DIY – Quieting the infamous BMW lifter (tappet) tick

51

April 12, 2013 by quirkyuncle

Some BMW six-cylinder engines from the mid-2000s exhibit an intermittent and annoying lifter (tappet) tick. If your BMW is ticking, solving the problem might be easier than you think.



Variants of the BMW six-cylinder engine are consistently rated as one of the top automobile motors. It is a proven design that has been in use for many years, evolving steadily over time. It is a really great engine, which is why the whole ticking lifter problem is so unusual. You can hear what it sounds like here.

What are lifters?
Lifters are used to open the intake and exhaust valves in most gasoline powered cars and trucks. The valves are held closed by strong springs and pushed open by elliptical lobes on a rotating camshaft, allowing the air/gas mixture in and the exhaust gasses out of the cylinder at precisely the right time. The lifters fit between the camshaft and the valves and transfer the force needed to open the valves. Lifters are of two basic types: solid and hydraulic.

  • Solid lifters have no moving parts and must be manually adjusted as part of routine engine maintenance.
  • Hydraulic lifters (BMW calls them Hydraulic Valve Adjusters or HVAs) are self-adjusting, making them a good choice for use in most vehicles. The hydraulic lifter has upper and lower sections that are held apart by oil pressure. The oil is pumped into the lifter while the engine is running to push the lifter halves apart, leaving no play between the camshaft and valve.



Why do lifters make a ticking noise?
Lifters tick when they are out of adjustment.

All solid lifters tick when the engine is cold and get quiet once the engine gets up to temperature, causing the lifters to expand to their normal running size. If solid lifters tick when the engine is hot, you need to adjust them. Adjustments are made when the engine is cold by setting a precise gap between the camshaft and the lifter that will close predictably to specifications when warm.

Hydraulic lifters are self adjusting. They will tick when something causes them to lose their internal oil pressure. Pressure loss can occur if the internals of the lifter become dirty from not doing routine oil changes. It can also occur if you don’t use oil of the proper weight, causing it to bleed out of the lifter when the engine is off or not pump in fast enough when you turn the engine on. Pressure loss can also be caused by a malfunction of the lifter, where it becomes unable to hold pressure. Keep in mind that when an engine stops, at least one valve inside of it will be open, meaning that the camshaft is holding is this valve open against strong spring pressure; this spring pressure, in turn, tries to force the oil out of the lifter. If a lifter is not sufficiently pressurized when a motor turns off, it loses its pressure more easily and ticks more readily when the engine turns on.

What is the official BMW solution?
BMW does acknowledge that these lifters are ticking. They consider it somewhat “normal,” which in all honesty is half true, as you will see below. Note that “normal” does not mean the condition should be ignored.

The first thing BMW does when a car is brought in with ticking lifters is perform the lifter bleed procedure, given below. From what I can see, the bleed procedure seldom yields a permanent solution. Next, if the customer pushes hard enough, BMW will replace all the lifters in the cylinder head. Lifter replacement is a costly repair and BMW is quite reluctant to do it. From what I can see, lifter replacement only solves the problem in some cases. Lastly, if a customer continues to pursue the problem, BMW might replace the entire cylinder head with one of a new design. BMW hates doing this, because it is super expensive. Replacing the cylinder head will, however, solve the problem every time.

Lifter bleed procedure:

BMW SIB 11.09.07

Metallic Ticking noise coming from engine? – BMW 3-Series (E90 E92) Forum – E90Post.com

SI B 11 09 07 Engine
January 2009

This Service Information bulletin supersedes SI 11 09 07 dated April 2008.

SUBJECT
Intermittent Hydraulic Valve Adjuster (HVA): “Ticking” or “Rattling” Noises

MODEL
All E82, E83, E85, E86, E88, E60, E61, E70, E90, E91, E92, and E93 with the N51, N52 or N52K engines

SITUATION
An occasional ticking or rattling noise from the HVA elements may occur during cold engine starts or frequent short-distance driving.

