What Everybody Ought To Know About Replacing The Timing Belt

Stats show that the global timing belt market is all set to exceed $9 billion by 2025.

This massive growth could be attributed to the fact that it’s impossible to build or drive a modern vehicle without a timing belt; being a necessary piece of equipment to keep the engine running. 

Its purpose is to turn the crankshaft and camshafts in a manner that allows for the outlet and inlet valves to open and close during an engine’s intake and exhaust cycles.

Simply put, if it breaks down, your car breaks down. 

And no one likes being stranded on curbside because of a car-related issue, be it a timing belt or anything else. This is why you need to know when the timing belt is due to change.

When Should It Be Replaced?

If you want to make sure that you never have to come to an abrupt halt while driving, because of a crash of pistons or valves banging and fighting each other, try to have your vehicle’s timing belt checked and replaced regularly. 

It might be a good idea to refer to the manufacturer’s guidelines to figure out when it might need replacing. However, conventional wisdom tells us that it should ideally be after every 60,000 to 100,000 miles.

Remember, replacing the timing belt is all the more critical for second-hand vehicles because they may already be driven beyond the limit.

A word of caution: if you have a vintage car or a vehicle that’s older than a decade, know that finding and replacing the timing belt might be an outrageously expensive endeavor. 

How Long Can A Timing Belt Last?

If you have a look at the owner’s manual that came with your car or with the aftermarket timing belt, you will notice that there is a recommended period. If you keep using the timing belt after that, you are on borrowed time. 

That is unless you have been taking exceptional care of the car. With the proper upkeep and constant checks, your timing belt can go way over the recommended time limit.

Your timing belt can give you over 100,000 miles, but keep an eye on it just in case. 

How To Tell If The Timing Belt Is On Borrowed Time?

Despite the recommended life span of the belt, many at times it malfunctions or breaks way before. This is why you need to inspect it for cracks and other damages regularly.

Here are some signs that you no longer can use your current timing belt:

Brittle Or Broken Teeth

A timing belt has a notched surface, which allows it to grip gears to rotate them.  If this inner surface gets damaged for any reason — the belt may start slipping. This may cause it to fall off, and that means certain death for the engine.

But before that, a timing belt with broken teeth with slow down the engine considerably as the timing of the camshaft goes off. 

Unusual Smoke May Be A Cry For Help

A little smoke coming out of the tailpipe may not be a significant issue. However, if the smoke seems excessive, a rundown timing belt may be to blame. 

You see, each cylinder has two holes purposed to run the exhaust and to bring air in. The opening and closing of these holes are in-sync with the rotation of the camshaft and the movement of the cylinder.

A damaged or slipped away timing belt will distort the connection, leading to more smoke being emitted from the tailpipe.

Broken Valves Or Pistons

If in the off chance that your timing belt falls off altogether, the synchronization between the camshaft and crankshaft will take a toll for the worse.  

In this case, the valves and pistons will come into contact and possibly damage each other. Immediately stop the engine if these symptoms occur, and get your car checked ASAP.

Misfiring Engine

A compromised timing belt can make the firing rate of the engine go haywire, which in turn leads to one of the cylinders not opening and closing at the right time.

In this case, you have no option but to get the belt replaced at your earliest. 

Decline In Oil Pressure

A broken belt may end up cracking and breaking into pieces. These can fall into the oil pan, which in turn leads to a drop in oil pressure.

In such a scenario, the engine may get significantly damaged.

How Severe Are The Damages?

When a belt breaks down, interference and non-interference engines may react differently to it. 

The interference engine has fully open valves, and the damage can be quite significant if a timing belt breaks down — fixes and replacements might cost you’re an arm and a leg.

On the other hand, when the belt breaks on a non-interference engine, you may be able to drive the car, but that’ll only further damage it. But there is no way to stop the carnage of the interference engine. 

How Much Would A Replacement Cost?

The cost of replacement and the timing belt itself depends on the car you have. If it’s a V6 or V8 engine, expect to pay anywhere between $450 and $1,000. Whereas if you have a vehicle with a 4-cylinder engine, replacement costs can be close to $650.

Additionally, you may have to replace other hardware such as timing belt tensioner, water pump, etc. which further adds the overall cost. Though it may not be necessary to service these parts, but experts recommend it.

Concerned What Should Be Your Next Step?

The takeaway is that you cannot second guess timing belt replacements. In essence, it’s crucial to get it done at the right time to avoid inconvenience later on. 

If you are well-versed with cars, you can DIY the process to save money because timing belts don’t cost a lot, but installing them requires a considerable amount of time, and guess what, you may be charged by the hour.

However, if you have little to no knowledge of cars and its parts, we recommend you contact an expert.

Photo credit: Nor Gal/Shutterstock

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