Has your mechanic informed you that you need to replace your timing belt, but you almost fainted when you were quoted the price for the repair? You are probably wondering if this is really necessary or if the repair shop is just trying to scam you out of some money. After all, you don’t notice anything wrong with the car and it seems to be running just fine.
Unfortunately, replacing your timing belt before it breaks is an absolutely critical maintenance item for your vehicle. A broken timing belt can lead to major problems with your engine and potentially thousands of dollars in repair bills. The other bad thing is that there are often no signs of a failure until the belt snaps as you’re driving down the highway. Keep reading as we explain what a timing belt is, how a timing belt works, how much a replacement costs, and why it is important to listen to your mechanic about this service.
What Is A Timing Belt And What Does It Do?
As you can imagine, there are numerous moving parts inside your car’s engine. Each of these parts must move at exactly the right time to avoid colliding with other moving parts. Collisions inside your engine are never good, by the way! Your timing belt plays a major role in keeping these parts all in sync without colliding into each other.
Unless you have a completely electric vehicle, then your car is equipped with an internal combustion engine. You first need to know a few basics about how these engines work to understand the critical role that your timing belt plays.
Your engine has pistons that move up and down inside the cylinders of your engine as it runs. This movement of the pistons causes the crankshaft to turn, which eventually makes your wheels turn as that power is transferred through your transmission. This happens near the bottom of your engine.
At the same time, you have valves moving up and down inside the cylinder heads at the top of your engine. As these valves open and close, they allow an air fuel mixture to be pulled into the combustion chamber. Once the fuel ignites, it pushes the piston back down into the cylinder and a valve opens to allow the exhaust fumes to escape. This is happening in each cylinder, and it happens extremely fast! This entire sequence is happening 10-50 times per second in each cylinder!
So, how do the moving pistons and valves stay in sync and not slam into each other? This is the job of the timing belt! It acts as the director or orchestrator of the little dance happening inside your engine. Your timing belt keeps each of these parts working in perfect harmony.
As the name implies, a timing belt is a rubber belt that usually has teeth for gripping on the inside circumference of the belt. The belt is attached to both the camshaft and crankshaft. It ensures that these two parts turn exactly as they are supposed to so that the pistons move as expected and the valves move as expected. Without the timing belt, there would be complete chaos inside your engine and things would not operate properly.
In most cases, if the timing belt breaks, the pistons and valve may crash into each other. This can result in catastrophic damage to your vehicle. Engines where these parts would hit together are called interference engines. However, a few engines are built so that this will not happen even if the belt breaks. These are called non-interference engines. In this case, a broken timing belt will cause your engine to have trouble running, but it’s not as likely to do major damage when it breaks because the internal parts will not hit each other.
If you open your hood and look for your timing belt, you are likely not going to see it. The belts you see there are drive belts. These may include serpentine belts, alternator belts, power steering pump belts, and other things. You will see these belts connected to pulleys on your car’s engine accessories.
Your timing belt is located inside the camshaft cover of your engine. In many cases, it is also connected to your car’s water pump, so it plays a vital part in circulating coolant and keeping your car operating at normal temperature.
Some vehicles have timing chains instead of timing belts. These are more durable and do not need to be replaced on a regular maintenance interval like a timing belt. Chains are much less likely to break and thus result in engine damage.
Now that you know what your timing belt is and what it does, let’s talk a little more about replacement intervals and pricing. Keep reading to learn when you should replace this belt and get an idea of how much it’s going to cost you.
When Should I Replace My Timing Belt?
Most vehicles have recommended intervals for replacing a timing belt. This normally ranges anywhere from 60,000 to 100,000 miles. You should consult your owner’s manual for the maintenance schedule for your vehicle. Going past the specified interval can spell bad news, as these belts can break suddenly.
In addition to a mileage recommendation, most vehicle manufacturers recommend that belts should be replaced after a certain amount of time as well. If you don’t drive your car much, it may take you years and years to reach 100,000 miles. However, since timing belts are made of rubber, they start to break down and crack over time. Generally, you should replace them every 5 years regardless of how many miles you have driven.
