Recently, there’s been a great deal of discussion over an engine tick in the 2018-2019 Mustang. Sometimes referred to as a BBQ tick, it sounds a little bit like a starter in a barbecue grill. Others have called it the typewriter tick. There are tee-shirts and Facebook groups dedicated to it.
Despite the discussion and clever nicknames, there’s a lot of confusion about exactly what this sound might be and how concerned you should be if you hear it.
In this video, Bill walks us through the various causes and solutions for your Mustang’s tick, complete with audio that may help you rule out some normal engine noises.
Other Engine Noises vs The Tick
First off, it’s good to be listening to your car and it’s good to be concerned about noises you hear that are out of the “normal” range of sound, but it’s also possible that this issue has become overhyped to the point that it’s likely people are mistaking normal engine noises for the dreaded tick.
The 2018 Mustang uses a direct fuel injection pump, which when properly functioning makes a light ticking sound. If this is what you’re hearing, the noise will be consistent and a little bit louder and more pronounced than the engine tick people are referring to.
"Like a Mechanical Typewriter"
When you start your car up on a cold morning, it’s also totally normal to hear some unusual noises. These tend to be significantly louder than the tick and they go away as the car gets warmed up or when the weather improves. If your local temps just dropped into the single digits and then you started hearing a weird sound, it is almost certainly the cold weather.
Given the wide range of normal noises, it’s easier to listen for the tick if you know exactly what you’re listening for. Imagine a child trying to type out a paper on a mechanical keyboard, a fast series of clicks then silence, then slow clicks, and so on. It’s a variable and intermittent light noise, just loud enough to be annoying, quiet enough you wonder if it’s actually there. In order to increase the volume of the tick to get a better sense of it, you may want to try parking near a wall or a tunnel—somewhere that will amplify the sound of the tick.
Possible Causes of the Tick
Here are the things that we know for sure: The tick may be overhyped, but it does exist. It has existed in some form since 2011. There is not a single consistent answer for what is causing it. Many Mustang drivers have experienced the tick, taken their ponies to the mechanic, and gotten many different answers. Those answers have ranged from “you need a new engine” to “have you tried putting oil in it” which is just a mean thing to say.
Obviously, we’re not looking at your car with you right now. We can’t diagnose it through the internet, and anyone who says they can should probably not be trusted. What we’re listing below are simply some of the theories that have merit and are worth considering.
Rod knock is another noise people mistakenly identify as the tick, but much like the noise of the direct fuel injection pump, rod knock is going to be consistent. Unlike the barbecue tick, rod knock will get louder as your engine warms up, while the tick gets quieter. Rod knock is still a problem you should get looked at immediately, but it's probably not the same noise as the tick given that people have driven significant periods of time and distance with the tick and the same can't really be said for rod knock. While some people are waiting out the engine tick, you should NOT be waiting out rod knock.
Piston slap occurs when a piston takes a detour on its usual trip up and down the cylinder to instead ding the side. This could be happening in this Mustang because of the plasma transferred wire arc technology that manufactured the cylinder’s liner. Though this awesome technology has replaced heavy iron liners, it does have less tolerance for error. Small irregularities that may have gone unnoticed in earlier generations can cause serious problems.
Piston slap is the most popular theory for a lot of reasons. The first is that the tick noise is intermittent, like piston slap, and it seems to fade as the car gets warmed up, once again, like piston slap. Also, the few people who have had their engines replaced under warranty have sited “cylinder scoring” as the issue, which could be caused by piston slap.
Composite Oil Pan
When we’re trying to identify a new noise, it’s a good idea to look at what changed. One of the features that was new for the 2018 Mustang was a composite oil pan, which can't cause a ticking noise on its own, but will certainly amplify any existing sounds. Composite is lighter than metal and transfers sound more readily.
Despite the recent press, the tick has been observed for a while now. It’s not a “new” issue. As more people talk about it, more people are listening closely to their engines and noticing all the strange little noises that probably never even bothered them before.
But this is your Mustang. It’s never a bad thing to be safe and to be proactive in addressing issues before they become catastrophes, and there are some great preventive steps that you can take to ensure that your engine tick isn’t anything serious.
Many have noticed that the problem seems to get better or worse around the time they do an oil change. During your oil change, make sure to look for metal. If you see any, get your car to a dealership. It’s possible you qualify for an in-warranty repair or replacement. Metal particles in your oil are a big deal and definitely indicate some more serious issues.
If you don’t see any metal, try using a heavier oil, depending on your climate. Many people who swapped to a heavier oil saw an immediate improvement in the tick.
Another possible solution that some have tried with great success is using a friction modifier like Cera Tec’s Liqui Moly. Though these reports are purely anecdotal, it’s inexpensive and worth a shot if it makes your ride more enjoyable and tick-free.
Most people just ignore it. Though that seems like a bad idea, it actually isn’t. This problem has been around since 2011, so some people have been ignoring it for that long without a single problem related to the tick, even while absolutely thrashing their vehicles. There are Mustangs that started ticking on mile 300 and are now over a hundred thousand with no abnormal mechanical issues.
This is an updating story as we find out more about what’s causing the tick, and we’ll be sure to include new information as it becomes available. In the meantime, if you’re very concerned about your Mustang’s tick, your only choice may be a mechanic.
The other solutions people have found have been truly individual in nature and some have found legitimate mechanical issues that needed to be resolved for the continued enjoyment of the car.