Auto Repair Help

by Mark Davidson

The engine emits a tapping noise on start up. The noise may dissipate immediately after start up or may be present for several minutes.

This type of noise is usually caused by malfunctioning valve lifters or an exhaust manifold leak. If the noise lasts for more than a minute and completely disappears or dimishes after the engine is warm, the most likely cause is an exhaust manifold leak. If the noise only lasts for a few seconds, the most likely cause is a valve lifter malfunction. You should start your diagnosis with a visual inspection of the exhaust system. Inspect the exhaust manifolds for leaking gaskets or cracks. Black soot marks where the manifold mates to the cylinder head are key indicators of an exhaust manifold gasket leak. Inspect for broken exhaust manifold bolts. Inspect the gasket area where the manifold bolts to the exhaust pipe. Small exhaust leaks can often self seal once the metal engine parts are heated and expanded.
If there are no signs of an exhaust leak and the noise dissipates a few seconds after starting the vehicle, you should suspect an oil control or valve lifter malfunction. Hydraulic valve lifters use the engines oil pressure to expand the lifter which provides a zero valve lash clearance. This prevents the valves from tapping. When the engine is shut off, a valve and spring in the lifter keep it expanded and retain the oil within the lifter. If the valve or spring allows the oil to drain from the lifter, it will collapse. Upon start up, the lifter will take a few moments to “pump up” and expand as the oil pressure builds in the engine. During this time, the valves may tap since there is clearance between the rocker arm and lifter.

Replacement of the valve lifters usually requires major disassembly of the engine. There are oil additives available that can free sticking lifters. This type of additive should be added as per the products recommendation. Frequent oil changes with additional treatments may be necessary in severe cases. If these products are an unsuccessful remedy, lifter replacement may be the only alternative. You should consider having the diagnosis verified prior to undertaking any major engine repair.

The exhaust system becomes very hot. Use caution when working around hot or moving engine parts. Prior to removing any exhuast system fasteners, you should spray them with a penetrating lubricant. This will aid in the disassembly of the nuts and bolts and reduce the risk of breakage.

(Mark gave up on sports when the Browns left Cleveland and now spends his Sundays working under a shade tree in the back yard tuning his son’s soap box derby car.)

30 responses to “Engine Tapping”

  1. Graham says:

    I think my van has tappet noise. The strange thing is that when I start the engine first thing in the morning the motor sound perfect. After driving for about 5minutes the tappets noise starts up.
    To me it should be the other way round. Could it be tappet noise; or something else?

  2. Dan Bruce says:

    I have a 4.7 liter Dodge durango that has started to have a very loud tapping upon startup and shows nop oil pressure for about 20 seconds then the pressure shows up and the noise goes away. the engine has 260,000 k on it. could this be a bad lifter or possibly bad timing chain tenssioners? Please get back to me

  3. renee says:

    driving in my car why i was in the driver seat on my right side i sen smoke then the engine started making crazy noises then i had to put the pedal to the floor to move my car it still was smoking and it stalled a block down the road and i pulled into my driveway what could it be/

  4. george chris says:

    Good advice and a remedy that ends this problem The tap problem. “This prevents the valves from tapping. When the engine is shut off, a valve and spring in the lifter keep it expanded and retain the oil within the lifter. If the valve or spring allows the oil to drain from the lifter, it will collapse. Upon start up, the lifter will take a few moments to “pump up” and expand as the oil pressure builds in the engine. During this time, the valves may tap since there is clearance between the rocker arm and lifter.”

    Sludge is made by combustion blowby. Blowby turns good oil into a lumpy collection of sticky molecules. These end up at the farthest location – inside the valve lifter – causing the problem described above.

    Cleaning is a good remedy and I find the Mega Power Valve Treatment an extremely simple and fast way to end blowby and also clean valves and lifters – restoring the quiet smoothness you motor formally had = at a fraction of the $2000 cost to end by overhaul. More:

  5. Fred says:

    2005 Mazda Tributemake a tapping noise with engine running.

    • George Chris says:

      Ending engine tapping noise. There are 2 places in the motor that cause the tap. 1- A sticky, slow-closing valve where a space appears and closing the space causes the tap tap tap on engine rotation as the valve is pushed open. 2- A tap occurs when the wear adjuster for one of the valves has sludge blocking oil to it. In this cause of tap, the adjuster – called a valve lifter, has its valve adjuster part drop due to lack of oil pushing it out and upward to contact the valve its operating. A space appears and closing it makes the hammer-like tapping sound. Chemistry is solving these dirty problems by a, add and drive, product. More info on what to use at the web page listed below. Chemistry solves both problems at the same time easily, and economically. A do-it-yourself tap ending solution helping to reduce repair and operation expenses for many car and heavy equipment owners. Hope this helps do the same for your valve tap problem

  6. dave says:

    I have a 1990 nissan maxima that made a thumping sound slowed down n shut off what could cause that to happen

  7. bob mcnamee says:

    07 chev Silverado. oil gauge “O” flat ck engine lite on. runs great. fuse? sensor?

