The sounds from under your car’s hood should be smooth, not noisy. But sometimes a steady, rhythmic ticking or tapping noise might start up. This new sound can worry drivers.
Ticking noises often happen when your car is idling or accelerating. These sounds may mean low oil pressure or problems with the timing belt.
Ticking noises point to issues that need attention. But how serious are they? And can you diagnose the problem yourself?
In this guide, we will explore common reasons for ticking sounds in your car. We will also share tips to check your car and know when to call a mechanic.
In the below video, you can see how a ticking noise from car sounds like:
What You Will Learn:
Causes Of Ticking Noise When Accelerating
Here are some of the most common of ticking noise in the car when accelerating:
- Low oil pressure
- Exhaust Leaks
- Damaged Hydraulic Lifter/Tappet
- Fuel Injector Firing
- Valve Train Is Not Adjusted
- Misfiring By Spark Plugs
- Damaged CV Joint
1. Low Oil Pressure
The engine relies on its magical fluid, oil, to keep everything running smoothly like a well-oiled machine. As the engine operates, oil continuously circulates throughout the system under pressure.
Oil greases up the engine’s moving parts so there’s no metal grinding on metal. Important parts like bearings, cylinders, valves and timing chains stay nice and slick, wearing slower.
Oil also acts as a personal cooler for the hardworking engine. It soaks up heat from all that friction and combustion happening inside.
Oil also plays the role of cleaning up gunk and deposits in the engine so components stay spick and span inside.
And oil seals the tight fit between piston rings and cylinder walls. This close bond allows for good compression and keeps the engine hustling.
For oil to work its magic, the pressure needs to be just right – usually 30 to 65 psi when the engine’s hot and revving high. Even when idling, the oil pressure should read around 25 psi to keep circulation steady and ensure parts get oiled regularly.
How it can cause issues?
The valvetrain that open and close the valves in the engine need oil to work properly. This valvetrain includes camshafts, lifters, pushrods and rocker arms. They rely on oil pressure to get the lubrication they need. When the oil pressure is too low, the oil can’t reach these parts fast or with enough force.
One of the early signs that low oil pressure is causing issues is extra wear in the valvetrain. Without enough oil flow, the valvetrain parts don’t get lubricated as well. This leads to more contact between the parts.
The extra rubbing and wear then causes noises from the engine like ticking or knocking. The noises happen because the parts are not sliding smoothly and are touching more than they should.
But why oil pressure decreases?
Low engine oil pressure is never a good thing. Several things can cause it in your vehicle. A major cause is simply running low on oil. Be sure to check the dipstick regularly and top it off when needed.
Your oil pump relies on bearings to do its important job of circulating oil. Worn main or pump bearings make it harder for the pump to do its work, reducing the pressure.
Excessive wear in other engine bearings, like those in the connecting rods and mains, lets too much oil leak past. This causes the overall pressure to drop over time.
Leaks can also lower oil pressure. Gaskets, seals or plugs that develop leaks allow oil to escape from where it’s needed most. This drips the amount of oil in the engine.
For detailed information on all the possible reasons your car’s oil pressure may run low, causing that troublesome clicking, check out my guide on low oil pressure causes. It explains each potential problem thoroughly so you can properly diagnose the issue.
2. Exhaust Leak
The ticking sound in cars is caused by the exhaust gas leakage from the exhaust manifold. It’s quite common when the engine is just starting and it is cold.
As you rev up the engine, it heats up, and the exhaust manifold expands and closes off the leak.
Exhaust system if an engine starts from the exhaust manifold, and ends on the tailpipe. Check my guide on the straight pipe exhaust system to learn more. If there is a small crack anywhere in the exhaust system, it will allow exhaust gases to escape.
You can find exhaust leaks in the form of small holes, cracks, or seams. Since exhaust gases leak with very high pressure, it will cause a ticking sound in the car.
Exhaust leaks often sound like mechanical ticking but they’re less distinct i.e. they produce a “blurred” sounding but still kind of “ticky”.
How to detect?
To detect exhaust leaks, take a shop vac and plug its end that blows air into the tail pipe. Open the hood and see if anything is coming out of the manifold. Make sure the engine is off.
