1981 Toyota Starlet Lifters

This was a caller topic on a recent Car Talk podcast (originally broadcast in 1992 I think). Caller said she’d had her car’s lifters replaced three times, $1200 P & L each time. The symptom was a clicking noise. Three times b/c the noise returned after 30 or 40 K miles. Caller mentioned “pushrods” were involved.

From what I can tell this vehicle used a 1300 cc 4 banger. Wouldn’t that engine be an overhead cam design, rather than a pushrod design? If so, why are pushrods involved? What problem could have developed to need to repeatedly replace the lifters at 40K mile intervals?

Ray’s said the lifter replacement cost was too high, a damaged camshaft may be the actual problem, and his advice was for the caller to inform Toyota of the problem and have them investigate. It’s puzzling what could have possibly been going on with this engine.

They may have started using an oil with a lower or no zinc content.


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Older Starlets from the late 1970s and very early 1980s used an OHV 4-cylinder, if I recall

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Yup, OHV pushrod motor. No overhead cams. The car was RWD with the solid axle hung by leaf springs. Very old school all around.


A search for that lifter, P/N 13751-22013 shows that this engine was also used in forklifts.


I don’t recall ever seeing a Toyota Starlet, but seem to remember hearing that name before. The first Toyota I was familiar with was the Corona. For the 1981 Starlet I’ve seen references to a “conventional camshaft” option which is presumably an OHV design, and also a SOHC option. Maybe it came in both configurations, and the caller had the OHV version. Tester’s theory about the zinc content is the only idea so far consistent with the repeating symptoms. You’d thinksomeone at the shop replacing the lifters time after time would have thought of that. My truck’s OHV engine has never experienced a lifter problem in 50 years … knock on wood … lol … I’ve always used the standard Pennzoil 10w-30 which I presume has the required additives. And it might be b/c my truck uses hydraulic lifters which generally don’t need to be adjusted.

Perhaps we need a category “Historical problems of yesteryear” … lol …

No, it doesn’t anymore. The zinc and sulfer additives have been steadily reduced for 25+ years from all auto oils.

I would suggest you use diesel spec oil as it still has some of those additives or use a zddp addjtive at each oil change in your 50 year old truck.


My truck is a 73 and was designed to use lead-free fuel. Does that make a difference in the lifter situation? That may only affect the valve seats

I believe the reduction of zinc occurred in 1996 with “SJ” oil service classification, there were still some flat tappet engines in production during the 1990’s.

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