All cars with an internal combustion engine have either a timing belt or timing chain, and that includes Toyotas. But which does your Toyota use? What are the differences? Does your Toyota use a timing belt or chain? In this post, we’ll discuss all you need to know about the timing belt and timing chain. We’ll list down what your Toyota vehicle has in its engine, and how to maintain them.
Toyota Timing Belt Or Chain: What Is It For?
The Toyota timing belt or chain works just like in any other car. As the name suggests, the timing belt/chain is a belt/chain that synchronizes the timing for the engine’s moving parts. Specifically, between the crankshaft and camshaft. If you’re not familiar with cars, we’ll explain briefly how the timing belt or chain works:
The crankshaft is a series of cranks that moves up and down according to the engine’s piston’s movement. Meanwhile, the camshaft is a rotating device with metal lobes that operates the engine’s valves. Moreover, the engine has two types of valves: intake valves that allow fuel and air to enter, and exhaust valves that allow exhaust gases to escape the engine.
The timing belt/chain connects the crankshaft to the camshaft to ensure that the camshaft opens or closes the correct valves and at the correct time. For example, when the piston in cylinder one is in the exhaust stroke, the camshaft will open the exhaust valve, allowing exhaust gases to escape. Then when the engine starts the intake stroke, the camshaft will close the exhaust valve and opens the intake valve. The engine knows when to do this thanks to the timing belt/chain.
Here’s an animation of how the system works:
The timing belt or chain has to be set up correctly when the engine was first assembled, so these components will work together smoothly. Also, both the timing belt and chain works in the same way. But there are advantages and disadvantages to each of them, which we will explain later.
What Happens When The Timing Belt Or Chain Goes Bad?
As you can imagine, if the timing belt or chain breaks, your engine’s components won’t be in sync, and it’s likely your engine won’t start at all. It will even possibly damage the engine, and this is especially true for cars with an interference engine.
An interference engine is a type of engine where the piston travels all the way to an area where the valves might extend to. Essentially interfering with each other, hence why it’s called an interference engine.
This is why it relies on the timing belt or chain to operate smoothly so that the pistons and valves can avoid hitting one another. If the timing chain/belt is off or breaks, then the two components are likely to come into contact, damaging the valves in the process. As a result, you’re going to need to replace the valves, and possibly other engine parts as well.
Meanwhile, a non-interference engine is the exact opposite, so the pistons won’t travel to an area where the valves might extend to. This sounds a lot better, so why do interference engines exist? That’s because interference engines allow engine designers to maximize the engine’s compression ratio. A higher compression ratio is more desirable because the engine has higher thermal efficiency, and it can extract more power from the fuel and air mixture.
Do All Toyota Vehicles Have A Timing Belt Or Chain?
No, only the Toyotas with internal combustion engines have them. So, if you drive a Toyota with an electric motor – such as the Mirai, for example – they don’t have a timing belt or chain. In fact, electric vehicles, in general, require very little maintenance. This is because they have a lot fewer moving parts, so there are fewer things to go wrong.
Toyota Timing Belt Or Chain: Which One Does Your Toyota Have?
So, that’s how the timing belt and chain works. But which one does your Toyota uses? Here’s a quick list of what different Toyota vehicles use in its engine:
Sedan And Hatchback Models
- Avalon: The 1995 to 2004 models all have timing belts. Meanwhile, the 2005 to 2020 models use timing chains, including the 4-cylinder Avalon Hybrid.
- Camry: The 1990 – 2001 Toyota Camry all uses a timing belt, and the V6 model up until 2006 uses a timing belt as well. Meanwhile, the 2002 – 2020 4-cylinder and 2007 – 2020 V6 models use a timing chain.
- Corolla: This popular compact sedan from Toyota used a timing belt from 1990 to 1997. But the 1998 model onwards started using timing chains. This includes the Corolla Hybrid model and the Corolla iM/Scion iM.
- Cressida: The 1990 – 1992 Toyota Cressida used timing belts in their straight-six engine.
