Most of us have heard horror stories of massive costs from repairing a broken timing belt. Unfortunately most of these are true, and so we should learn from them and put a little thought into our vehicle’s timing belt before it fails.

What is timing belt? Basically a timing belt is a flexible toothed belt that connects the engine crankshaft to the camshaft. Let’s look at this in a little more detail. The cylinder head, which sits over the cylinders on the engine, contains valves. At least one of these valves allows the fresh air to enter the cylinder and another valve (or two) allows the exhaust out of the engine. Each cylinder has 2 to 4 valves, so a V6 has 12 to 24 valves and a V8 has up to 32 values. A camshaft operates the opening and closing of these valves and the timing belt uses the rotation of the engine to drive the camshaft. It’s called a timing belt because it has to be adjusted to rotate the camshaft to keep proper time with the engine so that everything’s is synchronized.

Instead of using a timing belt, some cars use timing gears or a timing chain, which are a lot more durable. However the reason vehicle makers using belts is because they are cheaper and a lot quieter.

Unfortunately, timing belts don’t give the driver any warning before they fail. You can have your timing belt inspected for cracks and looseness, but for most cars just being able to get access to the belt to inspect it can be almost as much work as changing it. This is the reason vehicle manufacturers recommend replacing the belt after a certain period of time, which is usually between 60,000 and 100,000 miles. You should consult your owners’ manual for the specific schedule, or check with your service technician if your manual doesn’t specify an interval.

For cars that have interference engines, which mean that the valves and pistons are very close to each other, if the timing belt slips, the pistons will slam into the open valves. So if your timing belt fails while driving on the highway, the engine is traveling so fast that the valves will be smashed and they chew up the cylinder head. This could cost thousands of dollars in engine repairs, and have your car out in the shop for up to three weeks. A non-interference engine will just shut off if the timing belt breaks. You’ll still be stranded, but at least your engine won’t suffer permanent damage.

This is why it is so important to not put off replacing a timing belt. Sure even replacing the belt is not cheap – but repairs for a broken belt can be many times as much. On many cars, the timing belt drives the water pump and because most of the expense of changing your timing belt is for the labor of just being able to access it, it may make sense to replace the water pump while you’re at it because most of the work needed for the new pump is already done with the belt change. Doing both at the same time saves you a lot of money.

Consult your owners’ manual right away, especially if you have over 60,000 miles on the clock, you may need to get that belt replaced right away. Contact RC Auto Specialists, the Tulsa auto repair experts, to schedule an anointment, and we’ll give you peace of mind knowing that your timing belt is taken care of.