Symptoms Of A Bad Timing Belt
Unfortunately, there are often no warning signs that you are about to experience a timing belt failure. You are driving down the highway and suddenly – boom! Your belt breaks and internal engine parts crash together. That is never a good ending. You should know, however, that even if your engine goes kaboom you can still sell that old junk car for $500 or more to Auto Wranglers!
In some cases, you might notice something that could signal a timing belt problem. Be on the lookout for any of the following symptoms:
- Knocking sound in your engine
- Low oil pressure
- Misfires or Rough idling/running
- Engine shuts off or won’t crank
If you hear a knocking sound coming from your engine, it might be too late as your pistons and valves may already be tapping on each other. You should immediately shut off the engine and have it checked out by a mechanic. However, with the remaining symptoms, there might still be time to save your car from major damage.
Since the timing belt is connected to the crankshaft, it can result in low or loss of oil pressure if the belt starts to slip. The oil pump is usually driven by the crankshaft, so if it is not turning properly, the pressure from the pump begins to suffer. Similarly, the timing belt often drives the water pump as well. Without proper circulation of coolant through the engine, you will start to experience overheating.
We have already mentioned that each part in your engine must move at exactly the precise time or else things will not work properly. If your timing belt is slipping, then you might notice that your engine is running extremely rough. You may feel your car shaking and your engine stumbling like it is about to shut off.
Finally, if your engine does suddenly shut off and will not crank again, it could certainly be caused by a timing belt problem. Rubber timing belts can start to lose some of their teeth and begin to slip before they break. Your car might not crank at all and just make a clicking sound. Catching these warning signs early can allow you to catch the repair before major damage is done.
Timing Belt Replacement Cost
You should know right off the bat that this is not a cheap fix. In fact, replacing your timing belt is quite an expensive repair. Most auto mechanics will charge anywhere from $500 – $2,000 to replace a timing belt due to the labor costs involved with the job.
This particular car repair requires a highly skilled mechanic with special tools to complete the job. The new timing belt itself is not that expensive, usually costing less than $100. However, it requires your car’s engine to be opened up and put back together in exactly the correct way. Here is what is involved.
First, most of the drive belts must come off to access the camshaft cover. These must be removed so that the mechanic can see the position sensors located inside. This tells the mechanic the position of the camshaft and crankshaft. Before beginning disassembly, the camshaft must be rotated to the top dead center position so that the camshaft timing will be accurate upon reassembly.
Next, the timing belt tensioner must be loosened and possible idler pulleys removed if your car has those. Most auto repair shops recommend replacing other parts when performing this job. Since you are already paying for the labor, now is a good time to go ahead and replace the water pump, timing belt tensioner, and other internal parts as preventative maintenance.
Once the new parts are on, then reassembly can begin. The cams must be rotated a full 720 degrees, or two full rotations, by hand to ensure that the timing is accurate. Once everything is good, the car can be cranked and you are back on the road!
All said, the average cost of a timing belt replacement before it breaks is about $700. Some vehicles like a Honda Accord or Toyota Camry might be a little cheaper, but high-end vehicles may exceed $2,000 for this auto service. If you don’t have that kind of money laying around, you can always sell your car to Auto Wranglers for cash. We will give you a free cash offer, and you can use that money to buy a vehicle that does not need a new timing belt! We buy cars across the country, so we will buy yours wherever you are located.
Timing belts are extremely important to the proper operation of your engine. Your mechanic is actually not trying to scam you, and these belts must be replaced at regular intervals. Most times, they do not provide any warning signs before breaking, and a broken timing belt can leave you with a huge car repair bill. If you have waited too late and experienced major engine damage, then consider selling your car to Auto Wranglers. We will pay cash for your vehicle (even with a blown engine!) so that you can use that money to buy a new car with no problems!