CAUSE
In these situations, the HVA elements may not yet have been supplied with sufficient amounts of air-free oil. This condition will not cause any damage to the engine, and usually remedies itself with a longer driving distance or operating times at full operating temperature.

CORRECTION
In the event of a customer complaint, please perform the following the HVA bleeding procedure.

PROCEDURE
Important notes:

The bleed time may take anywhere from between two minutes and (in rare cases) to a maximum of 30 minutes. This procedure is to be performed on a level surface with the vehicle stationary, and in a properly ventilated area.

Procedure preconditions:

Engine oil level correct – neither underfilled nor overfilled

Engine running at operating temperature

1.) Bring the engine up to an operating speed (no load) of 2000-3000 rpm and maintain this condition for three minutes (bleeding procedure).

Let the engine idle for 15-30 seconds and reevaluate whether the noise is still present or not.

2.) Engine quiet – procedure is finished.

3.) Engine noise is still present – repeat the procedure; perform steps #1 and #2 up to a maximum of 5 times.

4.) Only if the noise remains after performing the bleeding procedure 5 times: proceed by performing the procedure for a final time, also at an engine operating speed of 2000-3000 rpm, but for a total time duration of 15 minutes.

WARRANTY INFORMATION
Covered under the terms of the BMW New Vehicle Limited Warranty.

What did I find out?
My 2007 Z4 3.0i started ticking intermittently just over a year ago, after it was out of warranty. The problem would come and go, seemingly at random. If it started ticking, the problem would go away after my 25-mile commute or after performing the lifter bleed procedure. It really did annoy me, though, so I did a bit of research.

At that time, the problem could be found all over message boards for BMW user groups in the USA. When I located some user groups that were in Europe, I could not find a single mention of the lifter ticking problem. Not one. I thought this a bit strange.

From what I can tell, the engines used in the US and Europe are the same with regard to cylinder head design. BMW also specs the same oils for use in the US and Europe, although I suspect many people are not using the correct oil in the US unless they have the change done by their BMW dealer, or are really careful about purchasing oil that meets all BMW specs. (You can find the correct oil through local retailers, if you look for it. The correct oil just costs a bit more.)

Oil certified by BMW is labeled as meeting the BMW LL-01 specification. See DIY – Choosing the correct motor oil for your BMW for details.

Lifter tick, or lack thereof, was never impacted by the age of my oil, which I always change at the 7500-mile interval. BMW recommends doing oil changes for my car at 15,000-miles.

In my opinion, this is way too long. The lubricating properties of oil diminish as oil ages and the oil is less able to flow in and out of hydraulic lifter orifices to support its self-adjustment function. The diminished quality of the oil is easily seen in the following photo. See Recommended oil change intervals for more information.
7500-mile to 15K-mile oil comparison

Note: If your BMW is under a factory maintenance plan for oil changes, they won’t change your oil if you start performing mid-cycle oil changes. Their sensors indicated that the oil is clean, even though it isn’t, and will refuse to change the oil when you bring it in.

What’s the difference between Europe and the US? I think it’s the way we drive.

Personally, I found a correlation between rises in gasoline prices and re-occurrences of lifter ticking. When gas prices go up, I drive more sedately to save fuel, and suddenly my lifters get noisy. Hmmm…

Could it be that folks driving BMWs in the US need to drive them harder? I think this is the case.

  • Think of the home markets. In the US, we grew up with big, lower-revving 8-cylinder engines: in Europe, there have been a lot of small, high-revving 4-cylinder engines for years. Europeans have a tendency to rev their cars up higher.
  • Think of buyer demographics. In Europe, BMWs are a domestic brand with a higher level of performance. The police drive them, as do regular people who like to drive spiritedly. In the US, BMW is a status brand, with many buyers purchasing them to impress and not necessarily for the awesome driving experience they provide.
  • Think of the roads. Autobahn vs rush-hour urban traffic. Enough said.



