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1Zz-Fe Timing Chain Tensioner Diy

dshadle1, January 1, 2010

Since I treated myself to all the parts, I thought I would fix my leaky valve cover gasket and timing chain tensioner while on vacation. Here is a step-by-step DIY, and I've uploaded several pics that hopefully will help others with the same tasks.

Parts Needed:

Timing Chain Tensioner - Toyota Part 13540-0D010

Valve Cover Gasket - Toyota Part 11213-0D040

Permatex Ultra Black RTV Sealant (but you can use other sealants)

Note: I have a 2001 Chevy Prizm but I buy interchangeable parts with a discount at a local Toyota dealership. Also, the Chevy dealers rarely have the stuff on hand so I don't bother. Toyota always has the parts in stock.

Tools I Needed:

3/8'' or 1/2'' drive ratchet

1/4'' drive torque wrench

10 mm deep socket (or regular extension bar)

10 mm socket

10 mm reversible ratcheting combination wrench (RRCW for short)

19 mm socket

flathead screwdriver

needlenose pliers

jack and jack stand (optional)


1-3 hours, depending on skill and speed


These instructions are general guidelines only and may not apply to your vehicle. They worked for me. I assume no responsibility if these procedures do not work for you.

Step 1: Remove Plastic Engine Cover

Remove fasteners: There are plastic retaining clips and two nuts holding down the plastic engine cover. I broke the two clips a long time ago.

Tools needed: 10 mm socket and ratchet for nuts; flathead screwdriver for clips.

Note: I have the left nut torqued so tightly on the stud it covers that the stud comes out too. This is not the case on the driver's side nut.

Step 2: Locate Timing Chain Tensioner

This question comes up a lot. The tensioner is on the back of the cylinder head near the top and on the passenger's side. It is held in by two 10 mm nuts. It has a rounded diamond shape.


The top nut:

The bottom nut:

Both nuts at an unconventional viewing angle:

Step 3: Remove Timing Chain Tensioner

Tools needed: 10 mm RRCW

This was one of the most difficult parts for me.

For the bottom nut, I could use my right hand on this one. For the top nut, I had to reach around the cruise control assembly with my left arm and use my left hand. On both, I could move the wrench only one click of the ratchet at a time, so it went by very slowly. There is probably an easier way to do this, but I moved absolutely nothing out of the way to get to the nuts. I was trying to keep this simple. It won't take too many clicks for the nuts to be loose enough for your fingers.

Once I got the second nut loose, the tensioner popped out on its own, so I had to catch the nut and the tensioner in my left hand. I then wormed the tensioner in between the A/C hoses.

Below is a picture of the old tensioner and the new tensioner. The new one is an updated model based on the part #. It also had C3 stamped on the back, as opposed to C2, which the old one had. Notice how oily and gross the old one is. Its plunger wouldn't depress all the way when I tried to fiddle around with it.

Step 4: Depress Plunger on New Tensioner and Engage the Hook

This is very simple. Lift the pawl on the side of the tensioner and depress the plunger. Then put the hook around the retaining pin.

Below is a picture of the extended old tensioner and the depressed new tensioner.


Step 5: Reinsert New Tensioner

Tools Needed: 10 mm RRCW

This is also a pain. Lube the O-ring on the new tensioner with fresh motor oil. As far as I can tell, the tensioner goes in only one way. Just to be sure, I tried to do it both ways and it wouldn't go with the hook facing down--foolproof. With the hook at the top, put the tensioner inside the hole in the cylinder head. Then tighten the nuts until they are very snug. With the 10 mm RRCW I was confident that I wouldn't overtorque it. The factory service manual specifies 80 in.-lb. of torque, but there was no way for me to measure. 80 in.-lb. for a 10 mm nut is pretty tight on a relative scale.

Step 6: Disconnect Negative Terminal from Battery

Tools Needed: None; I keep mine finger tight. You may want to use a combination wrench if it's handy.

At this point, if you don't want to fool with the valve cover gasket, skip to step 14.

Step 7: Disconnect and Remove Ignition Coils

Tools needed: 10 mm socket and ratchet; flathead screwdriver

Remove the 10 mm bolts from each of the 4 ignition coils. Then, using a flathead screwdriver to help, depress the tab and pull off the electric connectors. You may not need the screwdriver, but mine always seem to be very stiff.

Note: In the second picture you will see that I have the coils lined up in the same order that they sit in the engine. Also, there was some oil on a couple of them, which means that the valve cover gasket was failing on those spark plug tubes.

Disconnected Coils:

Coils Removed:

Step 8: Remove the Two Nuts from the Ignition Wiring Harness

Tools needed: 10 mm socket and ratchet

This is not difficult, but I always have trouble moving the harness out of the way when I'm done. This proved to be troublesome later.

Ignition Coils Removed and Wiring Harness Unhooked:


Step 9: Remove Ventilation Hose from Front of Valve Cover

Tools Needed: Needlenose pliers

Using the needlenose pliers, squeeze the hose clamp and shimmy it away from the connection. Then gently twist the hose and pull back until it comes off its male mate. If you won't remember where it goes, mark it with some tape.

Step 10: Remove Ventilation Hose from PCV Valve

Tools Needed: Needlenose pliers

This is the same procedure as Step 9. The only difference is the location of the hose. The PCV valve is located on the top rear of the driver's side of the valve cover. You don't need to remove the PCV valve from the valve cover, so I just removed the hose.

Step 11: Remove Valve Cover

Tools Needed: 10 mm socket, 12mm deep socket, 10 mm deep socket and ratchet (optional), 10 mm RRCV (optional), flathead screwdriver

There are several nuts and bolts to be removed around the edge of the valve cover and two in the middle. All but one (the long stud that also goes through the plastic engine cover) have 10 mm heads; the other has a 12 mm head. Using whatever 10 or 12 mm tools you need, unfasten the nuts/bolts.

