We rarely hear about timing belts unless one breaks – then it’s front-page news! We tell everybody as if we had no idea it could happen to us. But your trusted repair shop sees it all the time.
Educate yourself on the timing belt to avoid an event that can destroy your entire engine.
The Timing Belt: What Is It?
Timing belts consist of rubber, polyurethane, or Kevlar. Your engine and other components work together because of their hard teeth. Some cars have chains instead of belts, but they do the same thing. You can find out what you have by checking your owner’s manual.
There is a difference between a timing belt and a serpentine belt. The timing belt, located outside the engine, is usually under a cover at the front of the engine, while a serpentine belt is inside the engine, where lubrication can occur.
An engine’s belt (or chain) synchronizes all the internal moving parts, similar to a bicycle chain. It also synchronizes the crankshaft and camshaft movements so that the intake and exhaust valves open and close in time with the pistons while powering the water pump, oil pump, and injection pump.
Timing belt teeth wear down or fall off over time, and the belt itself can eventually break due to its rubber composition. You’re lucky if you own a timing chain because they’re highly durable.
Your vehicle’s owner’s manual specifies the mileage intervals at which you should replace the timing belt. Generally, they need replacing between 60,000 and 100,000 miles.
What are the risks of not following the owner’s manual’s instructions? You’re gambling with higher repair costs.
What Are the Pitfalls?
Consider it bad luck if the belt snaps while you are driving. Although many things under the hood can fail without causing your car to malfunction, if the timing belt fails, your car will not run. There is often severe damage to the engine and other parts.
A malfunctioning timing belt will make a lot of noise as it comes apart. The engine head, camshaft, and other components can be damaged by bent valves even if the belt doesn’t break.
How Can You Prevent Disaster?
- Whenever the owner’s manual recommends replacing an item, follow it.
- Be on the lookout for signs of belt failure.
- Replace your car’s belt when recommended, or when you suspect a problem, at a reputable auto repair shop.
Do You Know What to Look For?
You are flirting with disaster the moment you observe any of these symptoms. It’s just a matter of time before the belt breaks:
- Is your engine misfiring when you drive between 2000 and 4000 rpm?
- Is your exhaust pipe giving off smoke or fumes? The problem may be difficult to recognize in the winter, but it happens when engine timing is off, and the exhaust expels at the wrong time.
- Are you suddenly using oil, or has your oil pressure dropped? Timing issues can cause the belt to break off parts of the camshaft and fall into the oil pan. It may be necessary to rebuild the engine if oil pressure decreases.
- Is the engine leaking oil suddenly, especially from the front of the motor?
- Can you hear a funny ticking, squealing, or knocking sound? Check the belt immediately!
- Does your engine seem much less powerful, or is it overheating? Are you having trouble starting your car?
- Did you get the dreaded Check Engine light?
In general, belts are not that expensive. Since many parts need to come apart to reach the belt, the actual cost is labor. A timing belt replacement could cost between $500 and $1000 if you replace it before it breaks; however, if you wait until it breaks, it can cost upwards of $2,000 or more, depending on the extent of other damage. (Take into account the cost of replacing the entire engine.)
Water pumps and belts have similar lifespans, so your mechanic may also recommend replacing the pump.
Can You Replace the Timing Belt Yourself?
It’s possible. Read the repair manual or watch a few YouTube videos before you commit to this repair. Timing belt replacement requires equipment, knowledge, and experience.
What Can You Do?
Your timing belt is not something you should leave to chance.
The importance of keeping your car road-worthy is for your benefit as well as the safety of other vehicles on the road. Maintaining your car routinely is part of being a responsible car owner.
The best time to get your timing belt checked is before it causes damage to your car or endangers you or your loved ones. Make time for your timing belt today; contact your certified mechanic.