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Old 02-11-2013, 07:22 PM   #1
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Anatomy of BMW hydraulic valve lifter and misfire mechanism

My car occasionally had rough idle when it was not started for several days.
I was suspecting hydraulic lifters bleed down and intrigued by several posts pointing fingers at them. So, I ordered one (INA brand from AutohausAZ) when I was ordering other maintenance parts and did the cut way.

Design is very simple. There are no oil seals in the inner housing and piston, and oil leak through mating surfaces is part of design.

Here is a picture of complete disassembly.
And pictures following are assembly from left to right of disassembled parts.

Ball valve, valve spring, valve cap, and piston assembly.

Return spring on top of the piston with ball valve assembly.

Inner housing over piston assembly.

Assembled lifter.

Here is the operating principle of lifer from INA

Sink-down (lifting phase)

Adjustment phase

Here is the misfire mechanism due to lifter not bleeding fast enough on cold weather from INA.
This is opposite of what I thought as a cause of misfire:lifter bleeding down oil.

Last edited by dslboomer; 05-01-2013 at 02:10 AM.
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Old 02-11-2013, 07:23 PM   #2
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Yup... looks like a lifter.
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Old 02-11-2013, 07:29 PM   #3
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Very cool info. Thanks for taking the time to do that and post up.
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Old 02-11-2013, 07:49 PM   #4
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Kewl, thanks for posting. There were some little details about how they worked that I was always curious about.

So it's pretty much just a little hydraulic cylinder at engine oil pressure to take up the slack between lifter and valve, and it expands much easier and quicker than it compresses. I can see now how if not enough fluid could get by that little ball bearing check valve, the lifter wouldn't provide full lift, which is one of the problems with hydraulic lifters in high rpm engines. I'd be curious to see how the S65 hydraulic lifters look inside since they are designed to keep on working up to 9000rpm.

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Old 02-11-2013, 08:28 PM   #5
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Recently I had a Fuel Pump fail. Before diagnosing we did many attempts to start. This causes the hydraulic lifters to lose pressure as they do not like cranking at low revs ... not sufficient oil pressure from the oil pump. Effect is the valves do not open at all, or very limited.

After replacing the Fuel Pump, I had pressure at the fuel rail, and the car was trying to start but just would not 'take'.

Speaking to my Indy he explained what happens with the hydraulic lifters during repeated starting attempts.

His solution was to attach jumper leads to another car and continuously crank to build up sufficient oil in the lifters. I had to hold the starter on for nearly 30secs before it took a little when I could release the starter. I had to then give a little throttle and gradually each cylinder came online. He then recommended taking it for a bit of a thrash to completely build up the oil in each and every lifter.

Certainly worked for me.

Thanks for the detailed explanation of the construction and operation of the Hydraulic lifter.

Last edited by TitanSilverE46; 02-11-2013 at 08:31 PM.
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Old 02-11-2013, 08:30 PM   #6
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Old 02-11-2013, 08:54 PM   #7
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Yes yes! Great thread sub'd
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Old 02-11-2013, 09:08 PM   #8
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Thanks for you exploded diagram. I know a lot of lifter "noise" has been going around, but I am not 100% confident that this is just not "noise" and the basic problem may be a bit simpler??

Based upon a hydraulic lifter problem, then this brings up some discussion.

So the issue is there are a number of questions that may come up?

1. Is the lifter bleeding down when parked during colder weather because of wear within the lifter and/or weak or broken springs?

2. Is the lifter not bleeding down fast enough upon cold start due to thick engine oil an/or restricted openings because of varnish and sludge deposits? Or is the lifter piston stuck due to varnish build up and cold temps causing problems with internal clearances? Truly a stuck lifter when cold.

3. Is the problem due the exhaust valves that do not seal as well after 100k plus miles and/or there is a lean condition in one or more cylinders due to fuel injector issues, vacuum leaks, air distribution manifold issue? I have had intake vacuum leaks at the cylinder head in other cars that caused only a cold start misfire that was a bit tough to find, however, once the intake gasket was replaced, all cold start issues went away.

4. Is the problem due to to something like a valve cover or CCV leaking vacuum and when you read about someone that has changed some or all the lifters and the problem seems to be fixed, was the fix the lifters or sealing up the air leaks within the crankcase?

I would say a lifter that pumps down should likely be noisy when cold.

A lifter that will not bleed down enough likely will not be noisy.

Before I would spend the time and energy dealing with lifters, likely check to see if some form of oil additive would help clean up varnish and any sort of sludge build up.

Then I would likely pull the valve cover and measure the cold valve lash to see if there is a specific lifter that man be bleeding down excessively.

Just tossing some ideas out there from a number of different angles to get people thinking.
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Old 04-19-2013, 07:23 PM   #9
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Here's an interesting tidbit. Back in 2001 a relative of mine had a brand new 330i. It would sometimes crank for close to 30 seconds before firing. Sometimes you'd have to give up and try again. The car was brought back to the dealership either three or four times for the issue. It was very, very close to being a lemon law car. If they had not fixed it on its final visit another order was to be submitted.

Long story short, it was apparently only the 2nd vehicle BMW had ever seen with this issue- the other was either in Africa or Europe, I can't seem to remember. Anyway- the way that they figured out the problem was by putting the leader of the tech's for our region's car next to it, and swapping parts one by one until they fixed my relative's car and "broke" the tech's. It ended up being severely scored lifters.

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Old 04-19-2013, 08:31 PM   #10
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Here's a writeup by JJRICHAR a year prior to this one. Also great info.

More reason to use the correct oil and change it often!
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Old 09-19-2013, 08:54 PM   #11
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very interesting post....
here itīs what happen to me (I have an e39 with M54B30 motor)...
I stroke my motor from the M52TUb25 to M54B30 specs, but in the process I never replace my lifters (my car when I did the stroke has about 110,000 miles, all made by me)....
a few days ago my car became with some misfires in cylinder 2, 3, 4 and 5 and suddenly, my car turned off, and also have the typical lifter noise tack tack tack tack, was heard mostly when accelerating the car and when turning ON the AC... so when I try to start the car, took me a lot, sometimes 30 seconds, sometimes need two or three times to start my car and now reading this post, I think my problem are the lifter, to I already order a new 24 lifters....

post my result next week.....

p.d.: my compression test are to low in the cylinder 2, 3, 4 and 5, about 125 psi each one, but cylinder 1 and 6 are fine, around 180 psi each one....
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