What Causes a Lifter Tick, and How to Fix it?

The lifter tick is a common issue that affects many vehicles. It is characterized by a ticking or tapping noise coming from the engine. While it might be annoying, it is essential to understand what causes a lifter tick and how to fix it before it causes significant damage to your engine. 

What Causes a Lifter Tick?

A lifter tick is caused by various factors, and identifying the root cause can help you determine the best course of action for fixing it. Some of the most common causes of lifter tick include:

Hydraulic Lifter Malfunction

A hydraulic lifter, also known as a hydraulic valve lifter or hydraulic tappet, is a crucial component in modern engines with overhead valves. It is responsible for maintaining zero valve clearance, ensuring quiet and efficient engine operation. When the lifter fails, it can cause a ticking noise due to excessive valve clearance.

Low Oil Pressure

Insufficient oil pressure can lead to lifter tick, as the lifters require adequate oil pressure to function correctly. Low oil pressure can be caused by a variety of factors, such as a clogged oil filter, a worn oil pump, or a low engine oil level.

Dirty or Contaminated Oil

Engine oil can become contaminated with dirt, debris, and other impurities over time. This contamination can cause the oil to lose its lubricating properties, leading to increased friction and wear within the engine. In turn, this can result in a lifter tick noise.

Worn or Damaged Lifters

Over time, lifters can wear out or become damaged, causing them to malfunction and produce the characteristic ticking sound. This issue is more common in older vehicles or engines with high mileage.

Incorrect Oil Viscosity

Using the wrong oil viscosity can also cause a lifter tick. Thicker oil may not flow properly through the lifters, leading to inadequate lubrication and a ticking noise.

How to Fix a Lifter Tick

Fixing a lifter tick involves addressing the underlying cause. Here are some of the ways to remedy the issue:

Inspect and Replace Faulty Lifters

If you suspect that the hydraulic lifters are the cause of the ticking noise, you’ll need to inspect them for wear or damage. If they are found to be faulty, you’ll need to replace them with new ones.

Change the Engine Oil and Filter

If the issue is due to dirty or contaminated oil, you should change the engine oil and filter. This step will help restore proper lubrication and may eliminate the lifter tick.

Check and Adjust the Oil Pressure

Low oil pressure can lead to a lifter tick, so it’s essential to check your oil pressure and ensure it is within the manufacturer’s specifications. If necessary, adjust the oil pressure or replace any faulty components, such as the oil pump or pressure relief valve.

Use the Correct Oil Viscosity

Using the correct oil viscosity is crucial for preventing lifter tick. Consult your vehicle owner’s manual to determine the proper oil viscosity for your engine and make sure you’re using the appropriate type.

Add Oil Additives

In some cases, adding oil additives specifically designed to reduce lifter tick can help quiet the noise. These additives can improve oil viscosity, lubrication, and overall engine performance.

Cost of Fixing a Lifter Tick Sound

The cost of fixing a lifter tick sound can vary depending on the root cause and the required repairs. Some general estimates for common lifter tick fixes include:

  • Changing the Engine Oil and Filter: The cost of an oil change typically ranges from $25 to $75, depending on the type of oil used and the service provider.
  • Replacing Faulty Lifters: If you need to replace hydraulic lifters, the cost can range from $200 to $1,000, including parts and labor. The price depends on the make and model of your vehicle and the labor rate at the repair shop.
  • Repairing or Replacing the Oil Pump: If the issue is caused by a worn or faulty oil pump, the cost to repair or replace it can range from $300 to $1,200, depending on the vehicle’s make and model and the labor rate.
  • Using Oil Additives: Oil additives designed to reduce lifter tick can cost anywhere from $10 to $50, depending on the brand and product quality.

It’s essential to note that these are general estimates, and the actual cost of repairing a lifter tick sound in your vehicle may vary based on the specific problem and your location.


A lifter tick can be an annoying and potentially damaging issue for your engine. By understanding the common causes of lifter ticks and how to fix them, you can address the problem quickly and efficiently. Remember that the cost of fixing a lifter tick sound can vary depending on the root cause and required repairs, so it’s essential to consult with a professional mechanic for an accurate assessment of your vehicle’s needs.

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