5 Causes of Engine Ticking Noise (At Idle, Acceleration, & After Oil Change)

Last Updated on April 30, 2020

A car engine is bound to make noises. After all, there are so many moving components and parts inside of an engine as it is running. Most of these noises are not very loud and they are nothing to worry about. But there are times when engine noises will sound a bit unusual or strange.

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A good example of this is when there is a ticking noise coming from the engine. A ticking sound could be caused by any number of reasons, such as a low level of oil or loose components.

You may hear a ticking, clicking, or tapping noise while the vehicle is idling, accelerating, or even after receiving an oil change. To understand what the actual problem is, you must understand the signs to look out for.

Common Reasons for Engine Ticking Noise

Below are the top 5 reasons your engine is making a ticking sound:

#1 – Bad Reciprocating Components

symptoms of bad piston rings and valve seals

When there is a ticking noise in the engine and it concerns a particular component, then it will usually be a reciprocating component that is to blame and not a rotating component. Some examples of reciprocating components include pushrods, pistons, and valves.

If any of these components were to become worn out, damaged, or go bad for whatever reason, you will begin to hear ticking noises. If you don’t replace these components in a timely manner, the ticking noises may progress into a whining or clunking noise.

#2 – Low Amount of Engine Oil

check engine oil

When you have a low level of oil in your engine, this will cause the components of the valvetrain to cause ticking sounds because the components are not being lubricated enough. The reason for low engine oil could be due to a leak somewhere.

Perhaps you have damaged or worn out gaskets or seals. Either way, you will know if you have low engine oil because your engine will start to overheat. It needs the oil to cool it off.

Therefore, if you hear ticking sounds in addition to any of these other symptoms, then it’s likely due to your vehicle being low on oil.

#3 – Rod Knocking

rod knock

If the bearing attached to the rod has gone bad, then the rod will knock around and cause a ticking sound. This happens if you have a worn out bearing because it will cause the rod to move.

There won’t be any temperature changes to the engine, but the RPM of the engine will change. The only real solution to fixing the rod knocking problem would be to rebuild your entire motor, which is obviously going to be expensive. But it will have to be done sooner or later.

#4 – Fuel Injectors Firing

fuel injectors

This will be the best-case scenario for engine ticking. Certain model cars with a fuel injection system will have ticking sounds whenever the fuel injectors start firing.

This is basically the valves of the injectors that are quickly opening and closing in order to allow the proper fuel amount to enter the internal combustion chamber. This sound is nothing to worry about and is part of the normal operation of your vehicle.

#5 – Valves Not Adjusted

valves

A valve train that is not adjusted will cause ticking sounds. This is often the cause of these sounds, so you might want to check this first.

When your engine spins a couple of times, the valves open and close. There is something called a rocker arm which is responsible for opening and closing the valves. The camshaft has a pushrod which controls the rocker arm and it needs to be the precise distance from the valve.

This is especially true because the valves move so fast and at a short distance. If the adjustments are not exactly right, then the components will move around and cause the ticking sounds.

 

161 thoughts on “5 Causes of Engine Ticking Noise (At Idle, Acceleration, & After Oil Change)”

  1. I have a 2004 Kia spectra with a 2.0 4 cyl engine. Never had a tick until today. Only ticks when idling and sounds as if it’s coming from the rear side of the engine. I run synthetic oil and has about 2,000 miles since the last oil change. All fluids are full. I recently used fuel injector cleaner with the past two fuel ups. Any ideas?

    Reply
  2. Hi! I have an Audi q7 2008. I can hear a tic on the left side of the engine. The oil level is in order.
    I put some additives for injectors on full and the tic stoped but after I do the full the tic start again

    Reply
  3. Hi

    I have a 2014 Ram 1500, waited about 2K miles over of regular oil change, level was not low, just a bit old and before the oil change It had a faint ticking sound now after The oil change The sound is louder and only when in park. When I shift into drive the sound decreases a lot. RPM’s and fuel economy not affected. Thoughts?

