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Timing Belt – What is it, When to Replace it, Signs of Bad Timing Belt

The timing belt is an internal engine component that links the crankshaft to the camshaft or camshafts and keeps them synchronized. The belt ensures every part of the engine runs smoothly and keeps you going on the road. Since a timing belt is a vital component to operate an engine, we should know how it works and when to change it. Today, we will answer your all queries regarding the timing belt. Let’s first understand:

What is a timing belt?

For a simple understanding, you can relate a timing belt to a bike chain. It synchronizes all the engine's moving parts and sometimes even drives the water pump, balance shaft, intermediate shaft, injection pump, and oil pump.

It is basically a rubber belt with hard teeth joining the cogwheels of the crankshaft and the camshafts. It harmonizes the movement of the crankshaft and camshafts. It makes sure the intake and exhaust valves open and close appropriately in relation to the piston’s position. In case the timing of crankshaft and camshafts goes wrong, the car will not run correctly.

When the intake valves open promptly, we might find excessive fuel-air mixture running into the engine combustion chamber, leading to inefficient combustion and power loss. On the other hand, the combustion chamber will drop the pressure and trigger a power loss if the exhaust valves open too soon. If the engine parts go out of sync excessively, they will possibly smash together and damage each other, causing expensive repairs.

For a timing belt to work correctly, it must operate under a certain tension. A few old models come with an adjustable timing belt tensioner to allow you to adjust the belt if it gets slack. The latest models use automatic timing belt tensioners that don’t require any fine-tuning. A loose belt may miss a tooth and lose its timing.

Timing Belt vs Timing Chain

Not all vehicle engines use a timing belt – some models come with a timing chain. The functionality of both is the same; the only difference is that the chain is made of metal. While a timing belt needs replacement after specific mileage, a timing chain can last for a lifetime and may not require changing.

To know if your vehicle has a timing belt or timing chain, check your owner’s manual. You can download the owner manual from your manufacturer’s website or simply ask your mechanic about it.

When should you replace the timing belt?

It is crucial to change the timing belt according to your manufacturer's recommendation. The replacement interval might differ for different models, but usually, you should change the belt from 60,000 miles to 105,000 miles (from 96,000 km to 168,000 km). Check your vehicle’s owner manual or maintenance booklet to know the recommended interval.

Since this belt is rubber made, it will deteriorate with time and finally break. When it happens, your engine won’t work, or parts may not sync properly. If you fail to change the timing belt at the suggested interval, your mill may break down completely. You will find damage to the cylinder head or camshaft, the piston and the cylinder wall.

If you have bought a used vehicle where you are unsure of the timing belt's condition, visit a mechanic for inspection. Do not hesitate to change a worn out belt; otherwise, you have to bear the expense of engine replacement.

When it is time to change your timing belt, make sure you set it correctly. Before installation, you should align the belt and synchronize the camshaft and other components with the crankshaft. Follow the repair manual; it would have all the guidelines and a drawing with timing marks. Remember, a mistake in installation can create several issues such as lack of power, vibration, misfiring, etc. You might also see a check engine light on the dashboard.

Timing belt replacement cost

Replacing a timing belt may cost you around $200 to $750, depending on the vehicle. The replacement may accompany changing of other parts as well, such as tensioner, seals idlers, etc. These will clearly add to the cost. For an estimate, we suggest you call your auto workshop or local dealer.

8 Signs That It’s Time to Replace the Timing Belt

A timing belt may break with no warning sign. While there are some minor symptoms like engine ticking noise, they are easy to miss and can be caused due to other issues too. It is why you should always change the belt according to your manufacturer's recommendation.

That said, here are some signs that tell it is time to replace the timing belt.

  1. Low engine power
  2. Overheating
  3. Vibrating or shaking
  4. Problem starting the vehicle
  5. Squealing or rubbing noises from the belts
  6. Engine’s ticking noise
  7. Oil leak near the motor
  8. Check engine light

As you visit the workshop for timing belt replacement, try changing the water pump, as well. It has the same lifespan as the belt and is effortless to get into when the timing belt is off. It will be cost-effective, saving money on labour.

Why Is Timing Belt Replacement Expensive?

As you are aware, a timing belt is a rubber component, and it is obviously not very costly. However, when you have to go for an estimate for its replacement, you might find workshops quoting you hundreds of dollars. The reason is the process of replacement is lengthy and labour-intensive.

While changing the belt, the mechanic will need to disassemble a significant segment of the engine, which obviously will require time. Before detaching the old belt, they have to analyze seals, pulleys, tensioners, and other things. Subsequently, they'll have to set precise timing and examine it to ensure the belt is working correctly.

Finally, the technician will reassemble the engine, and the whole process could take four to eight hours at least, depending on the model. As it requires extensive time and expertise, the service is more expensive than other replacements. Nonetheless, it is still less costly than reconstructing an engine.