Knocking or Ticking Noise From Your Engine

Updated on July 3, 2017
eddiecarrara profile image

Eddie spent 33 years in the automotive business with Honda. He is an ASE Certified Master Technician and has bruised knuckles to prove it.

What Engine Noise Is Normal?

A knocking or ticking noise from your engine is a sign that something is wrong.

Usually, it's because

  • there is a lack of lubrication,
  • something has broken,
  • or something is about to break.

Some engines have a normal ticking noise caused by electrical components like injectors, relays, and solenoids, and also the engine itself makes some noise turning thousands of RPM's (revolutions per minute), but for the most part, engines should generally have only a very soft ticking noise with no knocking noise.

If your engine develops a knocking noise while driving, usually it's quickly followed by a red or amber warning light on the dash notifying the driver there is a problem. If the light is red, I highly recommend shutting off the engine, red means STOP! If the light is amber, I recommend taking it easy until you reach a garage or service station, amber means CAUTION and the noise and light should be checked very soon by a reputable mechanic (not your cousin, unless they have a mechanical background).

If your engine develops a ticking or knocking noise in a short period, the first thing you should do is shut off the engine and check the oil level. You'll need to find the engine oil dipstick and see if you need to add oil or if the oil level is up to the full line. If you cannot find the dipstick, ask for help; don't chance driving without checking the oil level first.

Reasons Why the Oil Level Might be Low

There are several reasons the oil level in your engine may be low. The most common cause is an oil leak. If you suspect you have an oil leak, check the ground where you usually park your car: most often you will find several drips or small puddles of oil on the ground or garage floor. If you cannot see any signs of leaks on the ground or garage floor, try placing a large piece of cardboard under the engine overnight and check for leaks in the morning. This method usually verifies an oil leak clearly without any questions.

Leaking timing belt tensioner
Leaking timing belt tensioner | Source

Noises From The Upper and Lower Engine

I created this video below of some typical engine ticking and knocking noises. Some of the ticking noises are from the top of the engine where the camshaft is located; worn camshaft lobes are a common cause of upper engine tapping/ticking noises. Deeper knocking noises are from below where the crankshaft is located. Worn crankshaft and connecting rod bearings are the usual cause of lower-pitched, deep knocking noises but are not the only parts that can cause these types of noises. I had a vehicle in the shop that had a blown timing belt tensioner (see above) and this was a very heavy deep noise, so you just never know what is making the noise until you have a knowledgeable mechanic check it out.

Below the video are some pictures of a normal camshaft and another one that is worn causing some noise.

Ticking or Knocking Engine

Camshaft Lobe: Normal and Damaged

Normal looking camshaft lobe
Normal looking camshaft lobe | Source
Worn camshaft lobe
Worn camshaft lobe | Source
Worn camshaft lobe
Worn camshaft lobe | Source

You May Have an Internal Engine Oil Leak

If you don't see any visible external engine oil leaks, it's possible you are leaking oil internally. There are lots of possible sources of internal engine oil leaks like piston rings, valve guide seals, gaskets, and o-rings. If your engine is burning oil past the piston rings or valve guide seals, the usual sign is blue smoke exiting the exhaust pipe, some when the engine is idling and more when the engine is accelerating.

There is another type of internal engine oil leak called a head gasket leak. In some cases, the head gasket can leak engine oil into a cylinder, again causing blue smoke out the exhaust; it can also leak coolant into a cylinder and cause thick white smoke out the exhaust. One other possibility is coolant and oil mixed together internally causing a milky mess either in the oil pan or radiator. This type of leak is very noticeable: just pull the oil dipstick, or look in the coolant overflow tank, and if you see any contamination that looks like chocolate milk, you have found your problem.

If your oil is dark brown or amber, and your coolant shows no signs of oil mixing, but you still think you may have a possible internal engine oil leak, top off the oil to the full line on the dipstick, then check your oil level every 500 miles and document your findings. (Note: If the oil level is low when checking it after 500 miles, top it off again and recheck it in another 500 miles), this will give you an idea of how much oil you're losing or burning.

Blue Smoke From Exhaust = Internal Engine Oil Leak

What is the Fix When Your Engine Makes These Noises?

Once an engine develops a noise like this, there is no easy fix. Typically, you'll need to dig deep into the engine to either fix the noise by replacing internal engine parts (camshaft or crankshaft) or replacing the complete engine. Once an engine runs low on oil to the point where the engine makes noise, it's usually too late, the damage is done.

Here is one tip of advice. If you never do any service to your vehicle, the one maintenance item you should always do is change your oil. The oil is the blood of your engine and the engine is the heart of your car, just like the human body, take care of your heart, and the blood will keep pumping.

