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Although modern engines have come a long way, many still fall victim to internal mechanical problems, such as failed lifters. In fact, some models, such as General Motors V8-powered pickups and SUVs with cylinder deactivation technology, are absolutely plagued by lifter issues,

Having an engine with one or more faulty lifters is a costly problem that can lead to additional concerns if left unchecked. You’ll want to fix the engine as soon as you notice any of the telltale signs of a bad lifter.

What are Lifters on a Car?

A series of engine lifters helps operate the valves inside of your car’s engine. There are a variety of lifter designs found in different types of engines.

aftermarket lifter
As the camshaft rotates, the lifters act on a series of pushrods, which, in turn, operate the rocker arms to open and close the engine’s valves. The lifters also maintain the engine’s valvetrain lash (clearance).

Lifters in OHV Engines

Traditionally, the term “lifters” has been used to describe the components in an overhead valve (OHV) engine that follow the contours of the camshaft. As the camshaft rotates, the lifters act on a series of pushrods, which, in turn, operate the rocker arms to open and close the engine’s valves. The lifters also maintain the engine’s valvetrain lash (clearance).

Lifters can be either solid (mechanical) or hydraulic. With solid lifters, valvetrain lash must be adjusted mechanically from time to time. On the other hand, hydraulic lifters rely on pressurized engine oil to automatically adjust lash internally, so there’s no need for periodic adjustment.

What’s more, there are flat lifters (tappets) and roller lifters. Flat lifters, which are typically found in vintage vehicles, have a relatively flat face that slides on the camshaft. Meanwhile, roller lifters have a wheel-like roller that follows the camshaft’s outline. Since the 1990’s, nearly all OHV engines have come with roller lifters.

Lifters (Lash Adjusters) in OHC Engines

These days, the hydraulic lash adjusters found in overhead camshaft (OHC) engines may also be referred to as lifters. The lash adjusters correct the clearance between the valvetrain components. Depending on the engine’s design, each lash adjuster may be located between the cylinder head and a camshaft follower, inside of a bucket over the valve, or built into the rocker arm.

The video below describes lifter and lash adjuster operation:

Advanced Lifter Technology

It’s also important to mention the new lifter technology found in today’s engines. Some vehicles now have a cylinder deactivation system that can disable half of the engine’s cylinders to conserve fuel. For the technology to work efficiently, the valves must be disabled in the deactivated cylinders.

Automakers have several different ways of deactivating the valves, one of which is using special collapsible lifters. The engine computer, which is often referred to as the powertrain control module (PCM), changes the state of the lifters by routing oil pressure to them through solenoid valves. Collapsible lifters are often found in large OHV engines.

The Top 3 Bad Hydraulic Lifter Symptoms

Do you think you might be dealing with a bad engine lifter? If your vehicle is exhibiting one or more of the following symptoms, you might be correct.

Note: Because other problems can present the same symptoms as a faulty lifter you’ll want to perform a thorough diagnosis of the vehicle before replacing any parts.

Engine Lifter Noise (Ticking)

A worn or collapsed lifter can create excessive valvetrain lash. The extra clearance typically results in a ticking or tapping sound that has a frequency lower than engine RPM (because the valvetrain operates at half of the speed of the crankshaft).

Rough Running and Misfiring

For the engine to run properly, the valves must close completely to seal each cylinder. The valves must also open to let air in and exhaust gases out. An inoperative engine lifter can prevent one of the valves from operating as it should, resulting in an engine that runs rough and misfires.

car cylinder valve
A malfunctioning engine lifter can prevent one of the valves from operating as it should, resulting in an engine that runs rough and misfires.

Illuminated Check Engine Light

The PCM looks for engine-related problems, such as a misfire caused by a faulty lifter, that could lead to an increase in vehicle emissions. If the module detects such a problem, it turns on the check engine light and stores a corresponding diagnostic trouble code (DTC) in its memory.

How Much Does a Lifter Replacement Cost?

Replacing one or more lifters is a costly and labor-intensive repair. If you choose to have a professional do the job, you can usually expect to pay somewhere between $1,000 and $2,500 to get the job done. Of course, the exact cost will depend on various factors, such as the year, make, and model of your vehicle.

You can save money by replacing the lifters yourself if you have the tools and the know-how. CarParts.com has a wide variety of replacement lifters available for various makes and models.

replacement lifter
Expect to pay somewhere between $1000 and $2,500 to get a professional to replace an engine lifter.

Lifter FAQ

How Do You Fix a Bad Lifter?

A faulty lifter should be replaced. The process is often labor-intensive, as some level of engine disassembly is always required to access the lifters.

Will a Bad Lifter Cause a Loss of Power?

A faulty lifter can cause an engine misfire that results in a loss of power and hesitation.

What Oil Additive Quiets Lifters?

Some companies make oil additives that are designed to quiet noisy hydraulic lifters. The problem is, when the lifters are noisy, the damage is already done, and any attempt to quiet the lifters is just a temporary fix. What’s more, driving with a faulty lifter can cause additional damage to your vehicle, as we’ll discuss below.

What Happens if I Drive with a Bad Lifter?

A faulty lifter can cause costly problems, ranging from a deteriorated catalytic converter to a damaged camshaft and internal engine failure. So, if your car has one or more faulty lifters, you’ll want to address the problem right away to avoid additional damage.

Any information provided on this Website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace consultation with a professional mechanic. The accuracy and timeliness of the information may change from the time of publication.

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