If you’re hearing loud noises from under the engine, the accessories stop working properly, or the best is visibly loose, the tensioner is a likely culprit.
This tiny wheel, located near the front of the engine, doesn’t look like much, but it does keep your entire engine running by ensuring the drive belt or serpentine belt stays taut.
The average cost of replacing a belt tensioner is $100-$400 for most vehicles. Here, you can expect to pay $10-$150 in parts and the rest is labor. Here, labor can range from 15 minutes to 3 hours depending on how your car has been designed.
The table below shows a quick price comparison of belt tensioner replacement cost estimates from reputable suppliers:
|Supplier||Belt Tensioner Cost||Labor|
Compare Car Warranty Quotes For Free & Save Big!
How Much Does a Belt Tensioner Replacement Cost?*
Replacing a belt tensioner will cost anywhere from $100 to upwards of $400.
In extreme cases, you might pay close to $1,000, if you have a specialty or performance part. But, on average, you’ll pay around $200, with half for the part and half for labor.
The following chart shows cost assessments based on different makes and models of vehicle.
|Vehicle||Belt Tensioner Cost||Labor Cost|
*Note: Prices are estimates and were correct at the time of writing (July 2022). Cost estimates may have changed since, our figures should be used as a starting point for your own research.
Belt Tensioner Replacement Cost Factors
Labor, the make and model of your vehicle, and the number of parts you have to replace will all impact the cost of replacing a belt tensioner in your vehicle.
While prices will, on average, hover around $200, that can change drastically depending on those factors.
Parts Requiring Replacement
If your belt tensioner is going out, it’s highly like you can get away with replacing just the belt tensioner pulley.
That means swapping the pulley off the assembly and putting a new one on. If that’s the case, you can likely get away with spending as little as $20 in parts for the job.
On the other hand, if you need a new assembly as well, costs go up. In addition, if your tensioner is bad, it’s highly likely you’ll have to replace the belt as well.
Depending on whether you’re replacing the drive belt or the serpentine belt, that can mean anywhere from $10-$150 in extra costs. And, some belts take time to take on and off, which adds to costs as well.
Make and Model of Vehicle
The make and model of your vehicle will impact the complexity of the job, the cost of parts, the availability of parts, and how familiar your technician is with doing the work.
So, if you have a common vehicle with easy-to-find and aftermarket parts, you’ll normally get the best possible deal for replacing the belt tensioner. If you have an older or harder-to-find car, you’ll pay more.
It’s also important to note that the belt tensioner may be easy to replace and accessible or buried under accessories. That entirely depends on the make and model of your car.
Cost of Labor
In most cases, you should expect to pay for 1-2 hours of labor to replace the belt tensioner in your car. In extreme cases, it might be more. However, on average, it will be just one.
Nationally, that means you can likely expect to pay about $100 to have the work done.
However, with rates ranging from about $15 to well over $200 depending on geographic location, licensing, and demand, costs can vary. If you know your local rates, you can better predict what your mechanic will charge.
And, of course, the hourly cost of labor doesn’t include any shop or lot fees you might pay.
The Cost of the Part
The base cost of a belt tensioner can range from $20 to well over $400. In most cases, you can expect to pay around $100 for a brand new, Original Equipment Manufacturer part.
On the other hand, you might be able to purchase an aftermarket or a refurbished part to save money.
In addition, most of the pricing listed above includes new belts in the higher price range. However, not all of it does.
Therefore, it’s always important to check with your mechanic or your Autoparts shop to see exactly what you’re getting for the money before you make the purchase.
4 Symptoms of a Bad Belt Tensioner
If your belt tensioner is going out, you’ll normally notice it quickly. Often, issues start out with noise and a rising temperature gauge in your car.
1. Weird Noises
If you’re hearing weird noises from under the hood, it’s likely the belts.
Here, you want to inspect everything. But, if you’re hearing squealing, squeaking, or flapping and thudding noises, the belts are a very likely issue.
Unfortunately, the fact that your belts are making noise doesn’t immediately point you to the issue. The problem could be debris, a bad belt, or something else entirely.
But, if you inspect the tensioner and the pully is wearing down, the belt is flopping, or the belt is too taught, the tensioner is a likely culprit.
