The timing belt is an integral part of the engine compartment. It’s a rubber belt that synchronizes movement between the camshaft and crankshaft, and ensures the valves stay freely moving and your engine continues to run.
When operating well, your timing belt helps your vehicle operate smoothly. A bad timing belt can cause problems with the way your car runs, and if left unchecked, can cease operation altogether.
How do you know if your car’s timing belt is bad?
Digging deep into timing belts
Depending on how old your car is, you may have also heard a timing belt referred to as a timing chain. A timing chain functions in the same way as a timing belt. The difference is in the location and construction.
Timing chains are made from metal, where a timing belt is constructed of reinforced rubber. Before rubber became widely used, metal parts were standard in the production of automobiles. Timing belts were introduced in the 1960s as the material became stronger, and it was less expensive to produce.
Timing chains are built within the engine, receiving lubrication from engine oil that can help it last for a long time. Timing belts are located outside the engine, and will dry out and crack over time.
While metal is noisier than rubber, improvements have been made over the past few decades to where timing chains are making a comeback in some vehicles. To find out how your car operated, you can check your owner’s manual, or speak with your mechanic the next time you get your car serviced.
While older timing chains needed replacing every 60,000 miles or so, today’s timing belts can last up to 100,000 before replacement. Many mechanics recommend that if the water pump goes out, it’s best to replace the timing belt at the same time as the belt needs to be removed in order to get to the pump.
Warning signs of a bad timing belt
As the timing belt ages, it may start offering warning signs that it’s no longer working as well as it should. To prevent the timing belt from going out while driving, ensure regular maintenance to keep oil viscosity normal and ensure all parts are fully lubricated. And watch for these signs.
A drop in oil pressure
Oil is the lifeblood of your vehicle. Without the right amount of oil, your engine will cease to operate. And that can be a very costly maintenance item. Full replacement is often the only way.
Keeping an eye on all gauges while driving can alert you to potential problems. A failing timing belt can cause oil pressure to drop. If you notice this, pull over immediately and turn off the vehicle. A failing timing belt can cause the timing of the camshaft to be off, which can cause pieces to break off and fall into the oil pan. This is the worst-case scenario. It’s not something that often happens because most people heed other warning signs first.
Broken pistons or valves
While it’s not common to have complete failure, if the camshaft and crankshaft aren’t performing correctly, the pistons and valves operate out of sync. This means they may collide with other components in the system, crack off and break.
Broken parts are never a good thing, especially in a fast moving system. Pieces can be thrown in a variety of directions, causing even more destruction. If you see sudden changes in how your vehicle operates, and hear noises that come on suddenly, pull over and turn off your engine immediately.
When you look at a timing belt, you’ll notice they have little teeth or ridges on the edges to help it move. This is to help it move between the gears, allowing it to rotate through the various components of the system. As the belt ages, these ridges smooth down, the belt becomes looser, and the gears don’t mesh in quite the same way. This process can cause the engine to idle rough. The longer this continues, it can eventually lead to the engine stalling.
As the timing belt begins to slip, it can cause a variety of problems. Slipping away from the gears causes the pistons and valves to open and close out of sync. This results in a misfire. While it can be easy to ignore, this is an indicator that the system isn’t performing up to par. If allowed to continue, you risk permanently damaging your engine.
The timing belt is in constant rotation, keeping everything moving in perfect condition. This also ensures proper air intake, including exhaust. If there is a problem anywhere in the rotation process, the system may take in too much air, or release too much exhaust. In this case, you’ll often see an unusual amount of smoke escaping as the car operates.
Prevention is key to avoiding timing belt problems
Having a timing belt go out isn’t something car owners have to experience. A little prevention goes a long way in keeping everything running well.
If your vehicle operates using a timing chain, oil viscosity is key. Use your vehicle’s suggested motor oil to ensure it’s properly lubricated. When in doubt, error on replacing your oil frequently to ensure good quality motor oil is always running through the system. Today’s lighter oils can penetrate more areas to ensure every component stays running well.
You can also have your vehicle checked from time to time to ensure the various systems and components are working well. Pay attention to manufacturer’s suggestions, replacing certain parts before they have a chance to go out.
Have you experienced a bad timing belt before?