Tensioner pulleys are partly responsible for keeping tension on your vehicle’s drive belts. They typically last for tens of thousands of miles, which makes predicting their failure rather difficult. Sudden automotive repairs are daunting, but luckily, the costs for a tensioner pulley replacement are relatively mild compared to many other repairs.
Tensioner pulley replacements cost about $150 to $200, including labor, on average. However, the actual costs can fluctuate depending on the prices paid for parts and labor rates. Often, tensioners and belts are replaced in conjunction with the pulley, which increases the cost.
The make and model of your vehicle also influence the replacement cost, but we’ll explore average pricing details down below. We’ll also help you recognize a faulty tensioner pulley and briefly explain how you can replace it yourself to cut costs.
Cost Breakdown: Tensioner Pulley Replacement
The pulley itself is part of a larger, spring-loaded mechanism that creates tension on the vehicle’s belts.
In some cases, this pulley can be replaced by itself. However, depending on the extent of the wear and the accessibility of the parts in the vehicle, a mechanic might replace the complete tensioner assembly. Given that the belts must be partially removed to carry out this repair, the belts themselves also get replaced sometimes.
Average Parts Costs for Tensioner Pulleys
Tensioner pulleys and tensioner assemblies are vehicle-specific parts, meaning the parts price will vary based on the age, make, and model of your vehicle.
That said, here are the average price ranges:
- Tensioner Pulley: $25 – $60
- Tensioner Assembly: $79 – $180
The tensioner assembly kits usually come with a replacement belt, so purchasing an entire kit is only necessary if your belt and tensioner have worn along with the pulley. This isn’t always the case, so it’s important to have the issue properly diagnosed.
Labor Costs for Tensioner Pulley Replacement
Labor rates will vary from shop to shop, but replacing a tensioner pulley isn’t a very complicated repair. Although, the difficulty level can depend heavily on the vehicle. On average, you could expect the following:
- Labor time for Tensioner Pulley: < 1 hour
- Labor Time for Complete Tensioner: 1 – 2 hours
- Labor Cost: $65 – $150
Can You Replace Just the Tensioner Pulley?
The tensioner pulley is bolted onto the tensioner mechanism, and they’re often sold as one piece at auto parts stores. However, the tensioner itself often doesn’t suffer much wear and tear, so can you replace just the pulley?
You can replace just the tensioner pulley, provided the wear doesn’t extend to other parts and the bolt to the pulley is easily accessible. Often, the pulley can be replaced very easily; however, the tensioner is secured by several bolts, as opposed to one, and it tends to be less accessible.
Not only does replacing the pulley by itself save you money on parts, but you’ll also save some money on labor.
Get a Few Repair Estimates
For both parts and labor, it’s important to get a few different quotes. If a shop is estimating significantly higher than what’s listed above, it’s unlikely that you’re getting a good deal.
Most shops will be able to supply the parts, yet you can often save money by sourcing the parts yourself.
How To Recognize a Bad Tensioner Pulley?
Here are some common ways to identify a bad tensioner pulley:
- Squeaking noises coming from the serpentine belt area
- Irregular wear on the belt
- Physical damage to the tensioner pulley
- Side-to-side movement on the pulley
- Resistance when spinning the pulley
Squeaking noises are a fairly common symptom of a tensioner pulley with extensive wear, and this is usually because the bearings go bad.
Physical wear on the outside of the pulley might also damage the belt, in which case both parts would likely need to be replaced. Lastly, any irregular movement from the pulley itself is also an indication that a replacement is necessary.
How To Recognize a Bad Tensioner?
It’s important that you aren’t installing a brand-new pulley on a bad tensioner, and all of the following are signs that this part isn’t functioning properly:
- The serpentine belt is too loose
- The belt has irregular wear
- Squeaking noises from the belt
- The tensioner spring is seized
If you press down on the serpentine belt and are able to push more than an inch, the belt is probably too loose.
Additionally, the serpentine belt drives other components, including the alternator, the compressor, and the water pump. If any of these parts fail, the tensioner might be causing issues with the belt’s performance.
Can You Replace the Tensioner Pulley Yourself?
For many vehicles, the tensioner pulley is a relatively easy part to replace, and it doesn’t require much automotive expertise.
You can replace the tensioner pulley yourself. The pulley is connected to the tensioner by a single bolt, so it’s a matter of whether or not you can access that bolt with your wrench.
Theoretically, you should be able to do this; however, accessing this piece is easier on some vehicles than on others.
If you’re confident enough to replace the pulley yourself, you would only be paying for the part. Depending on the vehicle, this would make for a very inexpensive repair.
How To Replace the Tensioner Pulley?
The tensioner pulley is located on the serpentine belt, which is often found on the passenger side of the vehicle. In many cases, you’ll be able to access the tensioner pulley from the top, and the parts and tools you will need for a replacement include:
- Ratchet and socket
- Pulley tensioner bar
- New tensioner pulley
To replace the tensioner pulley, follow these steps:
- Make sure your car is turned off.
- Use the pulley tensioner bar to relieve the tension on the belt.
- Attach the ratchet and socket to the pulley bolt.
- Loosen the bolt and remove the pulley.
- Install the new pulley and tighten the bolt.
- Use the pulley tensioner bar to put tension back on the belt.
- Start the vehicle and make sure the belt runs smoothly.
Unlike many automotive repairs, the pulley replacement is fairly straightforward. Here’s a YouTube video from ChrisFix that demonstrates the steps mentioned above:
There are a few more steps involved in replacing the complete tensioner and the belt. Due to the tensioner’s placement, it is often accessed easier from underneath the front of the vehicle. It’s still possible to replace this on your own, but it will require a bit more work.
Can You Drive on a Bad Tensioner Pulley?
Driving a vehicle with a known mechanical issue is never recommended, but some issues are more pressing than others.
You can drive on a bad tensioner pulley, however, you may not get far if the parts are severely worn. In severe cases, your serpentine belt can snap, which would eventually render your car immobile.
It might be wise to take a look underneath the hood while your car is running to see how the belt is moving. If the motion of your serpentine belt isn’t smooth, you may not want to drive the vehicle. Belts that are too loose may snap or pop off of the pulleys.
Due to how many parts rely on the belt to function properly, it’s important that any issue with the tensioner system gets addressed.
The cost of replacing the tensioner pulley can be as low as $25 if the parts for your vehicle are cheap and you complete the repairs yourself. However, a replacement could cost you upwards of $300 if you take your vehicle to a mechanic. Prices are also likely to be higher if the tensioner itself needs to be replaced.
To avoid paying more than necessary, it’s wise to check parts and labor prices at several different places so that you get the best rate.