I've seen this happen on a couple of different engines so far (BMW S62, Mitsubishi 4G63) but am not sure about how commonplace it is.

If an engine isn't used for an extended period of time, the subsequent startup results in a tapping sound that changes frequency with engine RPM. This sound then goes away after the engine is run for some time.

People usually associate this tapping sound with stuck valve lifters. I would like to better understand what causes the valve lifters to get "stuck" and what causes them to free up again without external intervention.

  • Good input. It turns out that the VW BPY motor I'm working on had a broken timing chain, which is secondary to the timing belt. The chain tensioner failed. I tried the proposed solution, but a large drill doesn't have the power, so an impact driver would be needed.
    – BPYYY
    Commented Dec 5, 2017 at 21:13

4 Answers 4


I found a great article out there on the interwebz which explains this very well (and confirms my line of thinking) for the BMW M62 engine. I'm sure the explanation is pretty much the same for other engines of the same type.

Basically, the author of the article states these engines do not have rocker arms, but instead uses a cam on lifter on valve setup. The lifter in this case is a two piece design with a spring in between. When the lifter sits for too long a period without being run, the oil will drain out of it. This allows the lifter to completely collapse until the lifter can be filled again. During collapse, both sides (top and bottom) impact each other and thus creates the noise you are talking about. He states there are three conditions where this will happen more frequently:

  • If the engine oil level is low
  • If the oil is too viscous
  • If the car is only used for short journeys where the oil fails too reach temperature.

He also states this is perfectly normal and will not cause wear or failure. Anyway, there is a lot of good information and illustrations in the article, so is a good read on the subject.

  • 1
    As a side note, isn't it funny how it's still called a lifter, even though it really isn't lifting anything? Commented Jul 2, 2015 at 12:07
  • 2
    +1 : I think this explains it quite well. Also, that article is a stellar find (a lot of similarities with the S62) so thanks for that
    – Zaid
    Commented Jul 2, 2015 at 12:09

I've worked on the lifters in a Dodge 6G72 engine ( and also the Dodge 2.2/2.5L engines). The lifters are oil filled. There is a tiny valve on them that allows oil in. When the vehicle has not been run for a while, or runs low on oil, the lifters will loose oil. As oil pressure build up, they will 'pump up'. So the issue is not that they are sticking, it is that they are compressing all the way when usually they do not.

I've cleaned them before by placing them in gasoline and pressing the valve to release the oil. At this point, I can easily compress them by hand. Then I put them in oil and press the valve to fill them up again. They are then very hard to compress.

It sounds very similar to what Paulster2 is describing, except the 6G72 (and dodge 2.2/2.5) do use rocker arms.

  • +1 : I was wondering about why rocker arm-style lifters wouldn't suffer from the same thing. So I guess the question is whether other types of lifters exist that wouldn't suffer from this.
    – Zaid
    Commented Jul 2, 2015 at 12:14
  • 1
    I think it has more to do with the design of the lifters. Commented Jul 2, 2015 at 13:10
  • Here is one diagram. content.answcdn.com/main/content/img/McGrawHill/Encyclopedia/…
    – rpmerf
    Commented Jul 2, 2015 at 15:59

I'd imagine it is down to lubrication - if the engine isn't used for some time, the oil all seeps back down into the sump, and without lubrication, the lifters will stick. After running the engine again, oil has been pumped back up and worked it's way back around the lifters, lubricating them and freeing them up...

  • That was my initial thought as well, but sometimes it can take up to 30 minutes of operation for the tapping sound to go away. Does it really take that long for the lubrication to become effective once again?
    – Zaid
    Commented Jul 2, 2015 at 8:32
  • Potentially - the oil has to seep back around the lifters, through a narrow tolerance, so that'll take time...
    – Nick C
    Commented Jul 2, 2015 at 8:33
  • Nick, I'd love it if you could add a diagram to this answer to explain this point better
    – Zaid
    Commented Jul 2, 2015 at 8:39

How do you unstick them after an extended period of inactivity that results in compression that's too low to start the engine? What I'm going to try is to remove the plugs, shut off the fuel line, put it in neutral, take the key out, put an electric grill under the oil pan, rotate the engine manually by the crankshaft pully nut, then when warmer and easier to rotate, I'll try using a drill with a 1/2" driver-bit for a while. Hopefully, this will refill and repressurize the lifters, as well as sealing the cylinder rings, thereby allowing the engine to start after reassembly. I hope it works.


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