Blog Car Care Advice Timing Belt vs Timing Chain: Key Differences + Signs of Damage
Car Care Advice

Timing Belt vs Timing Chain: Key Differences + Signs of Damage

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A timing belt or timing chain keeps your vehicle running efficiently. But depending on which one you have, the probability of its failure and the maintenance required can change.

So, how do you tell if you have a timing belt or chain?

In this article, we’ll explore the key differences between a timing belt vs timing chain. We’ll also cover signs of bad timing components, the replacement cost of a broken timing chain or belt, and other aspects concerning timing belt or chain replacements. 

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Let’s get started!

Timing Belt Vs Timing Chain: 3 Key Differences

The timing belt (cam belt) and timing chain perform the same function. They maintain the engine timing and connect the crankshaft (which controls the piston) to the camshaft (which controls the intake and exhaust valve timing.) But they aren’t completely the same.

Here are the three main differences between a timing belt and a chain: 

1. What They’re Made Of

One of the main differences between a timing belt and a chain is its material. Like a serpentine belt (and some drive belt types), a timing belt is made of reinforced rubber. But a timing chain is made of metal.

These materials also enable differences in how they run. For example, a light rubber belt is quieter than a heavy metal chain. However, recent improvements have reduced timing chain noises close to those of a rubber drive belt.

On the other hand, a rubber timing belt is more susceptible to wear and tear. Plus, a worn chain will make strange noises to indicate issues, while a rubber timing belt might snap without warning.

2. Where They’re Located

A timing belt is usually located outside the engine, while a timing chain is located within the engine — where it receives lubrication from engine oil.

You can also find out if you have a timing chain or belt by checking the engine. If it has an unsealed plastic cover on the front, you have a timing belt since the rubber belt runs dry.

Alternatively, you have a timing chain if the engine block has a sealed metal cover (to prevent engine oil from leaking.)

Note: Don’t confuse your timing belt with a drive belt (like the serpentine belt). A drive belt transmits power from the crankshaft to engine accessories like your air conditioning and alternator.

3. How Long They Last

Like the serpentine belt, a rubber timing belt can develop cracks over time. So, you may need a belt replacement between 55,000 miles (about 90,000 km) to 90,000 miles (about 150,000 km.) Plus, oil and coolant leaks can speed up its wear.

You need to be careful about a worn belt. If the belt breaks in an interference engine, it can lead to irreparable engine damage. However, this engine damage is prevented or reduced in a non interference engine.

On the other hand, metal timing chains can last as long as the vehicle does. However, on high-mileage cars, you may need to replace the timing chain between 200,000 miles (about 320,000 km) to 300,000 miles (about 480,000 km.) 

Now that you know how these two timing components work, let’s look at signs that indicate when you may need a replacement. 

What Are the Signs of a Bad Timing Belt or Timing Chain?

Often there aren’t many obvious signs of bad mechanical timing components. However, you may notice some of these symptoms:

Next, let’s explore the cost of replacing a bad vehicle belt or chain.

What Is the Cost of a Timing Belt Vs Timing Chain Replacement?

Replacing either a timing belt or chain is costly since the repair involves removing several other engine components.

So, depending on your mechanic’s labor rate, here’s what timing chain or timing belt replacement could cost:

But remember, you’ll probably need a belt replacement more often than you’d possibly need a chain replacement. However, both chain and belt replacement costs are cheaper than the auto repair costs you’d incur when your timing chain or timing belt breaks.

That’s because a timing chain break or broken belt or chain in an interference engine can lead to several other costly repairs. So, it’s helpful to have your engine timing components checked when getting any engine service and have the replacements done as soon as possible.

Note: Your timing belt or timing chain should be in its best condition while running. This is important to ensure your safety on the road.

But what if you want to switch from a timing belt to a timing chain?

Can I Replace a Timing Belt With a Timing Chain?

Yes, it’s possible in extremely rare cases. But usually, replacing a mechanical timing belt with a timing chain or vice versa is an impossible task.

A car manufacturer typically designs a cars engine to support specific mechanical engine timing parts. So, you won’t be able to switch between the two due to their locations and covers.

However, if you’re lucky, you’ll be able to find a timing chain conversion kit specific to your vehicles engine. If you do, you’ll be able to replace your timing belt with a timing chain.

You may also wonder if it’d be possible to DIY a timing belt or chain replacement to save costs.

Can I Replace the Timing Belt or Timing Chain Myself?

Yes, you can replace a worn or broken timing belt or chain if you have the knowledge and tools to disassemble the cars engine. This can include removing a tensioner, idler pulley, water pump, and more, in addition to the broken timing chain or belt. It’s a labor-intensive process.

You may even be able to buy a timing belt kit or timing chain kit to do the replacement. A good timing chain kit will have all the replacement gears and tensioners included.

However, without the right know-how, you may end up with a mistimed engine that could put your safety at risk.

So, it’s best to leave a broken timing belt or chain replacement to a certified mechanic. They’ll have the tools and knowledge to complete the job successfully.

And even though a professional replacement would cost more, it could help you save money in the long run. That’s because an improper repair could lead to a totaled engine, and the vehicles engine repair would cost more than just a belt or chain replacement. 

Final Thoughts

Both a timing belt and chain are crucial components of your car’s internal combustion engine. So, they need to be maintained well. Otherwise, they could cause catastrophic damage. 

And while they each have their pros and cons, you’ll have to make the most of what you have — unless when purchasing new vehicles.

Fortunately, if your concern is mechanical timing maintenance, you can rely on AutoNation Mobile Service — an accessible mobile auto repair solution.
With AutoNation Mobile Service, you get:

Contact us, and rest easy knowing your car’s in good hands.