What Is A Timing Belt?
A timing belt is the ribbed belt that is placed in a specific configuration along one side of your engine to keep the crank and camshafts timed properly. Essentially, it keeps the top half of the engine (cylinder head, valves) in sync with the bottom half (crankcase, pistons).
Does My Car Have A Timing Belt?
If you have an older car from the 90s and below, odds are you have a timing belt. Some new car manufacturers, such as Audi, still use timing belts in their engine designs, but for longevity, many manufacturers have switched to metal timing chains that in theory last for the life of the engine. My advice would be to refer to your owner's manual and look up the maintenance schedule. If you don't have one, Google it. If you don't see a timing belt service listed, you have a timing chain.
You can also check here to see if your car is on the list of cars with timing belts.
When Should I Change My Timing Belt?
Manufacturers employ various schedules and measures for timing belt replacement, but the rule of thumb is 60,000 miles, or 5 years, whichever comes first.
Is My Engine Safe If My Timing Belt Snaps?
Well, that depends. There are two types of engine timing configurations: interference, and non-interference.
An interference type engine means that the valve's stroke and piston's stroke take up the same space in the cylinder, so the timing belt essentially keeps them from smashing into each other, since they do it at different times. If the timing belt snaps, they run into each other, causing bent valves (most common), cylinder head or camshaft damage, and possibly piston and cylinder wall damage. While it is possible that no damage could occur from a snapped belt on an interference engine, such a case is unlikely.
In a non-interference engine, the pistons and valves don't occupy the same space, so if the timing belt snaps, no valve or cylinder damage occurs. You just pop a new belt on, and the engine should theoretically drive normally.
You can find out if your engine is a non-interference or interference by referring to this list. If your engine isn't listed, Google it, as these lists aren't exhaustive.
How Much Does It Cost To Change My Timing Belt?
Timing belt services can be costly on some cars, ranging into the thousands of dollars. A typical job would be around $450. Brake Team we have a special for $388 for most 4 cylinder cars and $488 for most 6 cylinder cars. If you do it yourself on a car that is relatively forgiving, the parts cost for good quality components would be around $250 or less
As a timing belt is such an integral part, and the maintenance interval is once every half decade, it makes sense not to cheap out on quality. I recommend Gates belts, as they exceed OEM quality and are reasonably priced. Along with the belt, you'll need the timing belt tensioner, pulleys, and water pump. As a general rule, you get what you pay for. The reason to replace everything else is because since you'll have everything exposed, it's much easier to replace worn components on their way out to avoid problems in the future.