Strange ticking noise


Aug 23, 2020
Seattle, Wa
I recently swapped a completely stock motor and trans from a wrecked '89 GT into a '93 LX that was formerly a 4 cylinder car. I have a bad ticking noise that I thought was lifter related so I replaced all my lifters and pushrods but the noise remained exactly the same. I have also checked that my rocker arms are torqued down, and that I have the correct oil level. Here is what I have noticed about the noise:

-It increases in volume under load
-Its only audible once the engine has warmed up
-Seems to be coming from the rear part of the passenger side of the motor
-It is quite loud, audible in the cabin at idle and especially under load even with the windows up
-The motor otherwise runs great and very strong

My next thought was that it could be an exhaust leak from the header gasket, but from what I have read, the noise happening only when the engine is warm doesn't really correlate with that theory. Also the header gaskets were replaced when I did the motor swap, and I have made sure that all the bolts are tight. I am at a loss, and I would really like some help figuring out what the noise is so I don't need to continue throwing money at it and just hoping I get lucky and it solves the issue.
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You need a buddy to help you find what I think is an exhaust leak.warm it up and Jack up front , put Jack stands under it and really get close and listen and feel for the leak,maybe have your buddy bring rpms up and down.
I always recommended this and wonder if anyone ever does it.... but get a small vacuum line about 3ft long. Jam one end as far in your ear as you can to get a tight seal (or gently, either way :D ). Use the other end like a stethoscope and you will for sure find where the noise is.
Don't forget pics!

Btw...i also vote exhaust. If you still have the ball and socket connection on the bottom of the headers check there first.
I ended up replacing the exhaust gasket, and the noise remained the same. I listened around and it does not seem to be coming from the ball and socket where the header connects to the h-pipe, definitely the motor making the noise or the header flange where it connects to the motor. I do have BBK 5/8ths inch long tube headers, are those known for having problems like this? I have another gasket I will try since it came in a set of two but I am not hopeful that it will do anything.

My oil pressure seems fine according to the factory gauge but I know they are misleading. Is it possible I have low oil pressure causing the lifter(s) to bleed down? Could I fix this with a heavier weight oil or would I need a new oil pump?
Alright just went outside and used a long flathead screwdriver (I didn't have a hose to use) to listen to various parts of the passenger side of the motor once it got up to temp and I could hear the noise. I was not able to find the cylinder that was the source of the sound because it sounded identical across the entire length of the motor. Here is in order from where the sound was loudest to where it was quietest:

1. The header (all four of the primaries sounded the same, all the way to the collector)
2. Valve cover
3. The head
4. Lower intake

Not really sure what to make of this information.
It wouldnt hurt to try a qt of some of the lucas oil heavy duty oil stabilizer. Good test for it.

Only does it when it warms up... sure head not cracked? Wouldnt think so right. But.. where ur at freezes, and if someone put water in it. Have you checked compression on cylinders?

Also could get a cheap stethoscope and might help pinpoint noise at least.
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Could a cracked head cause a ticking noise like that without causing other issues as well? I haven't checked my compression because so far I haven't experienced any problems with this motor other than the noise, it runs great and starts right up every time. It does sometimes stall right after a cold start if I don't give it a little throttle, but idles just fine after about 15 seconds.

If it is the lifters bleeding down once the oil thins out and causing the noise, could using a heavier weight oil fix the issue (and how thick should I go)? I was planning on taking the car to autox, so a thicker oil for extended use at high RPMs might be a good idea anyway.
Ya i dont know. I was just throwing out ideas.

You can run a thicker oil, pretty much anything. Ig go 20w-50. The thickest motor oil im aware of. No way oil is the real issue though. But id still throw a qt of the lucas oil stuff in just to test it.
Stethoscope, like $10-15 online or walmart. Try to pinpoint noise, unless you alrdy got it pretty much pinpointed.

If it was me, Id check compression. And it just dawned on me, its probably a bent valve. I bet the cylinder the noise is coming from has lower compression.

I assume a professional would do, or tell you to do a leakdown test. But checking compression is easier, i assume. And if its a bent valve, it wont seat right and wont hold pressure anyway.
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