    • Richard says:

      Most often it is an oil pressure sensor that went bad. When it goes bad you will often notice oil dripping from the sensor wiring harness. I’d replace this first before anything else. If the engine doesn’t make noise but the pressure is out of spec this is usually the cause. If you hear noise (tapping or knocking) there is more than likely an oil supply issue. On checking the oil pressure… If the pressure starts good but lowers as it reaches operating temperature it is time for a rebuild. Oil thins as it heat making it easier for oil to flow but causing low pressure. This can also cause the ticking noise in valves as not enough oil can get there due to low oil pressure.

  8. Beau says:

    i have a 2010 FG Ford falcon xr6 and i have a tapping noise in the engine its really loud on the first start in the morning but when you drive for a while you cant hear it to much, what should i do

  9. Ishaq Arhin says:

    My Nissan Altima car started making tappet noise when I topped up my oil and drove for a few minutes

    • Lee says:

      Is there something u can put in oil to help

    • nel says:

      this is what you do star saving some cash for a used engine and drive it till it dies or till the sound makes you nerves
      youll have plenty of time and use 20 w 50 oil

  10. Lesley says:

    I have Vaxuxal Zafira, engine ticking loud stops n starts, sometimes smokes on start up, sometimes when i turn key to start its like its dead i try again and it starts what is wrong with it please

  11. Sammy Burke says:

    Wow, I didn’t know that black soot marks on the cylinder head would be key indicators that there’s an exhaust manifold gasket leak. Mark, this piece of information that you shared me thinking about my Ford Focus vehicle and how the cylinder head has been having problems. It’s a used vehicle and somehow when my I popped open the hood, there were signs of leakage there.

  12. Laura Paulk says:

    On my way home my 2002 Ford Windstar started making a noise like a broken belt flapping it cut off and left a huge oil spot. I have no idea what caused all this. Any suggestions?

  13. Jessica says:

    I have a 97 explorer 6 cylinder. Noticed a loud tapping, oil was very low added a quart and the tapping got quiet. Next morning started it and tapping was loud again gets quieter as it goes. No oil light on.. what do i do?

  14. Charles F Colby says:

    Good article, Mark – thank you, going to try valve treatment.

  15. Paul Evans says:

    Have a 2011 kia sorento that makes a lot of noise at start up. only lasts a few seconds but sounds like tappets. anything I can do besides engine repair

  16. Kirk johnson says:

    I have a Ford Taurus 08 and soon as I start the car I have a distinct tapping sound that is very profound and this just started yesterday

  17. Arsim says:

    Hi Mark I read all your post about valve lifter and I wanted to get in to this conversation because I do have the same problem any time I start my car I hear that lifter tick and I change two times and different lifters and I still hear that tick after I start the car for about 5 seconds so I hope I get any help from you because I dont know from where to start. Thnx

  18. Joe says:

    I have a 2012 Dodge Grand Caravan with approximately a 120 000 miles on it. I have been having this top end knocking noise after vehicle has been driving for more than 10 minutes. I only hear it at idle and it has been with this vehicle since I bought it new. The noise is still the same from when I purchased it brand new. I had it checked out under warranty after 5 days of purchasing the vehicle and they couldn’t find anything except fo tighten all the exhaust bolts, which didn’t stop the noise.
    Just last October,2016, I took a hollow rod about 18 inches in length and put my ear to it while putting across both valve covers while in park in an underground garage. I only found the knocking noise at the number 1 cylinder at the back valve cover. I didn’t hear it at other places on the front and back valve cover. There is no change in the pitch of the noise if I am in park and press the gas pedal. The engine is Chrysler’s 3.6l v6 Pentastar engine. Any advise will help.

  19. Dave Anand says:

    My 2004 W211 E320 Avantgarde on first start in the morning has this tappet clicking sound and I do not press on the accelerator. Once the engine has warmed up to its normal idle RPM, the sounds persist a little but then they all go off within the couple of seconds. It’s annoying but is there anything serious. My MB mechanic just changed the oil at the last service and recommended synthetic oil which is what MB recommends for this high compression engine.The annoyance still persists but when once the engine gets to operating temperature, it runs like a real dream. Is it normal for these engines to be operating around the 90-100 temp mark?? Is this anything serious? The car has been serviced by its former owner of 13 years religiously and it has only 119ks on the clock.

  20. gyro says:

    Engine Tapping
    I my case, (F-150, 153k miles ), I thought for sure it was an exhaust leak because it would tap loud on cold day startups and then go away after the engine warmed. But I could not find the exhaust leak and it sure sounded like the tapping was coming from the manifold. Then I changed my engine oil (just because it was time for it), and the tapping went away. I guess the valves were sticking because of the old oil.

  21. Muhammad Khurram says:

    I have Jeep Grand Cherokee 3.7 (2013) and having ticking noise continuously, after checking with dealer, they asked to replace adjuster & ARM Valve but I am not willing to go for engine repair, as mentioned by Mark Davidson, there are some liquid which can fix this issue, can you plz help me

  22. Deidre Castle says:

    Thank you for the well written article.

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