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Average Harley Davidson Twin Cam 88 Cam Chain Tensioner Upgrade Cost

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If you’re like most Harley Davidson riders, you take great pride in your bike.

You want to make sure the bike’s in top condition at all times, and that means regularly performing routine maintenance and preventing catastrophic engine failure, which is what could happen if the cam chain tensioner fails on your Twin Cam 88.

In case you haven’t heard, the earlier Twin Cam 88 engines have a MASSIVE design flaw. The cam chains were made with sharp edges on the outer plates and would shred the plastic tensioner shoes.

All of those tiny plastic shavings get washed away with the engine oil and foul the oil pump. This means low oil pressure and high chance of engine failure. No bueno.

This issue was fixed in the year 2007, but if you’ve got an earlier Twin Cam 88, or are unsure whether the issue affects your Twin Cam 88, then this article is for you.

We’ll take a look at the Twin Cam 88 cam chain tensioner upgrade cost, and what you need to do to ensure your bike’s engine is protected.

Also Read: The Best Twin Cam 88 Performance Upgrades

Twin Cam 88 Cam Chain Tensioner Upgrade Cost

First, let’s talk about the cost of upgrading your cam chain tensioner.

The average Twin Cam 88 cam chain tensioner upgrade cost at a Harley Davidson dealership is $1200 to $2000 including parts and labor.

What makes up the total cost?

Well, you will obviously need the Hydraulic Cam Chain Tensioner Kit (around $500), and apart from that, you must also buy a Spacer Kit (not required for 99-00 Dyna, Touring, and Softail), Cam Service Kit, and Drive Gear Retention Kit (around $220).

Furthermore, if you’ve got a 99 Dyna or Touring, then you will also need a Splined Cam Drive Sprocket and Cam Support Plate Oil Control Kit – around $50 for both.

Now, keep in mind that this is the bare minimum – just upgrading the cam chain tensioner to a hydraulic one. However, a lot of people also replace cam bearings, cams, tappets, and pushrods.

This will increase the final cost by another $500, but it might be a good idea or even a necessity if your Twin Cam 88 has a lot of miles, plus you will save on labor costs since you have to remove the cams anyway.

As for labor, a competent dealership mechanic will be able to do the job in 4 hours, and depending on your location and shop rate, labor can cost $400 to $600.

How to Save Money on the Cam Chain Tensioner Upgrade?

If you’re short on cash, you can save quite a bit of money by avoiding the HD dealership and taking your bike to an independent shop.

In most cases, reputable indy shops will do a great job and should be familiar with this upgrade as a whole lot of Twin Cam engines are affected by this issue. In our experience, indy shops charge around $80 to $100 for 1 hour of labor, instead of $140 at dealerships.

Another way to save money on the cam chain tensioner upgrade is by doing just the bare minimum. Although it’s a good idea, you don’t necessarily need to replace cams, tappets, or pushrods – especially if they are in a good condition.

You can also save hundreds on labor by doing the upgrade yourself. It’s a difficult job, but if you’re a decent DIY mechanic, it can be done.

What Year Did Harley Use Hydraulic Cam Chain Tensioners?

Harley Davidson started using hydraulic cam chain tensioners in 2006 for their Dyna models, and in 2007 for the rest of the Twin Cam engines.

There was no cam tensioner recall for Harley Davidson Twin Cam engines, even though most mechanics do agree that the cam chain tensioner was poorly designed and used weak materials.

After Harley decided to step up their game and fixed it, the cam chain tensioner failure has become very rare.

Does a Hydraulic Cam Chain Tensioner Upgrade Completely Fix the Problem?

Now, contrary to what you might see on the internet – a hydraulic cam chain tensioner upgrade does not completely fix the problem. Of course, you are MUCH better off with the hydraulic tensioner upgrade and we 100% recommend it, but do not forget that you will still need to inspect the follower shoes from time to time.

It all comes down to the chain follower design, as it’s always pushing against the chain and maintaining proper tension. Eventually, friction will wear down the tensioner shoes and the chain, and you will have to replace them.

It might happen at 50,000 miles or 80,00 miles, depending on how well you take care of your Twin Cam 88.

If you want a completely maintenance-free solution and an actual fix, then you should consider doing a gear drive conversion.

twin cam 88 gear drive conversion

Is it expensive and more noisy? Yes, but you will no longer have to worry about the chain tensioner failing or the chain coming loose, which means you’ll save money and time in the long run.

In most cases, a hydraulic cam chain tensioner upgrade is perfectly fine, but if you want to keep your Twin Cam 88 running for a long time, then it might be a good idea to convert the chain to gear drive.

How Do You Know if Your Cam Chain Tensioner Is Bad?

The only way to know whether the cam chain tensioner on your Harley Davidson Twin Cam 88 is bad, is by opening the cam chest cover and giving it a quick visual inspection.

Doing so takes no more than 15 minutes and you can easily do it yourself, without having to pay a mechanic. We recommend doing this every oil change.

badly worn twin cam 88 cam chain tensioner shoes

A little bit of wear is not a big problem, but if you see big marks on the follower shoes, then it’s time to replace them.

Final Thoughts

Upgrading the cam chain tensioner on your Harley Davidson Twin Cam 88 is not cheap, but it’s one of the most important mods you can do to your engine.

The stock tensioner is known to fail and can cause serious damage to your engine, so we highly recommend upgrading it to a hydraulic one or to a gear drive.

Doing so will prevent your engine from destroying itself and save you money in the long run.

Did we miss something? If so, please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you.

Ride safe!

5 thoughts on “Average Harley Davidson Twin Cam 88 Cam Chain Tensioner Upgrade Cost”

  1. Great article Jake..thank you. I’ve had 6 HD’s and only one tensioner failure. I was enroute on a Eureka run from Sacramento and it began going out (if that’s possible) about 25 miles from the destination. Limped into Eureka HD and they were not up to speed on the issue. Left it with them, caught a greyhound home (another story in itself), hitched up a bike trailer the next day and went up to retrieve it. Brought it back down to my garage mech, who actually does work for HD and is awesome, and he replaced it with an S&S hydraulic system. He said a while back HD started farming their tensioner systems out to Mexico and the quality sucked. He also changed out the 211’s to S&S cams and the twin cam 88 that’s been bored and equipped with race heads in my ’05 RK 35k miles later is still cruising good. If you’re up for an Email, I do have a question for you…kind of a brain pick, and somewhat related to this same subject. Thx GD.

  2. Is it possible to tell if those tensioners are going bad by ripping the oil filter apart and looking for orange particals?

    1. Yes, it’s possible, but you won’t be able to see the actual condition of the followers. Most particles might have been flushed out with oil changes and you might see little or none this time, even though the followers are toast. You can’t know for sure without actually seeing the followers.

  3. harley should do a recall on this poor design. when their design can totally destroy you engine is not right. with big buck bikes they can afford to fix the issue and gain public support instead of anger and resentment from loyal riders that would never settle for another brand. B.S. i’m considering going backwards to an EVO

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