    Reply
  4. I have a ticking,tapping sound only when the engine is at speed that is there only while it is at set speed. When you accelerate or decelerate it goes away. Been doing it for over 30000 miles. It is loud like a out of aduj. tappet

    Reply
    • If you rev the car while it is parked, can you replicate the issue? Sometimes you’ll get an engine heat shield that only rattles at a particular RPM. For instance, the heat shield that covers my exhaust manifold rattles loud enough to be heard in the cabin, but it only rattles around 3300 RPM. Any lower or higher and the sound goes away. This is no cause for concern, just a nuisance.

      If you only hear the ticking when the engine is under load, this may be cause for concern. I would make sure the root cause of the tick isn’t engine knocking, as this could quickly harm the engine under load. The sound of knocking/pinging/preignition is often described as marbles in a can.

      Check to see if anything is loose under the hood, or if you have any codes for misfires.

      Google for your specific make/model and see if there is a common cause of ticking at that particular speed.

      Reply
  5. The only time it sounds off is when you are driving with your foot just keeping up with the vehicle speed, the slightest press on the throttle or the tiniest movement off the pedal it stops no matter the speed and it does increase with engine speed. I have been working on engines for many many years but this one is a puzzle . Broken ring?

    Reply
    • Have you tried listening with a mechanic’s stethoscope to see if it’s coming from inside the engine? See if the sound is louder on one bank vs the other, or loudest when you hold it up to one particular cylinder. Listen to the bottom end to see if it’s louder near the crankshaft.

      If you haven’t already, perform a compression test to make sure the cylinder pressures are within spec. If the compression test comes back good and you don’t have excessive blow by, I wouldn’t suspect a broken ring.

      Reply
  6. I have a 1979 Malibu and when im in park and it’s just idling it makes a ticking noise what could it be?

    Reply
  7. I had a 2000 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo with a straight 6 which was making a knocking noise as I accelerated especially when it downshifted going up a hill, or when the engine was under a load, but when the jeep was idling it did not make much noise at all I ended up turning the engine open come to find out the number 5 piston busted the skirt on the bottom is a fairly easy repair about six months prior to this did you just did not want to start one day I took it to a shop they could not find the problem thought it could be an electrical issue the car the engine open two times And timed the engine, tried multiple things injectors camshaft sensor crankshaft sensor but nothing seemed to work I ended up taking it home on a roll back and started digging into the problem myself bought a new computer and many other parts with no luck one day I decided to change the distributor shaft which had no apparent wear or play in the original one that I removed but in the end it happened to be exactly what was wrong with it not starting hopefully this information could help solve some problems for someone having similar problems

    Reply
  8. My ticking noise started out sounding like a diesal engine and than all if a sudden the rpms started flaring up and down at idle and the ticking got faster what could it be

    Reply
    • It could honestly be a ton of different things, and without knowing the car it’s hard to know for sure. Here are some examples of common ticking sources:

      Cars with solid lifters may tick if they need the valves adjusted. This is done using shims with buckets, or an adjustment nut with rocker arms. Proper clearances are set by the factory and if the adjustment is out of spec, it may cause a noisy valvetrain. Many vehicles require a valve adjustment after a certain number of miles.

      Some vehicles (such as early Mazda Miatas) have hydraulic instead of solid lifters and are known for lifter tick on startup due to oil running out of the lifters’ oil passages, but this usually goes away after 10 minutes or so. On Miatas this is no cause for concern, but it may be an issue on other vehicles depending on their implementation. A persistent tick is still worth looking into.

      Vehicles with direct injection often emit a distinct ticking noise from the high pressure fuel pump. In most cases, this is normal operation and not cause for concern.

      Reply
  9. Upon acceleration right before my transmission changes gears there is a clicking sound coming from the motor. Do you know what this could be?

    Reply
    • I’m really not sure, but here is a guess:

      As the transmission is changing gears, the engine will often rock back and forth a bit since it was spinning quickly, then suddenly stops producing torque. This is especially true with manual transmissions or harder shifting automatics; you’re less likely to experience the sudden drop in power as the transmission shifts with a quicker, smoother transmission. If your motor mounts are bad, this motion could allow contact between the motor and the firewall.

