Timing is everything. Comedians live or die by it, and the engine in your car does too. The mechanical ballet of pistons, shafts and valves is coordinated by a timing belt or chain. Experts at the auto parts store or car dealership — find them through the DexKnows website — will gladly explain the role played by this critical engine component, and they’ll probably ask when yours was last replaced.
Belts or chains?
A timing belt is a strip of toothed rubber connecting the engine’s crankshaft to its camshaft. The teeth ensure that these turn together, synchronizing the opening and closing of valves with the up-and-down motion of the pistons. Should the belt fail, valves either will not open or will remain open when they should be closed. The best that can happen is for the engine to stop running. In the worst case, the piston can hit the valves, causing serious — and very expensive — damage.
Some engine designers prefer to use a chain rather than a belt. If this is the case in your car or truck, you’re in luck: stop reading and do something else instead. But if your engine relies on a belt, or you just don’t know, for the sake of your bank account, keep reading.
Avoiding belt failure
Timing belts are made from rubber, which, over time, ages and begins to crack. Eventually the belt will fail, possibly with catastrophic results. How can you avoid this? Replace it before it reaches the end of its life. Most vehicle manufacturers recommend that belts be replaced after 60,000 to 90,000 miles. But engines differ, so ask the dealership or parts store what’s advised for the one under your hood.
Timing-belt replacement is not cheap, although the cost is determined more by the time it takes to do the work than by the price of the parts. Don’t be surprised if the service technician suggests replacing the water pump at the same time. It’s usually located in the same area as the belt cover, so it might be prudent to have that done, too.
Experienced amateur mechanics may want to undertake the job themselves. Instructions can be found at reputable websites such as Popular Mechanics. Parts are available at your local auto parts dealer. Another good source of model-specific information is the website of belt manufacturer Gates. For those not so inclined, the advice is simple: Pay the money and have the job done ahead of time.
Don’t put it off!
As many an aspiring comic knows, if your timing fails, it’s going to be a long night. Whereas the comic must think on his feet, the wise car owner plans ahead and avoids disaster. If your vehicle has more than 60,000 miles on the odometer and you don’t know when the timing belt was replaced, or even if it has one, call a good parts store or the dealership to find out. DexKnows has all the local listings, so start there.