2000 Dodge/Plymouth/Chrysler Neon Timing Belt and Tensioner Replacement
I have created this page to chronicle my changing of the timing belt and timing
belt tensioner on my 2000 Plymouth Neon. This is not meant as an authoratative
guide on how to do so. In fact, I broke many rules and did many things out of
order during the course of the work. This guide is not a complete list of
everything you must do... it's a general outline only. There are some things
that must be done that I do not mention. If you chose to follow this guide, you do
so at your own risk.
The Neon in this writeup is equipped with a mechanical timing belt tensioner. Some second generation Neons will be equipped with a hydraulic piston style tensioner, which is not shown here. For vehicles so equipped, the process will be identical except for the procedures that involve removing and installing the tensioner, and setting the timing belt tension.
The Plymouth Neon that is being worked on in this guide is a year 2000 model, manufactured in September of 1999 with 106,500 miles on the odometer, of which all since 83,000 are mine. It has the standard 2.0L inline four cylinder engine, with a five-speed manual gearbox, power steering, and air conditioning. It is not modified from stock form in any meaningful way.
All Neons from their introduction in 1994/1995 have used the same timing belt part number, but through the years there have been at least four different timing belt tensioners used, each varying in price from as low as $50.00(USD) to more than $250.00(USD). As luck would have it, the tensioner for the year 2000 model is the one with a cost of $250.00. I had theorized that I could use a tensioner from a different model year since I didn't think there had been many (if any) changes to the block casting over the years, as such changes are expensive for the manufacturer. I decided to attempt to use a tensioner specified for a year 2004 Neon, which as luck would have it, was also the least expensive of the choices... about $50.00. During the job I was also going to replace the water pump, since after I was done removing all of the parts for the timing belt and tensioner, the water pump would be freely accessible and it has about the same service interval as the timing belt itself.
You will need a rather large socket assortment to do this job, as well as a 3-jaw puller, and a T-55 Torx. Offset wrenches are a gift from the Lord also... they are quite handy to have as there are many "hidden" fasteners. You will also need an inch-pound torque wrench, and a foot-pound torque wrench capable of reading up to 100 foot-lbs. You will also need blue threadlocker (aka: Loctite). Don't use the red threadlocker: It is for things that you do not want to ever get apart again. 500+ºF temperatures are required to loosen any fasteners secured with it. The blue stuff is Service Removable, and can be sheared with hand tools and a little strength. Also, and this is important: You will be dealing with lots of fasteners that you will remove and not put back on for quite some time. If you are like me and tend to forget where you got something, LABEL EVERYTHING! You'll thank yourself later.
The first thing to do would be to secure the parking brake, and raise the front
of the vehicle and place it on jackstands, and then remove the passenger side
Then, disconnect the negative battery cable from the terminal and isolate it.
Working in the wheel well, remove all fasteners that secure the plastic splash guard and remove it. After you have done that, remove the accessory drivebelt by using a wrench to relieve tension on the tensioner. Then remove the alternator drivebelt by loosening the pivot bolts and turning the tension bolt counterclockwise until there is enough slack in the belt to remove it.
Remove the spark plugs and if you intend to re use them, place them in a clean, safe place.
At this time, you must remove the crankshaft damper/pulley assembly. There are many methods of doing this, and the method I used is NOT the way Chrysler or any professional mechanic would recommend it be done. The way it is supposed to be done is, to remove the center bolt of the crankshaft pulley, and then place a special insert into the crankshaft and then use a three-jaw puller to pull the pulley assembly off the crankshaft. Since I did not have the special insert nor did I have a way/funding to acquire it, I used an alternate method. I loosened the crankshaft pulley bolt slightly and then placed the box end of a 19mm wrench over it to keep it from threading back into the crankshaft. Then I assembled the three-jaw puller on the pulley... there are three notches in the back of the pulley for the jaws to grip onto, and began to pull the assembly off that way...
Disaster! Don't buy cheap tools
However... my three jaw puller couldn't take the pressure and the shaft bent before the pulley had even begun to move. Setback #1. I drove twenty-something miles into town in a borrowed Hyundai to buy another puller. I bought a Craftsman 6-ton 3-jaw puller of DOOM! I like Craftsman because if I break it... they don't even wanna know how I did it, they'll replace it without question.
Back in business!
I re-proceeded to remove the crankshaft pulley. When using this method of removing
the pulley it is important to keep close watch on the head of the crank bolt, which you
are pushing off of, and the surface of the pulley. There must always be space kept between
them, which means quite often you will need to remove the puller and back the bolt out a
few more turns and then keep going. Under no circumstances should you ever push
on the surface of the pulley to pull it off. The crankshaft does not pass through the
pulley, so pushing and pulling on the pulley simultaneously will only cause the destruction
of your pulley.
After continuing pulling for a while, you will find that you have run out of threads on the crankshaft bolt and now have nothing to push against. At this point you are almost finished and should be able to remove the pulley by gently prying against the block casting of the engine and the back of the pulley to "teeter" it off the crank. Do not pry against the timing belt cover... it's only plastic. Once you have removed the pulley, put the bolt back in the crankshaft with a stack of washers as a spacer/thrust bearing and tighten it down. You'll need it to turn the crankshaft later.
