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Engine Ticking, Oil light on, Full Oil

We recently bought a 2002 Audi A4 and everything seemed good and a while ago the engine began to make a ticking sound and it said it needs oil, but when we checked the oil it was full and a local mechanic said it heard like a piston but they are well oiled. Anything we can do to fix the issue?

The oil light is for oil pressure, not oil level. You may still have oil plowing through the engine, but not under pressure. This could be bad bearings, a bad oil pump or simply a clogged oil filter. It could also be a defective sending unit, but the ticking sound sort of confirms low oil pressure.

I would replace the oil filter first, even if it was recently replaced. Then have a mechanical gauge installed to measure the actual oil pressure. If it is confirmed to be low, then the engine will have to come out to inspect the bearings and the oil pump.


I’ll go off-topic . . .

I wonder if the previous owner(s) weren’t so good about changing the oil on time, AND about using the proper viscosity oil. Which is often 0W40 for european cars . . .

Did you get any maintenance records when you bought the car?

“said it needs oil” . . . many cars have engine oil LEVEL sensors. So it’s possible the message center really did say the engine oil level was low. These sensors sometimes are inaccurate. Better to read the dipstick, if the engine even has one

Many people misinterpret the red low oil pressure warning to always/automatically mean the engine oil level is low

It would be helpful to know exactly what symbol/light/warning actually was visible in the cluster

The ticking sound could be a sticky/collapsed lifter/tappet

By the way, is it a high pitched ticking sound, like a ball point pen clicking?

Or is it a low pitched thunk or clunk?

I agree that somebody needs to hook up a mechanical gauge and check the engine oil pressure

“many cars have engine oil LEVEL sensors. So it’s possible the message center really did say the engine oil level was low. These sensors sometimes are inaccurate.”

In a recent issue of Car & Driver, they published the results of their long-term test of a Porsche. They noted that the engine has no dipstick, and that after a few weeks, they got a dashboard warning that the oil level was low. So, they added a qt, and the warning disappeared,

A few weeks later, the same warning popped up, so they added another qt.
On the car’s first visit to the dealership for scheduled maintenance, the service department noted that the crankcase was overfilled by 2 qts!

In any event, I suspect–as db4690 does–that this car may have been the victim of a prior owner who (pick one or more)…
…didn’t change the oil on schedule
…didn’t use the very expensive European-specification motor oil that this engine requires
…allowed the oil level to drop too low, thus causing excessive wear…

In addition to determining the actual oil pressure with an external gauge, I would suggest that the OP have a valve cover removed in order to see if there is an excessive amount of oil sludge.
If the sludge that I suspect is present is actually found, then the OP needs to decide whether to spend the money necessary to partially disassemble the engine and clean out that damaging stuff from an engine that may have already sustained significant damage from the sludge.

Uh Oh… @db4690 started the thinking off properly and @keith is correct about the oil light pertaining to pressure, not volume. The 1.8T engines in these vehicles gets a bad rep due to customer negligence all the time… Its a shame really…they dont deserve it.

What happens is that people do NOT use Full Synthetic motor oil…and on top of that they dont change the oil on time…and as a result…the engines suffer from “Oil Sludging”. My theory on this is that the high temps the Turbo reaches “Cooks” the conventional motor oil into Fudge Brownies…and engines do not enjoy Fudge Brownies… In fact they hate brownies.

Ive seen a lot of 1.8T suffer this ignominious fate. The story is always the same… Oil change regimen is not up to standard…and more importantly by far…they dont use full synthetic motor oil.

The 1.8T in my 03’ GTi ? 150K miles and is clean as a whistle inside…No sludge at all and has a Golden Honey Color to the internal surfaces, just like it should…great oil pressure, full synthetic…no problems what so ever. If properly maintained they are rock solid…but factor in abuse and its all over…and rather quickly. These engines do not tolerate abuse for long.

