Lifter noise at start up


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Dec 17, 2011
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Hi Everyone, Just thought I’d post this to get some feedback/opinions. I have a 69 Dodge Polara 2 door hardtop with a 318, auto. trans. Ran rough when I bought it in 2020. Couldn’t straighten it out with tune up so did compression check. Sure enough #2 piston had very low compression and a few others had out of spec. low compression as well. Tore into it remove top end, took heads in to local machine shop, got valves replaced/reworked with hardened seats…the whole works. I had an old mopar mechanic friend help me put it back together. He said if I’m going to help you’re going to replace cam and lifters. I reluctantly agreed and he reiterated “you really should because car has 88,000 miles on it”. (I don’t remember lifter noise back before all this work). Anyways, I bought all the parts at NAPA. Long story short, engine runs so much better/it idles nicely…but when I start it up (from being cold) it always has lifter noise for 3-4 seconds. It always goes away until next cold start. I told my old mopar mechanic friend and asked him if using higher viscosity oil would help but he said “no, just use 10/30” and basically said “don’t worry about it”. It’s been over a year now and I still can’t get use to hearing this upon every cold start. What do you guys think?
Thicker oil will not help. Especially when it’s cold out. But what oil are you using? And did you break in the cam? 2500 rpm for 25-30 minutes?

I wouldn’t change a cam with 88K miles unless something was bad.
I few questions come to mind. What is the oil pressure on initial start up and when fully warmed up. Second, w/ the cylinder heads off was there grit and sludge present. Enough debris present in the engine cause among other oil pump and bearing wear There is an outside possibility that the oil pump is loosing its prime. Any combination of the above can cause your symptoms. If you can provide me w/ your oil pressure reading I can help.
I would be running diesel service rated oil with a high zinc content. Modern oils are mostly formulated with a low zinc content to avoid killing catalytic convertors. This is not an issue with your vehicle. These older engines need the high zinc content oils to avoid running the camshaft flat. Some lifter noise on start up is normal, especially if the vehicle has been sitting for several days. How may miles are on the new cam?

I assume you set the choke by depressing the gas pedal prior to cold startup, which of course would have the car start more quickly. I expect the oil pump is losing its prime.

The oil system could benefit from a few low speed/low effort rotations before the engine stars to help prime the pump.

Try NOT depressing the gas pedal and crank it for a few seconds - it shouldn't start, and this should help the pump get primed and send oil through the system. THEN set the choke with the gas pedal as per normal, and possibly the noise will not occur.
In reality, the noise is worse on your ears than on the engine. Spinning the engine a few revs before activating the automatic choke might be worth a try to see if the tick still happens.

Back in the earlier 1970s, a similar thing would happen on some Chevy V-8s after an oil change. Noisy lifters until the oil got fully-circulated, for several start cycles. After many complaints, a TSB was issued to drill a .020" hole in each of the end plugs on the lifter oil feed galley, to let air escape quicker on the first start-up of the day. Let the air out of the front, into the front cover area rather than forcing it out through the lifter supply oil passages. On the Chevy V-8s, those end plugs are screw-in and started to be supplied with a .020" hole in the middle of them for this purpose.

I understand the orientation of new cam at that mileage, BUT it might have been one of those things where it had wear, but not enough to really be concerned about.

You might try one oil change with 5W-30 or 0W-30 motor oil just for diagnostics. Most of the high zinc oils are 10W-30, though. There is one Castrol black-bottle synthetic in 5W-30 which is "SL" rated, which means uaually 1000ppm of zddp in it, some Walmarts carry it.

I added a rather expensive can of zinc to initial 10-30 oil. Changed after 5-600 miles. Still running 10-30 on second oil change. Engine was clean inside. Very little debris or sludge if any at all. Added STP to second oil (which has zinc in it) according to my old time mechanic friend’s directions. He did not tell me to break in cam though (per instruction of one of early-on replies). I didn’t know about this unfortunately. I do not know oil pressure. Has only original idiot light which is operational but never comes on during running. It does fire up rather quickly though. I’m fact it’s the quickest starting mopar I’ve ever had. I attribute this to an apparent good carb which does not lose its prime and also electronic ignition. I always set choke before starting. I’ll have to try cranking it without setting choke first so it turns over some before it fires. Best starting mopar I have…by far. All the rest crank and crank and crank before firing. That could be it. No oil pressure yet…
Thanks for additional information. I'm not sure about zinc content in the modern STP additive, but as I recall, its main orientation was as a viscosity improver/thickener. When poured over the camshaft when new, it would not just run off as normal motor oil would. At least until the engine ran a few revolutions for oil to get slung up to the cam from the rod bearings. If you have that many miles on the motor, obviously things worked "as designed".

