4 Symptoms of a Bad Hydraulic Lifter (and Replacement Cost)

The inner workings of your vehicle are a mystery to most drivers. And that only becomes more true when you start talking about the more technical parts in the engine. But those technical parts are just as important as their more famous counterparts, and when they start to fail, you’ll notice.

One of those integral technical components is the hydraulic lift. Whether you suspect you have a faulty hydraulic valve lifter or just want to know what to look for, we’ll explain it all here.

Then we’ll explain exactly what a hydraulic valve lifter does, where to find it on your bike and how much it costs to replace it (spoiler alert, it’s not cheap!). Let’s start with a look at the signs to look for:

The most common symptom of a failed hydraulic lifter is an engine failure at idle or under acceleration, along with engine noise. In most cases, this will also result in a Check Engine Light on your dashboard.

Just because hydraulic lifters are a technical part you don’t see doesn’t mean it won’t break. Hydraulic lifters wear out and when they do they cause major problems.

Here is a more detailed list of the most common signs of a failed hydraulic lifter:

Bad Hydraulic Lifter Symptoms

1. Excessive engine noise

If one of your vehicle’s hydraulic valve lifters is stuck or broken, you will hear this. Not only do you hear the clatter of metal rubbing against each other, but you can also hear the internal parts of the hydraulic lift banging against itself.

As you accelerate your vehicle to a higher RPM, these noises will get louder and more frequent as the lifter tries to act faster and faster and can’t.

2. Engine stalls


Hydraulic valve lifters connect to push rods (on some car models), which connect to rocker arms, which control the intake and exhaust valves. So if the hydraulic lifter doesn’t work as it should, it won’t be able to open and close the exhaust or inlet valves when it should.

This means that your engine will not produce the necessary combustion, leading to misfires. As your engine skips, you will hear a difference in sound and notice a decrease in performance. If your engine fails, take it to a repair shop as soon as possible so that no further damage can occur.

3. Broken pushrods and dead cylinders


If your car’s engine is an overhead valve engine, it will have pushrods connecting the camshaft and the intake or exhaust valve. These can go bad if your hydraulic lifter is bad.

The only reason your engine has a lift cylinder is that the pushrod is pushed in exactly the same way every time. If you have a broken hydraulic lift cylinder, it is not uncommon for the pushrods to bend or break as well.

When this happens, not only do you have an exhaust valve or intake valve that isn’t working optimally, you have one that isn’t working at all. When the cylinder stops working completely, it is called a “dead cylinder” and you will notice a significant reduction in performance.

You will also notice that your engine does not sound good. If you have an empty cylinder, get it checked right away, and it’s about more than restoring power to your engine. If you have a dead cylinder and don’t fix it, it’s only a matter of time before it causes more damage to your engine.

4. Check the engine light

There are sensors all over your motorcycle. They control everything from the amount of air supplied through the intake to the chemical composition of the exhaust gases. Everything about your vehicle is a finely tuned machine and you need as much input as possible to keep it there.

So it makes sense that if everything isn’t working as it should, some of these sensors would detect a problem. There are several warning lights that can come on if you have a failed hydraulic lift cylinder, but one thing is for sure, you will get an engine trouble light.

Hydraulic lifting function

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The sole job of your vehicle’s hydraulic valve lifters is to transfer the power from the camshaft to the valves. In order for the valves to stay closed, they need some clearance between the camshaft and the valve because the metal moves when hot. This is the hydraulic lifter’s job to control this game.

Hydraulic lifters have an advantage over mechanical ones in that they sit directly against the camshaft lobes, where traditional lifters need to leave a little room for expansion as they get hot.

Although the exact way the lifter works is slightly different, they serve the same function. While most vehicles still use hydraulic lifters, mechanical lifters are starting to make a bit of a comeback due to their lower cost.

While there is no wrong choice, solid or mechanical lifters are not maintenance-free and you will notice a slight drop in performance. That’s why hydraulic lifters have found their way into vehicles to start with.

Location of hydraulic lifters


Hydraulic valve lifters are located directly between the engine camshaft and valves on most model cars, but some model cars also have push rods and rocker arms.

Because the camshaft location can vary, it is a little more difficult to determine whether your hydraulic valve lifters are on the top or bottom of your engine.

But if you find your camshaft and your vehicle has hydraulic valve lifters, they will be there. Even if your vehicle does not have hydraulic elevators, there will be some kind of mechanical elevator there. You will never see a vehicle with a camshaft pressing directly against the pushrods or valves.

Hydraulic Lifter Replacement Cost

The average cost of replacing a hydraulic lift is between $100 and $1,100 depending on the car model and labor costs. A single hydraulic lifter costs between $5 and $30, while labor costs between $100 and $1000.

Hydraulic lifters are one of those components that are cheap to buy but expensive to replace. That’s because each hydraulic lift only costs between $5 and $30, but it’s a job and a half to get to them. And while each individual lifter can be expensive, you have to replace them all at once, and your engine will have plenty.

In fact, your motorcycle has between eight and twenty-four lifters, depending on what you’re riding. That puts the cost of parts alone between $40 and $1,000.

Also, the labor cost to replace elevators can range from $300 to $700. That means if you’re lucky, you can get the job done for less than $400, but if you’re unlucky, it can cost up to $1,700. The average cost is usually between $500 and $800.

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