What Causes Lifters To Go Bad? Causes, Symptoms & Solutions

Many people have wondered: What causes lifters to go bad?

If you are also stuck on this question, this article will come in handy by providing thorough knowledge about the reasons, symptoms, and remedies to the problem of a broken lifter.

Are you ready? Let’s get started!

What Is The Lifter?

what causes lifters to go bad

A lifter is a cylinder positioned between an automobile’s cylinder valves and camshaft. When the camshaft lobe rotates towards the upper of a lifter, it will actuate by opening the valve.

Lifters’ designs are quite different, depending on each car and its engine.

For example, given a vehicle with pushrod engines, a lifter is equipped to activate a rocker arm instead of pressing the valve directly. This divergence in functions leads to different designs.

These parts are put into two categories, namely the hydraulic and solid types. The hydraulic lifter uses oil inside its body, while the latter has no hydraulic system, so you have to adjust it manually.

What Causes Lifters To Go Bad?

Below are some culprits behind a malfunctioning lifter that you should pay attention to:

  • Engine mileage and maintenance
  • Oil amount and condition
  • Oil viscosity
  • Oil filters and screens
  • Lash adjustment
  • Bad valves, spacing, or oil type

Let’s take a closer look at each case.

Engine Mileage And Maintenance

One of the primary reasons behind a faulty lifter lies in the old engines.

They are not frequently maintained and show a high mileage, which wreaks havoc on many motor parts, such as the filter, valve train parts or push rods.

When they are out of order, the lifter is also negatively affected, as it has to work harmoniously with them to ensure an overall smooth engine operation.

The irregular servicing could exacerbate this issue, resulting in contaminated oil and eventual lifter failure.

Oil Condition And Level

As mentioned earlier, the degraded oil quality is of great detriment to the lifter’s working. But why? 

Suppose the fuel is filled with lots of dirt, debris and particles; it would clog the push rod passage and block the hydraulic lifter orifices.

Too low oil level is also a warning sign. In this case, the oil crankcase cannot provide sufficient pressure to reach the valve train’s upper side, preventing the fuel pickup screen from running properly.

I soon noticed a lack of lubrication in my car, rendering lifters to collapse due to excess friction force when colliding with other devices.

Too much oil bears a similar result. When the oil level in a crankcase surpasses the maximum threshold, air bubbles will be formed on the oil surface, leading to oil aeration.

The entrapment of air in the lubricating oil is not good for lifters’ health in the long run.

Oil Viscosity

A good oil viscosity rating indicates that your oil is still in good condition, diminishing the chances of engine component wear.

If your oil is in good health, staying clear of dirt and crud, the lifter issue will also be averted.

To ensure a good viscosity, I usually check your oil or have it examined by experienced mechanics.

Given the oil’s heavy viscosity, although it is excellent at promoting pressure under a hot temperature, its ability to distribute and flow across engines seems insufficient.

The reverse is applied to the light viscosity oil.

It could flow within motor parts quickly in cold weather, but this capacity is quite limited in some hot environments, causing improper lubrication and pressure.

Oil Filters And Screens

An oil filter and a fuel pump screen all take charge of removing contaminants from the engine oil.

If they are not changed frequently or replaced if needed, their main functions cannot be completed.

The oil is still dirty, and the dirt gradually builds up, deteriorating automotive components and reducing the oil pressure.

As mentioned earlier, a lack of oil pressure will have repercussions for mechanical lifters.

It is easy to detect this problem, as the engine warning lights would eliminate and show “Oil Pressure” or “Check Engine”.

Lash Adjustment

If you are using a hydraulic valve lifter like I do, you need to take close notice of this cause.

Many hydraulic types are set to “zero” lash, which means the pressure is fully absorbed by their body cushion.

Suppose this pressure amount becomes excess; a tappet nut can hamper the lifter, especially its push rod or cam.

The constant hampering could make your filter more prone to metal wear and even further damage if this problem persists for a long time.

