The inner workings of a car are a mystery to many drivers. As more technical topics are covered, the statement only becomes more accurate.
After all, operating a vehicle does not require complete knowledge of the engine. But those technical details are just as crucial as their more well-known partners. Thus, it is crucial to comprehend the symptoms of bad lifters.
A car engine has hundreds, if not thousands, of intricately crafted parts. The engine is started and maintained in motion by these parts working together.
Most drivers have no idea how a car operates inside. Most drivers don’t give a damn about how these parts interact to keep the engine running smoothly as long as it is running as it should. When you discuss certain technical units, the mystery becomes more real.
However, such technical elements are just as important as other parts. Unfortunately, drivers won’t be aware that such parts exist until they break down or begin acting strangely. The lifters in the engine are one of these technical components.
A faulty lifter could be to blame if you hear an odd noise and the engine misfires when it is idle. Here, we’ll go over symptoms of bad lifters, causes of bad lifters, how to check lifters, and likely fixes. But first, let’s define a lifter.
You will undoubtedly notice when one lifter begins to struggle. The lifter for the car is one of those important technical elements. We shall break it down here regardless of whether you suspect a defective lifter as a result of symptoms of bad lifters or simply want to know what to look out for.
We will also discuss the use of a hydraulic lifter, where to find one in your car, and how much it will cost to repair one.
The hydraulic engine lifters by Luitold / CC BY-SA 3.0. Automakers adopted hydraulic valve lifters, eliminating the requirement for constant valve clearance adjustments. The car owners not only made significant time savings but also cost savings.
Lifters: What are They?
Lifters are a crucial part of the engine head because they regulate when the intake and exhaust valves open and close. Valve trains are by nature complex devices with plenty of moving parts. All components must be perfectly in sync for the system to work effectively.
The current twin overhead camshaft or overhead camshaft valve train design includes the rocker arms, valve springs, hydraulic lifters, exhaust and intake valves, valve seats, and valve guides.
A valve train’s components are all equally significant. While all elements are equally important to maintaining the engine’s efficient operation, some are more vulnerable to damage than others. The lifter is one such component.
To ensure precise valve timing, the hydraulic lifters are responsible for keeping a constant distance between the camshaft lobes and the valves.
Hydraulic valve lifters were introduced by automakers, which did away with the need for ongoing valve clearance adjustments. The car owners not only saved a ton of time, but they also cut money.
Engine oil is found in hydraulic lifters. When the valve is closed, engine oil is poured into the lifter. The lifter piston and lifter are then compressed by the camshaft lobe. The oil inlet is closed off by an internal valve. The lifter becomes like a solid piece once it has been filled with oil and can no longer be compressed.
The stress on the engine lifter is reduced as the camshaft continues to rotate. The lifter is once more prepared to be replenished with oil as its internal mechanism reaches a neutral condition.
The valves inside the car are operated by a system of lifters. Several lifter designs are often used in various engines. Lifters also vary in terms of what they do.
Which are the Different Categories of Lifters?
You must be aware of the many types of lifters to fully comprehend lifters and how they could prove to be inefficient.
Classification of Lifters with Engine Type
Lifters, according to engines, will be the first group we discuss. These are further divided into several categories.
1. The OHV Engine Lifters
In the past, the term “lifter” was used to refer to parts of an overhead valve (OHV) engine that follow the curves of the camshaft.
The lifters operate a set of pushrods when the camshaft rotates. It then controls the rocker arms, which close and open the engine’s valves. The lifters also control the engine’s valve train’s lash clearance.
We shall discuss whether lifters are hydraulic or solid later. The valve train lash needs to be periodically corrected when using solid lifters. In contrast, hydraulic lifters eliminate the requirement for periodic human adjustment by relying on pressurized engine oil to adjust the list automatically.
The hydraulic engine lifter mechanism by IJB TA / CC BY-SA 3.0. Hydraulic lifters were created in the 1930s to lessen the noise that the older mechanical lifters made. Currently, they are the most common kind of lifter available. However, due to their higher price, they weren’t a standard component of most vehicles until the 1950s.
