How To Diagnose A Ticking Noise From Engine?


The last thing you want to have is a problem with the engine of your vehicle. However, it does happen, especially after you have put a lot of miles on the car. One of the first signs of engine problems is strange noises coming from under the hood. You should know, though, that not every weird noise (like a ticking noise) is a signal of impending engine doom. It is important to understand what certain noises can mean so that you can be proactive in your vehicle maintenance.

In this guide we will explore what a ticking sound coming from your engine can mean. If you hear a ticking sound from under the hood, don’t panic. The first thing you should do is do some research concerning what a ticking sound from the engine can mean. Ticking from the engine is actually one of the more common noises you might hear from your engine. It can signal many different things and having to purchase a replacement rebuilt engine might not be one of them.

Keep reading to learn more.

Should There Be A Ticking Noise From Engine?

Any unusual noises coming from the engine deserve your attention. However, some ticking noise coming from the engine is normal. Sometimes you may have not noticed the ticking noise until you are sitting in the idling car in a confined space. In this type of situation, the noises are magnified and obviously, they will be more likely to catch your attention. Give it some thought as to whether or not the first time you heard the ticking was in a confined space such as this.

What Are Some Normal Causes of Ticking Noise?

Let’s look at some normal reasons why your engine is making a ticking noise. Remember, these are normal and would require no intervention from you or a mechanic.

  • Purge valve- A purge valve on an engine releases stored gases. Once released the gases can be burned up. When the valve is operating properly, it will create a ticking noise that can be heard under the hood.
  • PCV Valve- An engine’s PCV valve may also tick at times. This is often seen when in older vehicles. This type of ticking is fine. However, if the noise is aggravating, you might want to consult a mechanic on replacing the valve.
  • Injectors- Fuel injectors can also be a culprit for strange ticking noises in the engine. These fuel injectors are electronically actuated. When they are working properly, they can make a ticking or even a buzzing sound.

When Should I Be Concerned?

It is important to know that not all ticking noise coming from the engine is innocent. There are some causes of ticking noises that can be a sign of serious engine problems. Let’s look at some common yet serious reasons why you might be hearing a ticking noise from your engine. You should be concerned if any of the following reasons apply.

Low Oil

If your oil levels have gotten low in your engine, you will start to hear a ticking noise. Start out by checking your oil levels. If you start here, you can often solve the problem quickly if you discover that your vehicle is indeed low on oil.

The slight ticking noise from the engine results because the engine requires the oil in order to keep all of the engine parts properly lubricated and moving smoothly. If the engine is starved of oil, the metal parts will start to touch, rub, or grind against each other causing noises.

It is vitally important that you keep the proper amount of oil in your vehicle. If an engine is starved of oil it could result in serious damage to the engine. This is a super easy fix as you just need to add more oil.


Within your engine, there is a series of lifters. These lifters provide the force needed to mechanically open and close valves. Over time, the lifters can wear down. This will cause metal-on-metal clicking and ticking noises.

If you have a lifter that has gone bad, resulting in loud ticking noise from the engine, you should consult with a mechanic to have the lifters replaced.

Exhaust Leaks

Exhaust leaks will eventually happen to any vehicle. Leaking exhaust is under pressure, and so when it escapes it will make a ticking noise. Speak with a mechanic on how to have this problem resolved.

Badly Adjusted Valves

Inside your engine will be both intake and exhaust valves. These valves pull in air and force out the exhaust. The valve clearances need to be checked occasionally. When the valve clearances are not checked and adjusted, it can create a ticking noise from the engine when accelerating.

Bad Spark Plugs

Spark plugs can have a huge impact on your vehicle. Spark plugs must be properly threaded into the heads of the engine. If the spark plugs are loose or damaged then it could create a bypass of combustion and exhaust gasses. This can result in ticking noises.

Bad Accessory Drive Pulleys

Also within your engine is many belt-driven accessories. Pulleys are one such system. The drive pulleys use bearings to make for a smooth rotation. When the bearings begin to wear or are damaged, it can result in what is called “free play” in the engine. This often causes ticking noises.

Ticking After An Oil Change

You may notice a loud ticking noise from the engine when accelerating that starts after an oil change. This is a serious issue because something could have been forgotten during the oil change. You can discover the cause of the ticking by checking the following issues. You should do this as soon as you start to hear the ticking noise.

  • Check the oil level- There have been many instances in which oil is not put back into a vehicle following an oil change. This can result in permanent engine damage. Check the oil level as soon as you hear the noise following an oil change.
  • Check for leaks- It could be possible that your vehicle was damaged during the oil change and a leak has resulted. Check for leaks.
  • Check oil filter tightness- If the filter was left loose it could result in ticking noises.

Ticking Or Knocking?

There are different types of noises that your engine can produce. This is why it is important to properly determine exactly what you are hearing. One noise can mean one thing while another noise could be something entirely different. Let’s look at how to tell the difference between ticking and knocking.

Ticking- Ticking is often higher pitched than knocking. Ticking could also sometimes be described as rattling.

Knocking- Knocking noises coming from the engine are often much repetitive. A knocking will remind you more of a hammering sound. It is much louder than ticking.

It is also important to note that knocking is usually more serious than ticking. Knocking often comes from something going wrong in the engine’s rotating assembly. It could also be coming from some of the connected components.

Here are a few things that might be causing a knocking sound in your engine.

  • Piston slap
  • Worn bearings
  • Incorrect engine timing
  • Carbon deposits
  • Low fuel octane


If you do not feel confident to diagnose a ticking sound coming from your engine, you should most definitely make an appointment to have your vehicle looked at by a local mechanic.






Luke Wilhoit is an experienced blogger who has written professionally for websites in the real estate, automotive, travel, and financial industries. He has been featured on thousands of blogs and news sources across the interweb. Currently, he is serving as the editorial director for the Car Part Planet network of automotive websites. When Luke isn’t working, he’s probably fishing, snowboarding, hiking, or doing something enjoyable outdoors.


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