Also, make sure that the exhaust system is cold. During this process, use a soapy water bottle to check for bubbles at the loose connections of the exhaust system.
You should also check the leakage from the doughnut gasket that prevents exhaust leaks between the cast-iron exhaust manifold and the exhaust pipe. That gasket is a narrow, thin, flat doughnut with a metal ring around the inside and outside.
3. Damaged Hydraulic Lifter/Tappet
A regular ticking sound like a sewing machine in your car is probably the valve lifters. It is kind of normal at the engine startup because it takes time for the oil to reach the valve lifters, especially in the cold weather. Check my guide on the engine oil viscosity to learn more..
The lifter is also called a valve tappet or a valve lash adjuster. You can find the valve lifter by removing the valve cover and taking out the camshaft.
The role of a hydraulic lifter is to transfer the rotary motion of the cams to the linear movement of the engine valves.
Hydraulic valve lifters are a type of valve train component that is used in many modern engines. They consist of a small cylinder filled with oil, which acts as both a lubricant and a hydraulic fluid.
The hydraulic lifter in an engine uses oil pressure to adjust a plunger via spring and take up all the clearance between the valve stem and the cams i.e. valve lash.
When a valve is closed i.e. camshaft lobe is not in contact with the valve lifter, the oil enters through a small hole in the lifter. When the camshaft lobe compresses against the valve lifter to lift the valve, the oil inlet of the lifter is closed.
Since oil is incompressible, this greater oil pressure automatically compensates for temperature and expansion, bringing the valve tip to effectively zero lash (clearance) and ensuring a smooth and quiet operation.
How it would cause a problem?
When a valve lifter collapses, it would not be able to maintain the clearance between the tip of the valve and the lobs of the camshaft. As a result, a faulty hydraulic lifter will usually make a sound more reminiscent of a tapping sound.
How to diagnose?
To diagnose a faulty valve lifter, grab a mechanic’s stethoscope and place it on the valve cover. If the noise is prominent, it means that the valve lifter has gone bad which has affected the valve clearance. If you for some reason, don’t have a mechanic’s stethoscope, a long-handled screwdriver also works.
How they become bad?
Valve lifters become bad due to poor engine oil quality or the low oil pressure.
Some people have suggested that you should run oil with the seafoam to clean the nasty valve lifters. Check my guide on seafoam to understand how it works.
Also, make sure to use high-quality engine oil if your vehicle has high mileage. You can check my guide on the best oil for a high-mileage engine.
4. Fuel Injector Firing
Fuel injectors have a coil that acts as an electromagnet.
When the engine control module sends voltage to the injector coil, the magnetic field pulls up a valve and allows fuel to spray through the nozzle. The injector rapidly pulses on and off to control the amount of fuel.
This clicking sound basically results from the solenoid valve of the fuel injector that is quickly opening and closing in order to allow the proper fuel amount to enter the internal combustion chamber.
So, there are the chances that you’re just hearing the fuel injector pulse. This clicking noise is normal and a part of a normal engine operation.
If your car uses a direct injection system, this clicking noise must be coming from a fuel injector. It is prominent when the car is in an idle position.
How to fix?
Make sure that fuel injectors are clean. Pull them out, spray carb cleaner on them, and wipe them.
You can check out this Reddit thread to hear the clicking sound from the fuel injector.
5. Valve Train Is Not Adjusted
A correctly adjusted valve train is important for a smooth engine operation. The valve train system consists of valves that open and close during each cycle to let air and fuel enter the cylinder chambers.
It has camshafts, rocker arms, pushrods, lifters and valves working together precisely. The rocker arm pushes on the pushrod connected to the valve stem. When the rocker arm lifts up, the spring lifts the valve off its seat.
Not adjusting the valve train correctly can cause a ticking sound. As each part needs to operate at the right time, they must be timed and positioned accurately.
Modern engines have one or two camshafts located directly above the valves in the cylinder head. They are called OHC engines. Some OHC engines still use rocker arms and pushrods, while others have direct-acting camshafts that push on valve lifters or shims.
If there is not sufficient clearance between the valve spring and the rocker arm or between the lifter and the camshaft, a clicking sound will produce.