- Echo: This subcompact was sold from 2000 – 2005 and uses a timing chain for its 4-cylinder engine.
- Matrix: Timing chain across all models from 2003 – 2013.
- Paseo: Timing belt across all models from 1992 – 1997.
- Prius: All Prius models use a timing chain from 2001 to the most recent models. This includes the Prius C, Prius V, the Prius Prime, and the Prius Plug-in.
- Tercel: All Tercel from 1990 – 1998 use timing chains in their engines.
- Yaris: All Yaris models from 2007 to 2020 use timing chains, this includes the Yaris Hatchback and Scion iA variant.
- C-HR: This new lifestyle-focused compact crossover from Toyota uses a timing chain in its engine.
- Highlander: From 2001 – 2007, this popular family mid-size Crossover SUV uses timing chains in all 4-cylinder engines, and timing belts in the V6 models. Then from 2008 – 2019, all V6 models use timing chains. With the V6 hybrid being the exception, it uses timing belts from 2006 – 2010, and timing chains for the 2011 model year and onwards.
- RAV4: The RAV4 timing belts from 1996 – 2000 for all 4-cylinder models, and then timing chains for 2001 models onwards. The V6 version from 2006 – 2012 also uses timing chains. Meanwhile, the 2016 – 2020 hybrid models use timing chains.
- Venza: The Venza uses a timing chain from 2009 – 2015.
Minivan Or MPV Models
- Previa: This legendary minivan from Toyota used timing chains in its engines from 1991 – 1997.
- Sienna: From 1998 – 2006, the Sienna has a V6 engine with timing belts. Then the 2007 – 2020 V6 models use timing chains. While the 4-cylinder version from 2011 – 2012 uses timing chains.
SUV And Trucks
- 4Runner: The 1990 – 2000 and 2010 4-cylinder 4Runner uses timing chains. As for the V6 versions, the 1990 – 2002 models use timing belts. Then from 2003 – 2010, the 4Runner uses timing chains for the V6 engines. If you have the V8 model (2003 – 2009), then the engine uses a timing belt.
- FJ-Cruiser: This retro-style mid-size SUV was sold from 2007 – 2014. All of them had a V6 engine with a timing chain.
- Land Cruiser: The Land Cruiser has a lot of engine variations. The 1990 – 1992 straight-six engine uses a gear drive system (the same function, but uses a set of gears rather than belts or chains). Meanwhile, the 1993 – 1997 straight-six engine uses timing chains. As for the 1998 – 2007 V8 models, they use timing belts. While the 2008 – 2011 and the 2013 – 2020 V8 models use timing chains.
- Sequoia: 2001 – 2009 4.7L V8 Sequoia uses timing belts. If you have the 2010 – 2012 4.6L V8 or the 2008 – 2020 5.7L V8 models, they all use timing chains.
- Toyota T100: Timing chains for the 1995 – 1998 4-cylinder engines, and timing belt for the 1993 – 1998 V6 engines.
- Tacoma: The Toyota Tacoma shares the same platform as the 4Runner, but the engines have differences. The 1995 – 2020 4-cylinder models all use timing chains. While the V6 models use timing belts up until 2004, then it started using timing belts for the 2005 model and onwards.
- Toyota Truck: Timing chains for the 1990 – 1995 4-cylinder engines, and timing belt for the 1990 – 1995 V6 engines.
- Tundra: Timing belts for the 2000 – 2004 V6 and 2000 – 2009 4.7L V8 models. And timing chains for the 2005 – 2014 V6, 2007 – 2020 5.7L V8, and 2010 – 2019 4.6L V8 models.
Coupes And Sports Car Models
- GT86 or Scion FR-S: All models from 2013 – 2020 have the same 4-cylinder engine that uses a timing chain.
- Celica: The 1990 – 1999 models use a timing belt, while 2000 – 2005 models use a timing chain.
- MR2: The 1990 – 1995 Toyota MR2 uses timing belts, while the 2000 – 2005 MR2 Spyder uses timing chains.
