What is a Timing Belt and When Should it Be Replaced?
We all do the best we can to protect our vehicles and we all make sure to keep them maintained against all possible threats and dangers. However, it should not be surprising to learn that one of the greatest dangers to high mileage cars is also one of the least well known. While we expect and try to prevent cases of engine or transmission failure, the death of many older or high mileage cars is nothing other than a failure of the timing belt.
The timing belt serves a very important part when it comes to making your engine run. Namely, the timing belt is the belt that controls the camshafts in your engine and keeps the entire operation running smoothly. Note that timing belts are present in engines with overhead cams, and are essential to keep these cams turning at the right time in order to keep the engine running.
Regardless of what type of motor is present in your car, a failure in the timing belt will cause the engine to suddenly stop. This means that your car will suddenly stop running and you will not be able to get it started again. In all cases, this means calling a tow truck to come pick up your now non-running vehicle.
If all of this sounds like a nightmare, that’s because it can really turn out to be one. Luckily though, timing belt failure is somewhat easy to prevent, and although it may not be the cheapest or easiest operation in the world, it is definitely a better option that purchasing either a new car or a new engine.
Of course, checking to see when your timing belt was last changed is not always the easiest task either. If you have owned your car, and have ever had it replaced in the past, you should have the mileage written down as to when it was changed. If, though, you purchased your car used, there may be a sticker located under the hood of your car that gives the mileage of the last change. If you cannot find this sticker, than it may be better to have the belt changed, just to be on the safe side. If you have the owners manual for your vehicle, it should detail when the belt should be changed.
If you have trouble finding out when exactly the belt should be changed; you could consult either a local mechanic or contact a dealership for the exact number. A good general rule of thumb is that a timing belt should be changed every 60,000 to 75,000 miles, although some belts are designed to last up to 100,000 miles before requiring a change. Regardless though, it is best not to let a belt go more than 80,000 miles or so, even if the recommended change point is a lot higher. Changing your belt early is definitely a lot safer for your engine, and a little money out of pocket can save you a lot of money and a new car in the long run.
Some other considerations relative to timing belt replacement are:
1) Is the vehicle leaking any type of fluid that might degrade the belt, if so disregard the suggested replacement interval and replace the belt ASAP as well as repair the leak;
2) Do you know the repair history of the vehicle if it is not verifiable err on the side of safety and replace the belt;
3) Timing belt replacement can be labor intensive. Since the water pump is usually accessed in the same operation you might consider replacing the pump at the same time even if it doesn’t leak. You will save on labor and possibly prevent a pump replacement later on that will also necessitate the belt to be replaced again;
4) To avoid subsequent failure consider replacing pullies and tensioners that are part of the timing belt system. All components age and wear.