Auto Anatomy: Rocker Arms in a Car Engine

rocker arms in a car engine

  • Working 
  • Types 
  • Rocker Arm Ratio
  • Failure Symptoms
  • FAQs

A car engine is a complex assembly of numerous components. From the crankshaft to the pistons, every part plays a specific role in the combustion and power generation. Among them, rocker arms in a car engine are a crucial component between the camshaft and the valves. They regulate the opening and closing of the engine valves at precise intervals, facilitating the engine’s combustion process. 

Here, we have penned the basic details of rocker arms in a car engine, how they work and what happens if this engine component goes bad. 

Working and Function of a Rocker Arm in Engines 

The rocker arm is a crucial link between the camshaft and the valves in an engine. It assists in the timing and control of valve operation. As the camshaft rotates, its lobes push against designated points on the rocker arm, causing it to pivot. This pivoting motion is transmitted to the car engine valves, opening and closing in sync with the combustion cycle.

In addition, during the intake stroke, the camshaft’s lobe pushes against the rocker arm. It causes it to pivot and press down on the valve. As a result, the valve opens, allowing the air-fuel mixture to enter the combustion chamber. 

During the exhaust stroke, another camshaft lobe pushes against a different point on the rocker arm. It causes it to pivot in the opposite direction. This movement closes the valve, sealing the combustion chamber and expelling the exhaust gases.

All in all, this coordination between the camshaft, valves and rocker arms in a car engine optimises performance. Any deviation in timing or movement can result in inefficient combustion, loss of power or even engine damage.

Generally, rocker arms are a part of overhead valve engines. On the other hand, overhead camshaft (OHC) engines have the camshaft mounted directly above the cylinder head. It omits the need for rocker arms.

Working and function of a Rocker Arm in Engines
Rocker arms assist in the valve operation in a car engine

Let’s now learn the different types of rocker arms. 

Types of Rocker Arms

There are several types of rocker arms commonly used in automotive engines, each with its design and application. Some of the most common types include:

Full Roller Rocker Arms

Full roller rocker arms are different from the rest, they don’t have a pivot point. Instead, they use roller bearings on both ends to reduce friction and make the valve train work better. This type of rocker arm is popular in high-performance racing engines. They help minimise friction and get the most power out of the engine.

Roller-Tipped Rocker Arms

As the name suggests, these rocker arms in a car engine have a special roller bearing at the tip that touches the valve stem. It roller reduces friction, which means less wear and tear on the parts and possibly more engine power. They’re often found in high-performance engines where reducing friction is crucial.

Shaft Rocker Arms

Shaft rocker arms are attached to a shaft that goes across the top of the cylinder head. This setup gets rid of the separate pivots for each rocker arm, which means less friction and more stable valve control. The shaft offers stability and rigidity, allowing the valve train to perform in a more controlled manner.  

Stamped Steel Rocker Arms

Stamped steel rocker arms are the most common and wallet-friendly option in many engines. They’re made from simple stamped steel, which keeps costs down without sacrificing durability. 

These rocker arms either touch the valve stem directly or use a pushrod (in engines with overhead valves) to transfer motion from the camshaft. In addition, due to their affordability and reliability, they’re a popular choice for most standard engines.

different types of Rocker Arms
Different types of rocker arms are employed in various automotive applications

Centre Pivot Rocker Arms

These types of rocker arms have a pivot point that sits right in the middle of the arm. It enhances stability in the valve train, making it more reliable than stamped steel rocker arms. While not as widespread in performance engines as other types, they’re still used in high-performance applications where precision matters.

End Pivot Rocker Arms

Also known as finger-follower rocker arms, these rocker arms have a pivot point situated at one end of the arm. They’re commonly seen in overhead cam engines, where the camshaft directly interacts with the rocker arm. Besides, these rocker arms have a compact design and can handle high-lift camshafts.

What Is a Rocker Arm Ratio?

In car engines, the rocker arm ratio (RAR) affects the valves’ lift and engine performance. It depicts how much the rocker arm boosts the movement from the camshaft. For instance, if the ratio is 1.5, the rocker arm increases the camshaft’s lift by 1.5 times. This means if the camshaft moves 0.4 inches, the valve will open 0.6 inches.

Most regular engines have ratios close to 1:1, which means they don’t change the camshaft’s lift much. However, in high-performance engines, higher ratios are used for many reasons. First, it allows the valves to open more, offering more air-fuel car ratio, which generates more power. Second, it helps the valves open and close faster, making the engine more responsive at high speeds.

In addition, higher ratios can make engines perform better, but they have some downsides. For instance, it causes more stress on the valvetrain and needs frequent maintenance.

function and ratio of a rocker arm
In car engines, the rocker arm ratio is a crucial element that affects vehicle performance

Symptoms of a Bad Engine Rocker Arm 

Rocker arms in an engine can go bad for several reasons. Over time, they can wear out from constant movement and friction. If not properly lubricated, friction can increase, causing them to wear out faster.

In addition, incorrect adjustment is also among the common causes of bad rocker arms. It leads to several problems, such as high engine temperatures and causes lifter ticks in cars. 

Here are the common symptoms of a failing rocker arm. Identifying these symptoms is crucial for maintaining engine health. 

Ticking or Tapping Noise

A tapping or ticking noise from the car engine may indicate worn or damaged rocker arms. This is especially the case if the noise correlates with engine speed.

Poor Engine Performance and Misfires

A failing rocker arm can cause inconsistent valve operation, which leads to decreased power, rough idling or causes the car engine to misfire. These symptoms indicate a problem with the engine’s valve train and should be addressed promptly to prevent further damage.

symptoms of a Bad Engine Rocker Arm like engine performance
When a rocker arm malfunctions, it affects engine performance

Excessive Valve Lash

Excessive clearance between the rocker arm and the valve stem can result in a valve lash, indicated by a tapping sound. In case left unaddressed, this condition can cause damage to both the valve and the rocker arm.

Visible Damage

Visually inspecting the rocker arms can uncover signs of wear, such as cracks or excessive wear on the contact surfaces. During the inspection, loose components may also be identified, indicating potential issues that require attention.


What do rocker arms do?

The role of the engine rocker arm is to transfer the motion from the camshaft to the valves, allowing them to open and close periodically. They convert the rotational movement of the camshaft into the vertical movement to operate the valves.

Can you drive a car with a bad rocker arm?

You should not drive a car with a bad rocker arm as it can lead to engine performance issues and cause car valve damage. 

Do DOHC engines have rocker arms?

No, DOHC (Dual Overhead Camshaft) engines do not use rocker arms. In these engines, the camshafts directly contact the valve followers to open and close the valves.

That is all on rocker arms in a car engine. It is a crucial component of the car engine and ensures optimal performance. 

However, if you are facing frequent car breakdowns and performance issues, it is time to get a new ride. You can go through these used cars for sale in the UAE that offer a bunch of options under different budgets. 

To know more about various car components and how they work, keep reading dubizzle’s autos blog. 


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