The Difference an Oil Change Can Make! A Dirty Engine

This is a look inside of an engine that was not maintained, by the looks of this engine, the oil was not changed very often. Engine miles were 86,000
This is a look inside of an engine that was not maintained, by the looks of this engine, the oil was not changed very often. Engine miles were 86,000 | Source

The Difference an Oil Change Can Make! A Clean Engine

This engine was maintained properly and the oil was changed every 5000 miles. Engine miles were 110,000
This engine was maintained properly and the oil was changed every 5000 miles. Engine miles were 110,000 | Source

Questions & Answers

  • There's a knocking noise coming from the engine area of my vehicle, but it only knocks when accelerated. Also, white smoke comes from the exhaust, but it's not overheating at all. After driving the blazer around the block a few times, the smoke isn't as bad. Any ideas as to what could be the problem?

    The knocking on acceleration is most likely a worn crankshaft bearing, and the smoke is probably worn piston rings or valve guide seals. Valve guide seals will usually cause smoke on start up and then will disappear after driving for a few minutes; worn piston rings will smoke all the time.

  • My car oil light came on in red is my engine damaged?

    If the light cam on, it means you're low on oil. If the engine starts knocking and you add oil and it's still knocking, you have damaged the engine.

  • I have a similar problem with my Toyota Hiace. Can I still drive it for short distances before getting a fix?

    I recommend towing it because if the knock or ticking noise is extremely loud, the vehicle could leave you stranded.


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    • profile image


      3 days ago

      I have a noise coming from my engine I've been told it's probably either the lifters or it's spun a rod. I have a 2013 Yukon XL 5.3 Vortec. Is there anywhere I can send you a short video so I can get a quick opinion

    • eddiecarrara profile imageAUTHOR

      Eddie Carrara 

      2 weeks ago from New Hampshire

      Hi Bafana,

      I recommend checking the starter wires to see if any are burnt.

    • profile image


      2 weeks ago

      ive replaced rings and bearings then my starter just broke when i turn the ignition on then starter came a smoke.what is the problem

    • profile image


      2 weeks ago

      hey I just got my truck on the road having a ton of issues its seems all little. truck was fine. got it back and none stop problems timing belt went up. no damage but after that cost me 800 dollars to fixing got it back the terminate housing had a leaking took it back they fixed that free cause they damaged it I was just driving to work and my engine developed a knock and now has coolant and oil leaking I get to work. and discover they didn't attach a clap to the bottom coolant hose could this result in this kind of damage engine is now knocking and leaking oil which wasn't happening before this truck was in running order and bought it only a few mouths ago ran it for 30 days fine no problems but as soon as I take it to that shop problems after problems

    • eddiecarrara profile imageAUTHOR

      Eddie Carrara 

      6 weeks ago from New Hampshire

      Hi Jan,

      I'm not sure what you're hearing but I don't think its an issue. Most engine issue are heard at idle or when accelerating under a load. I recommend checking the oil level just to be sure it's not low.

    • profile image


      6 weeks ago

      I have that ticking noise in ‘15 Civic on highway when at high speed..let of pedal and it quiets down. Noise developed 2200 miles after my last oil change (valvoline maxlife 0w20). First time ever with issue!!! I thought it was sounding like valve lifters.

    • eddiecarrara profile imageAUTHOR

      Eddie Carrara 

      2 months ago from New Hampshire

      Hi Sus1024,

      Can you take a video of the noise and post it to YouTube then send me the link?

    • profile image


      2 months ago

      My car oil light came on in red and I changed the oil and oil filter, and the oil light stop on riding for sometime it blinks sometimes and sometimes it stand for some minutes is my oil switch or sensor or oil pump damaged

    • profile image


      2 months ago

      I am having weird tiking noise when riding but not when idling also as soon as i pushed clutch pedal the noise goes away.I already changed cam chain.

    • eddiecarrara profile imageAUTHOR

      Eddie Carrara 

      2 months ago from New Hampshire

      Hi Otobong,

      I highly recommend you bring it back to the mechanic and take them for a test drive to point out the noise, they may need to make an adjustment or inspect their workmanship. Let me know what happens, thanks.

    • profile image


      2 months ago

      Good morning please my car is a Toyota Camry 2004 I have a slight knocking sound when I start my engine every morning after few minutes it stop the sound, I then took the car to a mechanic and he me he have to changed the chain , adjuster and rail and he did after fix them the sound stoped, but while test running the car it starts the knocking sound more than before so please what should I do?

    • eddiecarrara profile imageAUTHOR

      Eddie Carrara 

      7 months ago from New Hampshire

      Hi Charlena,

      You'll need to locate the leak with a flashlight. The mechanic could have damaged the seal during installation as well. If you brought the vehicle in to have the leak fixed and it is still leaking then I recommend bringing it back to have them double check their work, especially if they stated your leaks were fixed. Let me know what they find, thanks.

    • profile image


      7 months ago

      I have a toyota camry. Ive had my cam shaft and crank shaft seals replaced a new timing belt and fuel pump. My car still is dripping oil out. Any idea what it could be.

    • eddiecarrara profile imageAUTHOR

      Eddie Carrara 

      7 months ago from New Hampshire

      Hi Makisha,

      The mechanic should have seen this problem when they replaced the lifter and it would have cost a lot less money. Does the mechanic guaranty the noise will be gone with a new camshaft? Are they going to charge you labor to install a new cam because it should have been replaced the first time the cylinder head was apart. Let me know, thanks.

