7 Most Common Causes of Engine Ticking (Watch Out for the First One!)

Can you imagine how many components and parts are moving inside a running engine? It’s normal for the engine to make soft noises and purring sounds because of all those rotating shafts and pistons in motion. But, engine ticking or clicking is not one of them. You have a legit reason to be worried because the repair could be expensive.

Ticking noise from engine happens when any of the reciprocating parts in the car is damaged. Not all ticking or clicking sounds are ominous. The only way to stay worry-free is to learn the causes and solutions.

The Causes of Engine Ticking

Car making ticking noise could be a normal affair depending on the design of the engine. For example, fuel-injected engines can make a car ticking from the injector’s firing. Fuel injectors are small electrical valves that make clicking and ticking sounds when quickly opening and closing at idle. Ticking of the injectors is normal and you can drive without any worry.

However, ticking noise in car could be a serious issue in these conditions:

car engine noise
Car making ticking noise could be a normal affair depending on the design of the engine. (Photo: pinterest.com)

1. Low oil level or pressure

It is bad news when the ticking sound in engine is coupled with low-level oil or low oil pressure. When this happens, oil does not reach the top part of the engine, making it create a shrill tapping or ticking sound. The root of the problem is likely to be the timing chain or valvetrain components, including camshafts, rockers, lifters, and cam adjusters.

You should check the oil level with a dipstick and fill up the tank if the level is low. Check the oil pressure next with a pressure gauge when the engine is warm at idle. The pressure is fine if the reading is between 15 and 20 psi.

2. Exhaust manifold leak

An exhaust manifold leak is the cause of engine ticking at idle and acceleration. It happens when exhaust gases leak at high pressure from a leak in the gasket or a rupture in the manifold. This is not a serious problem, and you can still drive. But, fix it as soon as possible because excessive leaking of exhaust gases won’t be good for the engine.

3. Worn-off valvetrain components

The most common source of engine ticking problems is the valvetrain. The unit has several parts that work together to make sure the distance that the valves move is precise. These devices could be out of shape because of normal wear over time, causing the ticking sound when the engine is running. The repair is not expensive as you may just need to install new shims or adjust the rocker.

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4. Rod knocking

Rod knock could be the possible reason for a major engine issue. When the bearing connected to the rod wears off or gets damaged, the rod knocks around the crankshaft and creates a metal-to-metal sound.

You will hear a rhythmic, loud ticking noise in engine when accelerating. It will gain pace with the speed of the car. The repair is expensive as you need to rebuild the motor.

5. Bad spark plugs

Loose or cracked spark plugs cause ticking sound in engine. Make a visual inspection when the engine is off and cool. Replace if any of them is cracked. Wiggle the plug after removing the spark plug wire to see if it moves. If yes, then you have to tighten the plug. Sometimes, the torquing of the plug is not correct. In that case, you have to re-install it by following the owner’s manual.

Spark plugs seal off each of the cylinders. Bad plugs may sometimes strip the cylinder head threads. If that happens, you have to either repair or replace the damaged cylinder heads.

car making ticking noise
Bad spark plugs could be another reason. (Photo: envato)

6. Front engine accessories

There are several accessories in the front part of the engine that can create that ticking noise. Any of these systems, including water pumps, AC compressors, pulleys, or belt tensioners can be at fault.

You can use a mechanic’s stethoscope to pinpoint the problem source but it is better to consult a mechanic to find out the troubling part and do the repair work. It is necessary to replace the failing accessories to stop the noise.

7. Loose or damaged engine fan

A loose or damaged engine fan can also be the reason for engine ticking or tapping noise. A visual inspection is enough to find out the problem. Check the bolts and clips to see if they are loose. Also, you can tell if the fan blades or shroud on the radiator are damaged just by looking at them. Tighten the loose bolts and replace them if anything is damaged.

How To Fix Ticking Noise In Engine?

The ticking sound is very annoying even though it may not damage your engine, it’s still a big concern for a lot of drivers so how can we prevent this problem? 

  • If the culprit of the ticking sound is due to oil problems, drivers should have the engine oil checked. If the oil level gets too low, add more to see if the strange sound disappears. If the cause is oil pressure, car owners should go to specialized repair facilities to check the oil pump or the part that provides oil pressure inside the engine.
  • If it comes from ignition system problems, in this situation, you will need to check the ignition system timing or adjust it to the manufacturer’s recommended level. 
  • In most cases, the ticking or knocking sound is one of the most difficult “diseases” to treat, especially when it is caused by some loose parts inside the cylinder head or inside the engine. If the vehicle owner does not promptly repair or replace these parts, other parts of the engine will also be similarly damaged.

That’s why auto mechanics often ask for a test drive to listen and detect the origin of the sound. If you can find out the exact source of the strange sounds yourself but need to intervene more deeply inside the engine, it is best to take your car to a reputable mechanic for a car diagnosis.

Watch this video to know to fix car engine ticking:

If you are experienced, it’s not easy to pinpoint the problematic accessories. Take the car to a mechanic whenever the engine starts making any unusual sound.