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The Art of Timing: Why Your Car’s Timing Belt Is Important

BY: Larry Witherspoon Jr.
An auto mechanic shows a torn timing belt

Your car’s engine is an incredibly complex system of valves, pistons, combustion parts, and belts. All of these components have to work in perfect harmony for your vehicle to run smoothly and deliver the kind of performance you expect.

If something goes wrong with one component in the vehicle, the chances are good that others will be affected, which can have a domino effect. This is especially true when it comes to the timing of the fuel ignition, which is controlled by your vehicle’s timing belt.

All the functions in your engine have to be perfectly synchronized to produce the energy needed to push your car along. When your timing belt is adjusted to the correct tension, your engine will be perfectly in sync and run exactly as it should. If the rubber belt breaks or stretches, you can end up with all kinds of serious engine issues. Knowing why your car’s timing belt is important will help you save money on repairs and keep your engine running smoothly for many years to come.

The Role of the Timing Belt in Your Engine

Your engine works on a very specifically timed set of processes, most of which determine when the fuel is pushed into the combustion chamber and when that fuel is ignited by the spark plugs so the pistons will move. The timing belt connects two important shafts inside the engine: the crankshaft and the camshaft.

These shafts are connected to the pistons and the intake and exhaust valves. With a properly tensioned timing belt, these components will all be in time with one another so they can open and close at the right time. These components need to be in sync with each other because if they are not, the engine will not operate efficiently.

Depending on your engine type, the valves may open and close in the same space that the pistons operate. In this case, poor timing can bend the valves, and your engine must either be completely removed and repaired or replaced altogether. Even if the valves and pistons are separate in your vehicle’s engine, poor timing will result in bad performance and engine misfires, which can have more serious consequences down the line.

Consequences of Timing Belt Failure

Over time, your engine’s timing belt will wear out and stretch, or it may break completely. When this happens, you may notice issues with how the engine is running or how your vehicle feels when you start it up. Either way, getting the timing belt replaced as soon as possible will be your best bet if you want to prevent expensive auto repairs. Understanding some of the damages that can occur will help you make the right choice when you have a timing issue.

Immediate Impact on Engine

When a timing belt stretches or breaks, there will almost always be some symptoms that are immediately apparent. One of the most common is a misfire that will make the engine feel like it is running rough or idling poorly. If your vehicle has the valves and the pistons in the same space, the engine may stop working altogether and will not start when you turn the key, even if you hear the ignition click and engage. Most of the time, the symptoms of a broken timing belt or worn one will be very obvious, and you will know that something has gone wrong.

Long-Term Damage

If your timing belt has simply stretched or worn but hasn’t broken yet, the engine may still run. Poor timing can seriously impact the various components within the engine, though, and the timing belt needs to be replaced. Overheating is a very common consequence of bad engine timing, and if it is allowed to happen too often, it can cause warping within the cylinder.

Knocking and misfires can also occur, both of which can cause the bearings to wear out and the pistons to grind against the crankshaft. The potential for these long-term issues makes recognizing the warning signs of a failing timing belt all the more important.

Recognizing Warning Signs

Since a broken timing chain or belt can cause such significant damage, it is incredibly important to recognize the warning signs when it is starting to wear out. One of the most common signs is a misfire or rough idle in your vehicle’s engine. This can often feel like the engine is skipping a beat or vibrating more than usual.

You may also notice a clicking sound coming from the engine or a loss of power due to the pistons shaking against the crankshaft. If any of these symptoms occur out of nowhere, you should get your car to an ASE Certified automotive repair shop as soon as possible.

While it is tempting to put off taking your vehicle to the shop if it is still running, acting as quickly as you can will almost always be the cheaper option. This is especially true with timing belt issues since a break can be absolutely devastating for the engine and may necessitate a complete replacement. Any sign of potential timing belt wear should be taken very seriously, and early intervention can save you hundreds or thousands of dollars in the long run.

