Car Engine

Engine Ticking At Idle When Warm

Mike Cross
Updated Jul 29, 2021
Engine Ticking At Idle When Warm

There is no greater sound than the purr of an engine as it smoothly drives along the road. It is understandable then, that when we hear other noises coming from under the hood we are concerned.

We are concerned because generally unusual sounds coming from under the hood signal big and expensive problems. It can be easier to simply ignore the problem and hope it all goes away. That is never a good idea.

So, if you notice your engine making a ticking sound when idling, especially after it is warmed up, what should you expect? Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why this may be happening and what steps you can take.

Engine Ticking At Idle When Warm
Engine Ticking At Idle When Warm

Causes of Engine Ticking At Idle When Warm

Check your oil levels

If your car has a low level of oil in the engine, this will cause the parts of the valve train to make ticking sounds. This happens because the components are not being lubricated enough. The reason for low engine oil could be due to a leak somewhere and you will need to find that out.

Your car might also have damaged or worn-out gaskets or seals. No matter which one it is, you will know if you have low engine oil because you will notice that your engine will start to overheat. Engines need the oil to cool it off. If you hear ticking sounds in addition to any of these other symptoms, then it’s most likely due to your vehicle being low on engine oil.

Fuel Injection Issues

It is possible that the sound is normal for your car. There are certain models of cars with a fuel injection system that will have ticking sounds whenever the fuel injectors start firing. This is not an issue.

When this happens, you are hearing the valves of the injectors that are quickly opening and closing in order to allow the proper fuel amount to enter the internal combustion chamber. This sound is nothing to worry about and is part of the normal operation of your vehicle, however be sure to check with the dealership to make sure this is the case.

If it is not normal for your car’s fuel injection system to make this noise, it needs to be investigated. It is very possible that you need to replace the injectors or other parts of your cars injector system.

Check the valves

If your vehicle’s valve train is not adjusted properly, it will cause ticking sounds. This is usually the cause of these sounds, so you might want to check this first.

After your engine spins a couple of times, the valves open and close. The rocker arm is responsible for opening and closing these valves. The camshaft has a pushrod which controls the rocker arm and it needs to be the precise distance from the valve.

Since these valves move so fast and at a short distance, ff the adjustments are not precise, then the components will move around too much and this causes the ticking sounds.

Loose parts

If you can isolate a certain part in the engine that is making the noise, then it usually means a reciprocating part that is actually to blame. This can happen with pushrods, pistons, and valves.

If any of these parts are worn out, damaged, or go bad for whatever reason, you will begin to hear ticking noises. You need to replace these parts in a timely manner, or the ticking noises may progress into a whining or clunking noise.

Check for leaks

If you are hearing engine ticking after your car is warmed up, you might also want to check for leaks. Check your car for vacuum leaks or exhaust leaks. This can be done by manually checking hoses for damage, wear and holes.

Timing Chain Adjuster

Another real possibility is that your car has a broken timing chain adjuster. This is an issue that a professional mechanic will need to diagnose and fix.

How Can I Decide What The Issue Is?

If you notice your engine making this ticking sound, there are some steps you can take to help figure out the cause. This is a good idea if you are handy under the hood and comfortable working with your vehicle.

One of the first steps you can take yourself is to check the oil levels. You can make sure the levels are appropriate. If you know how to do an oil change, now is a good time to do that. Make sure to replace all the filters as well.

Next, you can visually inspect the hoses for any leaks. You should look for any obvious holes as well as any wear and tear. If you notice any, be sure to replace them.

Check for any loose parts. You can do this by isolating where the noise is coming from, and then checking the reciprocal parts. Make sure all pistons and valves are correctly installed and properly adjusted.

If you still can’t figure out the problem, you can use a bidirectional scanner. This tool can run diagnostics on your car and tell you where the issue is. This will give you an exact diagnosis.

If you do not have a scanner, take your car to a mechanic. They have scanners that are more precise. And if you get to this point, your problem may be caused by something that needs a professional to fix, such as a timing chain adjuster.

Points To Remember

Anytime you notice your car is not sounding the way it should, you need to find out why. It may be a simple problem to fix. The sooner you take care of it, the smaller the problem. Often people tend to ignore car problems, but this only causes bigger, and more expensive, problems down the road.


Don’t be afraid to investigate under the hood as soon as you notice your car making a ticking sound when its warm. The sooner you can correct the problem, the quicker the sound will go away.

Mike Cross
Life is too short to drive with stock audio

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