My car is a 2003 Chevy Malibu with a 3.1L V6. It has a little over 150,000 mile on it. If that. Just a slightly high guess. And it struggle to accelerate.

The ticking is seems to be coming from the top of the motor. It's not the belts. And me and my father thought maybe it was a valve, rocker arm, or push rod problem. Well I guess we were hoping. i got the car from a used car dealership on February 16. Paid it in full.

  • My 94 Buick Century has a GM 3.1L in it and it also ticks from the top of the motor. I've done a lot of googling about it before and the consensus seems to be that it's just a noisy engine. If you search "GM 3.1 ticking" you will drown in articles. None of the forums or advice I read agreed on the cause; culprits ranged anywhere from piston slap to sticky lifters. Advice tended to be "deal with it, because it will persist after a rebuild." Apr 20 '17 at 13:24
  • Similar experience here with the one Chevy I owned. Nice engine but it ticked. The conclusion I came to was that it had a marginal lifter or something like that. I rusted out with 280k miles on it, so the tick didn't kill the engine. I tried different oils, injector changes, checking timing, etc. Couldn't find the problem. What I would definitely look for is: 1. does the tick get worse? and 2. cut open the oil filter after the next change, and see if there is any glint from metal in the filter. Also, how clean is the engine looking in where you add oil? Varnish? or clean?
    – mongo
    Apr 20 '17 at 14:13
  • sounds like valve train play. maybe lifter tick? Oct 17 '17 at 18:06

Try to add some Injector cleaner in the gas tank, 150,000 miles for stock injectors is a lot. See if that helps! Also, it always helps to record a video and post it here so "the ticking noise" can be a little more defined :)


Typically, “ticking” is only caused by a handful of this:

  • Worn Bearings
  • Valve train play
  • Relays
  • (Semi-rarely) Piston knocking
  • (Rarely) High-voltage arcs/discharge

Of these (generally) the only ones that follow with RPMs are usually bearings and valves, relays will not (usually). Since your troubleshooting indicates the sound is coming from the “top of the motor” that would lean toward valve train play.

Now, I will say, that this isn’t always caused by wear - some motors are just noisier than others. I recently tore the top end apart to do valve adjustment in my Kawasaki, and they were all dead center of spec tolerances... yet it still makes some noise now and then.

That said, it is possible that it’s not a design flaw, and some part is outside of tolerances. Unfortunately, the only way to be SURE is to tear the motor apart and check everything.

You can look through the spark plug holes to see if there is valve/piston knocking, but for the rockers, lifters, cams (ETC) you’ll have to first look, then measure. It may be an easily visible thing, it may not.


I know it is a completely different engine, but my old VW beetle ticked too - it was supposed to. the ticking was the valve tappets, which had .006 clearance by design. Now, your engine doesn't have push rods and tappets, but the ticking sounds to me to be from your valve train. And it's normal. There has to be a tiny bit of clearance to allow the metal parts to expand with heat without malfunctioning. I'd hazard a guess that the ticking is worse at cold idle, disappears when cruising, and reappears but quietly at hot idle? If so, then relax as it's normal. As @mongo said, a ticking engine can happily do 300k miles...


If it does not have individual coils for each cylinder :A very easy thing for anyone to check is the high voltage wires. Take a wood or plastic rod and move the wires while the engine is running , listen for a change in the click sound.


It's noisy lifters or possibly a broken rocker arm, you can rebuild them by simply removing the valve cover, cleaning them, and re assembling them.

However this engine is an engineering nightmare, just too difficult to get into to do that sort of thing.


Try to locate the source of the ticking by putting a stethoscope (not your ear) near the belts and engine to help pinpoint. Typically, if the engine is not just low on oil this indicates the engine is worn out and failing. Hopefully, it is just a worn out alternator or P/S pump bearing. If you can verify the source of the sound we can help you better.

  • 2
    Check oil level and condition. Any check engine lamp on? How long have you owned the vehicle? GM 3.1L known for excessive ticking noise.
    – Joey P
    Mar 19 '17 at 5:02
  • Yes check engine light blinks. Mar 19 '17 at 15:03
  • 2
    @Brandon2316 If the Check Engine light is on then you should read the codes and post those in the question; knowing those will help with answers. If you don't know how to read the codes you can go to a place like Auto Zone and an employee there can do it for free. Just write down the codes he says, like "P0302" etc.. Apr 20 '17 at 13:29
  • 1
    I would NEVER recommend putting you ear near belts. Use a stethoscope or similar listening device. You don't want clothing or hair caught in belts.
    – mongo
    Apr 20 '17 at 14:08
  • Note that without a purpose made stethoscope you can use a long screwdriver or a round wooden dowel. Put the tip on the part (near a bearing or near a suspect valve, put the other end on your ear. You will be able to get a sense of the volume changing as you move closer/further from the source of the noise.
    – Tim Nevins
    May 30 '18 at 14:46

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