Maintenance and Replacement Recommendations

Most vehicles will have a factory-recommended schedule for replacing the timing belt that will help you avoid breaks and engine damage. For older vehicles, replacing the timing belt every 60,000 miles is generally recommended. In newer vehicles, though, the materials used for the belts are usually higher quality, which means they can last up to 100,000 miles or more. Check your vehicle’s owner’s manual to see the recommended interval and ensure you adhere to it.

Sometimes, you may have to replace your timing belt sooner than the factory recommends. If you regularly take your vehicle off-road, dirt and debris can get into the timing belt and pulley and cause it to wear out faster than it normally would. If you live in an extremely hot or dry climate like the desert, the belt can crack or become brittle earlier than the owner’s manual may suggest. This is why it is important to know the signs of a failing belt and address them as soon as they happen.

Financial Costs of Neglect vs. Proactive Maintenance

In addition to other good car maintenance practices, staying on top of your timing belt’s condition is a sound financial decision. While it will cost money in the short term in both parts and labor to do a timing belt replacement, it will be much less than repairing the damage that can occur if the belt breaks. Having this kind of foresight and understanding all the costs involved will help you make the best decision for your vehicle and your bank account.

A timing belt replacement will cost, on average, between $603 and $785. This price will change depending on the make and model of your car and the labor costs for the particular shop you go to. When you compare this to the cost of a complete engine replacement, though, it is well worth spending the money just to replace the belt. An engine replacement can cost between $4,000 and $10,000, and in many cases, it will simply be cheaper to total the vehicle.

As with many other components in your vehicle, replacing the timing belt as soon as it shows signs of wear is much cheaper than allowing it to break. This is especially true if you have a relatively high-performance engine that would be incredibly expensive to replace. A broken belt can destroy your engine and leave you stranded on the road. Paying the upfront costs of a replacement early enough can help you save thousands of dollars.

Extended Warranties Are a Safety Net for the Unexpected

If you want to make sure that your vehicle’s timing belt is in good working order at all times, it is important to get the help you need. Your vehicle most likely came with a factory warranty provided by the manufacturer when it was new. This warranty is designed to help cover you if something goes wrong with the vehicle due to issues with the design or problems at the factory.

After this warranty expires, though, you will be solely responsible for any repairs that have to happen. An extended warranty from a third party, more accurately called a vehicle service contract (VSC), is a great way to get the protection you need from costly repairs.

If you are concerned about the initial cost of replacing a timing chain or belt before it breaks, a VSC is a great option. With the right protection plan, you can rest easy knowing that you can get a new timing belt installed right when your old one starts to wear out. This ensures that your engine won’t be permanently damaged and that you won’t have to stress about the upfront costs of the replacement. With the right vehicle protection plan, you can rest easy knowing that you will have the help you need when the time comes.

Protect Your Whole Car With Endurance

Knowing the potential costs associated with letting a timing belt wear out and break is a good motivator for taking care of the problem before it worsens. With a protection plan from a reputable provider, you can offset some of the upfront expenses and protect your engine from long-term damage. An auto protection plan is an investment in your vehicle, and the right provider will give you the confidence you need whenever you are behind the wheel.

Endurance has a wide variety of customizable plans for nearly every budget and situation. Starting at just $99 per month, you can get coverage for everything from high-mileage vehicles all the way up to high-end luxury cars. Endurance covers vehicles other providers won’t, such as cars with rebuilt or salvage titles and ones used for commercial purposes like delivery or rideshare.

Endurance plans also come with standard benefits like 24/7 roadside assistance, towing, rental car coverage, and trip interruption protection. Plus, for a small activation fee, you can also get access to one year of Elite Benefits, which includes extra car repair perks like tire coverage, key fob replacement, collision discounts, and up to $1,000 in total loss coverage.

To experience our award-winning customer service and get the ideal protection plan for your vehicle, contact our dedicated team at (800) 253-8203 and request a FREE quote, or visit our online store for an instant price preview so you can shop with confidence.

You can also find more car care resources on the Endurance blog. Explore FAQs, provider comparisons, mechanical breakdown insurance guides for California drivers, preventative maintenance tips and tricks, and more.

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