The Summit Racing tech department tackles your automotive-related conundrums. This week, we’re discussing common causes of camshaft failure and what you can do to prevent it.
Q: What causes a camshaft to fail?
A: We’ve gotten that question (or something very similar) a lot. We’ve also heard a lot of questions about camshaft installation and break-in procedure. Since proper installation and break-in go hand-in-hand with camshaft success or failure, we’ve decided to tackle it all in one post. In conjunction with the Summit Racing tech department, we’ve assembled the eight most common causes of camshaft failure:
1. Lobe wear
Lobe wear is often caused by improper lubrication during installation.
Use only the manufacturer recommended lubricant, which is generally included with the cam. This lubricant must be applied to every cam lobe surface, and to the bottom of every lifter face of all flat tappet cams. Roller tappet cams only require engine oil to be applied to the lifters and cam.
Also, apply the lubricant to the distributor drive gears on the cam and distributor.
2. Improper Break-In
After the correct break-in lubricant is applied to the cam and lifters, fill the crankcase with fresh, non-synthetic oil. Use motor oil with an engine break-in additive (ZDDP or ZINC camshaft additive), especially with flat tappet camshafts.
Prime the oil system with a priming tool and an electric drill so that all oil passages and the oil filter are full. Preset the ignition timing and prime the fuel system. Fill the cooling system. Start the engine, run it between 1,500 and 3,000 rpm, varying the rpm up and down in this range for 20 minutes. During break-in, verify that the pushrods are rotating, as this will show that the lifters are also rotating. If the lifters don’t rotate, the cam lobe and lifter will fail. Sometimes you may need to help spin the pushrod to start the rotation process.
3. Old Lifters with a New Cam
You can use new lifters on a good used cam, but never pair used lifters with a new cam.
If you are removing a good used flat tappet cam and lifters and are planning to use them again in the same (or another) engine, you must keep the lifters in the order they were removed from the cam they were on. Lifters “mate” to their specific lobes and can’t be changed. If the used lifters get mixed up, discard them, install a new set of lifters, and break in the cam again.
4. Incorrect Valve Spring Pressure
Never install valve springs without verifying the correct assembled height and pressures. Recommended valve spring pressures are as follows:
- Street-type flat tappet cams: 85-105 pounds
- Radical street flat tappet cams: 105-130 pounds
- Street-type hydraulic roller cams: 105-140 pounds
- Mechanical street roller cams: no more than 150 pounds
Race roller cams with high valve lift and spring pressure are not recommended for street use, because of a lack of oil splash onto the cam at low speed running. Springs must be assembled to the manufacturer’s recommended height.
5. Mechanical Interference
This comes in a few different forms:
- Spring coil bind: This happens when all the coils of a spring contact each other before the valve fully lifts. Valve springs should be capable of traveling at least .060 inches more than the valve lift of the cam from its assembled height.
- Retainer to seal/valve guide boss interference: At least .060 inches of clearance is required between the bottom of the retainer and the seal or the top of the valve guide when the valve is at full lift.
- Valve to piston interference. This occurs when a change in cam specs (lift, duration, or centerline) is enough to cause the valve and piston to contact. Also, increased valve size or surfacing the block and/or cylinder head may cause this problem. Minimum recommended clearances are .080-inch intake and .100-inch exhaust.
- Rocker arm slot to stud interference. As you increase valve lift, the rocker arm swings farther on its axis. Therefore, the slot in the bottom of the rocker arm may run out of travel and the end of the slot will contact the stud and stop movement. The slot in the rocker arm must be able to travel at least .060-inch more than the full lift of the valve.
6. Excessive End Play
Some engines use a thrust plate to control the forward and backward movement of the camshaft in the block. The recommended amount of end play on these types of engines is between .003- to .008-inches. Many factors can cause end play to change. When installing a new cam, timing gears, or thrust plates, be sure to verify end play after the cam bolts are torqued to factory specs. If the end play is excessive, it will cause the cam to move back in the block, causing the side of the lobe to contact an adjacent lifter.
7. Broken Dowel Pins or Keys
The dowel pin or Woodruff key does not drive the cam; the torque of the timing gear bolts against the front of the cam does. Reasons for the dowel pin or key failing are: Bolts not being torqued to correct specs, incorrect bolts of a lower grade stretching and losing torque, not using the correct hardened washer which may distort and cause torque of the bolt to change, LocTite not being used, or some interference with the cam, lifters, or connecting rods causing the cam to stop rotation.
8. Broken Cam
A broken camshaft is usually caused by a connecting rod or other rotating part coming loose and striking it. Sometimes the cam will break after a short time of use because of a crack or fracture in the cam due to rough handling during shipping or improper handling prior to installation.
On the second cause, what is the best way to confirm rotation of pushrods and lifters…once the engine has been put back together for startup?
Put a small spot of paint on the pushrod on assembly orient them all the same way l towards the front . run the engine and check not only should they be out of sequence you should be able to see rotation the best if possible using oil deflectors is to run the engine with the covers off then you get a front row seat! Just dont stare at the action so long you pump oil allover !
This has been a big problem with my olds 455. The cam lobes don’t contact the lifters fully in all locations and causes the lobe and the lifter to wear on an angle. The cam and lifter sets last about 3-4 years before causing a run issue. I’ve used additives and still have the issue.
I disagree with some info in #3 “Old lifters with a new cam” I have had several disasters switching good used cams and lifters to a new block . The blocks will vary slightly and the lifter may not hit the lobe exactly the same . I always now regrind the slight radii on the lifters on this situation to be safe when trying to switch cams and solid lifters to a different block.