- Solara: The 1991 – 2001 4-cylinder and 1999 – 2009 V6 models use timing belts. While the 2002 – 2008 4-cylinder model uses timing chains.
- Supra: This legendary sports car from Toyota uses timing belts in the 1990 – 1998 models. Meanwhile, the new GR Supra uses timing chains.
If you’re still not sure whether your Toyota uses a timing belt or chain, or you want to find out for yourself, here’s how you can quickly identify it in your Toyota:
Timing Belt Or Chain: Advantages And Disadvantages
So, now you know whether your Toyota uses a timing belt or chain in its engine. But what is the difference between the two? And are there any particular advantages or disadvantages for each system? We’ll try to answer your questions below:
Advantages Of Timing Belt
- Timing belts are made from rubber. This makes them cheaper to produce, which means they’re cheaper for consumers to purchase should they need to. Even OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) timing belts are often less than $50 to purchase.
- Both the timing belt and chain have to be installed on metal gears. Timing belts are much quieter since there is no metal-to-metal contact like there would be with timing chains.
- Additionally, since there is no metal-to-metal contact, the timing belt doesn’t require lubrication. But this doesn’t mean you should neglect routine oil change and maintenance!
- They’re lighter than timing chains. Lightness is good for performance and fuel consumption.
Disadvantages Of Timing Belt
- The timing belt will wear out quicker. Most cars will require a timing belt replacement every 60,000 miles or so.
- The timing belt is more prone to slippage. This is because the belt’s teeth can slip from the gears and this can desynchronize the camshaft and crankshaft, possibly leading to engine damage.
- In some cars, the water pump is powered by the timing belt. If this is the case, it’s advisable to replace the water pump along with the timing belt. This is because if the water pump gets stuck, the timing belt will be slipping onto the water pump. As a result, this creates friction and can damage the timing belt prematurely. Additionally, a new timing belt also has stronger tension. This extra tension can lead to water pump problems. So it’s a good idea to replace the two together.
Advantages Of Timing Chain
- Timing chains, when maintained properly, can last much longer than timing belts since they’re made of metal. In some cars, a timing chain will only need changing every 150,000 to 200,000 miles.
- Less prone to slipping and elongation than a timing belt.
Disadvantages Of Timing Chain
- Since a timing chain has metal-to-metal contact, it needs lubrication to ease the friction. Remember to change your oil regularly to keep the timing chain in good shape.
- The metal-to-metal contact also means that timing chains are likely to make more noise, even though this may not always be the case, especially in modern cars.
- The timing chain is more expensive. Timing belts often cost less than $50, whereas timing chains are anywhere between $80 – $250 depending on the car’s make and model.
- Like timing belts, timing chains also need proper tension to operate. Unlike timing belts, the timing chain uses either a spring or a buffer to manage tensions rather than a tensioner. This spring or buffer operates with hydraulic pressure. If it doesn’t receive immediate pressure, the chain can widen which will vibrate and make it very noisy. To prevent this, make sure the car’s oil pump is running properly and change the engine oil regularly.
Symptoms Of Bad Timing Belt Or Chain
As mentioned, the timing belt and chain have their own lifespan. It’s a good idea to replace them at the recommended intervals, but for one reason another they might fail early. Here are the symptoms you will see when you have a bad timing bad or chain:
1. Misfiring Engine
The timing belt has teeth that grip onto the camshaft’s and crankshaft’s gears. These teeth are usually the first to wear out when the belt is nearing the end of its lifespan. When the teeth wear out, they can slip from the gears. As a result, this can disrupt your engine’s timing, causing the valves to open and close at the incorrect time. Similarly, the chain can slip from the gears as well, albeit less likely.
When the engine’s timing is off, it can misfire. To clarify, an engine misfire is when a cylinder is firing or combusting fuel at the incorrect moment. You will notice the engine’s RPM jumping up and down or unstable even when it’s idling. Additionally, the car will lose power when accelerating, and it will feel like it’s hesitating.
