When it comes to important components inside your vehicle’s engine, it’s hard to top the timing belt or timing chain. But when it comes to timing belts and timing chains, there’s a clear winner. But if you’re looking at trying to upgrade, chances are you’re probably out of luck.
But whether you’re researching a new vehicle or are just trying to gain a little more insight into these critical components, we’ve got you covered here.
What Is a Timing Belt/Timing Chain?
As the name implies, timing belts and timing chains control the timing of your engine. It connects your crankshaft to the camshaft, and this controls when each intake and exhaust valve opens and closes. Without this critical component, your engine wouldn’t run, and you’d likely total your engine in a matter of minutes – if not seconds.
This is an extremely important component, even if you can’t see it. That’s because both timing belts and timing chains are covered, and you have to remove a ton of different components to reach them.
Moreover, when you’re replacing a timing belt or timing chain, it’s not only a labor-intensive process but a technical one as well. Because if you accidentally line up the new belt or chain to the wrong grooves, you’ll have a mistimed engine, and that can quickly lead to a lot of damage.
So, if you need to replace your vehicle’s timing belt or timing chain and don’t know what you’re doing, it’s best if you take your vehicle to a certified mechanic instead of trying to figure it out yourself. While it can be tempting to try and save a few bucks upfront, the long-term effects simply aren’t worth the risk.
Overview of Timing Chains
Timing chains are thick metal chains that connect your camshaft to your crankshaft. You’ll probably never need to replace a timing chain, but you might need to replace the guides that keep your timing chain in place.
But most manufacturers don’t recommend changing these guides for at least 150,000 miles, and sometimes it’s an even longer interval. The advantage of a timing chain is that once it’s in your vehicle, you’ll probably never need to change it, which saves you money in maintenance in the long run.
However, many manufacturers opt for timing belts instead of timing chains because they’re cheaper upfront. This allows them to save some money on manufacturing costs and make a little more profit without raising the vehicle’s cost.
This is a cost that gets passed onto you in the unlikely event your vehicle has a timing chain and it breaks. The average cost to replace a timing chain can exceed $1,600, which is far more than the average cost to replace a timing belt.
Moreover, sometimes a timing chain is a little louder than a timing belt. But as vehicle technologies advance, manufactures have found ways to make timing chains just as quiet as timing belts. But if you’re looking at an older vehicle, this might be a concern.
You need to consider that many modern car models have problems with the timing chains, which can be very costly; proper research is needed for your specific car model before making a choice.
- They last much longer, and you rarely need to replace them
- They are more expensive upfront
- If you do need to replace it, it’s far more expensive
- Often louder than timing belts
Overview of Timing Belts
Timing belts are far less durable than timing chains. Instead of a thick metal chain, a timing belt uses a rubber belt that’s similar to your vehicle’s serpentine belt. But unlike your serpentine belt, which is easy to change, a timing belt is buried behind the timing belt cover, and it’s a labor-intensive process to reach.
Making matters worse, you should replace your timing belt every 100,000 miles. And while that might sound like a lot, when you factor in that the average cost to replace your timing belt can exceed $900, it can be an expensive repair that you don’t want to deal with.
But if you ignore the replacement and the timing belt snaps, you can end up totaling your engine which can cost you thousands of dollars instead.
The reason that some vehicles use timing belts instead of timing chains primarily comes down to the price. While timing chains are far more reliable, timing belts are far cheaper. This allows the manufacturer to save some money during production.
Furthermore, timing belts used to be far quieter than timing chains, but this isn’t the case anymore in newer vehicles.
- More affordable upfront
- Sometimes quitter than timing belts
- They don’t last as long, and you need to replace them
Can You Switch a Timing Belt for a Timing Chain?
If you’re looking to upgrade your timing belt to a more durable timing chain that you don’t need to worry about, chances are you’re out of luck. That’s because there’s more to this swap than just changing a belt for a chain, and it’s not something you’re going to figure out for yourself.
However, if you’re lucky, there are a few timing chain conversion kits out there. You’ll have to check for your specific vehicle’s engine, but the chances are you’re out of luck.
Keep this in mind when you’re purchasing a vehicle because if you get a timing belt, that’s what you’re probably going to be stuck with it for the long haul.
If you don’t choose a car engine model with many failed timing chain reports, a timing chain is much better than a timing belt. While a timing chain might be far more expensive to replace, the odds are that you’ll never have to replace it. Conversely, if your vehicle has a timing belt, chances are you’ll end up replacing it two to three times over the vehicle’s lifespan.
This adds up, and if you replace the timing belt three times, the total cost can exceed $2,100! Moreover, since timing chains are now just as quiet as timing belts, there really is no reason to stick with a timing belt in a modern vehicle.
But no matter what choice you go with, make sure that you’re keeping up with all of your service intervals to keep your vehicle running the way it should.
Remember that many modern car models have problems with the timing chains, which can cause you to have to replace the timing chain. This is often more costly than a timing belt replacement. Therefore you need to check for the amount of timing chain failure reports of the specific engine model before buying your car.
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Founder, owner & main author of Mechanic Base. I have been repairing cars for more than 10 years, specialized in advanced diagnostics & troubleshooting. I have also been a drifting driver and mechanic for over 7 years.