Symptoms of Bad Timing Chain Tensioner: All That You Need to Know

The smooth running of the engine depends on a properly functioning timing chain tensioner. If the tensioner fails, the engine’s internal components may face some problems. Thus, it seems crucial to take all symptoms of bad timing chain tensioner seriously.

The timing chain is often present in many high-displacement engines and has a longer lifespan. You can find it in front of the motor, where it gets attached to pulleys and gears. The tensioner ensures that the chain moves in at the right speed.

So, it causes the intake valve and exhaust valve to open and close at the right time. Often, when the timing chain breaks, it mostly happens due to a failing tensioner (except when it appears too old). 

This problem persists even though the chain comes made of metal and seems pretty strong. The result of a bad tensioner happens to be a malfunctioning engine, and ignoring the problem can cause further damage.

What is a Timing Chain Tensioner? 

You must be wondering how the camshaft and crankshaft of engines rotate in perfect synchronization, right? Well, that is the job of the timing chain and the tensioner. The part that supplies a sufficient amount of pressure needed for proper control of the chain is the tensioner.

You would often find the tensioner below the chain cover working so hard to ensure that the chain remains at the right position for a long while. What happens when the timing chain moves from its place? Well, the car’s performance reduces as the pistons and valves open.

The tensioner has a base that carries its other parts, such as the pulley, spring, and arm. All these components of the tensioner play significant roles in controlling the chain’s movement. In essence, if any part develops a problem, it would seem pretty difficult for the chain to remain in the right position for a long time. 

Remember, the timing chain is an essential part of the vehicle’s engine that you can find in some car models. Simply put, this chain appears to be the heart of the engines of cars, SUVs, or trucks. You may also find a few car models having the timing belt (made of nylon threads). 

Kindly note that these chains have series of links, as you may have seen in a bicycle chain. Does this sound familiar? The chain plays a significant role in the movement of the valve and pistons, as it connects the rods found within the combustion chamber.

However, the tensioner acts on the chain, applying pressure to ensure that it works in an optimal state. A timing chain tensioner failure would mean a malfunctioning chain, and any slight misalignment could lead to some engine problems

Soon, you may start hearing a timing chain tensioner noise and this is something that you should try to fix quickly. You can easily search for how to stop the timing chain noise resulting from a faulty tensioner or take the car to the mechanic.

Again, there are a few other timing chain tensioner symptoms that help signify the problem, and it is good to pick these signs soon. With that, you can conduct further diagnostic checks and work on repairing or replacing the tensioner to improve the vehicle’s performance.

how to stop timing chain noise

What are the Symptoms of a Bad Timing Chain Tensioner?

The process of a tensioner going bad seems like a pretty slow one as it does not occur overnight. Thus, the system starts leaving some clues in the form of symptoms. It is beneficial to pick on these signs early and handle the problem before it develops into something worse.

Without a doubt, the issue of a bad tensioner may become catastrophic if ignored. With that in mind, some symptoms of a bad timing chain tensioner include:

Check Engine Light 

The check engine light illuminates only when there is something wrong with the engine. In truth, many things go wrong with the timing chain tensioner failing. When the tensioner goes bad, the chain may appear loose within its connected parts, causing it to fail.

Again, the timing chain failure causes the engine to malfunction, and in extreme cases, the car would not run. Kindly note that a bad tensioner could cause the timing of the valve’s movement to exceed the stipulated limit.

Hence, the vehicle’s system needs to give off the CEL warning, which you shouldn’t ignore. Nevertheless, a few other issues may cause the check engine light on your dashboard to come on.

So, you may need to conduct a further diagnosis to be sure that the problem is due to faulty timing chain issues. The OBD2 scanner is one diagnostic tool that works pretty well for this job. You can read the warning codes to learn more about the problem.

Noisy Engine

There is often a timing chain tensioner noise from within the engine due to a failing tensioner. Kindly note that a bad tensioner makes the chain go loose and it may soon start hitting other parts. 

Hence, the noise from the engine as you drive, and this sound ranges from a knocking sound to a squeaky or chirping sound. So, you may start seeking “how to stop timing chain noise.”

