is to top up with the recommended oil until it reaches its full operating volume.

Leaks: After changing your oil, there may be leaks. This leak can reduce the oil level and cause a ticking sound. Ensure you properly inspect the oil filter and plugs for escaping fluid. 

To check for leaks, place cardboard under your car engine while it runs. Leave it there for some time and check if oil drops on it.

Loosed Drain Plug Or Oil Filter: These two components may get partially loose during an oil change and cause leaks leading to ticking noise.

Can A Bad Catalytic Converter Cause A Ticking Noise

Yes, a bad or clogged cat can cause a ticking noise. When a cat is failing, it tends to make a rattling sound. To be sure it’s the cat, bang on each side with a heavy rubber mallet. If you hear a rattling sound, it means your cat is failing. Ensure you have an unclog catalyst converter by cleaning it up and changing bad ones.

Why Does My Engine Make A Clicking Sound When I Turn It Off

The exhaust system includes a rocker arm, catalytic converter, muffler, heat shield, exhaust pipes, and exhaust manifold. You will hear a clicking sound mainly when most exhaust and engine components are cooling down. As they cool, heat expansion takes place and causes a clicking sound.

While cooling, the contraction process of these components also causes metallic noise as the metal shrinks. 

What Would Cause A Ticking In Engine When Accelerating?

The ticking noise in the engine when accelerating could be from the motor top or axle shaft while running.

In the engine, inappropriate lubrication in the motor top can cause a ticking noise. In other cases, loose valve trains like lifters or engine knocking due to engine misfire can also cause this sound.

In the axle region, bad CV joints and even warped brake rotors can cause this type of noise.

How Much Does It Cost To Fix A Ticking Engine?

The cost to fix a ticking engine depends on the cause of the tick and your car model. 

If the tick is from the lifter, it is likely an oil issue. Changing oil is relatively cheap. It would cost you around $25 to $50.  But if the damage is more complicated, you could spend between $1000 – $1500 to replace an entire lifter. The entire lifter would cost between $300 to $400 and the rest will go into labor costs. This is because changing lifters is a tedious and quite complicated process that needs an expert to do.

If the problem is with the pushrods, you will spend $600-$1000 to replace them. This process is also complicated and time-consuming and, therefore, needs an expert to do it.

Problems from knock rods caused by bad bearings connected to the rod are costly to fix.  This is because you will have to rebuild your entire engine by changing many components. This could cost $900-$1500, depending on your engine type.

Majorly, to fix engine clicking noise, first, have a mechanic diagnose the cause of the sound. Then verify how much it costs to fix the components.

Final Words

Ticking noise in the engine could be caused by faulty engine or exhaust components like pushrods, valves, mufflers, etc. Or it could be due to the normal operation that goes on in the engine.  First, inspect and know what is causing such ticking noise and when you experience it. 

If the noise comes from components like fuel injectors, PCV valves, purge valves, etc., you shouldn’t worry. They tend to make a clicking noise as they work. But if the noise comes from lifters, bearings, pulley drives, etc., you must have them checked and replaced accordingly. Else more expensive engine parts will be destroyed.

Osuagwu Solomon

Osuagwu Solomon is a certified mechanic with over a decade of experience in the mechanic garage, and he has over five years of experience in the writing industry. He started writing automotive articles to share his garage experience with car enthusiasts and armature mechanics. If he is not in the garage fixing challenging mechanical problems, he is writing automotive repair guides, buyer’s guides, and car and tools comparisons.

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