Timing Belt vs Timing Chain: The Complete Explanation

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timing belt vs timing chain

The engine is the most important component of a car. Choosing between timing belt vs timing chain in the internal combustion process is a very important step. Opening and closing of the valves is a strictly timed step, that’s why these components use the “timing” prefix.

Which one is better between timing belt vs timing chain? Although both of them perform the same action, transferring the movement from the crankshaft to the camshaft, in the long-term timing chain is more durable. New technologies got rid of the noise produced by the chain, making it a competitor for the belt. The belt offers a more periodically maintenance approach, which also is not bad in some ways.

What is a timing belt?

The timing belt has appeared in the 1950s. It was an alternative to the existing timing chains. Since the first production, the timing belt gained popularity because of lower cost and quieter properties.

The engine’s valves open and close at certain times to perform the cylinder’s intake and exhaust strokes. The timing belt connects the crankshaft to the camshaft which makes possible this movement of the valves.

The timing belt has special teeth to create a synchronization between the crankshaft and camshaft. Depending on the engine, the belt can drive the water pump or the oil pump as well.

It’s usually created from rubber with highly flexible fibers to provide the required tension. The pitch of a timing belt is the length between the center of two neighboring teeth.

What is a timing chain?

timing chain

The timing chain has the same usage as the belt. It synchronizes the crankshaft and the camshaft to assure proper valve functioning.

Although it’s not as popular nowadays as it was in the past, the timing chain it’s much older than the belt. Durability and long life made it a perfect fit for the cars at the beginning of manufacturing days.

As opposed to the belt oil is needed for proper lubrication of the chain.

Timing belt pros and cons

One of the cons, is that the material of which is manufactured (usually a special rubber), deteriorate in contact with motor oil or due to high temperatures. The new models are trying to get rid of the temperature problems by using heat-resistant materials.

Another flaw is the high tensile fibers that are highly affected by water or coolant liquid. This is the reason the belt is always protected with a case inside the engine room.

Depending on the shape of the teeth and how old or new your car is you can expect your timing belt to produce more noise or not. Newer models are silent, comparing them to the old models.

Typically, a timing belt will fail because of peeled teeth or a separation of the fibers. A huge mix of dirt and oil can also cause premature wearing of the belt.

This is very critical because belt tension is one of the most important parameters. As a result, if it’s too loose it will lash and if it is too tight bearing and gears will suffer.

Changing an automotive timing belt must be done with a lot of care. Anything that is not properly timed in the valve and piston movement will create critical problems.

Regarding the benefits we can talk about the cost and the noise that they produce. The material and a simple design make them easier to be replaced than a timing chain.

The service period is anywhere from 60k to 100k miles (80k-120k km) but this is something that is specified by the car manufacturer.

Timing chain pros and cons

Generally, a timing chain can last for the whole life of a vehicle. They recommend it to be changed at 150k to 200k miles, which is double of the timing belt.

As a result, the price is also somehow higher.

The huge irritation is that the chain can produce more noise. Although, in newer vehicles you cannot figure out if it is a belt or a chain because of evolving technology.

Compared to the belt, the power transmission is more efficient and with fewer losses because of the friction. One problem of the chains, in general, is the surging caused by variation in speed.

Timing belt vs timing chain costs

There are several things to discuss when we’re talking about replacing a timing belt or chain. It is a very laborious process to access the serviced area.

With a belt, it’s usually recommended to replace other components which the belt moves. One of them is the water pump, which is inexpensive compared to the labor cost. The pulleys and tensioner need to be replaced also, as they can produce the same damage as a broken belt.

It is good to first check the chain. If it is not loosened or does not have visible wear out, you can discuss it with the service technician about possibilities.

To summarize everything you can expect an average of $700 for changing a belt and $950 for changing a chain. The price difference is not that big, but considering the mileage that you can travel till the next service, the timing chain is the winner vs the timing belt.

How to check if your car has a timing belt or a timing chain

While there are several ways to do this, the most reliable is to visually check. Usually the timing belt or chain, it’s covered by a protective case. If you can remove the case, then it is easy to determine what kind of timing component is there.

Additionally, the timing chain needs to be lubricated and a housing it’s built in the engine to make use of the oil, so it might be easier to figure that out.

Another way is to check if the information is in your service manual. In the maintenance section, there should be a service interval. If it is not specifying exactly, you can figure out by the number of miles/km defined. In summary higher interval is the timing chain.

You can listen to the engine and check the noise that is producing, but again if we’re talking about a newer car is very difficult to figure it out.

Can you convert a timing belt to a timing chain or vice versa?

Converting from a timing belt to a timing chain is not possible and also not desirable. It is very difficult to change the design of a car for which they calculated a lot of parameters.

They did the other way around sometimes to assure a quieter running and a more accurate camshaft adjust timing.

Both of the systems can brake in time or because of external factors, so we can for sure say that none of them is bulletproofed. The best way of achieving this is to buy a car with the preferred timing option.

Conclusion

Either you choose, in newer cars you will not hear any disturbing noises created by the timing belt vs timing chain.

If you are a more of a “periodic maintenance” guy, go for the timing belt. Although the exchange costs can get higher, you are more relaxed about any additional complications. A broken timing belt can cause a lot of trouble, but not comparable to the timing chain.

Meanwhile, if you feel you don’t want to worry about the car’s maintenance aspect, go for the timing chain. Even though you have to check it once in a while to see that everything works perfectly, it can be more cost effective. The downside is that in case of a broken chain, the engine can suffer severe damage.

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