Top 5 Symptoms of a Bad Timing Chain Tensioner

Bad Timing Chain Tensioner Symptoms

The timing chain is located at the front of the engine, just under a small access plug. This component can be easily removed without removing the entire cover.

The timing chain tensioner helps maintain the proper tension between the various parts of your vehicle's system. It can prevent failure and improve the efficiency of your water pump and alternator.

Unfortunately, faulty timing chain tensioners can lead to various mechanical issues. However, having this component replaced on time can prevent these issues from happening in the first place. But how do you know the timing chain tensioner is bad?

Let’s dive into the most common symptoms of a bad timing chain tensioner, what causes it to fail, and how to prevent a faulty timing chain tensioner.

Timing Chain Tensioner Symptoms Video

What Does a Timing Chain Tensioner Do?

There are two types of timing chain tensioners: mechanical chain tensioners and hydraulic tensioners.

A timing chain tensioner aims to ensure that the correct tension is applied to the various parts of the timing chain, such as the camshaft sprocket and the crankshaft sprocket.

As a result, the chain tensioner ensures that the chain runs smoothly and prevents it from coming off the sprockets.

It also helps protect other components such as water pumps and alternators from failure.

In cars with a timing chain, the tensioner can be located in the cylinder block of the vehicle.

The chain can absorb shock and vibration as it's driven, which helps improve its resistance to wear. The tensioner is an integral part of the entire timing chain system.

What Causes a Timing Chain Tensioner To Go Bad?

Failure to properly carry out scheduled car maintenance such as oil change can lead to a bad timing chain tensioner.

Also, wear and tear as a result of age can also lead to the same result. Another leading cause of bad timing chain tensioner is the over-extension of the timing chain.

Symptoms of Bad Timing Chain Tensioner

The timing chain tensioner doesn't go bad suddenly. Instead, it is a gradual process that happens over time, which is why it develops symptoms that can help you realize the tensioner is going bad and it might be time for a change.

These symptoms are significant because if a bad timing chain tensioner is ignored, it can cause considerable damage to the vehicle's engine.

A reactionary approach to car maintenance is a terrible one. It is best to act before significant damage is done to the engine of the said vehicle.

These bad timing chain tensioner symptoms will help you act accordingly before things worsen. The symptoms of a bad timing chain tensioner include the following;

1. A Noisy Engine

The unusual noise emanating from the engine can sometimes result from a failing timing chain tensioner.

This condition can cause the chain to go loose and eventually start hitting other parts of the vehicle's engine.

This unusual engine noise while driving can sound like a knocking or a buzzing sound.

If you experience something like this while driving, there could be a problem with your timing chain tensioner, and you must investigate it.

2. Check Engine Light

The check engine light will only come on when something is wrong with the engine.

It could be anything from a faulty timing chain tensioner to any other thing in the engine.

The chain often appears loose in the connected parts of the chain when the timing chain tensioner gets bad.

The failure of the timing chain can cause the engine to malfunction and even prevent it from running.

In extreme cases, the car would not be able to start. However, it's important to note that a bad timing chain can cause the valve to move beyond its limit.

You must conduct a further diagnosis to determine if the issue is related to the faulty timing chain tensioner.

One of the most effective ways to diagnose this issue is by using an electronic diagnostic tool such as an engine scan.

3. Engine Misfire

A misfire occurs when the engine cannot start because there is no combustion of the air and fuel mixture within the cylinder.

Some possible reasons this issue can occur are a faulty ignition coil, a leaky intake manifold, low fuel pressure, and defective spark plugs.

Although various factors can cause misfires, they can also be caused by a faulty timing chain tensioner.

For instance, if the valve moves at a time that doesn't coincide with the piston's rise and fall, this condition can prevent the combustion of the air and fuel mixture within the cylinder. This could also affect the ratio of the air-fuel mixture.

If this issue persists, the engine might not be able to deliver the boost that it needs to maintain its performance.

4. Engine Failure

If you ignore the warning signs of a faulty timing chain tensioner, you might end up with a total engine failure.

In addition to the cost of replacing the chain, you might also be dealing with other issues related to the car's engine.

The movement of the cylinder's components, such as the crankshaft and camshaft, can get disturbed and prevent the valves from closing properly. This issue can then cause the engine to fail.

5. Difficulties Starting the Engine

The failure of the timing chain tensioner can also cause the engine to delay its start.

The first sign of this issue is when you try to start the car by slotting the key in the starter motor.

If the chain is not firmly gripped to the connected components, it can prevent the cylinder from moving correctly. This issue can also affect the closing and opening movement of the valve.

The difficulty in starting the engine is arguably the most famous sign of a faulty timing chain tensioner.

If this condition persists, you might have to take the vehicle to a service station.

How Long Does the Timing Chain Tensioner Last?

The recommended lifetime of a timing chain tensioner is 80,000 to 120,000 miles. Of course, this depends on the vehicle's condition and maintenance.

In addition to regular oil changes and repairs, standard belt and chain replacements are also essential to extend the life of your vehicle's components.

How To Prevent Timing Chain Tensioners from Going Bad

As we opined earlier, it is better to adopt a proactive approach to maintenance rather than a reactionary approach.

It is always better and safer to prevent than repair. This can help avoid costly repairs and engine damage.

Having a suitable timing chain tensioner can also help prevent expensive repairs.

In addition to regular maintenance, you must watch for the signs of wear and tear in your timing chain tensioner. If these symptoms do occur, contact your local dealer.

Most experts recommend replacing all the components of the timing chain tensioner, such as the timing chain and others. Doing so will improve its life and prevent costly repairs.

How Do You Inspect the Timing Chain Tensioner?

The various symptoms of a bad timing chain tensioner can help drivers identify the issue and prevent it from happening in the first place.

The components of a good timing chain are crucial to a vehicle's performance, and it's natural to suspect that they're failing before removing them.

However, these signs are only clues. Therefore, it's essential to confirm that a bad timing chain is involved.

The symptoms of a bad timing chain may also show up when the car is experiencing other problems.

However, if the issue is severe, it's essential to check the extent of the damage.

Before your car experiences a complete failure, inspecting the timing chain tensioner is essential.

Doing so can help prevent it from happening in the first place.

Steps to inspect your timing chain tensioner:

  • Before you start the process of inspecting the timing chain, make sure that the vehicle is parked safely. Turning the engine off will allow the car to cool down a bit.
  • After opening the hood, take a good look at the passenger side. There, you may see a chain cover.
  • With your phone, take a good sketch of its initial appearance or capture a picture with your camera. Doing so can help you put the right parts at the right location when you're done.
  • After locating the chain, you would discover the timing chain's position at the side.
  • You can then remove it by loosening it using the required direction. Doing so will allow the chain to appear loose.
  • Before you remove the timing chain tensioner entirely, make sure that it's the cause of the issue by turning on the engine and listening for any unusual sounds.
  • If the unusual sounds persist, the issue may be related to the timing chain. However, it's essential to avoid running the engine too much as the car's battery might not be able to recharge after you remove the chain.
  • You can also check the timing chain's condition by looking at the car's specifications. Having a good look at the manufacturer's specifications can provide you with some helpful hints on how to remove the chain.


Finally, bad timing chain tensioner symptoms occur so that you can act fast and prevent more damage. Proper car maintenance requires you to be proactive rather than reactionary.