      Reply
  10. Hi autotechnician.
    My 2013 ford kuga has had its engine replaced (along with many other parts).

    It makes a ticking noise afyer starting. Speeds up and slows with revving.. will generally stop after warming up.

    Has had long term issues with using excessive oil and coolant.
    We can’t diagnose why its such a lemon.
    Car dealer doesnt give 2 hoots.

    Should I be concerned?

    Reply
    • A ticking sound like you describe could be the lifters if it’s coming from the top end of the engine. If that’s the case, it may need the valves adjusted. It could also be an exhaust leak.

      Assuming it’s no longer using excessive oil and coolant after the engine replacement, I wouldn’t worry too much about that one. If it’s still using excessive oil and coolant, I’d start checking for leaks. A leak down test may help.

      Reply
  11. hi,have a Toyota vitz 2012 1.3cc. when driving in the city slows down and start accelerating more i hear a rattle sound from the engine, even after doing normal service,the performance is ok only the rattle sound.kindly assist

    Reply
    • Sometimes you can only hear a rattle at a certain RPM, depending on the object’s resonant frequency.

      I would try to replicate the rattle while the car is parked. Pop the hood, put it in park or neutral, and rev the engine. Listen closely or have someone stand near the engine bay to see if they can determine what is rattling. Sometimes it’s as simple as an exhaust heat shield, as is the case with one of my cars.

      If you hear the rattle constantly, that is probably a different issue that will require further troubleshooting.

      Reply
  12. I have NP 200 it produces clicking sound in the engine an sound comes louder when accelerating so I wonder what could be

    Reply
    • See if you can replicate the sound sitting in your driveway. You may be able to pop the hood and see something that is immediately out of place. At the very least, you will be able to tell which area of the engine bay it’s coming from.

      A few examples of sounds I would describe as “clicking” are a partially shredded belt slapping against components as the pulleys turn, valvetrain noise (noisy lifters), and the high pressure fuel pump used on direct injected engines. You shouldn’t be able to hear the high pressure fuel pump much while driving.

      A heat shield may also click, but usually I would describe this as a rattle.

      First thing I would do is check all my belts. Accessory belts are visible and easy to check, but I would consider looking at the timing belt too.

      You definitely don’t want a timing belt making that noise. This would mean it is either loose or hanging on by a thread. Depending on the layout of your engine you may be able to peek at the timing belt through the oil cap hole in the valve cover. If not, you’ll have to remove the valve cover and/or timing covers.

      Reply
  13. ok, I have a 2003 ford ranger xlt rear wheel drive…
    it’s rough to start/hard to keep running unless I accelerate up to say 40 and put it on cruise control-it will run “ok”
    there is a clacking noise – sounds like when you put a playing card on your bike spokes
    it doesn’t over heat, oil is not high but not low either, all fluids are good except I notice the radiator fluid “bottle” was empty…where I did put water in it a few weeks ago.
    so far I’ve been told it’s battery-nope that’s secure and new, sparkplugs?, Valve spring broken ? anyone?

    Reply
    • It sounds like you have a couple different issues going on. The radiator fluid level dropping needs to be addressed. You may have a simple external leak (a hose has gone bad), or perhaps an internal leak (e.g. head gasket or intake manifold gasket failure). You’ll have to have a mechanic take a look at it to know for sure.

      I’m not sure about the clacking. A compression and leak down test will both give you a lot of information about the state of your engine, though. A leak down test will also help you identify a head gasket leak if that is the problem.

      Reply
  14. I have a 2006 Toyota Minivan with 200,000 miles. Recently, filled up vehicle with fuel that had the 10% mix as I have done before, after driving about 30 miles, the engine started a tapping or ticking noise, but now has gone away. Could gas cause a problem like this?

    Reply
    • I suppose it’s possible, but I think it’s unlikely. Maybe you just had a bad tank of fuel, maybe the ticking was a coincidence and it’s related to something else. See if it persists when you fill up the tank next time.

