You rarely hear about valve problems in cars nowadays because modern overhead camshaft engines have fewer components to break down and cause problems. In the past, several components, such as non-hydraulic lifters, push-rods, springs, and the valves themselves, all could go bad.
You may have heard the term “getting a valve job” because older cars frequently needed their valves adjusted. If you have an older car, you may still have some of these problems, but modern cars’ valve trains are virtually trouble-free.
Because these problems are so rare in modern cars, many people don’t recognize the symptoms of valve trouble right away. Here are some of the signs that you need to have your valve train examined.
Ticking or Popping Noises
Ticking or popping noises are the most common types of noises you will hear when you’re having trouble with your valves.
Many times, you will hear this ticking before you notice other problems. This noise gets louder and faster as the engine is accelerated. It usually means that some of the valve train components are either worn or out of alignment, or that your engine is not getting enough lubrication overall.
Most cars have hydraulic lifters, and these lifters need constant lubrication and pressure kept at a precise level. If the pressure is a little bit off, it increases play or excessive movement in the valve train.
Blue Smoke From the Tailpipe
Blue smoke is a classic sign of overall engine trouble and should never be ignored. Though blue smoke is not specifically a result of valve problems, it is one of the most common indications, especially when combined with ticking and popping noises.
When valve guides and seals wear, it allows oil to pass through to the combustion chamber and be burned along with the fuel. You will also notice that your oil levels are consistently dropping, or you need to add oil often, and you’ve ruled out any leaks.
Generally, the amount of blue smoke you see with valve guide and seal failure is fairly small and barely noticeable. If you are spewing out a large amount of smoke, then you may have more serious problems such as worn or damaged piston rings. It’s best to have a professional mechanic check out your engine when you have this issue.
Engine Power Loss
Another sign that you have valve problems is that you frequently notice a reduction in engine power and performance. Valves are designed to fit into their seats perfectly and allow for a very little leeway. If your valve guides and seals are leaking, oil can accumulate on the top of the valve and cause it to lose its seat or create a gap. This could cause compression issues, which lead to poor combustion and power loss.
Burnt valves are another problem that contributes to power issues. When a valve is burned, it can lose material and even have large holes which leak out gases and reduce compression. Many things can cause burnt valves, but one of the most common reasons is ignoring leaking seals and guides, or failing to fix other compression problems. Combine those problems with a cooling system or EGR (exhaust gas recirculation) issue, and you are extremely likely to burn the valves.
Valve problems are something you should not ignore because they can turn into even more serious and expensive problems down the road. However, they are easy to prevent, or at least delay, with proper engine maintenance. Have your oil changed regularly, and fix any other engine problems promptly.
Because these signs can also be a warning that something more serious is happening, you should have a professional examine the engine. White’s Automotive Center has ASE-certified technicians who are well-versed in all types of automotive repair and can help determine the exact cause and solution to the problem.