I used a flathead screwdriver to pry off the valve cover very gently. When it finally popped, there was a massive sucking sound relieving the seal.

Notes: The nut on the lower right side (the southeast corner) also holds down a bracket for some wiring. You will need to lift this bracket to remove the cover. I also removed the bracket at the top of the valve cover that holds the cruise control/accelerator cabling in place. It was a very small 10 mm bolt. As you will see in the second pic below, my valve cover is pretty varnished. I started to clean it with brake cleaner but then gave up because it is going to get harmlessly splattered with oil regardless of how clean it is.

Location of Valve Cover Bolts:

Underside of Valve Cover:

Step 12: Remove Gasket

My valve cover gasket was stuck to the cylinder head and did not pop off with the valve cover itself. I was able to pull it off by hand but it was very very brittle around the spark plug tubes (which explains the slightly oily ignition coils. It was also very brittle around the holes where the middle bolts go through. Those holes were caked with oil in the valve cover, so I did clean those out.

Brittle Valve Cover Gasket:

Step 13: Clean Gasket Mating Surface on Cylinder Head

This was very nasty. I used my finger to push the debris away from the cylinder head (to keep any dirt from falling in) and then wiped it with a shop towel. I did this all the way around and then gently wiped around the spark plug tubes; those were pretty clean, only a little fresh oil from the failed gasket.

Gasket Mating Surface:

Remember that the purpose of the exercise is to replace the timing chain tensioner, which we haven't forgotten. In the steps that follow, we will return to the original task. This involves releasing the plunger on the tensioner by turning the crankshaft.

The Timing Chain is Loose:


Notes: My valvetrain is significantly varnished, but I have seen much worse. There was sludge to speak of, thank goodness, but the varnish is not good. This, of course, is a problem for a different day.

Step 14: Jack up Passenger Side and Remove Plastic Shield under the Passenger Side of Vehicle

Tools Needed: Jack/Stand; 10 mm socket, 10 mm deep socket, ratchet

If you are small you can do this without the jack, but it will be tight. I used the jack so I could work with plenty of room.

Note: There are 6 bolts on the cover, but two of them are different. Like the ignition coils, you should keep track of which ones go where.

Step 15: Turn Crankshaft and Check Chain Tension

Tools Needed: 19 mm socket and ratchet

In order to release the tensioner plunger and get tension on the timing chain, you need to turn the crankshaft. I had read a couple of different things--turning clockwise or first turning counterclockwise then clockwise. I started by turning clockwise about 1/16 to 1/8 of a turn (barely any motion). Nothing happened so I turned it back about the same amount. Still nothing. I gave it a good turn clockwise again (about 1/4 turn) and heard the clicks of the plunger releasing. I looked at the timing chain and saw the shiny plunger, so I knew I had succeeded. If you are good to go, lower the car and remove jack/stands.

Plunger and Taut Chain:


Step 16: Install Valve Cover Gasket

Place the valve cover gasket into the grooves of the valve cover. If you have the OEM gasket, it only goes one way. I wouldn't want to take a chance on an aftermarket gasket, as the shape of the valve cover is unique.

Valve Cover with New Gasket:


Step 17: Prepare Surface for Mating

Here you need to remove any old RTV sealant at the joint of the cylinder head and timing cover. Using your new sealant, squirt a liberal amount in the same place. I used Permatex Ultra Black RTV, but there are others out there. Time will tell if it works. The sealant will set for use in about 2 hours and fully cure in 24. Since it begins to set right away, you shouldn't dawdle between this step and the next.

Locations for Sealant:

Step 18: Seat Valve Cover

This was the most difficult part--getting everything lined up and working quickly (the FSM says you should do this within 3 minutes of squirting the RTV). Maneuvering the valve cover around the wiring harness was tricky, but I got it. There must be an easier way but I didn't take the time to figure it out.

Step 19: Torque Valve Cover Bolts

Tools Needed: 1/4'' drive Torque Wrench, 10 mm socket, 12 mm socket

This was one of the most time consuming parts. I started each bolt at 60 in.-lb. and worked in a criss-cross pattern. I'm not sure if this was the best idea, but it's how I've done gaskets in the past. I then went up to the Haynes specified torque of 89 in.-lb. The FSM for a 2003 Matrix specifies 8 ft.-lb. (or 96 in.-lb.), so in order to split the difference, I gave each bolt a small twist with my 1/2'' drive ratchet. I didn't muscle it, only with fingers at the head of the ratchet. If you are confident in your torque wrench and torque specifications, do not do this last bit.

Step 20: Installation is the Reverse of Removal

Here is where you get to work backwards. To my knowledge, all the bolts and nuts under the plastic engine cover are 80 in.-lb. The two nuts on top of the engine cover are 62 in.-lb. (or just a little less than the studs so you can take them out separately. For the bottom of the vehicle, I tighten that under cover snug but without checking torque.

Turn the key and off you go!

In order to replace the timing chain tensioner do you have to remove the valve cover to force the plunger release?

Is there a simpler way?

In order to replace the timing chain tensioner do you have to remove the valve cover to force the plunger release?


Is there a simpler way?

You certainly can do all the tensioner steps without the valve cover steps. You just won't be able to verify with your eyes that the tensioner released properly. As you turn the crankshaft, listen very very carefully for the sound of the plunger. Release it in your hands a few times before installing it so you know what it sounds like. Good luck!

Excellent write up with pics - thanks for sharing!

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