2. Wear and Tear on the Belt
Ideally, the belt tensioner should put just enough tension on the belt to keep it taught so that it doesn’t flap and so that it pulls through smoothly.
When the tensioner isn’t doing its job, the belt may get caught, may rub, or may be loose and might snag.
In each of these cases, you’ll see unusual wear and tear on the belt. Here, it’s especially important to look for fraying and burning along the edges.
Why? If the belt is properly tensioned, all wear and tear should be on the bottom of the belt.
3. Failing Accessories
If your fan, air conditioner, water pump, or other accessories keep failing, the issue might be the belt.
Here, the problem might be a bad belt, a badly timed belt, or the tensioner. However, it is important to inspect the full system and replace anything that is damaged.
4. Overheating Car
The drive belt powers the water pump, which, in turn, supports the vehicle’s cooling. If you’re watching the heat gauge go up or you keep overheating, the issue might be the belt tensioner.
Of course, in this case, the problem could also be a dozen other issues like coolant leaks, problems with the exhaust, spark plug issues, or other issues with the combustion, but it’s important to inspect the engine and the belts to find out.
How to Replace a Belt Tensioner: 14 Steps
If you have time and tools, replacing the belt tensioner in your car is a straightforward job. Depending on your car, you should be able to do the work in 15-60 minutes depending on what you have to remove.
However, it’s important to pay attention to the belts, to make sure you get everything back in the same place. You’ll also want to check your manual for the proper tension.
Things You’ll Need:
- New drive belt tensioner or pulley
- New drive belt
- Replacement secondary belts as needed
- Ratchet and socket set
- Pulley tensioner bar
Replacing Your Belt Tensioner
- If you’re removing the belt from the engine, take a photo or otherwise map out the threading process for the belt.
- Remove any accessories you need to access the belt. Normally, you shouldn’t have to remove anything. However, fans, water lines, etc., may be in the way.
- Relieve the tension on the belt. To do so, use a long belt tension bar to loosen the nut on the tension pulley. You can also use a long ratchet.
- Then, pull the belt off the idler pulley.
- Use a ratchet and socket (usually 15mm) and loosen the bolt on the pulley.
- Remove the bolt.
- Then, remove the pulley.
- If you have to remove the tensioner pulley assembly, such as if the string tensioner is out, unbolt the assembly from the engine. Reaching this might be difficult if you don’t have a ratchet extension. You may also have to remove other pulleys to access it.
- Then, bolt the new assembly back on.
- Bolt the new tension pulley back onto the assembly.
- Replace the drive or serpentine belt as needed. Make sure you follow the original threading pattern and that you install the belt right side up.
- Check the manual to see the torque for your pulley.
- Then, tighten the center bolt to the manufacturer’s specifications.
- Double check that the engine runs as expected and does not make any noise.
In most cases, this job will be very simple. You can do it with or without a pulley bar, but you will need a very long ratchet if you don’t have it.
Otherwise, there’s not much complicated about the work.
If you still have questions about replacing your belt tensioner, this FAQ will help.
Is it hard to replace a belt tensioner?
In most cases, it’s very easy to replace the belt tensioner.
However, if you have to remove a lot of parts to replace the serpentine belt, the job may take more time than you’d expect, especially if you’re also replacing the belt.
Should I replace the belt tensioner or the pulley?
If the tension spring is still good, you don’t have to replace the tensioner itself.
If the bearings on the pulley are bad, it’s always a good idea to replace that. So, it depends on the condition of all parts involved.
How often should you replace tensioners?
Tensioners may last the full lifetime of your vehicle. In fact, on average, these last 76,000-100,000 miles.
Therefore, you should only replace them when you replace the belt or when you have a specific problem.
How do I know if my tensioner is bad?
If your tensioner is bad, the belt will sag, or it won’t have enough tension on it.
You can check the bearings to see if they make noise. You can also check the spring to see if it’s putting tension on the belt as it should. If not, it’s time for a new one.
Replacing a belt tensioner costs an average of $200 but that ranges between $100 and $400. These costs depend on your vehicle, the part, and what you’re replacing. In addition, if you do the work yourself, you could save over half, as you’ll normally pay for about an hour of your mechanic’s time to do the work.
Compare Car Warranty Quotes For Free & Save Big!