Happy Holidays,
Is the lifter noise from a single lifter, or several lifters?
Single lifter would indicate a bad valve in that lifter from trash or bad machining. Or the lifter isn't round. Most hydro lifters will leak down in short order (about 1 minute) after engine shut down. But they all should pump up completely by 2 revolutions of the camshaft on attempted startup.
Several lifters tapping would indicate the ADBV (anti-drain back valve) in the oil filter is leaking. Then it would take many revolutions at startup to fill the oil galley that feeds the lifters before the lifters will be pumped up. Does your filter have an ADBV?
On the ADBV topic, I've had issues with the anti-drainback valves in Fram filters on various big blocks. I use Wix now and have had good luck with them.
A friend of mine would add a quart of basic atf with every oil change he said it stopped the lifter noise and he drove it over 3 hundred thousand miles
Are you willing to do a relatively cheap experiment? Get a WIX 51515 Oil Filter (NAPA 1515)... Do not accept a substitute, that 'they' say is the same. Get 15w40 Diesel Spec motor Oil, Chevron Delo, Mobil Super 1300, ..not.. some generic store brand and NOT Synthetic. To keep all things equal, don't change any other aspect than the Oil & Filter.

Do only that and report back what happens after a half dozen Cold Starts.

You need a new mopar mechanic friend.

Absolutely no reason to change a camshaft just because it has 88,000 miles on it.

My best guess on your problem is one or several of your "new" lifters, bleed down after sitting and they will rattle for a few seconds until engine oil pressure pumps them back up.

You said it runs well/smooth so I wouldn't jump to the new flat tappet cam eating itself just yet.

In any case, unless that 10w30 is an HD diesel oil like Shell Rotella, you should change it to one. Car 10w30 has way less Phosphorus and Zinc additives than a flat tappet requires.

I myself would change it to 15w40 just to see if that keeps the lifters pumped up.
I had a Lincoln with a 4.6 that the hydraulic cam chain tensioners would bleed off overnight on factory spec 5w30. Sounded like a thrashing machine until they pumped back up. Changed to 10w30 Mobil1 and no more thrashing. Not sure if it was the viscosity change or the synthetic or both but it solved the problem.

I am not a fan of "Snake Oils" but I will tell you what worked for me on lifter noise. This is on an engine with over 100,000 miles though. I had been using 15-40 Delvac in this engine for several years and changed it regularly. It ran good, and didnt leak or burn any oil. I started to get lifter noise on start up and mentioned it to my brother who told me that several years ago he began to get lifter noise at start up on his high mileage classic. He said he added a can of Slick 50 and the noise went away and that was over 5 years ago and several oil changes later. I thought, what have I got to loose? I added a can on my next oil change and the noise went away, even after more oil changes the noise is gone with no more S50 added!? Go ahead with that 15-40 change and if it does not cure the noise add the S50, its only 20 bucks. what u got to loose!?
Slick 50
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just to go off in a completely different direction, are you sure you're not hearing an exhaust leak for a couple of seconds till things warm up, expand and seal?
Might check the exhaust manifold bolts for snuggness, just to make sure.

As to the Rotella oils, the "Rotella Gas Truck" motor oil is troubling! Reports are that it has no more zddp than a normal "car" oil does. Which then means 5W-40 Rotella T6 full-syn or another Rotella "T" oil. According to the Mobil 1 website, their Turbo Diesel oil has over 1000ppm of zddp in it.

Some of my research on historic zddp levels has revealed, from virgin motor oil analysis, that not all oils from the 1960s had lots of zddp in them. Some brands had even LESS than 800ppm zddp in them. That's "SM" and later levels, but the newer "SP" and later oils' spec zddp at 900ppm, for some reason. "SN" could go as low at 600ppm, by observation.

I also noticed that some old-line drag racers tended to gravitate toward Valvoline motor oil. Whether it was because Valvoline was a major national drag racing event sponsor or if their motor oil mighr not have caused wear issues on the engines, I'm not sure. Just that I have noticed that over the years when the older drag racers from the 1960s were still alive.