Additionally, there are flat lifters and roller lifters (tappets). Flat lifters have comparatively flat faces and are typically seen in antique cars. Roller lifters, meanwhile, are characterized by their wheel-like design. Nearly all OHV engines have had roller lifters since the 1990s.
2. The OHC Engine Lash Adjusters
Today, lifters are another name for hydraulic lash adjusters found in OHC (overhead camshaft) engines. The valve train components’ internal clearance is fixed by the lash adjusters.
Each lash adjustment may be placed between a camshaft follower and the cylinder head, inside the rocker’s arm, or in a bucket over the valve, depending on the engine’s configuration.
Classification of Lifters with Functionality
Additionally, lifters are divided into groups based on how they perform. See what they are now.
1. The Hydraulic Lifters
In the 1930s, hydraulic lifters were developed to reduce the noise produced by older mechanical lifters. They are the most popular type of lifter on the market right now. But they weren’t a common feature of most vehicles until the 1950s because of their increased cost.
They function as follows:
- Pressurized oil enters through a hole in the lifter’s body and circulates inside a small channel. The oil flows freely on the other side even if it enters the internal lifter cylinder.
- When the lifter piston is compressed by the camshaft, the channel is sealed. As a result, even under extreme pressure, the valve open is momentarily locked to allow gas to escape from the cylinder.
- The oil can once more flow freely as the lifter piston rises once the camshaft has passed its apex. As a result, the valve closes abruptly, maintaining the right engine air pressure.
- By using a floating piston, the valve lash is attempted to be reduced. Although it is forgiving, applying more force with the lash might produce a rattling and knocking sound. The ride will be smoother and quieter the less lash there is.
The valve lash can be reduced to 0.006 with a competent pair of hydraulic lifters. The issue in this instance is that for the lifter to perform its function, it must adhere to certain limits.
When the engine’s RPMs are too high, the oil does not have enough time to completely repressurize the valve, which leads to poor performance and decreased airflow.
On the other side, an over-pressurized hydraulic lifter is unable to completely close the valves. Leakage occurs as a result, which may cause the valve to become irreparably damaged. It will stop ignition once it reaches a particular point.
2. The Mechanical Lifters
Hydraulic lifters were quite popular between the 1950s and the 1980s. They were discovered in almost every moving car. Nevertheless, some more recent cars do have mechanical lifters.
Mechanical lifters have some significant advantages over their hydraulic counterparts despite being noisier.
A car engine by Carolla / CC BY-SA 3.0. Because they control when the intake and exhaust valves open and close, lifters are a vital component of the engine head. Valve trains are by their very nature complicated machines with plenty of moving parts. For the system to function properly, every part needs to be in sync.
They are first and foremost affordable and low-maintenance, which makes them the ideal choice for economy cars. Second, because they can continue to function at higher RPMs, they are just as effective for performance automobiles.
Mechanical lifters mostly come in two flavors: roller lifters and solid lifters. A solid lifter is exactly what it sounds like—a solid metal cylinder. The cylinder is either compressed or allowed to rise as the camshaft rotates.
Although they have a similar structure, roller lifters are made to be quieter than solid lifters. They have rollers on the back instead of a flat back, which enables the camshaft to turn over the top smoothly.
This considerably improves performance, especially at higher RPMs, while reducing noise. In contrast, the rollers cost more to maintain than regular solid lifters, which increases the cost of the machinery.
Where Can You Find Lifters In a Car?
You must rapidly repair or replace the lifters whenever the symptoms of bad lifters appear. But to do that, you need to be aware of where the lifters are. In the majority of car types, the lifters are located directly between the engine’s valves and camshaft. However, some car models also come with pushrods and rocker arms.
It is slightly more challenging to predict whether the hydraulic lifters will be at the bottom or top of the engine because the camshaft’s location can change. Here’s a simple way to remember this: if your car has hydraulic lifters, look for your camshaft to find them.
Even if the car doesn’t have hydraulic lifters, there will still be a mechanical lifter of some sort as a backup. No car ever had a camshaft that is directly in contact with the pushrods or valves.
What are Some of the Common Symptoms of Bad Lifters In Cars?
