The national cost for a timing belt tensioner replacement with CarAdvise in 2024 is between $24 and $137 with an average of $104.

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What is a timing belt tensioner and how does it work?

A timing belt tensioner is a device that places tension on the timing belt in an engine to ensure contact is maintained between the belt and the pulleys on which it rides.

In order for your engine to function properly, all of the moving parts inside must be synchronized. They need to move at just the right time and in the right relationships to one another, just like the instruments in an orchestra. Like the conductor, your timing belt serves to coordinate movement of the crankshaft, camshaft(s), intake and exhaust valves, and more.

Timing belt tensioners vary in design from one engine to the next, typically relying on spring tension. Some modern engines use hydraulic tensioners that use engine oil to self adjust automatically.


How is a a Timing Belt Tensioner Replacement done?

A significant amount of tools and training are necessary to replace a timing belt tensioner, as it is quite an involved process and one that can lead to engine damage if performed improperly.

To replace a timing belt tensioner, a technician needs to gain access to the front of the engine. This often requires lifting and supporting the vehicle in the air. Shields, guards, covers, ducts, drive belt, and even the radiator might need to be removed as well.

With those items out of the way, a typical timing belt tensioner replacement (the procedure differs from one vehicle make and model to the next) involves the following general steps:

  • Remove the water pump (on some models)
  • Detach the drive pulley on the crankshaft
  • Remove any engine accessories (AC compressor, alternator, power steering pump, etc.) that are in the way of the timing belt cover
  • Remove the valve cover(s) (on some models)
  • Unbolt and remove the timing cover from the front of the engine
  • Synchronize the timing marks on the camshaft and crankshaft pulleys and align to top dead center
  • Remove the timing belt tensioner pulley (s)
  • Dislodge the crankshaft pulley and timing belt
  • Install a new belt - usually done in tandem with the tensioner(s) - taking care to align to the timing marks
  • Install the timing belt tensioner pulleys and set belt tension
  • Reinstall all components and add fluids as necessary This abbreviated list of steps does not account for differences between engines, whether your has single or dual camshafts, the style of tensioners used, and other variables. It is common to replace not only the tensioners, but also the timing belt and even the pulleys on which the belt rides. If your engine has a water pump that is driven by the timing belt, that too will be recommended for replacement. The procedure is similar if your engine has a timing chain rather than a belt. If the procedure is not done properly, your engine could fail to run, run poorly, or suffer severe internal damage.

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National average cost of a a Timing Belt Tensioner Replacement
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How do I know if my vehicle needs a timing belt tensioner replaced?

A timing belt tensioner that is failing might give off an audible “chirping” sound that comes from the front of your engine (on the right side of the engine compartment on a front-wheel-drive vehicle). Unfortunately, a tensioner can fail without making a noise at all. When this happens, your engine might run rough. It might stall out. Or it might suffer severe damage inside. That is why vehicle manufacturers recommend that the timing belt and tensioner be replaced periodically.

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Other questions customers ask

Should you replace the tensioner when replacing the timing belt?
It is common to have the timing belt tensioner(s), idler pulleys, and even the camshaft sprockets replaced whenever the timing belt is being replaced. On an engine with an internal water pump that is driven by the timing belt, most technicians will recommend replacing the water pump at the same time, since access to that component requires most of the steps included in timing belt replacement.
What happens if a timing belt breaks while driving?
If your timing belt breaks while you are driving, at a minimum your engine will stall and fail to restart. On some engines built with extremely tight tolerances (known as “interference engines”), when the timing belt breaks, the valves and pistons collide with one another and cause catastrophic damage.
Why is replacing a timing belt tensioner so expensive?
The process of replacing a timing belt or tensioner is fairly extensive. On some vehicles, it is necessary to remove many components to access the timing belt - the alternator, power steering pump, radiator, water pump, valve cover(s), timing cover, and much more. The procedure must also be followed to the letter to ensure that the belt or chain, camshaft(s), and crankshaft are aligned properly. The time and labor involved account for most of the cost of the repair.

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