In another forum, I have a friend with a '55 Buick Century that he completely restored and has driven it for over 120K miles, using Castrol GTX 20W-50 in it all of the time. No camshaft issues or anything else. About the time he got it done is when all of the controversy of lower zddp levels in some motor oils was starting. BTAIM

ONE saving grace for the '55 Plymouth might be that the bulk of the issues with camshaft lobe wear started with "race engines" and their higher lift, longer duration, and higher spring pressure, with the '55 Poly has NONE of, being stock.

In one respect to oil viscosity, I might recommend going to a straight 30 motor oil. Yes, it's still around. Castrol still has it, for one. When the car was new, that was a prevalent viscosity so it should work now as it did back then. Most 10W-30s, back then, were noted to end up being more like 20W motor oil after a thousand miles or so, back then.

So, going in that direction would not be that different than a 10W-30 oil, just that it might not leak-down/drain-back as quickly.

Just some thoughts and observations,
A friend of mine would add a quart of basic atf with every oil change he said it stopped the lifter noise and he drove it over 3 hundred thousand miles
I remember that recommendation too. Usually to "clean out" dirty hydraulic valve lifters. Allegedly, the added detergents in the atf and its thinner viscosity would allow it to get into places the normal motor oil could not. Therefore, it could allegedly get things cleaned up.

Regarding replacement camshafts, OEM vs. aftermarket/replacement. When I was getting ready to upgrade the cam in one of my cars, along about 1980 or so, although when our heavy line guys in the shop changed out a camshaft, they just replaced it, as far as I could tell. No mention in the OEM's FSM about particular procedures and such. Although it seemed that our shop guys "knew what to do" in these cases. Seems like the old GM EOS can had a notation on it about the product being recommended for camshaft replacement lube. Still, no recommendation about the "30 minute" break-in and such.

Usually, once the engine was initially running at "fast idle" and the valve lifters were adjusted, then they'd shut it down and install the valve covers to keep the oil from splashing everywhere. Once that was done, the engine had already run for 15 minutes or so. With the rpm level varied to check for other operational issues. Then, the vehicle was taken out for a test drive. Which could last for at least 15 minutes or so, with varied engine speeds and such. Maybe some "heavy throttle" for good measure. So, the engine basically got the same amount of run time, just in segments rather than all at once.

Many of the heavy line guys, back then, knew how to build motors and were drag racers. So they probably already had knowledge of the cam break-in procedures, soaking the lifters in oil overnight, and making sure that everything was liberally-oiled upon assembly. Yet, the bulk of these things would be "invisible" to the customer. In that respect, that's probably why the FSM did not mention these things as the techs already knew them?

In the earlier 1980s, we hired in a light-line guy who had recently graduated high school. He wanted a better cam for his '66 GTO, so one of our guys callaed the local speed shop and got him what he needed. Apparently, he did not follow the break-in procedures as the car came back in a few days with a camshaft issue. A lobe or more were highly worn. Which was deemed "defective cam shaft". That's when it became known that a cam warranty is between the end-purchaser and the speed shop should not be involved. In this case, they got to be.

Another issue might be the disclaimers which some OEMs put into the FSMs and such. About those publications are designed to be used by "trained professionals" (or similar), which means they "know something" and "have experience" in what they seek to do.

On the private shop side of things, it seems that everybody knows about the cam break-in period situation. Prevalently-mentioned in many camshaft catalogs, too!

My initial suspicion was that the OEM level of Parkerizing/hardening process for the cam lobes was more robust that what the aftermarket did. That the aftermarket people knew the least amount they could get away with, just as the OEMs knew similar but also that the cam's had to last at least for the warranty period and longer, so their "stakes were higher", so to speak. The fact that some aftermarket cam sellers started having the option for a more robust hardening procedure for their cams tended to prove my point.

Typically, camshafts last much longer than 88K miles of continuous use. One that has been inactive for a good while might gain some surface rust on the lobes, which can easily be rubbed-off when the engine is reactivated, hopefully. In this case, the recommendation for the new cam and lifters was probably an "insurance" issue rather than a "worn out" issue?

As the engine now has several hundred miles on it, with no more of an issue than it now has, perhaps things will continue to be good.

Happy Holidays, Y'all,