Engine Ticking Noise Goes Away When Warm

Are you noticing a ticking noise after starting your car? It may even seem louder when it idles. But why is it there, and why does the ticking noise disappear after the engine warms up? This may be causing some concern for you, but it may not be too serious. Let’s discover what the cause may be in your situation.

As the engine warms up, metals expand, and oil becomes less viscous and makes its way through the drivetrain, which aids in reducing or eliminating ticking noises. Causes may include low oil pressure, improper valve clearance, sticking valve lifters, and damaged or worn valves or bearings.

It is important to take action to resolve ticking noises. Initially, they can be pretty harmless, but you could slowly induce more damage over time.

This, in turn, can start affecting engine efficiency, which will start increasing your gas mileage. Not only will it hurt your wallet, but the performance delivered by the vehicle.

Let’s look closely at all the causes and what you could do to remedy the problem.

What Can Cause Ticking Noises?

As I’ve mentioned, various engine components can cause ticking noises. However, low oil pressure or the fuel system can also be the culprit.

1. Bad Or Low Engine Oil

Engine oil level is being measured using the dip stick.

As you know, oil is crucial for your car’s engine. It is responsible for keeping everything running smoothly with minimal friction.

Low engine oil levels can easily cause an engine to produce a ticking sound when it’s cold, before warming up.

Drain And Inspect The Oil

Draining the engine oil is a great place to start if it hasn’t been done in a while, if your engine has high mileage on it, or if you are trying to diagnose problems.

Watch the condition of the oil after you have drained it. It can tell you a lot. If the oil has water or tiny shavings of metal (it can be hard to see at first and without close inspection), you have more serious issues, and the engine needs further work.

If you have high amounts of sludge in the oil, refilling the engine with cheap oil may be best. Run it until it reaches full operating temperature, and then complete another oil drain.

There are many different kinds of engine flush products out there, but that will be up to you to try, and you should be very careful that these products don’t end up thinning out your oil even after performing cheap oil refills to get rid of these products.

The other risk you take when flushing it with flush products can cause a loose piece of debris into a small oil port in your engine.

So sticking with a cheap oil change after an engine warm-up (and while it’s warm – be careful not to burn yourself on the warm oil) before putting in the good stuff should be sufficient.

Time For A Test

Once you have let the engine fully cool down, you can start it back up and listen to whether you have fixed the problem.

If the ticking noises return after a month or a little more, you must diagnose the rest of the engine for further issues.

I would then say a likely culprit could be a badly worn engine or worn valve guides.

Replace The Oil With Something Good

If the oil is just dark and has no traces of other fluid or material in it, you can go ahead and replace the oil filter and top the oil up until it reaches the full mark on the dipstick.

If you haven’t filled the new oil filter with fresh oil before installing it, you may have to run the engine for a short while and then top up the oil afterward.

You should use good quality oil to ensure your engine is well lubricated and provides enough protection against further wear.

2. Worn, Damaged, Or Sticking Valve Lifters

A valve lifter, also known as a hydraulic valve lifter, hydraulic tappet, or hydraulic lash adjuster, is responsible for opening and closing the valves of an engine.

They help maintain a very low clearance between the cam lobes and valves and adjust as needed to maintain the desired low clearances. This helps keep everything nice and quiet.

When they aren’t operating should, extra clearances are introduced, and you get the tapping sound.

What you can do to fix noisy valve lifters

The chosen repair method will vary based on whether or not the lifters are badly worn or due to other factors preventing them from operating properly.

Here is a procedure that can help you get any issues repaired to do with the lifters.

There are two possibilities when dealing with noisy valve lifters. One cause could be heavy residue buildup or dirt clogging the lifter to inhibit proper operation, or the components that make up the lifters are worn.

For the first possible issue, if an engine oil and filter change described earlier didn’t fix them, they may have to be taken out to be cleaned and checked.

If they aren’t dirty after removal, it clearly indicates they are probably worn out. Inspect the body where contact is made and the piston area inside it, for any signs of wear, like grooves or other wear marks.

They are reasonably inexpensive for most vehicles if you replace them yourself. Getting a mechanic to do it could run somewhere between $1500 to $3000.

3. Worn Valve Guides

A set of valve worn valve guides are laid out on a table.

