Blog Car Care Advice 4 Reasons Why Your Car Ticks When Cold and What To Do
Car Care Advice

4 Reasons Why Your Car Ticks When Cold and What To Do

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Imagine this: You’re trying to start your car on a chilly morning. But instead of the gentle hum of the engine, you’re greeted by a cacophony of ticking noises

Fortunately, you’re not alone, and in most cases, it’s nothing to worry about. 

Let’s discover why your car ticks when cold weather kicks in, when you should worry about it, and more.

This Article Contains: 

Let’s get started.

4 Pressing Reasons Your Car Ticks When Cold 

When you hear a ticking noise from your car on a cold start, it could be one of the following reasons:

1. Valve Train Noise 

The valve train comprises numerous components like valves, hydraulic lifters, and pushrods working to control the flow of air and fuel to the cylinders. When the engine is cold, conventional oil takes longer to circulate, so the valve train may tick before the oil can properly lubricate these parts.

Generally, valve train noise sounds like a sharp clicking or tapping noise. If you notice this sound coming from the valve cover on top of the engine, coupled with blue smoke from the exhaust, it’s likely a valve train issue.

Similarly, a hydraulic lifter can create a lifter tick. Each lifter uses oil pressure to fill a chamber, which pushes the valve lifter up to fill the clearance between the camshaft and the valves. Thicker oil makes it difficult for the valve lifter to pump properly, creating the lifter tick. 

Even vehicles with solid lifters (mechanical lifters) can tick during cold starts. However, solid lifters have a fixed clearance, which tends to minimize lifter noise.

Any valve train noise (including lifter noise) should disappear once the engine warms up and the oil thins out.

2. Piston Slap or Combustion Chamber Deposit Interference (CCDI) 

A piston slap is described as a dull tapping coming from the engine block. It occurs when the piston has too much clearance in the cylinder bore, causing it to “slap” the sides of the cylinder. It happens more frequently when the engine is cold because conventional oil thickens in the cold and needs more time to lubricate the piston rings and each cylinder wall. 

Some piston slap when the engine’s cold is alright, but if the noise continues, it can lead to severe engine damage.

Unfortunately, the only way to fix this is to disassemble the engine and inspect the cylinder wall. Otherwise, carbon buildup on the crown of a piston and cylinder head can contribute to the ticking sound. But as the engine warms up, the gap between the piston crown and the chamber roof increases, removing the contact that creates the ticking.

This is also known as combustion chamber deposit interference (CCDI). There are special fuel additives that can help remove CCDI. Alternatively, chemical cleanings can help flush out these deposits.

3. Low Oil Level or Low Viscosity 

If you hear a ticking noise, check the oil level immediately. 

If the engine isn’t receiving the lubrication it needs, it can cause parts to knock each other and create a ticking noise. 

However, if the ticking noise only occurs during a cold startup, it’s likely a matter of degraded or thicker oil needing time to circulate. Getting a second opinion from a trained mechanic can’t hurt.

If the oil level and quality are good, it may be low oil pressure caused by a faulty oil pump or blocked oil filter. In this case, a mechanic should inspect the oil pump, oil filter, and passages. 

4. Cold Exhaust Manifold 

If the tapping noise is more noticeable from underneath the car, it’s likely the exhaust manifold

Cold temperatures can cause the exhaust system components to contract, which may cause small gaps or leaks. The seeping gasses can produce a ticking sound. 

However, this engine noise should dissipate once the exhaust system warms up and the components expand. In this case, consider making an appointment with a qualified mechanic to see about the issue.

Note: A cold engine can also cause a high-pressure fuel pump to create a noticeable ticking sound. It’s generally a steady ticking that’s more prominent with the hood up. However, this is normal and suggests your fuel pump works as it should.

Next, let’s explore some practical methods for pinpointing the cause of the ticking noise.

How to Diagnose the Cause of a Car Ticking When it’s Cold 

A loud ticking noise can be cause for concern. Here are a few things you can do to help identify the engine ticking: 

What if cold weather isn’t causing the ticking?
Let’s see how much a repair should cost.

How Much Does it Cost to Fix a Ticking Car?

The cost depends on the cause and the car’s make and model. Here are some estimates for common repairs related to a car ticking: 

Once you’ve solved the ticking noise issue, there are a few things you can do to help prevent it from happening again. 

How to Prevent a Car Ticking When it’s Cold

Let’s explore some effective strategies to keep your engine humming in chilly weather: 

Conquer Cold Weather Ticks With AutoNation Mobile Service

If your car ticks when cold but stops once the engine warms up, it’s likely because the oil is less viscous and needs more time to circulate. There’s nothing to be concerned about, but you could perform an oil change with a different oil grade, provided it matches the recommendations in your owner’s manual. 

But, if the ticking noise doesn’t stop, it suggests a serious fault. In this case, the best bet is to have the problem handled by an expert from AutoNation Mobile Service

We’re a mobile auto repair service capable of tackling all your winter maintenance needs. Plus, we offer a 12-month | 12,000-mile warranty on all repairs.
Contact us for a quote today.