Replacing your timing belt is critical. Here’s why.
Because if your car has a timing belt — some have timing chains instead — and the timing belt breaks, your engine will stop running immediately. You will be left stranded without warning. And depending on your car, you’ll also be facing a expensive engine repair bill ranging from $1,600 to $2,800.
This may sound very doomsday-like, but we’d rather you be forewarned and get the facts than face the harsh reality after your car comes in on a tow truck.
What is the Timing Belt?
As the names imply, the timing belt or timing chain keeps your engine components in sync. They rotate the camshaft, controlling when the valves are opening and closing to let fuel into or exhaust gases out of the engine cylinders. They rotate the crankshaft, keeping the pistons moving up and down at the right time inside the cylinders. The difference is that a timing chain usually lasts for the life of the vehicle. But the timing belt has to be replaced periodically, typically around 90,000 or 100,000 miles.
Your timing belt is like the conductor of an orchestra or the captain of a rowing team. Imagine if the conductor leaves the stage. How do the violinists or flutists know when to start or stop? How will the percussionists know when to chime in to add momentum or quiet down for dramatic effect? Imagine if the members of the rowing team all begin to row when they feel like it, ignoring the strokes of those around them?
This is what happens to your engine when the timing belt breaks: chaos. The camshaft and crankshaft are left free wheeling. The valves are opening and closing as the camshaft spins freely; the pistons are going going up and down regardless of where the valves are in their rotation. And guess what? If your car has an interference engine, the valves and the pistons will collide. There isn’t enough space in the cylinder for a valve to be open at the same time the piston is at the top of its rotation.
In a good scenario, the piston strikes and bends a valve or two. In a worst-case scenario, a valve crashes into and ends up embedded in the top of the piston. The challenge is: You will not know how much engine damage there is until you remove the valve cover, and it’s not uncommon to have to remove the cylinder head to see the full extent of the damage. This is very expensive. After all, we’re disassembling the engine – the heart of your car.
If your car has a non-interference engine, the scenario is a little better. Your engine will stop running suddenly, and you will need a tow truck to get you home (or to the auto shop). But your engine will not suffer any damage. You will, however, need a new timing belt before you can go anywhere.
This can be an unexpected cost, and it’s not a cheap one. A new timing belt costs a minimum of $670 on a 4-cylinder engine and about $1,000 on a V6 engine. We strongly urge you to plan and budget for a new timing belt based on your vehicle’s maintenance schedule. Don’t wait for it to break, risk getting stranded, and rack up a towing bill or engine repairs on top of the timing belt cost.
How Do I Know When I Need a Timing Belt?
Unlike your serpentine or accessory drivebelts, the timing belt is not easily accessible. You cannot see it when you open the hood because it’s typically buried beneath a number of engine accessories and/or plastic covers.
Your best bet is to look at your owner’s manual and see when your car maker recommends replacing the timing belt. It is typically around 90,000 or 100,000 miles.
If you cannot find this information in your owner’s manual, call the team at John’s Auto Service. We can confirm that you have a timing belt, and if you do, we can look up the replacement interval for you.
Why Should I Choose John’s Auto Service?
Replacing the timing belt is a major undertaking. When you choose John’s Auto Service, we guarantee:
- You’ll pay a fair price for high caliber work.
- The belt will be replaced by an ASE-Certified Automotive Technician, not a newbie.
- You’ll be covered by our 2-year / 24,000-mile warranty, which covers you from coast to coast at any NAPA AutoCare Center.
What Else Should Be Done at the Same Time?
When you replace the timing belt, it’s also common to:
- Replace the water pump. On most cars, the timing belt runs the water pump, and it takes about the same amount of time to replace the timing belt and water pump as it does just the timing belt. It’s smart preventive maintenance to replace the pump while you’re in there. If you don’t and the water pump fails in the next few years, you have to pay that same labor cost all over again.
- Replace the camshaft and crankshaft seals, particularly on Hondas because they’re prone to leaking.
- Replace the hydraulic timing belt tensioner and idler pulleys.
- Replace accessory drivebelts.
- Flush the cooling system.