Worn valve guides and/or valve stem seals risk causing ticking noises from excessive clearances and exhaust gasses passing through the valve stem and ending up under the tappet cover.

This pollutes the engine oil and causes a faster build-up in the valve lifters. You will also have toxic gasses sent into the breather hose that links to the air cleaner. Overall, a really bad result.

With excessive gasses sent to the air cleaner housing, you may end up with the excess being drawn into the air intake area to the car’s cabin resulting in a hazardous environment for the occupants.

The same can be true for badly worn pistons and rings, whereby gasses blow passed them and into the crankcase. However, you will be concerned with far more than a simple ticking noise by this stage.

When the engine is cold, the increased calve guide clearance and reduced lubrication levels allow for increased movement around the valve stem.

This can affect surrounding areas or components like the valve seats and valve retainers, resulting in a ticking noise.

As expansion occurs from the warming engine, clearances are reduced, and better lubrication from less viscous oil and oil pressure helps reduce the ticking sounds.

4. Worn Or Damaged Bearings

A complete set of worn crankshaft bearings.

Bearings are important to provide a reduced friction surface for important parts like the crankshaft, connecting rods, and valve shafts. Oil aids in the process, and helps reduce wear.

Over time, the bearings wear out, and increased clearances or play develop.

After an engine stands for a significant period, say overnight, oil is more scarce around the bearings, causing more direct contact between surfaces.

The metals haven’t expanded yet because the engine isn’t warm, so clearances are even more prominent.

Ticking noises occur as these parts make direct contact with each other.

As the engine warms up, the metals expand, and the lower viscosity flows between the contact areas, reducing friction and providing some cushioning to help reduce ticking noises.

Unfortunately, replacing these bearings will mean that the engine must be fully dismantled in most cases, and the labor costs will be expensive.

5. Fuel System Components

A close-up view of a car's fuel pump unit.

Two main fuel components commonly cause ticking noises in a cold engine.

Fuel Injectors

The fuel injector’s job is to deliver fuel into the combustion chambers. If they become clogged, dirty, or worn, they cannot spray fuel as they should.

If the engine cannot properly combust the air-fuel mixture delivered by the fuel injectors, a ticking noise can be produced.

In a cold engine, the fuel cannot be vaporized as efficiently, causing a rough or misfiring that can make ticking sounds.

The Fuel Pump

The engine relies on its fuel supply from the fuel it pumps from the gas tank.

Worn or faulty fuel pumps can make ticking noises as they operate. The pump has to work harder to deliver sufficient volume or pressure of fuel.

As the engine warms up, the noise may diminish as the fuel system stabilizes.

6. Leaks From the Exhaust Manifold

The exhaust manifold delivers the exhaust gasses from the engine to the exhaust system.

Typically made from metal, even small cracks or gaps can lead to leaks. These escaping gasses can lead to ticking or tapping sounds.

As the engine warms up, the manifold metal expands and closes the small leaks, reducing these noises.

It is important to get it checked as it can affect performance and increase emissions.

7. Other Loose Or Damaged Parts

A close up of an engine with the tappet cover removed exposing potential parts that can cause ticking noises that go away when the engine is warm.

There are a lot of various engine components that can cause noises when an engine is cold. I will review a few of the usual suspects to get you to discover which part could be making trouble.

Loose Engine Components

Many engine components can become loose due to vibrations, thermal contraction and expansion, and general wear and tear. Again, as these parts warm up, the expansion of metals helps reduce clearances and the chances of ticking noises persisting.

Some of these parts include:

  • Valve train components.
  • Rocker arms.
  • Pushrods.
  • Timing chain tensioners.
  • Loose bolts or brackets.

Damaged Engine Parts

Some of the common engine parts that can cause ticking noises include:

  • Worn cam lobes.
  • Damaged lifters.
  • Worn piston rings.
  • Worn or damaged bearings.

The same goes for these components and heat expansion, which causes the ticking noises to disappear or become more silenced as the engine heats up.


As you can see, there can be many causes for ticking noises that go away once things get warmed up.

It is essential to listen out and isolate the specific area from which the noise is coming, then eventually, the exact component(s) causing the issue.

This can be daunting when it is somewhere inside the engine itself.

I wish you the best of luck tracking the culprit and hope you get your car free of ticking noises quickly and easily!