The automobile has many hundreds and thousands of parts, big and small, working within the engine bay alone. It’s therefore important that as of a car’s daily routine, these components need to work in unison with each other. Keeping in synchrony – and that will be our keyword today – ensures that an engine runs smoothly and seamlessly, without issues. When things do go wrong, this is why you need to worry about expenses such as a timing belt replacement cost.
But why is a singular belt so important? If the A/C belt goes awry, all you need to suffer is a lack of air conditioning. Well, the timing belt is more than just a matter of comfort, as its function is integral to the workings of your car’s engine. So, it’s perhaps no wonder why they can be expensive to fix, not to mention devastating if it’s not looked at in time. Should you keep biding your time before going for repairs? Well, read along our timing belt replacement cost guide to know more.
- How does it work?
- Why and when to replace
- Belt vs. Chain
- Causes of failure
Before we dive deeper into the timing belt replacement cost, we should learn more about how it all works. The timing belt is also known as the cambelt. It’s often made out of a strong rubber, which is then reinforced with high-tensile fibers like nylon or Kevlar. While the outer side of the timing belt is smooth, the inner surface has “teeth”. These teeth are what grip the gears of the camshaft and crankshaft. Speaking off, the timing belt is a very important piece of the engine.
The belt is placed usually on the front end of the engine, connecting the camshaft and the crankshaft together. A bit of a reminder of what they both do…
Mostly, you’ll see the camshaft at the top of the engine. It’s a lobed metal cylinder, where the lobes are responsible for opening and closing the valves with their rotation. The cylinder valves have two “holes”. The first is letting in a mixture of air and fuel, which is used for combustion. The other hole lets out, or exhausts, the gases from that explosion. The camshaft is therefore important in maintaining your car’s overall combustion process and moderating it carefully.
Meanwhile, the crankshaft often sits at the bottom of the engine. When combustion happens, this pushes your engine’s pistons downwards. The crankshaft hence takes the up and down movement of the pistons, which translates it into reciprocal motion. This motion carries the power of the engine, which in turn goes onto the transmission, and then to the wheels. Without the crankshaft, your car’s engine would not be able to transmit any of its power.
So, we can see then that the camshaft and crankshaft need to properly time their respective processes together. This is where our timing belt comes in. The timing belt needs to synchronize the opening and closing of the valves, as well as the up and down motion of the pistons. It’s this harmony between the valves and the pistons that ensures your engine run smoothly, and without any excess strain or wear and tear.
When To Replace Timing Belt
Okay, so why then should I worry about needing to bother to pay for a timing belt replacement? Quite simply, a lack of synchronization between the camshaft and crankshaft (i.e. the valves and the pistons) can cause a lot of problems. At the very least, it’ll result in a reduction in your car’s overall performance. More crucially, you can end up with a seriously damaged engine if your timing belt is running faulty. It can happen as your valves and pistons collide against each other.
This is among a host of other potentially costly and expensive fixes apart from the timing belt replacement cost. It’s worth bearing in mind that some newer cars use chains instead of a rubberized belt. As for how long a timing belt could last before it necessitates a complete substitution, it depends a lot on the make and model of your vehicle. In general, most manufacturers recommend a replacement of the timing belt every 60,000 to 100,000 miles, or 5 years; whichever comes first.
However, some cars require a replacement with mileage as low as 30,000 to 50,000 miles. As such, we recommend that you check your owner’s manual to make sure. Or, you could always consult with a local dealer or workshop to know when you should have it checked. In some cars, the timing belt runs a coolant (or sometimes known as the “water”) pump. This is responsible for controlling the flow of coolant in your engine. If the timing belt does fail, it could prompt your engine to overheat.
Timing Belt Vs Timing Chain
There is a common misconception that folk can interchange the term ‘timing belt’ and ‘timing chain’. We’ve even hinted about it earlier. However, there are distinct differences between a timing belt and a timing chain. It can be simplified down to their location and material. A timing belt is placed outside of the engine, while a timing chain is placed within. This means the timing chain also benefits from getting lubrication with the engine oil.
While timing belts are made from rubber, timing chains are constructed out of metal. Another key differentiator is that the timing belt can drive the coolant pump on some cars, while timing chains don’t. At first, carmakers used timing chains, before swapping them out for timing belts. This is since the rubberized timing belts were not just quieter, but also cheaper to make. In recent times though, carmakers have switched back to metal timing chains.