A bad lifter will exhibit some indicators to alert the driver of an impending issue, just like every other engine part does. Engine misfiring and unusual noises are the two most typical symptoms of bad lifters. Additionally, it will turn on the engine check light. Let’s examine the signs closely.
1. A Check Engine Light Illuminates
From the beginning to the finish of an engine, sensors are everywhere. They keep track of everything, including the air intake and the chemical makeup of the exhaust. A vehicle is the culmination of numerous precisely honed machines. For the vehicle to operate properly, every input must be in top shape.
It follows that when the symptoms of bad lifters are unpredictable, the sensors will be aware that something is wrong with the car. A malfunctioning hydraulic lift cylinder may cause several warning lights to illuminate. It is a given that the check engine light will come on.
2. Broken Pushrods and Dead Cylinders
In an OHV engine, the pushrods’ connections to the intake and exhaust valves and the camshaft have already been discussed. It may malfunction if the hydraulic lifter is damaged.
The lift cylinder in the engine is solely present to repeatedly push the pushrod in the same direction. As a result of a damaged hydraulic cylinder, the pushrods eventually shatter or bend.
Top view of 6 stamped steel rocker arms on an engine by Redelback49 / CC BY-SA 4.0. When the camshaft rotates, a set of pushrods are activated by the lifters. After that, it directs the rocker arms to open and close the engine’s valves. The lifters also regulate the lash clearance of the engine’s valve train.
The intake or exhaust valve will not function properly if this occurs. A “dead cylinder” is a cylinder that no longer functions, and it causes performance to significantly decline. Additionally, the engine will no longer sound right.
A dead cylinder needs to be examined right away. It involves considerably more than just increasing the engine’s horsepower. If you decide to ignore the fractured cylinder, it won’t be long before it starts seriously damaging other engine components, which will be quite expensive.
3. Misfires In Engines
A few car models have pushrods that are connected to the rocker’s arms by hydraulic lifters. These regulate the intake and exhaust valves. Therefore, the exhaust and intake valves won’t open and close as intended if the hydraulic lifter’s operation is abnormal.
A misfire will result if the engine is unable to provide the necessary combustion. An engine that is misfiring has a very different sound from an engine that is firing normally, and it performs significantly worse. It is essential to have the engine of your car checked by a qualified expert as soon as you can if it is misfiring.
4. Overly Loud Engine Noise
The sound will be audible if one of your car’s hydraulic lifters is damaged or stuck. Metal will clang together as they meet, creating a loud noise. Additionally, the interior components of the lifter will be banging against one another, which will produce a different kind of noise.
The sounds will get worse and occur more frequently as the car accelerates to higher RPMs. The lifter will make an effort to actuate more quickly, but it will fail, making noises.
What are the Major Causes of Lifter Failure?
Lifters are built by automakers to endure a very long period. Unfortunately, some lifters malfunction and need to be replaced. So, you might be wondering, what makes lifters degrade? You should be aware of the common causes listed below.
1. The State of Oil and the Engine Oil
If there is not enough oil to circulate to the cylinder head, lifters will starve. The lifters will experience a lack of lubrication if the oil pump is unable to temporarily push enough oil to the head cylinder due to low oil levels.
If oil is not supplied to the pushrod or tappet to dampen the cushion, hydraulic lifters will malfunction. Additionally, solid lifters will rust, and the camshaft lobe may also show signs of corrosion.
If there is too much engine oil in the crankcase, it will aerate or bubble, losing its ability to lubricate. Additionally, soiled oil may obstruct or clog the tiny apertures on the pushrods or the hydraulic lifter orifices.
2. Incorrect Viscosity Rating
Grades of motor oils exist. Additionally, automakers advise using a particular grade of oil in each engine. By using the incorrect oil grade or viscosity, engine performance is decreased and friction and wear are accelerated.
4. The Screen and Oil Filter Failure
Every component of the engine, especially the upstream, might become clogged by a low-quality oil filter or an old filter that hasn’t been replaced in a while. A blinking or steady engine warning light or an oil pressure light will be displayed on the instrument panel if any of these conditions exist.
Oil pump pickup screens that are dusty or blocked will lower oil pressure and keep it from reaching the valve train sections.