So, I did an experiment

  • Part 1: Keep the RPMs at 2000 or above during normal driving, with routine gear changes in a higher RPM range (above 5000 RPM). You are able to easily accomplish this, even around town, without violating any laws. Result: no lifter tick, at all, for months.
  • Part 2: Purposefully drive at lower RPMs. Within a few days, the tick was back. It magically vanished as soon as I returned to the higher RPM driving style.


I will admit that my gas mileage did drop around town by about 1 MPG when driving the car harder. It’s not a big deal and you can more than offset it by switching to a more efficient air filter (see Review: aFe Pro Dry S Air Filter

I don’t know if driving more enthusiastically (obey all laws!!!) will stop your lifters from ticking as well as it does for me. Give it a shot. It is pretty much the ultimate no-cost fix.

Remember, this topic is only discussing lifters that tick intermittently. If yours tick all the time or if the bleed procedure does not make them stop ticking, this could be indicative of a bigger problem. If in doubt, talk to your mechanic.

Good luck! If you try any of these methods, please leave a comment and let me know how it works out for you.

Did you find this posting useful? Did it save you time or money? If so, consider making a donation.



Updates:

  • 18 August 2017: Editorial and organization changes.
  • 15 September 2013 – Added info about oil.
  • 10 September 2013 – Added ‘tappet’ as alternate term for ‘lifter’.
  • 24 June 2013: Added link to Review: aFe Pro Dry S Air Filter


51 comments »

  1. Arvin says:

    Thanks for this. Very informative. Bookmarked!

  2. George says:

    I’m heaving the same problem with my e92 325i and I also came up with the same solution as you; i noticed that short trips (I usually take 10-15 min trips) with the oil temp not reaching even 70 degrees Celsius bring the ticking back, it takes maybe 2-3 of these low revving, cold running short trips to start the ticking.
    Thank you for taking the time to write this article; it’s nice to know someone else out there came up with the same theory and the same results.

    • quirkyuncle@gmail.com says:

      Hi, George.

      I’m glad to hear that your experiences with this problem are similar to mine – always nice to receive some validation.

      Have you tried using BMW certified oil? This made a big difference for me. I have added a link to another posting about choosing oil in the lifter tick post.

      Please let me know if this helps.

  3. Marcelo Costa says:

    Hi. I AM from Chile. I Have the same problem with my 523i (engine n52, year 2012). On monday i will go TO the BMW. I have warranty.

  4. Peter Harris says:

    Brilliant! Fixed my X3, it’s been anoying me for ages. Thought it was going to cost me 000’s to get it fixed. Technically not really fixed but manageable. Thanks!

  5. Li says:

    I used this method and have fixed the ticking problem on 2007 328i. After 40 miles rude driving. That annoying ticking is gone. Thank you.

  6. roldan says:

    I bought a 2008 Kia Rondo LX 6 cyl. 100 K miles.
    The engine oil was very black and disgusting, probably the car had no oil change during long time.

    I tested and drove this car and I did not hear any noise but when I heard the engine in a quiet place I found a small ticking sound that begins a few minutes after starting the car. The sound still there even when the engine get warm.

    Two mechanics have told me that this is a lifter.
    In Internet I found many different recommendations.

    Many specialists decline the use of engine flush. They say that this procedure causes other worst problems.

    Kia dealer made a oil change, using the recommended oil, W5-20, but the clicking noise is still in the engine.

    What should I do?

    Thanks

    rolchatelio@yahoo.es

    • quirkyuncle@gmail.com says:

      Lifters often stick when the oil is very dirty. An engine flush can cause problems because it cleans way too fast and can clog small orifices up when all the crud comes loose.

      When I had a sticking lifter in my 5.0l Pontiac, an old mechanic recommended that I do several very frequent oil and filter changes, using 1qt of ATF during each change (one quart less of oil, replaced by one quart of ATF). Automatic transmission fluid (ATF) is highly detergent and works to clean the engine inside, but at a slower rate than engine flush.

      Until I switched my cars to synthetic oil, I’d do the same technique with a half quart of ATF at each oil change and it kept my engines very clean and healthy.