Valve train needs to be adjusted in the engines which have rocker arms and push rods.
6. Misfiring By Spark Plugs, Ignition Coils or Spark Plug Wires
If the spark plug is bad, it will cause the engine to misfire. If you have recently changed your spark plugs and hear a clicking sound, the chances are that spark plugs are not installed properly. Make sure the spark plugs are tight enough.
Also, you could feel the wires “click” into place on the spark plugs and be sure that they fully seat into the coil packs.
You should also inspect the wire terminal inside the ignition coil that sits on the spark plug or the spark plug wires that transfer the spark from coil pack to the spark plugs. It should be nice and shiny. If it’s black/burned-looking, it’s best to just replace the ignition coil.
If the spark plug wires or ignition coils do not fit correctly, they will allow the spark to find another path to the ground, which will be the source of a clicking noise. So, in that case, you will be actually hearing the sound of an actual spark.
How to fix?
You should always have a torque wrench to snug down the spark plugs. Moreover, if the misfire is suspected, test the resistance of each wire with an ohmmeter. Once the spark plug wire clip separates or the wire fails internally, the wire resistance goes very high causing a misfire.
Check the below video to check the resistance of the spark plug wire.
7. Damaged CV Joint
Clicking noise due to CV joint is only produced when your car is accelerating. CV (constant velocity) joint is used in cars with 4-wheel drive or front-wheel drive.
If your car is making a ticking sound when turning either left or right, there is the chance that the CV joint is damaged.
Basically, the CV joint has a rubber boot. If it cracks or the bearing inside that rubber boot is damaged, you will hear clicking or ticking noises. Outer CV joints are responsible for those ticking noises. If inner CV joints are bad, you will hear clunking noises.
I will not go into the details of the CV joint and how it can cause a ticking sound in the car. In my guide on bad CV joint symptoms, you can find everything about CV joints.
8. Bad Timing Belt or Serpentine Belt
Serpentine belt is present in every vehicle. It delivers the power from the engine’s crankshaft to the alternator, water pump, and radiator fan.
On the other hand, the timing belt controls the motion of the camshaft through the crankshaft motion. It is because of the timing belt that the opening and closing of the engine valves is regulated.
New engines have a timing chain instead of a timing belt as the chain is supposed to be more durable due to the steel material.
On the other hand, the timing belt is made of rubber which wears out faster than the ticking chain.
If the rubber of the serpentine belt or timing belt is frayed and hitting other mechanical components of the engine, it will cause a ticking noise in the car.
Furthermore, if you see that the serpentine belt is shaking, it can be caused by a worn-out idler pulley or a belt tensioner pulley (which is also called an idler pulley). The belt tensioner pulley keeps the belt taut and prevents it from slipping off.
Ticking Noise When Accelerating Chevy Silverado
Ticking noise from Chevy Silverdo when accelerating can be due to the following reasons:
- Exhaust leaks due to a bad exhaust gasket or the exhaust manifold bolt just sitting in the manifold broke off
- Washers on the O2 sensors are rattling
- Universal joints in the transmission system are damaged
Ticking Noise When Accelerating Hyundai Elantra
Ticking Noise When Accelerating Hyundai Elantra can be due to the following reasons:
- EVAP purge valve clacks way. You will find the EVAP valve behind the intake manifold.
- Exhaust manifold is damaged or has a bad exhaust manifold gasket.
Final Thoughts About Ticking Noise From Car When Idle and Accelerating
In summary, when your car is idling or pressing the gas pedal, you may hear ticking noises coming from under the hood. This ticking has several possible sources that are good to know.
Oil moving slowly through the engine can cause a light ticking due to low pressure. Exhaust leaks let sound escape making exhaust noise. Lifters, which let valves open and close, tick if damaged.
Injectors that spray fuel improperly also tick. If valves open late they hit pistons with a tick. Old spark plugs fail to ignite properly and emit ticks. Clicks near the wheels come from worn CV joints. Loose belts touch nearby parts, ticking too.
While engines always make some noise, new, frequent, or loud ticking means inspecting the car. Catching problems early keeps small fixes small and can save expensive repair bills.
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