4. A Poor Maintenance Schedule or an Outdated Engine
Lack of maintenance will result in sludge buildup and lifter wear, particularly on older engines. The engine oil is necessary for the correct operation of the valve train, particularly the pushrods and lifters. Pushrod, lifter, and cam lobe bottoms will likely become worn in vehicles with 75,000 miles or more on them if the motor oil is contaminated.
What Should You Do In Case Your Car Exhibits the Symptoms of Bad Lifters?
Replace the lifter as soon as you are certain that the symptoms of bad lifters are real and the lifter is damaged to prevent additional harm to the engine.
The lifter will typically just need to be replaced. Your car’s make and model will determine whether you can get away with replacing just one damaged hydraulic lifter.
Having said that, many mechanics advise changing every lifter when you do, as it is typically a good sign that the other lifters will soon fail and follow suit.
If your car is one of the older models for which new lifters are no longer manufactured, you should think about buying refurbished lifters. For older automobiles that might not have many years of use left in them, refurbished hydraulic lifters are less expensive and perform fairly well.
Is It Expensive to Fix the Symptoms of Bad Lifters?
Engine lifter replacement costs are not cut and dried for a variety of reasons. If you only want to replace one, the cost estimate is quite simple, but we advise changing them all, just like you would with spark plugs.
The cost of the lifter itself ranges from $5 to $35. If you decide to change every lifter in the engine, this amount may fluctuate significantly.
Each valve has two lifters by default, so you may need to replace anywhere between two and thirty-two lifters. Don’t forget to factor in the price of the bolts, gaskets, and other parts that may drive up the overall cost.
Investing in a complete lifter replacement kit is a respectable substitute. An aftermarket kit costs less than buying separate OEM parts from a dealer. Quality, however, is of utmost importance.
Additionally, labor costs won’t be cheap. Again, depending on the engine, it may take as little as three hours or as much as ten. The cost of labor varies greatly around the world, but if you assume it would cost $100 per hour, your final bill will likely range from $300 to $1,000.
It is challenging to calculate an average cost when talking about the overall replacement expenses. But taking a standard V8 engine as an example, expect to pay between $1,000 and $2,000 depending on the quality of the parts and whether the repair is being performed at the dealership or by a freelance technician.
Going with refurbished lifters rather than new ones can save you quite a bit of money, but the labor cost is unaffected.
An engine cylinder by Kether83 / CC BY 2.5. Lifters will starve if there is not enough oil flowing to the cylinder head. If the oil pump cannot temporarily send enough oil to the head cylinder because of low oil levels, the lifters won’t be properly lubricated.
How are Symptoms of Bad Lifters Fixed?
A poor lifter can have a variety of origins, and it can also be fixed in a variety of ways. So, if your engine makes a ticking noise and you think the lifters are to blame, try one of these fixes.
1. Examine the State of the Engine’s Oil
A responsible driver should always adopt a culture of routine maintenance. If you don’t change the motor oil frequently, sludge will build up and the lifter will start to tick. Even if your engine oil is clean, there’s still a potential that it’s below the ideal level.
Regularly replace the engine oil and make sure it is always at the recommended level. It is imperative to use oil with the appropriate viscosity. Use just the oil viscosity recommended for your engine.
2. Utilize Cleaning Additives for the Engine
In most cases, bad lifters cannot be fixed by changing the motor oil. You might require an engine flush, engine sludge cleaning, or other cleaning agents. But I advise adding Liqui Moly hydraulic lifter additives or Seafoam high mileage additives to the engine oil.
The hydraulic lifters, valves, push rods, and rockers’ arms all benefit from these formulations.
3. Replace the Bad Lifters
The only solution if your lifter is damaged is to replace it. You’ll need to replace the other lifters if only one is broken because they might have experienced wear.
However, if you have older engines with reliable lifters, a simple change can be enough to address the poor lifters. Additionally, the clearance between the valves, pushrods, and camshafts will be examined by your service technician.
Can You Drive While Experiencing Symptoms of Bad Lifters?
You should avoid traveling farther than 100 miles with collapsed or subpar lifters. Remember that you should travel these miles to the repair shop.