There are a few reasons for this. For a start, timing chains last longer and can take more stress than a rubber belt. As it receives lubrication from the engine oil to keep it cool (and its metal build) means that timing chains aren’t subject to hardening and cracking as with belts. Thus, it requires less maintenance. However, timing belts are much heavier. As such, you could only fit timing chains with higher-performance vehicles, while also having that added weight lower your fuel consumption.
What Causes A Timing Belt To Break
So then, if your car’s timing belt is so important, then how could it fail? Well, this happens for a number of reasons. Firstly, your timing belt undergoes a lot of stress every single time you fire up your engine or leave it running. Naturally, all this strain will no doubt cause a lot of wear and tear, as is the case with many other parts of your car. Moreover, the rubber compounds forming the belt itself could degrade and lose their structural integrity over time.
Sitting near the engine, the belt is exposed to a lot of heat. It can then cause the rubber to harden and crack after a while. Plus, contaminants could affect the rigidity of the belt and result in it wearing out prematurely. These contaminants could include things like debris or dirt getting mixed in with the engine oil. This is also the reason why many rubber hoses, cooling lines, or seals around the innards of your car can wear out. Timing belt replacement cost is unfortunately inevitable.
Timing Belt Symptoms
Okay, so we know now that timing belts are crucial to the running of the engine, and they will eventually need a replacement. If you’ve missed your regular service interval, there are a few other tell-tale signs that your timing belt is on its way out, just as a cautionary reminder. Note, that some of these symptoms are more serious than others. This highlights the importance of having your car sent for its routine check-up.
If worst comes to worst, and the timing belt has already failed, be sure to have it sent for a replacement immediately. Putting it off will cause more harm than good. Here are some symptoms that you can look out for to know that your car’s timing belt has failed:
Timing Belt Replacement Symptoms #1: Engine Misfiring
As we learned earlier in our timing belt replacement cost guide, the belt has teeth that grip onto the camshaft’s and crankshaft’s gears. If the timing belt is nearing the end of its usable lifespan, those teeth are often the first to get worn down. In this case, the belt would be smooth along the inner lining. This could thus cause the belt to slip off the gears and sometimes fall onto the camshaft.
When this happens, it could result in one of your car’s cylinders opening and closing earlier than it should. The effect is your engine misfiring. A misfire is actually among the least serious symptoms that you could suffer. It can signal that although your timing belt is failing, there’s still a little bit of time before it breaks completely. You should wisely use the time to get to a nearby workshop pronto before it breaks and you end up with a bigger repair bill.
Timing Belt Replacement Symptoms #2: Rough Idling
Here, you can feel your car idling a bit rougher than usual, or sometimes idling at rather odd RPMs. Alternatively, your car might warn you with a handy little but nonetheless worrying ‘check engine light‘. For timing belts, this symptom could narrow us down to the teeth of the belt once again. If those rubber teeth were to wear out and fall off altogether, your car’s camshaft and crankshaft could slip.
It simply means that your car wouldn’t idle or drive as smoothly as it did before. You might even feel a sudden and momentary loss of power, or the car stalling completely. This is all down to poor timing, as the timing belt isn’t able to maintain a harmonious synchronization between the movement of the engine’s valve and pistons.
Timing Belt Replacement Symptoms #3: Excessive Amounts Of Smoke
In colder temperatures, it’s normal to see some smoke or fog come from the exhaust. However, seeing too much smoke from the exhaust, and more concerningly the engine, is an indication of timing belt failure. The timing belt is responsible for moderating the opening and closing of your engine’s valves. As we learned so far in our timing belt replacement cost overview, this operation has two functions.
Not only is controlling the valves important for letting in air and fuel to burn, but also for exhausting gasses as a result of that combustion. When the timing belt fails, the exhaust (or outlet) valve opens and closes at the wrong times. This results in a large amount of smoke leaving the exhaust, likely due to improper or incomplete combustion. Your engine will no longer offer you the performance as it once did, and it could cause long-term damage to the motor.
Timing Belt Replacement Symptoms #4: Drop In Oil Pressure
Now we can get to the more serious symptoms of failure in our timing belt replacement cost guide. Remember, the timing belt along with the gears of the crankshaft. If the timing belt breaks, it can damage the crankshaft itself. As a result of this, small fragments of the crankshaft of break off. Having these chunks and pieces taken off the crankshaft is bad enough, but they could also fall down to the bottom of the oil pan.
