A vehicle’s engine will inevitably make some noise at one point. After all, there are numerous moving bits and pieces inside a working engine. The majority of these sounds are not particularly loud and do not cause concern to the average car owner. However, there are occasions when engine noises sound a bit off or unusual. Regardless of the type of strange sound your engine makes, one’s mind immediately turns to an impending engine breakdown and the ridiculously expensive bill that will come with having these issues fixed, which is where we come in!
In this article, we will be going over the different causes of ticking engine noise and how you can pinpoint the cause in order to help repair these parts.
Why is my engine ticking?
Remember that there are both reciprocating and rotating engine components. In most circumstances, reciprocating parts may also be responsible for the clicking sound. Rotating components, such as damaged bearings and other defective accessories, may also contribute to the issue. This is because as they continue to rotate, they emit whistling sounds.
As they move, reciprocating engine parts typically create clicking, clunking, or ratcheting sounds. Components that can reciprocate include rods, pistons, valves, rocker arms, and pushrods. The engine oil also plays a significant part in producing this noise since the engine consists of several reciprocating and spinning components. Consequently, if something fails, it typically affects the engine accessories it drives. As these components become involved, the engine is directly affected.
Now that you know which components are likely to cause these sounds, you should be able to determine where to look first. Knowing the source of these sounds can help you determine how to eradicate the ticking in your car’s engine.
However, you can still examine the rotating components to determine the source of the sound. You can potentially hear ticking, clicking, or tapping while the vehicle is idle, accelerating, or even after an oil change. To pinpoint the actual issue, you must recognise the underlying issues that need to be addressed.
Here we have listed down the possible reasons why your engine is making ticking noises:
- Very low oil levels
You should check your engine’s oil level first if you hear a ticking sound. Insufficient engine oil can starve a vehicle’s valuable lubricating components, resulting in metal-on-metal noise. When this occurs, oil cannot reach the top of the engine, resulting in a harsh tapping or ticking sound. The timing chain or valvetrain components, such as camshafts, rockers, lifters, and cam adjusters, are likely the source of the issue.
Perhaps your gaskets or seals are damaged or worn out. In either case, you will know if your engine is low on oil because it will begin to overheat. It requires the oil to cool down.
If your engine’s oil level is low, it must be refilled quickly, and the source of any leaks must be identified. Using a dipstick, you should check the oil level and fill the tank if necessary.
When the engine is warm and idling, use a pressure gauge to inspect the oil pressure. If the pressure is between 15 and 20 psi, it is okay and ready for the road.
- Defective lifters
A series of lifters provide the necessary force to mechanically open and close the valves of an engine. Over time, they deteriorate, resulting in a metallic clicking sound when the engine is idle or accelerating.
Regular engine oil changes might sometimes eliminate such noises, but a malfunctioning lifter usually needs replacement. Various oil additives can frequently reduce the noise produced by noisy lifters.
- Misadjusted valves
If you have determined that the lifters do not cause the ticking and the engine’s oil level is adequate, then the problem could be improperly adjusted valves. Misadjusted valves may also create engine valve ticking noise. Clatter might develop if engine valve clearances are not checked and set to their regular positions.
A motor’s intake and exhaust valves allow air to enter and exit the combustion chambers. A component known as a rocker arm assists in opening and closing the valves.
The camshaft pushrods, in turn, control the rocker arm. These pushrods must be precisely spaced away from the valves. These valves open and close twice while your engine rotates and travels a short distance in a short amount of time. You will hear a clicking sound if the valves do not open and close at the required time and distance.
- Rod knocking
If the bearing attached to the rod malfunctions, the rod will jiggle and produce a ticking sound. This sound is dependent on the degree of bearing degradation. This results from a worn bearing, which will cause the rod to shift. A knocked rod could be the cause of a sluggish ticking engine accompanied by a sudden increase in engine RPM.
If the engine bearings degenerate, the connecting rod will knock, resulting in separation/wobbling between the main bearing cap. There will be no changes in engine temperature, but the engine’s RPM will fluctuate. The only real remedy to the rod knocking problem would be rebuilding the complete motor, which is obviously costly. However, it must be completed sooner rather than later.
- Fuel injectors firing
Hearing the sound of fuel injectors firing is the ideal situation for engine ticking. Specific models of automobiles with a fuel injection system emit ticking sounds whenever the fuel injectors fire.
These injector valves rapidly open and shut to provide the correct amount of fuel to enter the combustion chamber. This noise is completely normal and means that there is nothing wrong with the condition of your vehicle.
- Using the wrong or old engine oil
If you haven’t changed your car’s engine oil in a long time, you should do it immediately. To maximise the engine oil’s performance in most vehicles, it should be changed every year or every 15,000 kilometres.
Every car comes with an engine oil suggestion that is optimal for that model. Some automobile oils are suitable for summer, while others are suitable for winter; you must know which to use. Therefore, if you use the incorrect engine oil, your engine will most likely generate a ticking sound.
