Timing belt: Problems and replacement cost

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Timing belt plays an important role in synchronizing the movement of engine components. It is said that “a tiny belt manages an engine ten times its size. How powerful it is!”

However, if the timing belt is worn out, it will take the entire engine down with it. So you must come to its rescue! That also means that your main concern is about the replacement cost of your dying belt.

This guide will equip you with the information given below:

Ready? Then let’s dive right into what timing belts are!

Timing belt basics

What is a timing belt?

Despite being tiny, this belt is easy to spot within an engine. It is a thin belt, made of rubber, and has ridges or teeth on it. If you stand in front of your car, you will find it on the engine’s left side.

Engines run based on the movements of the two parts – crankshaft and camshaft. A camshaft is responsible for opening and closing the engine valves inside the engine cylinders. As for a crankshaft, it controls the pistons’ upward and downward movement to help convert linear energy into rotational energy.

timing belt works
This demonstrates clearly how a timing belt works.

While running the engine, these two parts are in constant movement. Therefore, they need to move in a synchronized manner. If they are not in synchronization, the engine will be thrown off by the movement’s different timings and damage itself.

A timing belt connects the camshaft to the crankshaft to coordinate their movements. The timing of the valves’ opening and closing is corrected to be in sync with piston strokes.

The correction in the movements’ timing of the valves allows the intake of air and exhaust of gas at just the right time. This process, in turn, helps in the combustion of fuel and the production of energy.

Timing belt vs Timing chain: Which is better?

timing belt vs timing chain
Your car uses either a timing belt or a timing chain. Although they have the same function, they are also different from each other in some features.

This debate rages on among mechanics as more and more modern cars are getting fitted with timing chains. So what exactly will you miss out on if you stick with a timing belt?

 Timing beltTiming chain
MaterialReinforced rubberMetal
LocationOutside the engineInside the engine
SoundQuieterLouder
CostMore affordableMore expensive
Characteristics- Less friction and do not need to be lubricated
- Long-run fuel consumption remains low
- More friction and need to be lubricated
- Long-run fuel consumption remains high
Lifetime60,000 to 100,000 miles150,000 and 200,000 miles
TemperatureRubber is susceptible to heat damageMetal shows high resistance to temperature changes
MaintenanceTensioners and water pumps should be regularly replacedNo need for the replacement of water pumps

Timing belts

As already explained, timing belts synchronize the movement of the camshaft and crankshaft for each cylinder’s intake and exhaust strokes.

Timing belts run through a series of pulleys with belt tensioners and water pumps in place. A belt tensioner keeps proper tension on the engine belt. Belt tensioners, water pumps, and timing belts often wear out simultaneously. Therefore, it is recommended to have them replaced at the same time.

Timing chains

Timing chains look just like a bicycle chain, following a similar concept in the car’s engine. It serves the same purpose as timing belts.

Timing chains also have belt tensioners, but the oil pressure controls these tensioners. If this oil pressure becomes too low at any point, it will result in a domino effect that damages the engine.

On the bright side, timing chains have nothing to do with water pumps. So, you do not have to worry about taking on another tedious task of replacing water pumps.

Since the timing chain is placed inside the engine, it can most likely damage the entire engine if it breaks. As a result, the repair or replacement of the timing chain and the engine will not be cheap.

Which is better?

In most of the factors mentioned above, the timing belt comes out as the victorious one. It is cheaper, quieter, and low fuel consumption. Moreover, in the worst-case scenario, the engine will remain mostly unharmed.

Besides, people also choose based on their mechanical experience or skills. If you know your way around car mechanics, then a timing belt is a great pick. You will be required to follow a thorough maintenance check to monitor its condition and make the replacements if needed.

With timing chains, you will not have to worry about regular replacements. Although it can be an expensive investment, they last much longer than timing belts. To ensure it stays in good condition, just do a basic check of the chain and the oil pressure.

In the end, you will have to make your decision based on what factors you prioritize.

How often should a timing belt be replaced?

Every vehicle comes with a manual that will have its specific belt replacement interval. As a general rule of thumb, timing belts should be replaced every 60,000-100,000 miles.

No one likes to be taken for granted, and that includes your timing belt as well! When the belt does not get replaced within this replacement interval, it will break, resulting in engine failure.

Bad timing belt symptoms

Vehicles do not come with a dashboard warning light, signifying when a timing belt breaks. Nonetheless, some indicators or symptoms will let you in on the condition of your timing belt. They will either occur simultaneously or consecutively one after another.

When these symptoms occur, you should also take into consideration the timing belt replacement interval (60,000-100,000 miles). If they happen during this interval, it is definitely a sign pointing towards a bad timing belt.

Without further ado, let’s get into the most common symptoms of a failing timing belt.