      Reply
  15. I have a 2003 Jeep Liberty with 125k miles on it. It drives fine. However, while in park or nuetral it makes a ticking noise. It goes away when I put it in drive or reverse. When I rev up the engine the clicking does not increase. Anyone have a clue what it is?

    Reply
  16. I have a 2011 Jeep Cherokee, had the oil changed and now is making a tapping noise. I checked and oil is full, tried an oil treatment, might be a little quieter but still tapping.

    Reply
  17. I have a 2003 Mazda 6 and i admit i’ve let it go bone dry once or twice but got oil changes right after i found out. My car has been making a ticking/purring sound when idling and accelerating for about 2 years now and i really can’t figure out what it is. I’ve researched and talked to multiple people about it and i still haven’t came to the conclusion of what the real problem is. people have told me it could be a lifter tick? i went to get a oil change today and had my transmission flushed and whatnot but yeah. any ideas?

    Reply
    • Letting the engine go bone dry can cause a myriad of performance issues, ticking, or knocking noises. When you let an engine run dry, you will experience metal on metal wear with no oil barrier in between, which causes rapid component wear and drastically reduces the life of the engine.

      When you say “bone dry”, did you mean the dipstick was dry or there was no oil in the pan at all? Did you see a low oil pressure warning light? If there was no oil in the oil pan, I’m surprised the engine is still running.

      Reply
  18. I have an 08 cts ticking at when start up and then almost goes fully away. Car was sitting for months and did an oil change just a couple days ago for the most part thw oil helped but i jist dont want to drive it till i know the car is good for sure. Should i add a cleaner ?

    Reply
    • When in doubt, it’s best to let a technician listen to the vehicle in person. It’s hard to say if the ticking you’re experiencing is harmless or if it indicates that further engine work is required to get it running smoothly.

      Reply
  19. I have also learned that when your alternator or water pump is going bad it will have a clicking or ticking noise that will progress into a ball slinging around a tin can and boom out goes your alternator or water pump..

    Reply
    • Yes, that is a possibility. The pulleys on the alternator and water pump may get noisy as the pulleys start to fail. However, both components may instead fail without any sort of audible warning.

      Reply
  20. 06 Ram 1500, 4.7L. Withing the last month or so my engine will make a rhythmic ticking noise upon startup. The ticking increases with the RPMs. It goes away after being driven and coming to temp. But comes right back like after you come out from the store. It always goes away. From my research, it seems like it might need to have the valve lifter replaced, but not sure.

    Reply
    • Sounds like it might be lifter tick. I would check the Ram forums to see if they have some ways to mitigate or even fix the ticking altogether for your specific engine.

      Reply
  21. I have a 2014 Ford Escape. After my niece berried it nose deep in a mud bog it started to make a ticking sound. It only makes the sound on incline at around 35 to 40 mph. I have taken it to the dealership twice with this complaint, first they said they can’t get it to make the noise. The second time they said maybe some mud packed underneath. It’s now been over a year, the mud pack should surely be gone by now.

    Reply
  22. my 2005 gto does not tick at first when started but once it warms up it ticks lightly at idle, but once it warms up fully it ticks constantly, but not terrible sounding. At certain RPMs (usually 2-3k) it makes a rattling sound and then goes away at low rpms or high, but at certain RPMs a god awful ticking/rattling noise. what could this be? guy says ls7 lifters were put on and a new oil pump. I’ve put new oil in, even slight thicker and it did slightly help i think, but its still driving me nuts! any ideas? much appreciated!! thanks -Ian

    Reply
  23. I have a 1988 GMC S15 extended cab pick-up.
    When I step on the accelerator I hear a tapping noise(or ticking if you prefer).
    Would that mean the lifters need to be tightened down?
    Or could it be something else(No mechanic here,but in todays economy we all need to be more diy). And being a pre-comp car(I think),I would hope it’s something on the diy mode.
    Thank you

    Reply

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