How Long Can You Drive With Bad Lifters?

If you hear a ticking, tapping, or clicking noise coming from the engine, that could be a sign that your lifters are bad or have collapsed. You shouldn’t ignore any unusual noises coming from the engine. But, if you hear a ticking noise coming from the lifters, the question is: How long can you drive with bad lifters?

I was intrigued by this question and so I did a research. This is what I found out.


How Long Can You Drive With Bad Lifters?

How Long Can You Drive With Bad Lifters

How long can you drive with bad lifters? If your lifters are bad or collapsed, you shouldn’t drive more than 100 miles and you should use those miles to drive your vehicle to the repair shop. When you drive for too long on a bad or collapsed lifters, the inside section of the lifters can go all the way down to the point where they contact the camshaft and damage the camshaft.

When a lifter goes bad, the inside section of these lifters can go all the way down to the point where they contact the camshaft. So, the roller on the lifter presses against the camshaft and can damage it to a point where your camshaft would need replacement in the next 10,000 to 15,000 miles.

The most obvious sign of a bad or failing lifter is a ticking or tapping noise coming from the engine. The lifter ticking noise can be occasional or continuous. It is easy to notice because it stands out from the normal engine sound.

You should never ignore any weird noise coming from the engine. So, if you hear any ticking, tapping, or clicking noise from the engine, make sure to check your lifters. Do not ignore this sound because the damage from this ticking noise can be big and expensive.

You shouldn’t drive your vehicle for more than 100 miles if you have bad lifters. The damage that bad or collapsed lifters can do to the camshaft is just too great to be ignored and repairs can cost thousands of dollars.

Is your engine oil due for a change? Visit our Car Fluid Guide Website to learn the importance of changing your oil on time, which type of engine oil is best for your vehicle, and much more.

How Hydraulic Lifters Work

Lifters are part of the engine head They are a key component that controls the opening and closing of the intake and exhaust valve. Valve trains are very complex mechanisms that have many moving parts. All of those parts need to function with great precision.

The hydraulic lifters, rocker arms, intake and exhaust valve, valve springs, valve guide, and valve seats are all part of a modern overhead camshaft or dual overhead camshaft valve train design.

All the components of a valve train are important. There are parts that are more prone to damage than others but are essential to keep the engine running smoothly. One of those components is the hydraulic lifter.

The hydraulic lifters have a function to keep a constant clearance between the valves and the camshaft lobes, ensuring perfect timing for the valves to open and close. When car manufacturers started using hydraulic valve lifters, they have eliminated the need of constant adjustment of the valve clearance. This saved a lot of money and time for the car owners.

Hydraulic lifters are filled with engine oil. When the valve is in a closed position, the lifter gets filled with engine oil. Then the camshaft lobe compresses the lifter and the lifter piston. An internal valve closes the oil inlet.

Once the lifter gets filled with oil, it can not be compressed anymore. This makes it work like a solid piece. As the camshaft lobe keeps rotating, the load is reduced on the lifter. Its internal mechanism returns the lifter to its neutral states that it can again get refilled with oil the next time that the camshaft lobe compresses it.

Signs of a Bad Hydraulic Lifters

Hydraulic lifters are important components of the vehicle. However, they can have problems. Here are some common signs of bad or failing hydraulic lifters:

  1. Rattling, ticking, or clicking noise. It’s pretty normal for hydraulic lifters to produce some rattling, ticking, or clicking noise during cold engine startup. This is because they have lost their oil while the engine wasn’t moving. The rattling sounds will stop as soon as the lifters get filled with oil.
  2. Blocked oil feed. If the ticking noise continues even when the engine is warm, it can be a sign f blocked oil feed or a worn-out lifter. In either case, it’s no longer opening the valve completely.
  3. Increasing noise. Another symptom of bad hydraulic lifters is when their noise increases as the engine rev increases.
  4. Engine misfires. When a hydraulic lifter is broken or damaged, it can cause misfires. This is because the lifter is delaying the opening and closure of the valve so bad that it results in timing issues.
  5. Loss of compression in cylinders. If a hydraulic lifter is damaged, it can lose its capacity of retaining oil. When a lifter is discharged, it can leave its valve open causing a loss of compression of that cylinder. That particular cylinder will stop working because it will have low or no compression at all.

Sometimes slightly clogged hydraulic lifters can be unclogged by changing the oil and using an additive or a carbon cleaner. It’s always a better option to replace a bad lifter rather than clean it.

How to Clean and Quiet Noisy Lifters and Noisy Hydraulic Lash Adjusters

If the ticking noise is coming from a clogged or dirty lifter, you will be able to clean it with an engine treatment product called Rislone. This product will clean it up and the ticking noise will be gone. If the lifter is completely collapsed and defective, then this product is not going to do it and you will have to replace your faulty lifters.

How To Clean Clogged or Dirty Lifters

If your lifters are clogged or dirty, you will hear a constant ticking noise that is different from the engine noise. Clogged or dirty lifters can be cleaned and you will save a lot of money. I use an engine treatment product called Rislone (see the price on But, if the lifters are stuck or collapsed, cleaning them will not be enough and you will have to replace them. Here is how to clean clogged or dirty lifters:

  1. Start the car and park it outside or in your garage but leave the door open because the car will be running in the next 10 minutes or so.
  2. Open the hood and locate the engine oil cap and remove it.
  3. Pour the engine treatment product (Rislone) and let your car run for about 10 minutes.
  4. Get behind the wheel and hit the gas pedal. Make sure to keep the RPMs above 2000 for two minutes.
  5. If the ticking noise is still present, keep pressing the gas pedal for another two minutes.
  6. At this point, the ticking noise should be completely gone and you should have clean lifters.

If you ever encounter a tapping sound coming from clogged lifters, regardless of whether your engine has hydraulic or manual lifters always try to clean them first before replacing them. Replacing your car lifters can cost thousands of dollars because they are hard to reach.

Igor Iwanowski

I am a certified Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) mechanic since 2018. I specialize in Brake systems, dashboard warning lights, EGRs, general engine problems, EVAP and Emissions issues.

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