Sometimes you can get a look via the oil fill cap it gets so bad you can actually see the sludge coating everything inside. Or you can pull off the valve cover and have a peek inside…see what you see…if every surface looks like it has driveway tar on it…its most likely too late. Some try to repair this issue by pulling the oil pan and cleaning the pickup screen…or scraping the sludge out of the head…but…all this IMHO is too little too late. The cylinder heads on these engines are like Swiss Watches inside…and they have complex valvetrains…w 5 Valves per cylinder instead of the now common 4… Hydraulic cam chain tensioners…VVT… Its a pretty complex cylinder head and is one of the main reasons the engines make the power that they do.

Here is but one article of Many on the subject…


VDC: Where does Car & Driver get their cars for the “long term tests”? The implication is that they were driven by a editor of the mag, or via some controlled environment. NOT that they just buy a used car, for obvious reasons.

OR, perhaps I’m misreading your post. “this car” perhaps refers, not to the Porsche, but to the Audi?

@BillRussell, C&D–like all of the car mags–gets their cars from the manufacturer, gratis. Obviously, that leaves room for…modifications…that might not be noticeable–such as when Pontiac pulled the wool over C&D’s eyes back in the '70s, by giving them a GTO whose engine had been bored-out to a significantly larger displacement. No wonder nobody else could match the acceleration times that C&D published!

The cars are driven in rotation, sort of like a car from a motor pool. Each staffer is required to note comments about the cars after driving them, and these comments are pooled and edited in order to come up with the review after–I think–about 6 months.

And, I guess that I should have been more clear with my earlier comments. Yes, I was referring to the OP’s 14 year old Audi, not to a new Porsche, when I speculated that the problem may be a build-up of sludge as a result of a negligent prior owner.

If the oil symbol is red, it is oil pressure. If it is amber with a line under it, it is the oil level sensor. The Audi owners manual suggests that if you are getting the level indicator that you check your oil every time you fill up until you get the sensor replaced.

If it is red, go to my first post.

My vote is also for checking the oil pressure with an external manual gauge.
Rhythmic ticking usually points to a valve train problem; not a piston. Oil sludging is also a very real possibility as mentioned by VDCdriver.

It’s best to do that oil pressure check and get a handle as best as possible on what’s going on as that can influence any decision on what to do with the car.

I might ask the OP whether or not the engine oil has been changed since they purchased the car.
What has been known to happen is heavyweight engine oil or additives have been used to shut up a noisy engine. Once the oil is changed with correctly specced oil those hidden problems can surface.

I just want to add that, if it turns out that this engine is clogged-up with sludge, the OP should use this as a learning experience and should never again purchase a used car unless full maintenance records for that car are available, and that they show conformance with the mfr’s maintenance schedule.

Everything in life has the potential to be a learning experience, even if the experience was an unpleasant one. In fact, we usually learn the most from having unpleasant experiences!

Here’s something important to consider

None of us except OP can actually hear the engine noise

What OP describes as a ticking, I might describe as a clunk

That is why I specifically asked if the noise was high pitched, like a ball-point pen being clicked?

Far too many times, I’ve had somebody talk about a noise, and when they bring it over for me to check out, what I’m hearing is NOT at all what they described

It’s possible the oil warning light and the ticking are not related. Suggest to resolve the oil warning light first. What I’d do in that situation is simply change the oil and filter, making sure to use an oil with the exact specifications suggested in the cars owners manual. Purchase the replacement oil filter at an Audi dealership, ask for the oil filter spec’d for you car. If the engine air filter is due also, that’s a good time to buy that, while you are there at the dealership.

This engine should not be ticking…at all. When they are running without issue they are very smooth sounding.

My GTi with the 1.8T engine with 150K miles has 95psi of oil pressure upon startup cold. When hot it never drops below 30 at idle…and runs about 70psi steady all day with Rpm’s up to 3-3500 and beyond…

It would be very advantageous to hook up a manual gauge…it can tell you an awful lot about what is going on.

It would also behoove you to look into the Oil Sludge info i posted prior…these engines are frequent victims of user abuse… They need FULL SYNTH oil…and a proper change interval from day one… That is all they ask. For some reason people have difficulty with these simple things.


It would also be advantageous for the OP to post back and let us know which light is on and update us on what he has done.