This is even worse, as the fragments could clump together and block the hoses responsible for carrying engine oil. By suffocating the flow of engine oil, it can cause a drop in oil pressure, which you can see through your instrument cluster. The drop in oil pressure could end up in a catastrophic engine failure. The only way to fix this is through a complete engine rebuild; in other words, replacing the whole motor.
Timing Belt Replacement Symptoms #5: Damaged Pistons Or Valves
This is no doubt the most serious tell-tale sign of timing belt failure you could ever experience. You can hear this happen through very odd, unpleasant noises from the engine bay. In that case, we recommend you turn off your engine immediately if you hear these sounds, or feel a sudden loss of power. A faulty timing belt could see the pistons and valves colliding against one another. Once they start hitting each other, it can result in significant internal damage.
One thing to note; just because the timing belt snaps off or if the teeth have worn down, that doesn’t mean that the camshaft and crankshaft stop turning. The valves could bend, as well as the crankshaft bearings take the brunt of the damage. Other parts of the cylinder head such as the rocker arms or push rods could also break because of this. Although a common timing belt replacement cost isn’t cheap, it’s far cheaper than having to rework much of the engine.
How Much Is A Timing Belt
Now, we can get to the meat of our timing belt replacement cost guide, and talk about money. As far as raw material goes, a timing belt is actually quite cheap in comparison. That strip or high-tensile fibers and strengthened rubber only cost around $50. However, the labor costs will add on top of that by at least a couple or a few hundred. This is given the time and complexity it takes to not just remove the timing belt, but also readjust the timing on your car.
Depending on your car then, the costs will vary. Older, more common, or economy cars are often much simpler to work on. This helps us to reduce the amount of time it takes to work on the timing belt, and hence reduced labor costs. You could be paying at the very least $300 for the timing belt replacement cost, though this could raise upwards of $500. For most cars though, $500 should be the baseline that you can expect, at the very least.
However, if you own a luxury car, or a vehicle designed to be higher performant or heavy-duty, then these will be harder to work on. So, expect to pay a timing belt replacement cost of $1,000, all the way up to $2,000 or more. There are other variables to consider as well, such as the layout of the engine. For many front-wheel-drive cars, the engine might be mounted transversely, or sideways. This can make it more difficult to change the timing belt, as the “front” of the engine is squeezed in with other components.
But wait, there’s more! The unfortunate news here is that there’s usually more than needs to be done alongside simply replacing the timing belt. This would naturally ramp up your repair bill by quite a bit, but it’s still a far cry from having to spend thousands on rebuilding your engine. So, it’s a price worth paying for. The first thing you should consider is having your coolant (or water) pump replaced, as recommended by a lot of technicians.
How Much Does It Cost To Replace A Timing Belt
However, don’t be alarmed as coolant pumps are serviceable items, meaning they won’t necessarily require a complete one-to-one replacement. Coolant pumps can wear out over time, and spring a leak. This is bad, as it could leak coolant onto the timing belt, which will cause it to degrade the rubber. This leads us back to our cycle of timing belt problems all over again. Coolant pumps are usually around $200 or so to replace on top of your timing belt replacement cost.
But if you ask us, these are expenses worth paying for to make sure you prevent repeated or larger problems from cropping up. There are also other parts here that you should consider replacing at the same time as the timing belt. Crucially, the belt has a series of tensioner and idler bearings. These are what help to guide and drive the belt properly. These could wear out too, so it’s worth looking at having them replaced.
So far then, we can see that there are a lot of variables at play when it comes to calculating the final timing belt replacement cost. If your car has a timing chain instead of a timing belt, then brace yourself for having to pay a bit more extra. We can’t give you an exact estimate, but you could ring up a local nearby workshop or dealership to enquire as to how much it’ll cost. It’s worth reminding you that dealers, while they may use original and quality OEM parts, are more expensive.
Or, you could use one of many online websites to get quotes for the timing belt replacement cost. These are sites such as YourMechanic, Kelley Blue Book, Auto Repair Compare, RepairPal, Openbay, WhoCanFixMyCar, ClickMechanic, MotorEasy, and more. All you need to do is input your car’s registration plate, or manually type in the exact make, model, and model year. After that, the system will ask around every single workshop near your area for the best quote.
