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FAQ:  Eliminating Lifter Ticking

"How-To" by Darren Schilberg "Flash"

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We have all experienced the famous (or infamous) lifter tick on our cars, some more than others, some were solved, some got worse.  This will be the quick and dirty handy pocket reference guide for those of you experiencing this problem.

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First let's describe what the problem is.  When you start you car, (for some people it is when the car is cold or the first start after it sat for a spell), there is a noticeable "ticking" sound from under the hood.  I noticed this on my 1995 VR-4 at about 70k miles.  Upon opening the hood your ear pinpoints the noise as coming from under the valve covers.  If you were to open the oil cap while the car is running (not recommended since oil will splash out) you will see the lifters, rockers, springs, etc. and will notice that the ticking gets louder since this is the source of the problem.

Next we will see what basic symptoms cause this ticking sound.  For most people it is an oil that is too light in weight, air bubbles that have gotten trapped somewhere and are not compressing well, or perhaps it actually is loose lifters, springs, etc.

Now let's quickly go over some simple solutions to these problems.  Mine was the simplest of all.  I checked the oil level and saw that it was low.  I added a quart of oil, checked the level (not much over the Min line which meant I was WAY low on oil), and then started the car.  The ticking sound was still present.  I added another quart of oil. Now the oil level was close to the Full line.  I started the car and presto no more ticking.  Presto, my problem took exactly 4 minutes to solve.

For others it is much more involved, so I suggest you first try this simple procedure:

   1)   Start the car.

   2)   Rev to 3,000 rpm for about 20-30 seconds.

   3)   Let the car idle.

   4)   Listen for ticking sound.

   5)   If still ticking then rev to 6,000 rpm and hold for 15 seconds.

   6)   Lower the revs to 5,500 rpm and hold for 15 seconds.

   7)   Lower the revs to 5,000 rpm and hold for 15 seconds.

   8)   Lower the revs to 4500, 4000, 3500, 3000, 2500, 2000, 1500, and 1000 rpm and hold each level for 15 seconds.

   9)   Lift off and return to idle (750 rpm).

Note:  This is more finicky than the "rev to over 3,000 rpm for a spell and release", but it makes sure that the engine goes through a good range of revs and returns slowly..., so as to not introduce any more air bubbles that you are trying to remove or something like that.

Ticking still present? Read on.

Time to change out the weight of oil.  Buy some really lightweight oil.  If really gung-ho then drain all the oil from the car (caution - it will be hot after running your car).  If not, then just put the lightweight stuff in for this exercise instead of your normal stuff.  Anyway, the idea is to get some really lightweight oil to get to all the little crevices and get out all the stuff you want out.  Then after a few hundred miles drain out the lightweight stuff and put in a good synthetic oil (Valvoline, Mobil 1, RedLine, etc.) to the appropriate level and see how you do.

Remember that oil goes to the engine, the turbos, and the oil cooler.  If there is ticking it might be from the oil picking up nasty stuff from those other areas and depositing them around the lifters but at THIS point you can email the list and ask for help since this page is supposed to answer all the "quick and easy" FAQs.

---  Darren Schilberg "Flash"

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Article 2002-2004 Darren Schilberg, All Rights Reserved.
All Images 1995-2004 Bob Forrest, All Rights Reserved.