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Noisy Valve Lifters!?!?!?

a. Noisy Valve Train

This article is based on the 1971 Buick Shop Manual, but should be similar for all Buick V-8 hydraulic lifters.

The noise level of the valve mechanism cannot be properly judged where the engine is below operating temperature when the hood is raise, or when the valve rocker arm covers are removed.

Before attempting to judge valve noise level, the engine must be thoroughly warmed up (at least 20 minutes of operation at 1200 to 1500 rpm) to stabilize oil and coolant temperatures and bring all engine parts to a normal state of expansion. When the engine is warmed up, listen for engine noise while sitting in the drivers seat with the hood close. Tun the engine at idle and at various higher speeds. It is advisable to observe the noise level in several engines that have been properly broken in, in order to develop good judgment for checking the noise level in any given engine.

If the preceding check indicates the valve mechanism is abnormally noisy, remove the rocker arm covers so that the various conditions that cause noise may be checked. A piece of heater hose of convenient length may be used to pick out the particular valves or valve train components that are causing abnormal noise. With the engine running at a speed where the noise is pronounced, hold one end or hose to an ear and hold other end about 1/2" from point of contact between rocker arm and valve stem. Mark or record the noisy valves for investigation of following causes.

  1. Excessive Oil In Crankcase. Crankcase oil level high enough to allow the crankshaft to churn the oil will cause air bubbles in the lubricating system. Air bubbles entering the hydraulic lifters will cause erratic operation resulting in excessive lash in the valve train. Locate and correct cause of high oil level, then run engine long enough to expel air from system.
  2. Sticking, Warped or Eccentric Valves, Worn Guides. Sticking valves will cause irregular engine operation or missing on a low speed pull and will usually cause intermittent noise.

    Pour penetrating oil over the valve spring cap and allow it to drain down the valve stem. Apply pressure to the one side of the valve spring and then the other, and then rotate the valve spring about 1/2 turn. If these operations affect the valve noise, it may be assumed that valves should be reconditioned.

  3. Worn or scored parts in the valve train. Inspect rocker arms, push rod ends for scoring. Check for bent push rods. Check valve lifters and camshaft surfaces for scoring. Replace faulty parts.
  4. Valves and seats cut down excessively. Noisy and improper valve action will result if a valve and its seat have been refinished enough to raise the end of the valve stem approximately .050" above normal position. In this case it will be necessary to grind off the end of the valve stem or replace parts. The normal height of the valve stem above the valve spring seat is 1.933 inches, for 350 cu. in. engines and 2.082 inches for 455 cu. in. engines.
  5. Faulty Hydraulic Valve Lifters. If the preceding suggestions do not reveal the cause of noisy valve action, check operation of valve lifters as described in paragraph 60-33, subparagraph c.

b. Noisy Valve Lifters

When checking hydraulic valve lifters, remember that grit, sludge, varnish or other foreign matter will seriously affect operation of these lifters. If any foreign substance is found in the lifters or engine where it may be circulated by the lubrication system, a thorough cleaning job must be done to avoid a repetition of lifter trouble.

To help prevent lifter trouble, the engine oil and oil filter must be changed as recommended in the service manual. The engine oil must be heavy-duty type (MS marked on container) and must also conform to GM Specification 6041-M to avoid detrimental formation of sludge and varnish. A car owner should be specifically advised of these requirements when the car is delivered. Faulty valve lifter operation usually appears under one of the following conditions:

  1. Rapping noise only when the engine is started. When engine is stopped, any lifter on a camshaft lobe is under pressure of the valve spring; therefore, leak down or escape of oil from the lower chamber can occur. When the engine is started a few seconds may be required to fill the lifter, particularly in cold weather. If noise occurs only occasionally, it may be considered normal requiring no correction. If noise occurs daily, however, check for (a) oil too heavy for prevailing temperatures, (b) excessive varnish in lifter.
  2. Intermittent Rapping Noise. An intermittent rapping noise that appears and disappears every few seconds indicates leakage at check ball seat due to foreign particles, varnish, or defective surface of check ball or seat. Recondition, clean, and/or replace lifters as necessary.
  3. Noise at idle and low speed. If one or more valve lifters are noisy on idle at up to approximately 25 mph but quiet at higher speeds, it indicates excessive leak down or faulty check ball seat on plunger. With engine idling, lifters with excessive leak down rate may be spotted by pressing down on each rocker arm above the push rod with equal pressure. Recondition or replace noisy lifters.
  4. Generally noisy at all speeds. Check for high oil level in crankcase. See subparagraph (1) above. With engine idling, strike each rocker arm above push rod several sharp blows with a mallet; if noise disappears, it indicates that foreign material was keeping check ball from seating. Stop engine and place lifters on camshaft base circle. If there is lash clearance in any valve train, it indicates a stuck lifter plunger, worn lifter body lower end, or worn camshaft lobe.
  5. Loud noise at normal operating temperature only. If a lifter develops a loud noise when engine is at normal operating temperature, but is quiet when engine is below normal temperature, it indicates an excessively fast leak down rate or scored lifter plunger. Recondition or replace lifter.