- Faulty spark plugs
When was the last time you replaced the spark plugs in the engine of your automobile? Don’t worry if you can’t recall, as these must be replaced approximately every 150,000 kilometres, depending on the car.
Old or defective spark plugs can generate a clicking sound in the engine, especially in high-mileage automobiles. In other instances, a misplaced spark plug may produce this sound. Due to an improperly positioned spark plug, exhaust gases can bypass the engine and cause it to tick.
- Issues with filter spacing
Between the pushrod and the camshaft, the filter is positioned. If the gap between these three components is too large or too little, there will be problems. If the spacing is too large, the components will not make appropriate contact, resulting in a ticking sound.
As your vehicle operates, engine heat expands the valve stems. If the space is too constrained, the lifter won’t have enough room for stem expansion, causing the engine to tick.
- Damaged engine fan
A loose or damaged engine fan may also contribute to ticking or tapping sounds. A visual inspection is sufficient to identify the issue. Inspect to find out whether the nuts and clips are loose. Additionally, you can detect if the fan blades or shroud on a radiator are damaged just by seeing them. Tighten any loose screws and replace any that are broken.
- Defective drive pulleys
Lastly, if none of the other potential culprits seems to be the case, then the engine’s drive pulleys are worth checking out. These pulleys use bearings to spin, like the wheels on a skateboard, and over time, the bearing tends to wear out. When they wear out, they can cause an annoying ticking noise at idle and under acceleration. If they are worn out, we suggest taking your car to a qualified mechanic to replace the bearings on the pulleys.
How do I get rid of the ticking in my engine?
Fixing the ticking sound in the engine depends on what’s causing it. Since different things can make this sound, you’ll need to try a lot of different things to fix it. We have listed down all the remedies that you can do to your car to get rid of any unwanted noises:
- Have your oil changed
Some ticks can originate from your engine oil. It should be changed immediately when you know it is dirty, old or overused. Try topping it off with the required oil additives if it’s low. Oil additives are fluids that are utilised to purify engine oil. This fluid does not affect the oil’s viscosity (thickness or lightness). It may also clean engine parts such as lifters, rocker arms, valves, etc., and the oil.
Regularly using oil additives to clean your engine oil will improve your vehicle’s performance. Please refer to your vehicle’s owner’s manual for suggested oil additives. Leaks caused by deteriorated gaskets or seals may lead to low oil levels. Therefore, you can use oil additives to stop leaks. A leak-free engine will always contain sufficient oil. Consequently, you can avoid any ticking sounds if you continuously lubricate your engine and its components.
- Readjust your valves
The pushrods must be positioned at a certain length from the valves. If the valves are not aligned properly, they will not open and close at the appropriate times. If this occurs, the engine will make a ticking sound. Therefore, to provide the precise timing for valves to open and close, they must be adjusted appropriately. This is particularly true for automobiles with higher mileage.
- Regularly change your oil filters
The purpose of oil filters is to prevent dirt from entering the engine oil. On the flip side, worn-out and overused filters will not be able to protect your engine from dirt contaminating the engine oil, causing the engine to make a ticking noise. To avoid this, ensure that malfunctioning oil filters are replaced regularly.
- Replace defective bearings
Bad rod bearings will cause the rods to knock and create engine noise. Ensure that you replace worn bearings so that they do not influence the rods. If your rod knocks due to a faulty bearing, you will need to rebuild the engine to fix the problem completely. This will be a very costly repair, so we recommend you avoid it by having it checked regularly and replacing any bearings if you see fit.
- Replace any damaged spark plugs
Spark plugs are located in the engine’s cylinder head. If they are visibly worn out, they will not sit properly, resulting in gas bypassing the engine and a clicking sound. Make sure to replace any and all faulty spark plugs to eliminate this ticking noise.
- Fix the spacing of your lifter
The engine emits a ticking sound when the lifter is too tight or loose. This means you should ensure that it is adjusted to minimise this noise. Lifter modifications are complicated, so you may require a skilled mechanic’s assistance. Nonetheless, you can consult your vehicle’s owner’s manual for exact directions on replacing lifters to be able to position them properly.
- Have your drive pulleys checked out
Defective or worn-down pulleys will not rotate appropriately, even with brand-new bearings. So long as they do not spin properly, the engine will make a ticking sound when accelerating or idling. To avoid this, get them changed by an automotive mechanic.
A well-functioning vehicle should operate with minimal noise. Under the hood, there may be something loose or worn out if you hear rattling sounds.
There is a chance that your engine ticking is a minor issue, but there is also a possibility that a pricey issue is causing it. Regular and adequate maintenance will extend the life of your car. Which is why it is essential that you check up on your engine and your car’s other components regularly.
It is one thing to perform routine maintenance on your vehicle, but it is another to utilise the appropriate personnel and equipment. Without the proper tools and personnel, engine components will deteriorate and make ticking noises.
Even with experience, it can be challenging to identify troublesome accessories. Take your vehicle to a reputable automotive mechanic anytime the engine begins to make weird noises to ensure that it gets fixed and the problem will not occur again in the future.