Final Thoughts On Timing Belt Replacement Cost
In summarising our timing belt replacement cost guide, we can only conclude with one thing. Be sure to always stay on top of your car’s regular service schedule. As we’ve learned thus far, the expenses associated with replacing your car’s timing belt aren’t cheap. In most cases, it rather uncomfortably flirts with four digits. Nonetheless, the price of changing up your timing belts is fairly minuscule compared to the damage it might cause to the rest of the engine if left unfixed.
Your timing belt and its many associated parts might lighten your bank account by $1,000, but would you rather spend $5,000 on having to rebuild the whole motor? You might be wondering if you could do this at home on your lonesome? A DIY solution would definitely be cheaper. Although, timing belts are one of the more complex fixes we don’t recommend you do it by yourself. In short, timing belt replacement cost is a big pill worth swallowing, unless you’d like an even bigger pill to take in down the line.
FAQs On Timing Belt Replacement Cost
If you’re still curious to find out more about a timing belt replacement cost, our FAQs here might help…
What Is A Timing Belt
A timing belt (or sometimes a timing chain, in some cars) is a key component in every vehicle with an internal combustion engine. The timing belt is what connects your car’s camshaft (at the top of the engine) with the crankshaft (at the bottom of the engine). As the name suggests, a timing belt is responsible for synchronizing the timing of the rotation of the camshaft and crankshaft, respectively. Basically, the timing belt matches up the timing of the camshaft opening and closing its intake and exhaust valves for your engine’s combustion process to proceed. While at the same time, it’ll also have to synchronize the crankshaft rotating alongside the up and down motion of the pistons, as a result of the aforementioned combustion process.
Does A Timing Chain Need To Be Replaced
Timing chains are generally more robust than timing belts. A (timing) chain would be made of metal, while a (timing) belt would be made from strong rubber that’s reinforced with high-tensile fibers. Therefore, you can expect a timing chain to last longer than a typical timing belt. On average, a timing belt would wear out after somewhere between 60,000 to 100,000 miles before you’ll have to consider a timing belt replacement cost. Nevertheless, a timing chain isn’t invincible, as it’s also subject to wear and wear. A timing chain does at least last slightly longer before you have to replace it, averaging between 80,000 to 120,000 miles before it wears out completely.
Is Serpentine Belt The Same As Timing Belt
No, a serpentine belt and a timing belt are two distinct parts of your car. Thus, they have varying functions, too. A timing belt is solely responsible for synchronizing the rotation of the camshaft and crankshaft, ensuring that they’re working in unison. Meanwhile, a serpentine belt takes some of your engine’s power and uses it to run motor-driven components. Some of these components that require the serpentine belt (and your engine power) include the air conditioning unit, water pump, power steering pump, as well as an alternator, among many others. Granted, it’s easy to mistake the serpentine belt and timing belt, given that they’re both installed in a similar location, are both rubberized belts, and both also loop around pulleys and gears.
What Happens When Timing Belt Breaks
If your timing belt breaks while you’re driving, this will get serious rather quickly. In most cases, the engine will shut down and die instantly as soon as the timing belt breaks. Once the belt breaks, the crankshaft would still continue to rotate at speeds of at least 1,000RPM. Yet, the camshaft would usually stop turning at this point. Thus, the pistons would proceed to move up and down, in concert with the rotating crankshaft. But with a camshaft that’s now stopped, these pistons would easily strike and hit the intake and exhaust valves. Hence, causing immediate and serious internal damage to the pistons, valvetrain, and cylinder heads, among others. For most cars, this could destroy the engine entirely.
How Long Does Timing Belt Last
The longevity of timing belts will vary from one make and model of a vehicle to another. In general, though, timing belts usually last between 60,000 to 100,000 miles, with the median lifespan being closer to around 75,000 miles. This equates to roughly 5 years’ worth of driving. Although, there are cars out there that require you to consider a timing belt replacement cost much sooner, sometimes as early as 30,000 to 50,000 miles. Therefore, it’s a good idea to double-check your car’s owner’s manual to see just how regularly the manufacturer intends a timing belt replacement to take place. It’s crucial to stay on top of replacing the timing belt when needed, as failing to do so could cause grave and expensive internal damage to the engine if it were to fail.
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