We all know that a timing belt in a car engine needs to be replaced at recommended service intervals, but what about the timing chain? What is the difference between a timing belt and a chain?
A timing belt is a toothed belt made of high-quality rubber; it runs outside of the engine, covered by a protective cover. A timing chain is made of metal, similar to a bicycle chain. A timing chain runs inside the engine, as it needs to be lubricated by the engine oil. A timing belt typically needs to be replaced between 60,000 and 100,000 miles depending on the vehicle. A timing chain should be replaced according to the manufacturer recommendations. If you drive your vehicle aggressively, you should replace it well in advance of the manufacturer’s recommendations.
A worn timing chain, guides or chain tensioner can also cause variety of noises originating from the timing chain cover area of the engine. The timing chain noises can range from rattling to whirring, whining or buzzing. If the timing chain is worn, usually it’s replaced as a kit with a new tensioner, guides, and other parts of the chain drive mechanism. Many autos have two or even three chains in their motors and often your auto repair shop may recommend replacing all the chains at once. Prices for timing chain replacement may vary anywhere from $500 to $4,000 depending on the vehicle model.
The problem with timing chains/belts is that they often don’t show symptoms of wear and tear. Occasionally, on some engines, the timing chain will make some noise because the chain tensioner is wearing, but it takes a trained ear to hear this. In most cases, the first indication of a problem is when the chain/belt breaks and the engine seizes up. Not good.
A simple visual inspection is the best medicine. This means disassembling the engine’s front cover. Easy on some vehicles, a colossal pain in the butt on others, like some Audis, for example.
If the belt/chain is at or near its recommended service interval, we will always push hard to have the customer make the repairs. The repair typically includes the chain or belt replacement, along with new chain tensioners and while we have it all apart, a new water pump.
To lengthen the life of your timing chain, we strongly recommended frequent oil changes. It’s cheap insurance to ensure years of trouble-free motoring.
JP Euro. Servicing the greater
Dallas area since 2003.
Expected service life
Is the timing chain immune to mechanical failures? The simple answer is No, it is not. Timing chain problems are not uncommon, especially in high-mileage vehicles. Similarly to any other moving mechanical components inside any engine, a timing chain is subject to wear. A timing chain is lubricated by the engine oil. Lack of oil changes, low oil level or poor oil quality can cause the timing chain to wear faster. A timing chain is kept under proper tension by a chain tensioner. A chain tensioner could be operated by a spring-loaded mechanism or oil pressure. Chain guides and silencers are used to keep the timing chain from vibrating. All these components wear too. How do you know if the timing chain is worn? Often, if the timing chain is worn the engine may feel sluggish, low on power or have troubles starting.
Typically speaking, a timing belt is usually good for 60,000 – 100,000 miles. A timing chain is usually good for 100,000 miles depending upon frequency of oil changes and how the vehicle is operated.
One thing to remember: with today’s “zero clearance” valve-trains, if you ignore the service interval and your timing belt/timing chain breaks, your engine is toast. Kaput. Finished. Destroyed. A paperweight. And the repair for a broken timing chain will usually include a full engine rebuild.
Do not ignore factory recommended service intervals on timing chain/timing belt replacement. If you do, a $2,000 repair job can become a $10,000 repair job. Seriously.
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