However, there are various reasons for engine misfires. Such as bad spark plugs or coil packs, so you will need to check those as well before concluding that it’s the timing belt or chain. The good news is that engine misfires aren’t the end of the world for your engine. This signals a failure with a component, but there’s still time to fix it. So, don’t postpone repairs for engine misfires, or it can lead to much more expensive repairs.
2. Rattling Noise From The Engine
When the timing belt or chain goes bad, it can also result in rattling or ticking noise coming from the engine. This is especially true for timing chains, as when they wear out they can cause more metal-to-metal contact which results in more noise. For timing belts, you may hear a squeaking noise when it wears out.
There are several possible reasons for a rattling engine. So, you’ll have to verify first if the timing belt or chain is actually the one causing it. Try opening the engine bay and listen if the noise is coming from the timing belt or chain area. If the sound comes from there, then it’s a good idea to check the timing belt or chain and see if it needs replacing.
3. Excess Smoke From Exhaust Pipes
As mentioned, a bad timing belt or chain can cause the engine’s valves to open and close at the incorrect time. This can result in a large amount of exhaust gases leaving the exhaust due to improper or incomplete combustion. However, different exhaust smoke colors indicate different problems with your engine. Additionally, in certain conditions, it’s actually normal to see excess smoke from the exhaust pipes.
For instance, it’s perfectly normal for your car to put out excess white smoke on a cold morning after a cold start. This is because there’s excess moisture inside the engine after a cold night. When the moisture gets burnt with fuel and air in the engine, it will result in white smoke. However, this should disappear after about 10 minutes or so.
However, if you see white, blue, or black smoke consistently coming from the exhaust, then there’s something wrong with your engine. You need to check and fix this before it results in damage to the engine and catalytic converter.
4. A Drop In Oil Pressure
If the timing belt or chain breaks, it can damage the crankshaft itself. When this happens, fragments of the crankshaft can break off and possibly fall into the bottom of the oil pan. As a result, these fragments will mix with the engine’s oil.
If these fragments clump together, it can block the hoses for the engine oil and disrupt the flow of the oil. As a result, the engine oil pressure will drop, and your engine won’t get enough oil to lubricate itself. Your car can detect this, and you might see an engine oil warning light on the dashboard. If ignored, this can result in engine damage since your engine isn’t well-lubricated.
A faulty oil pump may also cause this problem. So, you’ll need to test the oil pump and see if it’s working properly. Also, if you haven’t had an oil change or change the oil filter recently, this can cause low oil pressure. This is because old oil or a clogged-up filter can also disrupt the flow of engine oil.
5. Damaged Pistons Or Valves
This one is the most difficult to diagnose since you will need to disassemble the top part of your engine to be able to see the pistons and valves. But if for whatever reason you’re currently opening the engine, check if there’s damage to the valves and pistons.
A bent valve or scratched pistons is a telltale sign that your timing belt or chain is bad, misaligning the crankshaft and camshaft in the process. As mentioned, in an interference engine, the pistons and valves can collide when this happens, resulting in damage to both components. If you see damage to either the valves or the pistons, it’s a good idea to replace the timing belt or chain to avoid this in the future.
Toyota Timing Chain Or Belt: Questions & Answers
Got any more questions about timing belts and chains? Here are the answers to some common questions about timing belts and chains:
Is Timing Belt The Same As The Serpentine Belt?
It’s easy to confuse them sometimes, but no, they’re not the same. A timing belt is located inside the engine, so you’ll have to remove a cover to see it.
Meanwhile, the serpentine belt – or sometimes called a drive belt – is also connected to the crankshaft, but it sits outside of the engine and it powers accessories such as the alternator, the air-conditioning system, the power steering pump, and sometimes the water pump. This means you can immediately see it when you open the car’s hood.
They work in similar ways since they both run off the crankshaft’s rotation, but they serve completely different purposes.
Can I Switch My Toyota From Timing Chain To Timing Belt Or Vice Versa?