      You can see how the cleaning is going by looking or feeling inside the oil filler cap (engine off!).

      Good luck! Please let me know how you make out.

  7. Allen W says:

    Hi, I found your blog looking for an answer to a similar issue with my sons 2001 Z3. When idling there is a very random hard metallic thunk heard from the intake side of the engine, I think more toward the rear of the engine. It sounds almost like something raps against the inside of the block or head, just once or occasionally a couple more in succession, then none. I revved the engine and she’s smooth and quiet. I put it in gear and loaded the engine and again in reverse. Thought maybe the flex plate was cracked or bolts loose. Nothing! The sound is fairly loud but brief and then all quiet for a bit regardless of load or rpm. Basically I cannot make it do it. Comes and then goes at will. Checked the oil, about a litre or more low and due for an oil change. Any chance something hydraulic is leaking down or not maintaining due to oil condition such as tappets, variable timing, chain tensioner etc.???

  8. Ozi525iMsport says:

    Same issue with 2006 525i just one lifter and only sometimes. Oil Changed every 10000 km. Put in 200ml Auto fluid in engine. Noise gone in 1 day. Came back 6 weeks later added another 200ML Noise gone. Waited another 2 weeks and changed oil. Lots of small crap held in suspension on oil being drained. Changed oil and no noise – need to wait and see if it comes back. I think ATK high in detergent and dispersant so it cleans and holds crap in suspension so it can be drained / flushed out.

    • quirkyuncle@gmail.com says:

      Yes, the ATF is very high in detergent. It can clean all sorts of gunk off, over time. When I had lifter issues with my ’87 Pontiac Firebird, I’d put in half a quart at each oil change and get no noise until it was due for a change again. Hopefully something similar will work for you.

      Do you use synthetic oil? If so, it is detergent enough and no ATF should be needed. I’ve been changing every 7500 miles and have no issues unless I’m driving around town only for a few days and don’t rev it up enough.

      • Ozi525iMsport says:

        I am using synthetic and there is a known issue with the BMW head regarding oil flow. I thought originally excessive length in oil changes causing sludge build up caused the issue. But changing the oil and no ATF and the noise returning within a day would show a viscosity issue.
        I am running a 15-40 mineral at the moment with ATF (200ml) for 3000km and then will use the BMW blessed 5-30 synth with no ATF and see what that shows 🙂

  9. KJ says:

    2006 525i. I was told I need to trade my car because of lifter ticking. BMW does all my service.
    I have 74K miles. What do you guys think?

    • quirkyuncle@gmail.com says:

      Trading in the car seems an unreasonable solution. I’d get the opinion of a reputable independent BMW specialist. BMWs are an enthusiast car and there are garages that cater to those people that are not impressed by their local dealer. I’ve found independents to be quite honest and very reasonably priced. You can find recommendations on sites like Angie’s List or in the CarTalk Mechanics Files (http://www.cartalk.com/mechanics-files). Good luck!

  10. David Kase says:

    I have this issue in my E46 and have tried EVERYTHING (ATF in oil, MMO in oil, ATF flush, Lucas in oil)! The only thing that reduced it to a minimum was switching from M1 to BMW oil. Who would have guessed?
    I’m going to run it hard for a week or so and keep the BMW oil in it. Beats changing lifters!

  11. kathy says:

    would having a composite magnesium/aluminum engine block be the cause of the “ticking” sound? thats what my service adviser keeps telling me

    • quirkyuncle@gmail.com says:

      I’d doubt it. Everything I’ve read points to an issue with design of the cylinder head, with respect to how it supplies oil to the lifters. BMW dealers follow a three tiered approach: first they do the 2000 RPM for 2 minutes thing, if the customer comes back and complains they replace the lifters, if the customer comes back again they replace the cylinder head. This all assumes that the car is still under warranty. It also assumes the dealer is operating in the customer’s best interest – their commitment to customer satisfaction varies greatly and you might need to push harder.

