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.)

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23 Comments on "Engine Tapping"

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4 years 4 months ago

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?

Dan Bruce
3 years 8 months ago

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 years 1 month ago

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/

3 years 18 days ago

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:

2 years 11 months ago

2005 Mazda Tributemake a tapping noise with engine running.

2 years 10 months ago

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

2 years 7 months ago

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

2 years 1 month ago

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

Ishaq Arhin
2 years 1 month ago

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

1 year 7 months ago

Is there something u can put in oil to help

1 year 6 months ago

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

1 year 6 months ago

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

1 year 6 months ago

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.

Laura Paulk
1 year 6 months ago

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?

1 year 3 months ago

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?

Charles F Colby
1 year 2 months ago

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

Paul Evans
1 year 1 month ago

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

Kirk johnson
1 year 13 days ago

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

9 months 12 days ago

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

7 months 9 days ago

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.

Dave Anand
1 month 26 days ago

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.