    • profile image


      7 months ago

      Hi, I have a Toyota Rush 2007. My engine makes the noise heard at 0.55 seconds in the video. My mechanic suggested changing the Lifters, which i did, but the problem still exists. He is now suggesting changing the cam shaft. Is that correct? I have spent alot of money trying to diagnose the problem

    • eddiecarrara profile imageAUTHOR

      Eddie Carrara 

      8 months ago from New Hampshire

      Hi Brittany,

      If your engine has a knocking noise like the video, it may be time for a new engine, but not for 10k. You should be able to buy a salvage yard engine with low mileage and have it installed for about 5k.

      I recommend getting a second opinion by someone reputable. Let me know what happens, and if you have more questions, I'll be right here :)

      FYI, your gender has nothing to do with knowledge, a lot of guys don't know much about cars and get ripped off too, that's why I answer peoples questions. I don't know everything, but enough to be dangerous and I can steer you in the right direction :)

    • profile image


      8 months ago

      I have the exact same sound in my V8 Holden VE SS Manual took it to the mechanic who said I need a whole new engine only had the car 6months an can't afford a $10,000 New engine. Do I need it or is it something else. Everything is worked. With Calais coolair take to the Calais Exhaust.. everyone says cause I am a girl an don't know the real problem he is ripping me off.

    • profile image


      9 months ago

      I have a 2006 GMC Envoy Denali that I see misfiring, code says the number 4 is bad. I replaced the coil and car is still misfiring and has white smoke coming out the exhaust. The engine has oil and coolant is not leaking. Last year hadn't to have the Heater valve replaced. The car does need the o2 sensors replaced as well. Can you suggest anything else to check, the car is with the mechanic now.

    • eddiecarrara profile imageAUTHOR

      Eddie Carrara 

      10 months ago from New Hampshire

      Hi Tyler,

      Are you sure the noise is coming from the engine and not a component like an alternator, tensioner, or belt?

    • profile image


      10 months ago

      My 2008 chevy cobalt has suddenly started to make a loud ticking/knocking sound from the top of the engine. The oil level is fine and there isn't a leak. Anything that you could tel me would be a great help.

      Thank you

    • eddiecarrara profile imageAUTHOR

      Eddie Carrara 

      12 months ago from New Hampshire

      Hi Tyler,

      Once the coolant mixes with the oil it only takes a few hours of running to damage the rod/main shaft bearing on the crankshaft. It sounds like that may be your problem.

    • profile image


      12 months ago

      i have thick oil, it looks the color of a starbucks coffee (tan) and sludgy. i know this is screaming head gasket but the engine isnt overheating nor am i using excessive oil or coolant. also have a knocking sound (thinking thats a rod maybe). this is all happened all of a sudden within 1 day from the truck running fine. any input on what it might be would greatly appreciated. btw its a 2002 dodge ram 1500 4.7L v8

    • profile image


      16 months ago

      Great information and visuals. This helps me before taking my car anywhere. Thanks so much for sharing.

    • eddiecarrara profile imageAUTHOR

      Eddie Carrara 

      17 months ago from New Hampshire

      Hi David,

      Sometimes having a thicker oil in an engine will quiet them down, especially when they get older and the clearances get wider lol. Thanks for the feedback :)

    • hardlymoving profile image


      17 months ago from Memphis, TN

      Hey Eddie,

      I had a tapping noise in my car only during warm weather acceleration load. Thought it was either fuel injectors or upper cylinder carbon buildup. I did a pressurized fuel injector and upper engine cleaning treatment with GM's detergent. 4 oz to 1 qtr. Only helped a little. Turned out it was due to low viscosity oil (using 5w30). Added 1 qtr of 15w40 and the problem disappeared. My car has over 200k miles so I guess the mfg recommended oil no longer holds true.

    • profile image

      Thomas Pratt 

      17 months ago

      Thank you very much. The photos are especially helpful. My noise from my 2003 Porsche 996 C4 is a persistent rather loud ticking noise. That said, I am hearing impaired, and if I take my hearing aid out the ticking almost goes away. :-)

      The car has 87,000 miles. The IMS bearing and the rear seal were replaced at 77,500. I drove it from Indianapolis where I bought it, to Ventura, CA, my home. It performed beautifully, and continues to do so. No warning lights. I changed the oil and filter soon after reaching home. Used Mobile 1, synthetic, oW40. (Should I try 0W50?). About one every ten startups, there is a puff of white smoke, significant enough I can smell it inside the car. Otherwise, no smoke. The ticking is most noticeable at idle. Disappears at about 2,000 rpm, or is drowned out by other engine noises. Ticking comes from the right side of the engine. Sounds like approximately just ahead of the muffler.

      I'm beginning to think it cannot be diagnosed short of tearing down the engine.


      Thomas Pratt


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