Difficulties Starting the Engine

One of the main reasons why your car’s engine delays starting or wouldn’t start at all is due to a bad tensioner. You can notice this problem when you slot the key in a find the starter motor engaging but the engine wouldn’t comply.

Since there is no firm grip of the chain on the connected components, it wouldn’t cycle properly. So, the effect of this issue would cause the crankshaft and camshaft to stop rotating. Also, the opening and closing movement of the valve would come to a halt.

This sign is also one of the most common timing belt tensioner symptoms. It seems like one of the most annoying things that could happen, as you wouldn’t be able to drive the vehicle to the mechanic. Thus, you may need to hire a towing service to take the car to a service station when you notice such.

Engine Misfire

An engine misfires when there is no combustion of the fuel/air mixture within the cylinder. Nevertheless, this issue can often result from many reasons, including a lousy ignition coil, bad injectors, faulty spark plugs, low compression, fuel pressure, and a leaky intake manifold.

Still, this problem could be solely due to a failing timing chain tensioner. It is common for the valve movement to face some disturbances when the tensioner is bad. You may often find the valve opening and closing at a time that doesn’t match the piston’s time rise and fall.

With this, there would be no combustion within the cylinder, causing the engine to misfire. This problem also affects the ratio of the air-fuel mixture. Hence, the engine may stop receiving the required boost for a smooth ride.

Engine Failure

When the camshaft and crankshaft movement starts getting disturbed and the valves no longer open and close, the engine starts failing. The vehicle’s heart is the engine, and you can’t drive with a damaged engine.

If you don’t notice the common symptoms of a bad tensioner on time, you would have to deal with the “timing chain tensioner replacement cost.” Nevertheless, ignoring such issues may lead to a total engine failure, and you would be dealing with the cost of replacing the tensioner and the car’s engine.

How to Check Timing Chain Tensioner? 

The various timing chain tensioner symptoms that help tell when your tensioner starts developing faults go a long way in helping drivers. Most experienced car owners know the difficulties involved in removing the timing chain and the tensioner.

Simply put, these components need one to reach deep to get to them, and it seems natural to be sure that they are truly failing before removing them. Nevertheless, these signs are mere clues, and there is a need to confirm that the timing chain tensioner noise or shinning check engine light is due to a bad tensioner.

In essence, these symptoms can also come up when there are other problems with the car. Again, if the tensioner is truly going bad, it would seem necessary to check the extent of the damage. So, you might be wondering how to go about checking the timing chain tensioner.

Well, before your car goes through a complete timing chain tensioner failure, here is an easy way you can inspect your tensioner.

how to check for a bad timing chain

Get your car parked and open the hood.

Before you get started with anything, it would help if you park the vehicle safely and turn the engine off. You may want to allow the vehicle’s engine to cool down a bit before continuing with the process.

Then, open the hood and look through at the passenger side, where you would find a chain cover. Look at the arrangement and take a good sketch of its initial look or capture a picture with your phone’s camera. Such action would help you fix the parts right when you finish the inspection.

Work on the tensioner

Once you can find the chain, you would find the tensioner at its side, completely attached. Then, work on loosening the chain from the tensioner by moving it in the required direction. Once you do that, the chain appears loose enough, and you can easily get it removed.

Turn on the engine

Before completely removing the tensioner from its position, you want to be completely sure that it is the cause of the problem. Kindly turn on the car’s engine and listen keenly to any unusual sound.

If you can still hear strange sounds, then the fault is from the tensioner and you may want to check it further. However, ensure that you don’t run the engine excessively, as the battery wouldn’t charge when you disconnect the chain.

Get the Tensioner Removed

You can further check the tensioner on your work table, inspecting the extent of the damage. A glance through the car’s manufacturer specifications may give you some clues on how to get the tensioner out.

Further diagnosis should include testing the extent of the tension it provides using a torque wrench. If the damage requires a new timing chain tensioner replacement, you can always check the local auto store near you.

Note:  After noticing some 2.0TFSI cam chain tensioner symptoms, you can also inspect it from the passenger side underneath the car. Kindly lower the engine and navigate to the tensioner. Get the plugs out using suitable tools, and you can also check for the model number if the need arises.

