Did we discover the cure for Miata lifter tick? | Garage Rescue Miata

David S.
Update by David S. Wallens to the Mazda Miata project car
Nov 4, 2022 | Mazda, Miata, Oil, Mazda Miata, Garage Rescue Miata, Liqui Moly, BSI Racing

Miata engines love to tap just to remind us that they’re there. The engines typically deliver decades of faithful service, so occasionally they like to say, “Hey, we’re still here” with some rhythmic lifter chatter.

Historically, our Garage Rescue Miata’s lifters have chattered when the oil was getting dirty. Call it an audible oil change minder.

Best we can remember, before we put the car away for eight-plus years, we had been using Mobil 1 oil.

When the folks at BSI Racing got the car back on the road–it didn’t need much–they changed the oil to Liqui Moly Molygen New Generation 5W-30.

[What Really Happens to a Car When Its Gasoline Sits? | Garage Rescue Miata]

Then? No chatter, no issues.

When it was time for its first post-hibernation oil change early this season, we reached for another brand–one long trusted by enthusiasts and used in many GRM project cars for decades. It’s an oil sold by a major Miata tuner, and we even followed its recommendation of running 10W-30.

And the lifters chattered. They chattered when cold. Or not. They’d chatter when warm. Or not. They’d chatter after an autocross run. Or not.

The lifters would simply chatter whenever and wherever.

What to do? We went back to the Liqui Moly and a fresh Mazda oil filter. It’s been several months since the change back.

We now get a second of chatter at startup–fairly common on Miatas–and, every now and then, a little chatter after an autocross run.

What’s the take-home message here? We don’t know, but at least in our case, maybe each Miata engine prefers its own oil. We need to dig deeper here.

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map2050 New Reader
11/4/22 3:26 p.m.

My '91 Miata has been using synthetics since the break-in period was over. Redline 10W-30, then Mobil One 10W-30 and for the last 16 years Amsoil Signature Series 0W-30 initially, now 10W-30. Never had tick-tick yet and it sees the redline fairly often. I have heard good things about Liqui Moly.

calteg SuperDork
11/4/22 3:53 p.m.

The best cure is a BP4W

tcoppola GRM+ Memberand New Reader
11/4/22 3:55 p.m.

I put the same Liqui Moly oil in both my C5 Corvette and my '07 Tahoe. With FCP Euro's lifetime guarantee, you just can't beat [nearly] free oil!

Berck Reader
11/4/22 5:25 p.m.

My experience with Miata lifter tick is that viscosity matters a lot more than brand.  The extent that brand matters probably relates to how close it is to the rated viscosities, especially as it wears.  10W-30 (despite being what the manual recommends for warm weather) has always been a recipe for cold lifter tick for me.  These days I run whatever happens to be the cheapest 0W-40 full-synthetic I can find, and run it 10,000 miles, all year long. If I do get a tick running 0W-40, it usually means I'm down to the bottom of the dipstick and need to top up.

My cheap track Miata with 300,000 miles ticked like crazy when I got it, hot or cold.  0W-40 didn't help. I used some liqui-moly flush following the instructions on the can, changed the oil again and now it only ticks for 30 seconds or so when I let it sit for a couple months.

Kitsbeach (Forum Supporter)
Kitsbeach (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand New Reader
11/4/22 7:24 p.m.
Berck said:

My experience with Miata lifter tick is that viscosity matters a lot more than brand.  

I agree with this and find that the change to 5-30 has lessened the lifter tick substantially. I blew a front seal after trying 5-40 but that may have been only a coincidence. I'm tempted to try 0-30 as my theory is that the thinner initial viscosity gets the oil up to the lifters faster (dunno if I'm at all on the right track with this but 0-30 ticks less than 10-30).

It's an autocross car with 176,000 kilometres and it is run hard every time it is driven..!!

ShinnyGroove (Forum Supporter)
ShinnyGroove (Forum Supporter) Dork
11/4/22 7:28 p.m.

Rotella T6 did the trick for me. Might be the viscosity as decribed above. 

AnthonyGS (Forum Supporter)
AnthonyGS (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand UberDork
11/4/22 8:31 p.m.

I'm Miata's I always had good luck with fresh oil.  Most of mine were higher mileage so I usually use high mileage semi synth Valvoline in those cases.

MyMiatas Reader
11/4/22 10:11 p.m.

I Googled for the answer to this question and became sick of typing in the search bar and receiving the same answer....

After replacing a oil filter/cooling part on a Hyundai this week. I filled the oil back up, it had none in it. I poored the oil in the car and it was like water and had a green tint to it?? I looked at the bottle of oil and it read 0W-30. If the higher the viscosity number the thicker the oil is, And the W means Winter.  Then 0w is winter (cold) and 30 is hot. How can a oil become thicker when hot?  Or am I way off on this??  I did learn tonight that new engine have been designed to run thinner oils than my Miata's 

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
11/4/22 11:03 p.m.

5W30 is a recommended weight from Mazda, just not in the coldest temps. 

Miata owners have been coming up with the solution to the tick for 30 years, and it always seems to come down to "try different things until one works". 

MyMiatas Reader
11/4/22 11:50 p.m.

I do not have a "tick" in my Miata. I became curious about viscosity after making a repair on a new Hyundai with 0w-30 oil and came across this thread. The 30 is denser than 0. So in essants it take more time for 30 viscosity oil to flow through a opening because it is hot. It just clicked... the oil expands as it is heated causing more resistance and higher viscosity. Just like metal expands when heated and shrinks when cooled.  

Bigben Reader
11/5/22 12:36 a.m.

In reply to MyMiatas :

Okay I have to chime on on this one. The two numbers refer to the behavior of the oil when cold and hot vs a straight single weight oil. So 5w30 behaves the same as a plain 5 weight oil when it is cold and like a 30 weight oil when it is hot. It does not have a higher viscosity when it is hot than cold, it is still thinner and flows more easily when hot. The second number means when it is hot it has the viscosity of a hot 30 weight oil.  0w30, 5w30,10w30,15w30, and straight SAE30 should all have the same viscosity once up to operating temp. Where they differ is their viscosity when cold. The lower numbers flow better when cold allowing the engine to receive proper flow to keep things lubricated and reduce internal resistance a heavier oil would cause when cold.

APEowner GRM+ Memberand UltraDork
11/5/22 8:20 a.m.
calteg said:

The best cure is a BP4W

Or, a LS.

MyMiatas Reader
11/5/22 9:31 a.m.

Well the 0w-30 did not save the engine. It ended up being seized. It is going to the auction to be a salvage parts vehicle. I was told that a new engine for that Hyundai was 4500. 

Opti Dork
11/6/22 2:29 p.m.

Seafoam in crankcase followed by a Rotella t6 solved mine

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
11/7/22 11:52 a.m.
Keith Tanner said:

5W30 is a recommended weight from Mazda, just not in the coldest temps. 

Miata owners have been coming up with the solution to the tick for 30 years, and it always seems to come down to "try different things until one works". 

Yup. Also, at least with my engine, traditionally the ticking meant that it was time to change the oil. 

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