I have to agree with Kevin McGuire for the most part, I have tried both ways and have had better luck with slightly regrind of lifters and have always been extremely careful to put the lifters back in there correct home.
i have built hundreds of engines and the first ones to go down are the ones i thought reusing good used parts would be fine.
In the long run new parts are cheaper if you are planning to keep the engine in service for awhile,
In my race cars I’ll reuse,in my custom builds or street use new parts.
Hellow,i have a peaugh expert E7 new shape taxi.Last month my car unfortunatelly valve has drop &cam shaft was broken,i got macanic who bilt engine i mean recondition engine.and replace my old unit to recondition unit and he give me full 6month of gurantee.Un fortunitelly with in one month time my cam shaft has broken,and i took back to same garage he said to me it cause by your old fuel pump.but my fuel pump still good working order.please some one help me in this problem.i think some thing not right since he instole that engine becouse it gives all the time smoke and engine oil leak.i continue report him.but now he looking for some extra money.give me some good advice
Sharif, we’ll need a little more info to make an attempt at diagnosing the problem. Please call Summit’s tech line at 330-630-0240. Thanks for reading!
I replaced a stock cam, lifters and heads with edelbrock Top End kit. Followed the break in procedures in the manuel. Not very happy with the performance. What are the symptoms of a bad cam???
Discúlpame, espero hables Español, si no es así intentaré hacerlo yo con mi mal Inglés, tengo un Ford 302 con 2.500 millas, todo nuevo, y lo raro es que solamente se gastó la primer alzada del árbol de levas y el botador, el resto está impecable, cuál sería la causa? Gracias
Translation for above: Excuse me, I hope to speak Spanish, if not I’ll try to do it with my bad English, I have a Ford 302 with 2,500 miles, everything new, and the strange thing is that only the first lift of the camshaft and the dumper, the rest Is impeccable, what would be the cause? Thank you
[…] 8 Causes of Camshaft Failure and How to Prevent Them […]
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I puchased 2014dodge citadel June2018. have nothing but probems; in and out of the dealership service dept. I bought warranty so that helped expenses. the engine light comes on 4x now. paid for fuel injection $175, coil $400 and now a new camshaft is installed. it is still misfiring. mechanic ordered cyclinder is on back order etc. however, i’m very frustrated with my $30K vehicle. vehicle left there november 23rd 2018; still in there.
My crankcase pump went out on my 2016 buick regal and the dealship says it caused my camshaft to crack and fracture is this true.
last month braken my cam shaft and after few dates it was broken. the garage says because of loose and pump it was broken. most of time replace the piston ,carberlater and other.whats the resons of this
I have a 2013 Sierra 1500, all maintenance has been performed at the dealership, as needed. So, I had the oil light start flashing, pulled over and the oil was at a normal range. Made it into town, took the truck to checked out at the dealership. I was informed that my truck needed an overhaul on the engine.
I asked why, they advised the Cam Shaft and Cam Lobe were falling apart, and engine needed new lifters and cam shaft.
I’m so confused, I was just there a month ago for routine maintenance, and was told all looked good.
Can someone explain to me what all this means.
This is the right site for everyone who would like to understand this topic.
You realize so much its almost hard to argue with you (not that I personally will need to?HaHa).
You certainly put a brand new spin on a subject which has been discussed for many years.
Excellent stuff, just great!. Here is my ware: best cord electric mowers agreenhand
I have lunati voodoo cam in my 408 stroker broke in half didnt bend push rods had one broken valve spring could a valve spring failure break a camshaft ?
engine had about 2000 miles on it 1 year old .
I am going to stay away from the lunati cam is crane or comp cam the better replacement ?
Cheap low quality gear bolts can also cause issues.
It’s interesting that spring coil binds occur when the coils of a spring contact each other before the valve fully lifts. My brother has been telling me about some issues that he’s been having with his camshaft recently, and I think that this could be the cause. I’ll share this information with him so that he can look into his options for professionals who can help him with this.
Can we consider camshafts as a part of engine ??
I got my new s cross got breakdown after getting my 3rd free service . They changed oil too. Within 2 weeks i got breakdown and they found only 150 ml oil from my car engine and broken camshaft… there is no leakage or rapture of any oil pipes. What are the chances of engine damage in oil deprived conditions in my car ?? I bought in Feb end 2019..
to me the Lobe wear is one of the biggest issue a camshaft can develop. but the issue is can it be refill or must be replace. well, thank for this article. looking forward to replay me
Had a mechanic install a fitech on my vintage gmc Motorhome olds 455
Rocker arm on #8 not moving , just flopping around
Pushrod is moving up and down
Running really rough, during the efi install they had huge amount of fuel in the oil, the changed oil but I think the lifters are screwed because of lack of lubrication I changed the oil again cut the filter open , no metal so I am hoping cam is ok
I need help with my 1984 ford f150 Windsor 351 so me and my brother installed to bearings and now it’s not torquing right and its trying to and is lock up the camshaft please help
2014 Buick regal the rear end of the cam broke into 4 peices. Had the exhasut solinoid replaced 1-1/2 yrs ago by dealer, than a few months ago the intake solinoid. Now I have a broken cam. How does this happen?? They said they use a hand book to determine what is wrong.
I bought a crate engine, made sure oil moving through out the push rods and rest of the engine, run the engine up and down at 1500 to 3000 for 25 minutes for break-in.with in 7 hours of running time we broke down. Pulled valve covers off and second cylinder on right, third cylinder on left were so lose, lobes on gone. Now I am wondering about there warranty,hassle and cost to me!