Then, working through the holes in the pulley, remove the three bolts that hold on the power steering pump, and remove the one bolt in the back of the pump and lift it up and set it out of the way.
Power steering out of the way
Once you have the power steering pump out of the way, remove the two bolts that
secure the rear power steering pump mounting bracket to the engine block and then remove the bracket. Then, place
a pan underneath the radiator
draincock and loosen it and let the coolant drain. I had to remove the power steering pump
first because there is no way in the world to reach the radiator draincock without doing so...
at least for me. It's still quite difficult to do even with the increased clearance, as the AC
compressor is still in the way. (Note: The previous owner of my car liked to run it over curbs,
and in doing so bent the lower radiator support... it may be easier for others to do this task
because they will have more clearance.)
Once the coolant is drained, remove the upper and lower torque struts, and pencil strut (that little metal piece that spans the lower torque strut and the frame rail.) Then, place a jack with a block of wood over the head under the oil pan and raise it just enough to take the weight off of the engine mount. THE HAYNES MANUAL LEAVES OUT THIS CRUCIAL NEXT STEP! In the passenger wheelwell there is a plastic plug, that when removed allows you access to the engine mount through-bolt. You will need a T-55 torx to remove it. It is rather tight, but it is removeable. Do not remove any of the four bolts that hold the engine mount to the frame rail. It is not necessary to do so, and if you do remove them you'll have to waste a lot of time re-aligning them later. The Haynes manual says to remove them, but it is not necessary.
Now... I consider this next step to be the hardest part of the whole operation. If you can get past this, you can easily accomplish the rest of the task. See the big aluminum plate attached to the engine? That is the engine mount plate and it must be removed, however you will probably have noticed that only one of the bolts that hold it has enough clearance to even get a wrench on it. According to AlldataDIY, the engine must be raised "slightly" in order to acquire sufficient clearance to remove the bolts.
This is "slightly???!"
By the time you have raised the engine up enough remove the bolts you will be quite scared that
you are going to break something by having the engine at that angle. Get used to it though, because
by the time you are done you will have to raise and lower the engine many times in order to
create the clearance you need for various jobs.
Once you have removed the three bolts that secure the mount plate, you have to then get it out of the confined space it is in... another highly amusing proposition. I nearly broke the timing belt cover getting it out, but I finally got it loose. Then you can remove the outer timing belt cover and you should now be able to see your timing belt, tensioner, and assorted pieces. If they are anything like mine were, they are quite filthy.
If you want to replace the serpentine belt tensioner pulley, now is a great time to do it since the job can only be performed with the engine mount plate off of the vehicle. For a writeup on how that is done, visit this page: Serpentine belt tensioner pulley replacement.
Before you remove the timing belt, find the notches in the crankshaft sprocket, and camshaft sprocket and make sure they are pointing to their respective marks on the block and cylinder head... because after you remove the timing belt you must make absolutely certain that neither the crankshaft or camshaft is allowed to move more than a couple degrees or you could damage the valvetrain.
At this point, if you are not changing the water pump you can skip the next few steps. I would recommend doing it though as the belt and pump have similar lifespans... and if the pump ever siezes it will certainly ruin the timing belt and cause lots of expensive engine damage. A good water pump will cost about as much as the timing belt, and in the long haul, is cheap insurance.
To access the water pump, the inner timing cover must first be removed. To do so, the timing belt, camshaft sprocket, and timing belt tensioner must be removed. To remove the timing belt, just release the tension on the tensioner and pull it off. To remove the tensioner, remove the two bolts at the bottom of the tensioner unit, and then pull it free from the block. In order to remove the camshaft sprocket without letting it turn too much you can take a small socket, extension, and wrench, and place it on one of the timing cover bolts behind the sprocket and hold it there to keep the sprocket from turning too much while you're loosening the bolt.
Do not let the camshaft turn!
Once you have removed the camshaft sprocket, you can remove the four small bolts that hold the inner timing cover in place. After you have removed it, you will have free access to the water pump. The water pump is held on by many small bolts. After removing them all, carefully loosen the pump from the engine and remove it.
Down to bare bones
After you have removed the water pump, you must clean the sealing surface on the block before
you install the new pump. I scrubbed and scraped it clean with a light wire brush. Be careful
not to put any deep scratches there or you might develop a leak in the future. Once the sealing
surface is clean, you can take the new pump and place the formed rubber seal into it. Then on top
of that, place a film of RTV sealant to hold it in place and then re-secure it to the block, making
sure that the seal stays in the proper place during the process. Tighten all the water pump bolts to
Another good idea while you have this degree of access to the side of the motor is to inspect the camshaft and crankshaft oil seals. If you intend to replace them, now is definitely the time to do so. I did not replace mine, so that procedure is not shown here.