      Unfortunately, women get a raw deal at many car repair places. Indicating that you suspect you’re being mislead and presenting some facts goes a long way when speaking to them. If they continue giving you the run around, contact the district office. At that level they are often more eager to help. Good luck. If you have any more questions, please ask.

  12. Nicolas Muresan says:

    Great help.I just bought a BMW X3 2007 and the lifters start to make noise.To pay $7000 to replace the head cylinder sounds very scary.All your advises make so much sense and give me pace of mind .God bless you ,for bringing back the peace back in our hearts.
    Sincerely
    Nick

  13. Josh says:

    Exactly the same here.

    I’ve got a 2005 730i which ticks like mad and sounds like it’s about to die.

    On Monday it ticks but on Tuesday I drive on the motorway for 1 hour at 80mph. Then for the rest of that Tuesday and Wednesday it’s gone. On Thursday it’s back.

    • quirkyuncle@gmail.com says:

      I’ve not thought about the difference between driving a manual and automatic when plagued with this issue. My Z4 is a 6-speed manual, which allows me to control the RPMs, even when in slow traffic. Automatics do not afford this possibility.

    • Ozi525iMsport says:

      Try 200 – 300 ml of ATF give it a day or 2. I bet the noise goes, it may take a bit longer. My issue was initially sludge build up and It took a fey days to quieten down then changed the oil.My noise came back straight away after oil change and I added 200 ml of ATF 1 day and noise gone. I have gone 2500 km and its still good which shows a viscosity issue. I am changing to the BMW blessed 5-30 synth with no ATF in the next month and see what that shows. What oil are you using ?

      • quirkyuncle@gmail.com says:

        I’ve been using Mobile 1 0w-40, that is listed as BMW approved. The ticking is improved and only occurs when the car is driven a lot below 2000 RPMs. I have used ATF for ticking lifters in the past with great success. I’d use 1/2 quart per oil change. I’ve not tried it in the BMW, since synthetic oil is highly detergent. As an FYI, a mechanic would not believe my Audi was running Dino oil because it was so clean at 150K miles – ATF obviously works. It’s an old mechanic’s trick I learned from an old mechanic. 🙂

        • Ozi525iMsport says:

          ..I just released that I am now an old mechanic as I qualified in 1988, Dont like the old bit 🙂 I have used Mobile 1 and Valvoline and same issue and solution . I will be changing to the blessed Castrol Syntec SAE 0w-30 in 500 kms. I don’t believe that synthetic oil is highly detergent. ATF is and is a dispersant which means that it holds the junk in suspension and not collect and block oil galleries. I believe this and the viscosity change is the answer.

  14. […] away. It is not harming the engine, is just a nuisance. See the following article which helped me: DIY ? Quieting the infamous BMW lifter (tappet) tick | quirkyuncle DIY ? Quieting the infamous BMW l… googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display('div-gpt-ad-14'); […]

  15. HD says:

    I have a 2005 E91 325i Touring auto. 25,000 miles on the clock. When I used to take a lot of short journeys – including 5 mile drive to work – I had the tapping intermittently – quite a lot. Now I commute 70 miles a day down the motorway – I haven’t heard it in months.

    • quirkyuncle@gmail.com says:

      I found that keeping revs above 2000 rpm in town stopped the ticking. Not easy if you have an automatic.

      Thanks for reading!

  16. Andrew Barlow says:

    I have the same problem with my 530d Auto. Especially when cold however I have just drove from South Wales UK to Aberdeen at erm well not much above 70 mph 529 miles. None stop and Had a lovely tic free drive even eventually at traffic lights.
    I have just read about the rev remedy so will give it a try when I get back from offshore.
    Thanks all

  17. cris says:

    Heya, I’m sooo glad I found this on line.. I own a 2007 328xi and my lifters were very loud and I thought oh man this means a big repair bill. I went out and performed these steps and my car quieted right down. Its really nice you took the time to write this up for others. Thanks

  18. sputsoe says:

    I have just tried the bleeding method and done it twice….clicking went down but not away……cold start this morning. NOTHING!!!!I mean no click at all just the sound of a smooth running engine.