Timing Chain Tensioner Replacement Cost

Replacing the damaged tensioner would be good for your engine and the car’s performance. The cost of changing the tensioner lies between $786 and $958. It seems crucial to replace the chain to save you the stress of doing so later. 

You can check for the cost of the “timing chain replacement near me.” However, the timing chain replacement costs between $1,290 and $1,550. Kindly note that this price covers the cost of the parts and the labor charges. 

The price for this task can also vary based on your location, the extent of the damage, and the service station. In essence, the Audi A4 “timing chain tensioner replacement cost” may differ from other car models. 

Again, you may ask for the specific cost of replacing the chains of specific car makes. Thus, you can search for the “Nissan timing chain replacement cost,” “timing chain replacement cost for BMW,” or the “timing chain replacement cost for Mercedes.” 

Nevertheless, since you would be changing both parts, you may get a discount from your local mechanic. If you think you can fix the parts yourself, you can purchase them from the local auto store and get started. 

Kindly note that the job may be time-consuming, as it takes 4-6 hours if handled by an expert mechanic. Thus, the cost of replacing the tensioner seems pretty costly. Nevertheless, it is worth it, and your car would have improved performance.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q: Can you drive a car with a bad timing chain tensioner?

It is unsafe for folks to drive cars with bad timing chain tensioners, as there is not enough pressure to keep the chain in place. Thus, the chain may get off soon and cause a sudden car stop, which seems dangerous for the driver and other road users.

With such a problem, if one drives at high speed, the engine may get locked up and might end up causing a brake failure. There may be complete damage with the reduced engine performance soon that leaves you stranded on the road.

Q: When should a timing chain tensioner be replaced?

After driving across 80,000 to 120,000 miles, there is a need to replace your car’s timing chain. It is recommendable for one to replace the tensioner along with the chain. Nevertheless, certain cases where the timing chain tensioner is worn out prematurely due to some factors.

You would notice some signs that tell that the chain tensioner is failing, and you can conduct a further inspection to see if there is a need for a replacement. These symptoms often include a knocking sound, check engine light turning on, and an engine misfiring.

Q: What happens if the timing chain is off by one tooth?

There is this tendency of the engine running poorly when the chain becomes off by a tooth. Simply put, this occurrence would cause the valve’s movement to appear irregular, opening and closing at the wrong time.

You may hear some ticking sounds within the engine, and the engine starts very slowly or doesn’t even start. So, it would be best to rectify this issue and make the chain run at its optimum alongside the connected parts.

Q: How to do a timing chain tensioner reset?

Resetting the tensioner involves the tightening or loosening of the spring inside the plunger. First, you need to get the tensioner out and remove the pin to activate it (get the plunger out). Using a flathead screwdriver, you should work on tightening the screw at the top.

Then, push back and fix the pin back in, ensuring that the plunger gets right out when you pull the pin.

Q: Can you tighten a timing chain?

One can adjust the timing chain and make it appear tighter or even loose. There is no exact specification when it comes to the tension for the timing chain. In essence, the decision depends on the needs of individual drivers. 

Nevertheless, tightening the chain can make it move smoothly with the pressure of the tensioner. However, the process may seem pretty challenging for some folks, but you can seek the help of a mechanic.

Final Words 

The proper functioning of the car’s engine depends on the movement of the timing chain and its connected parts. For the chain to move in a proper way, there is a need for the tensioner to work optimally. Thus, a failing tensioner would mean that the chain, crankshaft, and camshaft may stop running, causing a halt in the vale and piston movement.

A few symptoms of a bad timing chain tensioner that helps you pick on the problem quickly before further damages occur. You can look through the common signs explained in this piece and plan on replacing your damaged tensioner to make the vehicle run smoothly.


Hi There, I am R. Hasan Tito, a mechanic, and owner of this website. My friend and I created this website to share our knowledge, expertise, and experience with our fellow mechanics' community and car users. I am a specialist and certified automotive mechanic (Both Heavy Commercial and Private Cars). I have been working as a mechanic for over fifteen years. I worked for a long time at Global Rebound Automotive companies (Toyota, TATA, BMW, Nissan, TVs, and Others ) as a Mechanic and Mechanics Supervisor.

Recent Posts