Technically, yes. But this is a major engineering job that really isn’t necessary at all and will take a great amount of time to complete. Your Toyota’s engine has been designed to work with either a timing belt or a timing chain. So, whatever your car uses, it’s best to just stick with it.
How Do I Maintain My Toyota’s Timing Belt Or Chain?
The timing belt doesn’t really require any maintenance since it doesn’t need lubrication. However, make sure you change the timing belt at the recommended intervals. You can ask your Toyota dealership for the recommended change intervals, or you should be able to find this information in the owner’s manual. Timing belts typically need replacing every 60,000 miles, but some cars may need it as early as 35,000 miles.
One last note about timing belts, keep an eye on the timing belt tensioner. The tensioner is what keeps the tension in the timing belt in check, which it needs to operate properly. They don’t have any recommended intervals, but they usually last around 75,000 to 100,000 miles. A quick way to check is to push the timing belt. If it moves more than 1/4 inch, then the tensioner may need replacing.
Meanwhile, timing chains will require good lubrication. So, make sure to change your engine oil at the recommended intervals. For most cars, it’s somewhere around every 3,000 to 10,000 miles. If your car uses synthetic oil, some cars may go as far as 15,000 before needing an oil change.
Additionally, change your oil filter and check your oil pump regularly. This will help to keep engine lubrication in check, which will keep your timing chain in good shape. You should be able to find the recommended intervals in your owner’s manual.
How Much Does A Toyota Timing Belt Or Chain Replacement Cost?
As mentioned, a timing belt is quite cheap. They’re usually somewhere around $30 – $80 each. While timing chains are more costly, at around $80 – $250 each depending on your car’s make and model. For example, a timing belt kit for a 1995 Toyota Corolla is around $50. Meanwhile, the timing chain for a 2005 Toyota Corolla is around $167.
However, most of the cost will come from labor costs, which will set you back anywhere between $250 – $450. This is because changing the timing belt or chain requires your mechanic to remove the timing belt/chain cover. This involves removing any sort of engine parts and accessories that may be in the way, such as the air intake hose, sensors, and in some cases even the engine mounts. Needless to say, this will take some time, hence the high labor cost.
Can I Change The Timing Belt Or Chain In My Toyota Myself?
We don’t recommend doing this yourself, as this is a complicated job to do and there’s a big risk of getting it wrong. Even if you manage to install it, there’s a risk of misaligning the crankshaft and camshaft, which can lead to engine damage. In other words, if you’re not a trained mechanic yourself, best leave this replacement job to a professional.
But if you’re interested in learning more, here’s Scotty Kilmer’s guide on how to replace a timing belt and water pump:
Can I Drive With A Bad Timing Belt Or Chain?
No, don’t do this. As mentioned, a bad timing belt or chain can damage the valves, cylinder head, camshaft, and even more internal engine parts. This will turn a $250 – $700 repair into a $2,000 repair job since you will need to replace internal engine parts.
When internal engine parts are damaged, you will essentially need an engine rebuild. This costs anywhere between $1,500 to $4,500 depending on the extent of the damage, and of course, your car’s make and model. So, no. To clarify once again, please don’t drive with a bad timing belt or chain. For you, and your bank account’s own good.
Toyota Timing Belt Or Chain: In Conclusion
So, the timing belt or chain is responsible for synchronizing the engine’s crankshaft and camshaft. This allows the pistons and the valves to move at the correct timing, allowing for a smooth engine operation and avoiding engine damage. If the timing belt or chain goes bad, the engine can’t run properly and can even result in severe internal engine damage.
Toyota uses both the timing belt and chain in their vehicles across the years. However, Toyota has been predominantly using timing chains for their vehicles since 2005. While the timing chain can be louder and needs proper lubrication, they can last a very long time and owners won’t have to change them frequently. Meanwhile, timing belts don’t require as much maintenance, but drivers need to change them more frequently at around 65,000 miles or so. Toyota mostly used the timing belt in their cars before 2005.
Hopefully, our list above has helped you in identifying whether your Toyota has a timing belt or chain.
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