The solid lifter is less susceptible to this breakage, as it must be adjusted manually. The cam wear and push rod’s distortion still arise whenever the gap or lash in its adjustment is off.

Other Causes

  • Bad lifters’ valves
  • Issues with the lifter spacing
  • The incorrect type of engine oil

What Are The Symptoms Of Faulty Engine Lifters?

can you drive with bad lifters

Here are typical symptoms that you can easily notice in a broken lifter.

Sticky Lifters

When a lifter becomes sticky, it seems immobile in my car. In other words, it cannot rotate or move upwards and downwards, so the system is unable to maintain a proper level of oil pressure.

Besides resulting in the lifter wear, it also inflicts other internal parts or makes them hammer against one another.

Loud Engine Noise

Due to failed components, I could hear the sound emanating from the flat lifter with increased frequency and volume, even to a deafening degree.

Another rationale lies in the reduced pressure, causing a sudden surge in the friction force when motor parts collide. Loud noise will be generated as a consequence.


A faulty filter also deteriorates the engine cylinders’ capacity for burning and mixing air with fuel. The misfiring problem is apt to occur, and I can feel it by experiencing slower acceleration.

Cylinder Failure

When a lifter gets damaged, the pushrod could become bent or fall out, causing the dead cylinder head, as shown in the broken valves or defective rocker arms.

Check Engine Light

Given something wrong with your car’s engines, including the lifter, the check engine light will illuminate on the dashboard, notifying drivers of potential problems.

Other Signs

How To Fix A Bad Lifter?

bad lifter symptoms

Following are feasible remedies to each above culprit for you to consider:

  • It is highly recommended that you should check the entire engine’s conditions and vehicle mileage frequently.
  • Examining the oil’s condition is also important. Replacing the old oil full of dirt with the new one may be a brilliant idea.

You could cling to some oil additive products, such as the Marvel Mystery Oil or Liqui Moly, to improve its quality.

  • Keep track of the oil amount in your car’s crankcase. Too low or too high oil level can jeopardize the lifter’s health.
  • Pay close attention to the lifter spacing. If you don’t know how to check or modify this spacing, tow your car to a reliable automotive service center or have a professional mechanic undertake the process.
  • If the problem is rooted in the clogged oil filter, replace it with a new one immediately (I could undertake this process without changing oil).

Remember to purchase products from an authentic store because fake devices are notorious for their degraded quality.

  • Check whether some parts, like the push rod, cylinder or lifter orifice, are broken or not. Suppose they are on the fritz; you should promptly change them and install new ones to avert worst-case scenarios.
  • Opt for a suitable oil with the proper viscosity rating.
  • Ensure that you use the correct type of engine oil with a view to avoiding lifter noise.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is The Price For The Lifter’s Major Repair?

The average cost of replacing a bad lifter varies greatly, depending on several factors, such as the make and model of your automobile, the lifters’ internal parts or damage intensity.

A lifter alone may cost you around 5 to 30 dollars, but the exact cost includes the tools’ prices and labor costs.

The latter could mount up to 100 dollars per hour, so the total figure reaches between 500 and 1000 dollars.

It is cheaper if you replace a lifter at home. You can surf for the lifter replacement procedure and follow online guidelines.

But this practice is quite dangerous should you be an amateur and lack automotive knowledge.

How Often Should Your Lifter Be Replaced?

The replacement frequency is based on your driving habits and the engine’s conditions. Yet, it would be best to adjust your old lifter every 5000 miles if nothing happens unexpectedly.

Can You Drive With A Bad Lifter?

The answer is yes.

But it would be best to get a failed lifter fixed as soon as possible, as it can cause severe damage to your car and its motor parts in the long run.

The Bottom Line

My article has answered the question in full detail: What causes lifters to go bad?

Besides, I also equip you with helpful knowledge about its symptoms and feasible solutions in each case, hoping to help you out.

Thank you for reading, and have a nice day!

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