What Causes a Collapsed Lifter: What They Are and How They Work

A collapsed lifter is usually caused by debris or sludge buildup in the engine or a malfunctioning lifter. A lifter within an engine plays a crucial role in maintaining the valve-to-camshaft mechanism’s accurate timing.

If a rocker arm or pushrod controls the lifter’s position, it can cause lifter failure. Lifter failure in the engine causes many signs and symptoms, including a knocking sound while the engine runs, the vehicle losing power, or stalling altogether.

The reasons behind lifter failure can vary depending on the vehicle’s make and model. In some cases, an incorrect oil viscosity level can cause lifter failure, while in other cases, the lifter may be old or damaged to the point of breaking down.

Understanding Collapsed Lifters: What They Are and How They Work

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What Is A Lifter?

A lifter is a component of a vehicle’s engine that is attached to the pushrods. It enables the camshaft to open and close the engine valves. A hydraulic lifter, a mechanical lifter, and a roller lifter are the three types of lifters.

The hydraulic lifter is the most common and operates by using hydraulic pressure in response to the camshaft’s motion. A mechanical lifter, in contrast, uses a solid component that requires adjusting to keep the correct clearance. Finally, a roller lifter employs a roller bearing instead of a sliding contact to reduce friction and improve durability.

A collapsed lifter is caused by a lack of hydraulic pressure or an overly tight mechanical lifter, resulting in engine misfires and potentially damaging the camshaft.

What Causes A Collapsed Lifter?

Collapsed lifters in an engine can be caused by various factors including lack of maintenance, old age or overuse and abuse. Failure to change the oil and oil filter on schedule can cause sludge buildup and damage to the lifter, resulting in a collapse.

Old age and high mileage can cause wear and tear on the lifter, causing it to fail. Overuse and abuse can result in the lifters becoming worn out due to the constant pressure and strain. Routine maintenance and timely repairs can prevent a collapsed lifter, ensuring better engine performance and longevity.

Regular checks on oil levels and changes, as well as careful driving and maintenance habits, can go a long way in preventing lifter collapse.

Hydraulic Lifter Tappet


Signs Of A Collapsed Lifter

A collapsed lifter is a common issue that can occur in engines. One clear sign is an engine misfire, which occurs when the lifter no longer opens and closes the valves properly. Another sign could be a tick or knock sound coming from the engine, due to the lifter not providing the proper amount of clearance.

Decreased power is also common, as the engine is struggling to operate with a collapsed lifter. Additionally, poor fuel efficiency could result from the engine working harder than it needs to. It’s important to address this issue as soon as possible to prevent further damage to the engine.

Fixing A Collapsed Lifter

A collapsed lifter is caused by excessive wear and tear or oil starvation. Fixing it requires the use of additives and cleaners to remove buildup or an engine flush to unclog the passages. Replacement of the lifters can also be an option.

However, it’s best to leave the job to a professional mechanic to ensure that it’s correctly done. Using additives and cleaners might seem like a less expensive alternative, but it can further damage the engine if not done correctly. Also, replacing lifters can be costly, but it’s the best long-term solution to ensure that the engine runs smoothly again.

A professional mechanic can assess the situation and provide the best solution to fix a collapsed lifter.


A collapsed lifter is a frustrating and costly problem that many car owners experience. The reasons behind a lifter’s collapse can vary from car to car, but the most common issue is incorrect engine oil. Dirty or low-quality engine oil can cause accelerated wear and tear on the lifter and lead to its failure.

Regularly scheduled maintenance can prevent a collapsed lifter, so it is crucial to stick to the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedule. Another way to avoid such an issue is to address any signs of a potential collapsed lifter immediately. The early detection of the problem can help identify the root cause and mitigate the effects before severe damage is done to the engine.

So, if you take care of your car’s maintenance and address issues promptly, you can avoid encountering a collapsed lifter and stay worry-free.