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OEM Chain Tensioners the Weak Link

OEM Chain Tensioners the Weak Link

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Published by Hybrid Racing

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Published by: Hybrid Racing on Aug 13, 2010
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07/10/2013

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OEM Timing Chain Tensioner — The Weak Link 
So why do you need a new timingchain tensioner? Below is an articlewe put together during the R&Dprocess to help illustrate theproblems with the OEM ten-sioner.
The timing chain tensioner is a critical component in the K-series en-gine as it prevents the timing chain from loosening, which could result infouled valve timing and possible engine damage. To understand why thechain tensioner is necessary, you need to understand what happens to thechain to make it stretch and/or loosen. When the sprocket on the crank ro- tates, it applies tension to the chain which forces the cam sprockets to ro- tate. The higher the revolutions per minute the motor is spinning at, thehigher the tension that the chain is exposed to. The size of the chain that isused on these motors is chosen to be strong enough to last for thousands ofmiles, while keeping the rotating mass of the motor as low as possible. If thechain were a smaller size, it wouldn’t last as long; if it were a larger size, theengine wouldn’t rev as quickly as it does.When enough tension is applied to a chain, it will stretch in two ways:elastic and plastic. In elastic elongation, the chain stretches while the tensionis applied and returns to its original length once the tension is removed(essentially, a temporary elongation). In plastic elongation, the chain is per-manently stretched. This stretches the chain as little as a few millionths ofan inch at a time, but can add up after the engine is run for a few thousandhours. Plastic elongation will not occur until the chain has first been elasti-cally elongated; this is because it takes more tension to plastically elongate achain than to elastically elongate it. Timing chains can also loosen and tighten due to valve springs forcing cams to rotate. What all of this means is that the chain tensioner needs to be able to take up both the temporary andpermanent slack in the chain.
 
Above is a chain tensioner that has been cut in half to expose the vitalinternal components. The tensioner in a K-series motor consists of thirteendifferent parts. There are two assemblies in the tensioner that control theflow of oil through it as well as control the force it applies to the chain guide.There is also a ratcheting mechanism that allows the tensioner piston tomove in and out while preventing the the piston from being pushed back com-pletely into the tensioner (running the risk of completely slacking the chain).The ratcheting mechanism allows the piston to move in and out about aquarter of an inch allowing the tensioner to account for slack caused by elas- tic elongation of the chain. If the piston moves out of the tensioner more than this, it will ratchet to the next tooth, allowing the piston to move back into the tensioner about a quarter of an inch, but no more, accounting for theslack caused by plastic deformation of the chain.
 
 
To the right is one of the two valves mentionedearlier. This is just a simplecheck valve that is pressedinto the chain tensioner. Itallows oil from the engine toflow into the chain tensionerand prevents it from flowingback out. It should be men- tioned that the large springshow inside of the tensionerdoes not apply the majorityof the pressure to thechain; this spring has a rela- tively low spring rate and isprimarily used to apply pressure to the chain only when the oil pressure is low(e.g., start-up, idle, etc.).The second valve, shown on the below, is a high-pressure release valve that allows oil to flow out of the tensioner through the chain guide and onto the chain, lubricating the chain as it passes the tensioner. It takes about100 psi to engage this valve and allow oil to flow. The pressure provided by the engine is insufficient to flow oil through this valve; instead, it’s the forceapplied to the tensioner by the chain during high RPMs that causes a pres-sure spike in the tensioner and consequently bleed oil to the chain.When the chain is in slack, however, the tensioner uses the oil pres-sure form the motor to extend the piston and press the chain guide tightlyagainst the chain. It should be obvious by now that the engineers at Hondaput a great deal of thought into their design and how it interacts with the tim-ing chain under different loading conditions over the chain’s life span.

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