The internal workings of your vehicle are a mystery to most drivers. And that only gets truer as you start to talk about the more technical pieces inside the engine. But those technical pieces matter just as much as their better-known counterparts, and if they start to fail, you’re going to notice.
One of those integral technical components is the hydraulic lifter. Whether you’re suspecting that you have a faulty hydraulic lifter or you just want to know what to look out for, we’ll break it all down here.
Then we’ll break down precisely what a hydraulic lifter does, where you can find it in your engine, and how much they cost to replace (spoiler alert – it’s not cheap!).
Symptoms of a Bad Hydraulic Lifter
- Excessive Engine Noise
- Engine Misfires
- Broken Pushrods and Dead Cylinders
- Check Engine Light
Just because hydraulic lifters are a technical component that you don’t see doesn’t mean that it won’t break. Hydraulic lifters wear out, and when they do, it leads to big problems.
Here is a more detailed list of the most common signs of a bad hydraulic lifter:
Excessive Engine Noise
If one of your vehicle’s hydraulic lifters is stuck or broken, you’re going to hear it. Not only can you hear the clanging of metal as they rub against each other, but you can also hear the internals of the hydraulic lifter hammering against itself.
As you speed up your vehicle to higher RPMs, these sounds will become louder and more frequent as the lifter attempts to actuate faster and faster and is unable to do so.
The hydraulic lifters connect to the pushrods (In some car models), which connect to the rocker arms, which control the intake and exhaust valves. So, if the hydraulic lifter isn’t working the way that it should, then you won’t have your exhaust or intake valves opening and closing when they should.
This means that your engine won’t produce the necessary combustion, which leads to misfires. As your engine misfires, you’ll hear a difference in sound and notice a drop in performance. If your engine is misfiring, you need to get it to a repair shop as soon as possible, so more damages don’t occur.
Broken Pushrods and Dead Cylinders
If your car engine is an overhead valve engine, it has pushrods that connect the camshaft and the intake or exhaust valve. These can break down if your hydraulic lifter is bad.
The whole reason your engine has a lift cylinder is, so the pushrod gets pushed the exact same way every time. If you have a broken hydraulic lift cylinder, it’s not uncommon for the pushrods to become bent or broken too.
If this happens, you won’t just have an exhaust valve or intake valve that isn’t working optimally – you’ll have one that isn’t working at all. When the cylinder stops working completely, it’s called a “dead cylinder,” and you’re going to notice a significant drop in performance.
Additionally, you’re going to notice that your engine doesn’t sound right. If you have a dead cylinder, you need to get it checked out immediately, and it’s about more than restoring your engine’s horsepower. If you have a dead cylinder and don’t repair, it then it’s only a matter of time until you cause further damage to your engine.
Check Engine Light
There are sensors everywhere in your engine. They monitor everything from the amount of air the intake brings in to the chemical composition of your exhaust. Everything about your vehicle is a fine-tuned machine, and it needs as many inputs as possible to keep it there.
So, it makes sense that if everything isn’t working the way it should, some of these sensors will pick up a problem. There are multiple warning lights that might turn on if you have a faulty hydraulic lift cylinder, but one thing is for sure – you will get a check engine light.
Hydraulic Lifter Function
Your vehicle’s hydraulic lifters’ only job is to transfer the force from the camshaft lobe to the valves. For the valves to remain closed, they need a little bit of play between the camshaft and the valve because metal moves when it is warm. This is the job of the hydraulic lifter to control this play.
Hydraulic lifters have an advantage over mechanical lifters because they sit directly against the camshaft lobes, where traditional lifters have to leave a small space for expansion when they heat up.
While the exact way the lifter operates is slightly different, they serve the same function. While most vehicles still utilize hydraulic lifters, mechanical lifters are starting to make a bit of a comeback due to their lower cost.
While there’s no wrong choice, solid or mechanical lifters aren’t maintenance-free, and you’ll notice a slight dip in performance, which is why hydraulic lifters made their way into vehicles, to begin with.
Hydraulic Lifters Location
Hydraulic lifters are located directly between your engine’s camshaft and the valves in most car models, but some car models have push rods and rocker arms between also.
As the camshaft’s location can vary, this makes it a little harder to pinpoint if your hydraulic lifters will be at the top or the bottom of your engine.
But if you find your camshaft and your vehicle has hydraulic lifters, that’s where they’ll be. Even if your vehicle doesn’t have hydraulic lifters, there will be some kind of mechanical lifter there. You’ll never see a vehicle that has a camshaft push directly against the pushrods or valves.
Hydraulic Lifter Replacement Cost
A single hydraulic lifter costs $5 to 30$. The labor costs usually 50$ to 1000$, so you can expect a total average replacement cost of 100$ to 1100$ to replace a single hydraulic lifter.
Hydraulic lifters are one of those components that are cheap to buy but expensive to replace. That’s because each hydraulic lifter only costs between $5 and $30, but getting to them is a job and a half. Also, while each individual lifter might be expensive, you should replace them all at once, and your engine has a lot of them.
In fact, your engine has anywhere from eight to twenty-four lifters, depending on what you drive. That takes the cost for parts alone to anywhere from $40 to $1,000.
Additionally, the labor costs for replacing lifters can range anywhere from $300 to $700. That means if you’re lucky, you can get the job done for under $400, but if you’re unlucky, it can cost as much as $1,700. The average cost usually sits between $500 to $800.
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Founder, owner & main author of Mechanic Base. I have been repairing cars for more than 10 years, specialized in advanced diagnostics & troubleshooting. I have also been a drifting driver and mechanic for over 7 years.