After you have installed the water pump, reinstall the inner timing cover. I took time to thoroughly clean it first since I didn't want any dirt or grime contaminating my new tensioner and belt. Tighten the inner timing cover bolts to 105 inch-lbs. Then reinstall the camshaft sprocket, using the same procedure that you used to remove it to reinstall it. Put a bit of the blue threadlocker on the threads of the camshaft sprocket bolt and then tighten it to 85 foot-lbs. I took time to clean the camshaft sprocket before reinstalling it as well, as it was also very dirty.
Now, the moment of truth. If you have a mechanical tensioner, specifically a year 2000 mechanical tensioner, you should have removed it by now.
Year 2000 Tensioner vs Year 2004 Tensioner
As you can see, the two tensioners are extremely similar. The year 2000 tensioner is the pre-wound "grenade pin" style, while the 2004 tensioner, has no winding or unwinding provisions, just a simple 6mm hole with which to adjust the tension. The 2004 tensioner is a direct bolt up to the place where the 2000 tensioner used to go. Install the bolts that hold it on and tighten them to 22 foot-lbs. Make sure the hollow locator sleeves (pass through points for the engine mount bolts) are seated in their proper places.
2004 Tensioner Installed
Now, loosen the center bolt to the tensioner and take a 6mm hex key (allen wrench) and place it
into the hole in the tensioner wheel and turn it clockwise to set it to zero tension.
Now you are ready to install the timing belt. First, use the crankshaft bolt to turn the
crankshaft backwards slightly until it is three teeth before the top-dead-center mark, and then
advance it until it is a half notch before the mark. Then take your new timing belt and seat it on
the crankshaft sprocket, then up and around the water pump, then up and around the camshaft sprocket, and
then down over the tensioner. Getting the timing belt over all the sprockets, and
tensioner can be difficult, even with the tensioner set to full slack. Under no circumstances
should you ever use tools to force the belt into place. It can be done by hand, but
can be extremely frustrating. Use of tools to pry it into place can damage it.
You must take care at all times to keep ALL the slack in the belt on
the side of the tensioner. If you mess up, you'll have to start again. Once you have seated the belt,
take the 6mm hex key and rotate the tensioner pulley counterclockwise until the tension notch
lines up with the spring tang... and then while holding the tensioner at that point, tighten the
tensioner center bolt to 22 foot-lbs to secure the tension.
At this point, be sure that the marks on the camshaft and crankshaft sprockets still line up where they are supposed to, and then take a wrench and turn the crankshaft two full revolutions stopping again at the top dead center mark. At this point, if both marks still line up then you have correctly installed the belt. If not, you must release tension, remove the belt, and try again.
From this point on, you must reinstall everything you removed in reverse order, using threadlocker on all engine mounting and torque strut bolts. Torque figures are as follows: Torque strut bolts: 87 foot-lbs, crankshaft damper pulley bolt: 100 foot-lbs, engine mount bolts 85 foot-lbs (?), spark plugs: 20 foot-lbs. Always use anti-seize on spark plugs.
Note, when reinstalling the torque struts they will need to be properly aligned. You will need to place a jack under the structural collar of the engine and lift slightly to rotate the engine enough to get them into place. Then you will need to measure the distance from the center of the rearward upper torque strut mount bolt to the center of the first hole in the shock tower. For me, this hole had a clip in it to secure the windshield wash hose. The distance must be 4.7 inches, or 4 and 11/16 inches.
Measure twice, tighten once
The upper torque strut is the only one that needs adjusting.
Once you are done reinstalling everything, clean up your mess re-connect the battery and give it a go. If all went well, you'll be back in business.
If you changed the water pump, don't forget to refill your system with coolant!
After the job was completed, I went and started the car and much to my amazement it worked just fine! The only thing that baffles me is a very slight droning noise that I can't locate. I'm not certain that I didn't damage anything by having the engine at such an extreme angle. The Haynes manual says to unbolt the exhaust pipe from the manifold before undergoing this operation but I did not... So I might have bent something.
The year 2000 tensioner that I hold in my hands has very much lived up to its bad reputation. I can sit here and spin the bearing and it shows all of the signs of a bearing that is nearing its death. It squeaks, and rattles, and chatters. If I grasp it and wiggle it has lots of noticable play in it too. For now I'm going to conclude that the year 2004 tensioner is a suitable replacement for the year 2000 tensioner... The $200.00 price difference between the two was motivation enough for me to try it... but I'm sure as soon as Chrylser hears that this swap is possible, the price of tensioners will increase. (I'm a little cynical.)
Hopefully, this is of help to everyone that asked if such a swap was possible. To my knowledge I'm the first one to have tried it... or at least the first one to publicly admit I have.
Again, folks don't try this at home... if you do... you do so at your own risk.
It has come to my attention since writing this page, that not all inner timing covers are created equal. On the back of the timing belt tensioner used there is a circular raised spot that if the inner timing cover is solid will cause it to not seat properly. Since I did not observe this when I did the job, I disassembled the timing components again while I was doing my Serpentine Belt Tensioner Pulley Replacement in order to see this for myself.
Spot where the timing tensioner seats.
neons.org I read in the forums an account of someone who had to cut that hole themselves.
Raised spot on the timing belt tensioner
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Page Last Updated: 10:56 PM 7/19/2005