    Thanks you so much quirky uncle and to all the contributors on this and all other bmw forums

  19. Streetcred says:

    I have a 2006 335i Coupe, 78k km … engine ticking when it is cold only … been doing this for a few years. If anything it is just annoying doing a cold start and hearing the ticking as it can be quite loud sometimes. Gonna give the ATF trick a go … thanks a million for this as I’d been told the ‘repair’ of the hydraulic lifters was going costaplenty.

    • quirkyuncle@gmail.com says:

      If you are using full synthetic oil, there is probably little more the ATF can do to clean inside the engine. Probably can’t hurt to try, though.

  20. Anthony says:

    Hi! Recently just got this problem, ticking like no other, tried the 3000rpm step and it was gone. Performed an oil change to 5W-40 LL-01 approved oil and now it’s ticking more than ever and also runs a little rough with a thumpy exhaust note. I’m stumped, short of changing the lifters, any ideas?

    Your help would be greatly appreciated, being my first car I want to keep it as long as possible.

    Anthony

    • quirkyuncle@gmail.com says:

      Hi, Anthony.

      I’d have the car checked by a knowledgeable BMW mechanic. You want to make sure that there is nothing serious wrong.

  21. rick says:

    I had the same problem with my 2007 328i coupe with auto trans. Got on interstate and manual shift to 4th gear running about 80 mph with rpm around 3500 and drove for 6 miles. Next day ticking sound gone even with engine ice cold. I am going to do this at least twice a week. It really works. Thanks Uncle!!

    • quirkyuncle@gmail.com says:

      Awesome! I fend that if I drive my Z4 a little harder and keep the RPMs up, it never ticks.
      Glad to help!

      • Doug says:

        Hi all its a problem having a fancy car but find the need to chase around to keep a car noise free no wonder people in bmw have big sound systems or go flying down roads. lol i bought myself one and joint the lifter club. My golf 2 gti 16 valve was the same drive them hard to keep them quiet

  22. joe says:

    I had the same problem….2008 328i …so started using Lucas oil treatment and it stopped it…no more ticking. it is good for about 6 thousands mile before it starts up again so I change oil and add Lucas every 6 thousand miles.

  23. Would appreciate insight on whether the infamous ticking can cascade into a check engine light (e.g., cam angle sensor)? Also, if oil pressure dependent, can a vanos solenoid malfunction reduce oil flow to head?

  24. Mike says:

    Just bought a 2007 E92 328i coupe and the ticking sound was heard for the first time today! freaked out, i then read this post and after engine and oil were warm i first did the procedure and then went on a “spirited” drive, sport mode and a few redlines later… The ticking sound is completely gone. Thank you for this post. You saved an hour trip to bmw and quite a bit of money.

    • Mike says:

      Just want to add that for about a month now i have been driving like a grandpa because work and school are so close, the engine and oil doesnt get up to the right temp, for me to have “fun” with the car. first time ive intentionally tried to drive it hard. i gues they are made to rev high in Europe.

  25. John says:

    Great article
    My passenger side bank is much louder than the driver side. When it’s warmed up it goes away. It is one of the best motors ever built along with Audis 2.7 Turbo

  26. gordon says:

    hi glad to hear about all comment on tappet noise I own 330ci coupa 140000 on clock no tappet nouse drive it very hard no problom

  27. Karen McDonald says:

    I miss my BMW 5 series. 2007 navy blue chrome wheels. The dealership told me the lifters were going because of the tapping. I got swindled into trading it for a 2015 300 c Mercedes. It taps and they say it’s the so called new engine. I was just widowed and they got me at a bad moment. I’m sad everyday without my Beamer. This all took place 12/15. I have been trying to find my BMW on car fax to buy it back.

    • frank stannard says:

      good luck karen, my 530i is a great car and i own a 650, 750, and 760. the little 5er is just hard for me to give up….it is my oldest car and keep sayiing I will sell…just never do..its my silver bullet….

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