Ticking sounds coming from the engine

A bad timing belt will go from being quiet to being noisy. This results in a ticking noise coming from the engine.

Odd noises are typically a sign of a drop in the oil pressure in the engine. When the timing belt is worn out, the synchronized rotation stops. This causes a collision between the belt and the camshaft. Fragments of the camshaft break and fall into the oil pan.

As a result, the fragments will lower the oil pressure which can cause engine failure.

Engine misfires

The incorrect valve timing is usually the culprit of an engine misfiring. Sometimes, a worn-out timing belt will slip on the camshaft, causing the engine cylinder to open and close out of sync. The fire rate of the engine becomes compromised.

If ignored, the gases will not be released properly, and this contributes to low compression.

Smoke/Exhaust from the engine

If you see an unusually large amount of smoke coming out, it signifies a bad timing belt. Engine cylinders come with two holes to let gases in and out. When the timing is worn out, the synchronization of the opening and closing of these holes stops. Then, the gas is let out at all the wrong times, resulting in large smoke coming out of the exhaust system.

Oil leak

Another symptom of a bad timing belt is oil leaking from the timing belt cover. This cover is positioned with tightened nuts and bolts that come loose over time. 

Oil also starts to leak when the gasket between the belt cover and the engine block wears out. This happens due to improper installation. An oil leak results in the engine overheating, thereby causing premature wear and tear of the timing belt.

Car won’t start

This symptom makes itself known after your car has already experienced the other symptoms. It is the tipping point for both your car and your timing belt.

Your engine will refuse to start if the timing belt is broken. When you try to switch on your car with your key, you may hear the starter engage. However, since the broken timing belt cannot rotate the crankshaft and camshaft, your vehicle will stay shut.

Timing belt replacement cost

When you come across these symptoms, it’s a sign to call the time of death on your timing belt. Some mechanics recommend getting an entire timing belt kit replaced instead of just the timing belt. Anyway, whatever you choose, remember to pick the best timing belts or timing belt kits.

That’s because as you install a new timing belt, you may find certain parts like pulleys or tensioners worn out. These parts will negatively impact the timing belt’s capacity, failing it within a short time period without warning.

By having a timing belt kit, you are geared in advance to overcome any such problems. Moreover, you save time and money as accessing the timing belt is not easy. So replacing it all in one go is the more sensible choice.

Replacing a timing can require a hefty investment from your side. The belt itself may not be costly, but you also have to consider the labor costs.

DIY

A DIY job is meant for people with mechanical experience. It takes hours of labor to open the timing cover, do an assessment, replace parts, and test them one by one.

If you enjoy doing repair work, then DIY is a good choice. You will end up saving big bucks! To replace your old timing belt, keep scrolling below to see the best timing belts and best timing belt kits on the market.

According to CostHelper readers report, the replacement cost when you do it yourself is as below:

PartsCost
Timing belt only$25-$80
Timing belt kit$100-$800

Go to the shop

If you are not mechanically inclined, leave it to the professionals then. The replacement costs will vary with each type of vehicle you own.

According to CostHelper readers report, the average timing belt and timing belt kit replacement cost when you bring your car to a service shop is as below:

  • Timing belt cost:
Types of vehiclesTiming beltAverage cost
A passenger car$179-$942$449
SUV or Minivan$502-$950$736
  • Timing belt kit cost:
Types of vehiclesTiming belt kitAverage cost
A passenger car$300-$1,570 $750
SUV or Minivan$610-$1,565$1,048

Besides, each shop is different in the way they replace timing belts, the cost will be also diverse. If you change the timing belt kit, the labor cost will be a little bit higher. However, as I said before, replacing all components including timing belts, belt tensioners, water pumps, etc. at the same time will help you save a hundred bucks. 

Let’s look at the table below for the reference of the timing belt replacement cost of some shops:

Service shopReplacement cost
Your Mechanic$240 – $480
Midas$300 - $700
Mr. Tire$415.96
RepairPal$551 - $685
Pep Boys$500.42

Final thoughts

This article has established the vital role that timing belts play in your car engines’ smooth running. That is why preventive maintenance is a must to avoid catastrophic engine damage due to a bad timing belt. You can do inspections yourself or get the help of a certified mechanic.

The worse situation will be able to happen. When you find bad timing belt problems, and then it fails, you need to have it replaced. The necessary thing is that you should know how much it costs you to replace the timing belt yourself or bring your car to a service shop for the replacement.

If you do it yourself, do not forget to do your own research on the top timing belts. It is also recommended that you should replace timing belts and other related components like belt tensioner, water pump, etc., at the same time. To help you find what you need for your car, we have the article about best timing belts and best timing belt kits for your reference.

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