The inners of faulty engine lifters can deteriorate to the point where they harm the camshaft if a car runs on them for an extended period. The lifter’s roller damages the camshaft and interferes with the vehicle’s operation as a whole.
After 10,000 to 15,000 miles, the camshaft damage will need to be corrected.
If You Drive with Symptoms of Bad Lifters, What Is Likely to Happen?
To keep an automobile running at its best and minimize engine noise, lifters are crucial. Unfortunately, the lifters will eventually stop working, usually as a result of dirty or insufficient engine oil. The head cylinder will make a tapping or ticking sound if it malfunctions.
Let’s say you drive for a considerable amount of time while ignoring these LS1 symptoms of bad lifters on your LSI engine or any engine. In that situation, the lifter problems will worsen and affect other system parts.
How Can You Quiet Your Car’s Loud Lifters?
Utilize the following advice to stop loud lifters.
A car engine oil filter by Nutzdatenbegleiter / CC BY-SA 4.0. A poor-quality oil filter or an old filter that hasn’t been changed in a while may clog every component of the engine, especially the upstream. If any of these conditions are present, an oil pressure light or a blinking or steady engine warning light will be shown on the instrument panel.
- Regular oil changes may keep a car running smoothly, even if there are no symptoms of bad lifters present. When oil is changed appropriately, the lifter is protected from damage by low oil levels or soiled oil.
- Consider using an oil additive: Reliable oil additives like Marvel Mystery Oil or Liqui Moly can enhance engine oil quality while clearing the lifters. These kinds of additives can help clean rocker arms, valves, and other engine components. The best course of action is to make this inexpensive adjustment.
- Change the Lifter Spacing: Even when there is nothing wrong with the lifter, there will occasionally be noise. Have a mechanic adjust the distance between the lifter and engine components. For details regarding lifter spacing, consult your owner’s handbook.
How Can You Clean Clogged or Dirty Lifters?
A steady ticking sound that differs greatly from the typical engine noise might be heard if the lifters are dusty or clogged.
You can simply clean dirty or blocked lifters, which will save you money. Cleaning alone, however, won’t be sufficient if the lifters are broken or stuck. Replacement is required in this situation. How to clean blocked or filthy lifters is as follows:
- Start the car while it is parked outdoors or in the garage and leave the door open for the next ten minutes while the engine is running.
- Locate the engine oil cap by opening the hood. Delete it.
- Pour the engine treatment solution in, then let the car run for approximately 10 minutes.
- Step inside the car, then accelerate while keeping the engine at 2000 RPMs for two minutes.
- Keep the gas pedal depressed for about another two minutes if the ticking sound continues.
- The lifters should be clean at this time, and the ticking noise should be completely gone.
Ticking or tapping noises coming from the cylinder head are the most typical symptoms of bad lifters. This issue can be resolved right away without costing you a fortune. However, if you ignore it and keep on driving for a while, it will have an impact on connected parts.
The causes of a lousy lifter were discussed in this post, as well as solutions. You can resolve lifter problems on your own using this method. However, if you don’t trust your instinct, I’d advise you to speak with a qualified mechanic.
Regardless of whether the engine has manual or hydraulic lifters, make sure to clean first before considering a replacement if clogged lifters create a tapping sound. The cost of replacement can run into the thousands!
The aforementioned advice will assist you in locating, treating, and/or eliminating symptoms of bad lifters. Do not dismiss any of these indicators if you see them in your car. Quickly take them to a qualified mechanic to save your car.
Jim Wicks is the founder of MotorVehicleHQ. With over two decades of experience in the automotive industry and a degree in Automotive Technology, Jim is a certified car expert who has worked in various roles ranging from a mechanic, car dealership manager, to a racing car driver. He has owned more than 20 cars over the past 15 years. Ask him about any vehicle you see on the road and he can tell you the make, model and year. He loves the aesthetics of all things cars, and keeps his vehicles in pristine condition.
In his free time, Jim enjoys getting his hands dirty under the hood of a classic car or taking long drives along the country roads. His favorite car? A 1967 Shelby GT500, a true classic that, according to Jim, “represents the pure essence of American muscle.”