When you own a car, you have some idea of what routine maintenance means. You know to watch the gas gauge because the car won’t go without gasoline. You understand that periodic oil changes are necessary to ensure your vehicle stays operational.
But for other parts on a car, it can get a little murkier. You may have heard of the timing belt before, but how long is it supposed to last? And what does it do anyway?
A timing belt is designed to ensure everything in the engine runs smoothly. It helps keep you safe while you navigate the road.
Like other parts, it’s critical to pay attention to the health of the timing belt. If a severe problem occurs while you’re driving, it can put you and those around you at risk.
What is a timing belt?
When you think of a belt, imagine something wrapping around something else. You might include a belt to accessorize your clothing as you dress for the day.
A timing belt works in much the same way. It harnesses all of the internal moving parts of the engine together. It can also power the water pump, oil pump, and injection pump.
A timing belt is made from rubber with hard teeth that interlock with the cogwheel of the crankshaft and camshaft. It synchronizes the movement between the two, ensuring that the engine intake and exhaust valves operate correctly.
If the intake valves open too early, it can release too much fuel-air mixture into the system. This can lead to poor combustion, and limit power coming from the engine. If the exhaust valves open too early, the combustion chamber loses pressure which causes less power from the engine. If any parts operate out of sync, they risk damage as they collide.
Timing belt, timing chain, what’s the difference?
Timing belts and timing chains perform the same function. Without proper function, your engine would cease to run.
As the name suggests, the main difference between them is what they are made of. A timing chain is made from metal, whereas a timing belt is made of composite material, usually resin or rubber, and synthetic thread.
Timing chains were first developed back in the 1940s and remained the standard in vehicles into the 1960s. Reliable rubber wasn’t the norm, which made most internal parts made from metal. As time went on, rubber became more versatile and durable, which made it more practical to incorporate into a vehicle. It made the timing belt cheaper, lighter, and easier to handle.
However, rubber isn’t as durable as metal. In comparison, metal almost always outlasts rubber. This means you might be replacing rubber timing belts sooner than metal timing chains. To find out what your car has, you can check your owner’s manual for more information.
Typically, timing belts have a lifespan of around 60,000 to 90,000 miles. Timing chains are expected to last the life of the car. All of this is based on normal operating conditions.
Timing belts will be quieter than timing chains. The timing chain resembles a chain on a bicycle. It’s a sturdy metal device that will create a noticeable sound even if it’s operating correctly. That may not be a problem for some drivers, but it could be a problem if you buy a luxury car for a quiet ride. That’s where timing belts have the advantage.
While failure isn’t something that happens a lot, there is a distinct difference between the two. If a timing belt fails, it means the valves might not be properly synced, causing pistons to crash into one another. The damage can quickly rise into thousands of dollars of repair work. When a timing chain breaks, the heavy metal pieces can cause extensive damage, sometimes requiring a new engine.
For all that and more, it benefits you to pay attention to potential problems, recognize the early warning signs, and get it repaired before it fails.
Signs it’s time to replace your timing belt
Like other major parts on your vehicle, a bad timing belt will offer warning signals before failure. They can include:
Check engine light – the check engine light illuminates for many different reasons. Rather than guessing at what the problem may be, or worse, ignoring it altogether, bring your car in for a complete diagnostic test to make the necessary repairs.
Noises – a bad timing belt can make a variety of noises, depending on what’s wrong. You may notice squealing or rubbing noises as the belt makes contact with other parts. You may hear a ticking noise coming from the engine compartment. It’s similar to a roulette wheel when you spin it.
Oil – a good indicator of a bad timing belt can be with your regular oil changes. Timing chains are lubricated with motor oil. If it starts grinding against the gear, metal shavings can find their way into the oil. You’ll notice this when you change out the oil filter on your regular oil change. Timing belts have teeth on the inside that can wear down and break off. If they fall into the oil pan, they’ll clog the system. This prevents oil from circulating properly, leading to other problems such as your engine overheating.
Misfiring – both the timing belt and chain are designed to maintain precise timing within the engine. If that timing is off, your engine won’t function properly. You’ll notice the engine misfires because the valves won’t open and close as they should, or the combustion reaction isn’t calibrated correctly.
Engine won’t start – if the timing belt is broken and falls off the gears, your car won’t start. You’ll hear the starter motor engage, but the engine itself won’t turn over. The only way to deal with this situation is to tow the car in for repair.
Is your timing belt in need of repair?
Whether your vehicle operates on a timing belt or chain, if you’re reading this, you may have a problem with the way your car operates.
Before you let the condition worsen, schedule a maintenance visit today. It’s the best way to ensure you keep the repair bills to a minimum, and get your car back on the road as quickly as possible.