Car Makes Ticking Noise When Idle and Accelerating: 8 Potential Causes

When a car engine runs, it creates vibrations and noises. This includes the familiar sounds of a car engine, such as the roar of the engine and the rumbling of the tires.

But, these noises can sometimes include a ticking noise that isn’t supposed to be there. The ticking noise is usually associated with an oil leak or low oil level, but it could also be caused by other problems.

In this guide, we’ll delve deeper into different causes of ticking noise from your car when idle and accelerating. We’ll also suggest some fixes based on those issues.

A ticking or clicking sound is usually caused by loose connections in the engine or transmission. This could mean that you would need to replace some parts.

In the below video, you can see how a ticking noise from car sounds like:

Why Does Car Make A Ticking Noise When Accelerating?

A ticking, clunking, and ratcheting noise or sound in a car can come from any number of places in your engine. Ticking noise when accelerating can come from spark plugs, fuel injectors, worn crankshaft bearing, pistons, valve lifter, and valve covers. If there are leaks around the exhaust manifold, it can also cause ticking noise in the car.

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

When you have low oil pressure, you may experience clicking or knocking noises in the valve train of the engine. Low oil pressure is a common problem that is caused by the leaking of oil from a damaged or worn engine part.

If this happens, the engine won’t be able to create enough pressure to lubricate all the moving parts in the engine. The result is a noise known as a ticking noise. Oil leaks are usually found at a worn seal on the engine. If you hear the ticking sound, you may notice that the seal is loose. 

It is a good idea to check the oil level and oil pressure regularly. The oil level should be between the marks on the dipstick. Wipe off the oil on the dipstick with a clean towel and check the oil level again.

If the oil level is fine, your vehicle could have a problem with the engine oil pump. The oil pump is a part of the engine that circulates the engine oil. 

I would highly recommend you check my guide on low oil pressure causes. In this guide, I have detailed all the possible causes of low oil pressure that can result in a clicking noise in a car.

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”. 

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.

exhaust manifold gasket

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.

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.

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.

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.

Valve lifter becomes 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 injector is a device that delivers fuel into the engine cylinders. The fuel injector ticks when it delivers fuel to the engine under extremely high pressure.

This clicking sound basically results from 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. 

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.

Make sure that fuel injectors are clean. If you want to take them off and 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

When the valve train is not adjusted correctly, it can cause a ticking sound. The valve train system in an internal combustion engine consists of a series of valves that open and close during the engine cycle to allow air and fuel into the cylinder chambers.

As a result, they must be precisely timed and positioned. A valve train system consists of camshafts, rocker arms, pushrods, lifters, and valves.

The rocker arm pushes down on the pushrod, which is connected to the valve stem. As the rocker arm moves back up, the spring lifts the valve off its seat.

Valve train components

However, in modern engines with overhead camshafts, rocker arms and pushrods are not being used. During the engine operation, the valves move so fast and at a short distance.

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.

Valve clearance or lash

6. Misfiring By Spark Plugs

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 plug wire. It should be nice and shiny. If it’s black/burned looking, it’s best to just replace the wire.

If the spark plug wires 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 a sound of an actual spark. 

You should always have a torque wrench to snug down the spark plugs. Moreover, if the misfire is suspected, do 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 are the chances that the CV joint is damaged.

I will not go into the details of the CV joint and how it can cause a ticking sound in the car. In my Ford 150, I faced similar problems. So, I have explained everything about the failure of a CV joint and how to diagnose it. So, you can take help from my guide on noise in Ford F150.

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, timing belt controls the motion of the camshaft through the crankshaft motion. It is because of the timing belt, the opening and closing of the engine valves is regulated. 

New engines have no 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 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.

serpentine belt and tensioner pulley

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, ticking noises when a car is idling or accelerating can stem from a variety of sources.

Some of the most common causes include low oil pressure, exhaust leaks, damaged hydraulic lifters, improperly firing fuel injectors, misadjusted valve trains, faulty spark plugs, damaged CV joints, and worn belts.

While some ticking sounds are normal, persistent noises should be inspected by a mechanic, as they often indicate an underlying problem. With proper diagnosis, many ticking noises can be easily addressed by adjusting, replacing, or repairing the affected components.

Being attentive to abnormal sounds and getting them checked in a timely manner is key to preventing minor issues from escalating into major mechanical problems down the road. Addressing any unusual noises right away will help keep your car running smoothly for years to come.

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