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How To Easily Spot a Bad Timing Belt (Before It’s Too Late)

It’s essential to keep an eye and ear out for any potential issues when it comes to your car. You should note any unusual noises, changes in performance, or fluids leaking from your vehicle.

It takes time to get to know your vehicle, but like any relationship, you can eventually easily recognize when something isn’t quite right. 

Today, we want to share with you five signs it might be time to replace your timing belt. Let’s get started!

What Is a Timing Belt?

Practically every vehicle that uses an internal combustion engine has a timing belt. Some luxury vehicles like BMW, Mercedes, and Cadillac use a beefier timing chain.

They all serve the same purpose, which is to harmonize the rotation of your vehicle’s crankshaft and camshaft.

Like any other piece of rubber, a timing belt will begin to degrade with age. This leaves them susceptible to cracks and breaks. If your timing belt fails, you’ll need to call a tow truck and have your vehicle towed to your preferred auto shop.

What Does a Timing Belt Do?

A vehicle’s engine is like the inner workings of a Swiss watch. It functions best when the gears, pulleys, and small parts work harmoniously. The timing belt keeps the crankshaft and camshaft rotations in harmony, which allows the pistons and valves to do their job. If it is loose or slipping, it can throw off the timing and cause issues for your vehicle.

The valves also control the air and fuel mixture as the timing belt helps the crankshaft, camshaft, and pistons. As it nears the end of its life, you may notice decreased performance. However, a complete failure of your timing belt will stop your vehicle in its tracks. It’s a good idea to have your timing belt inspected regularly and know what to watch for while driving.

How Often Should You Replace Your Timing Belt?

You don’t want to wait for your timing belt to fail to replace it. You should have it inspected regularly and replaced every 60,000 miles to 100,000 miles. This can help you avoid ever experiencing a timing belt failure.

A timing belt doesn’t have to fail to do some serious damage to your vehicle completely. If your engine components aren’t in sync, you can cause serious damage to your pistons. Depending on the severity of the damage, you could be looking at a $2,000 repair bill. The cost of replacing a timing belt is typically around $300 to $500. 

Pro Tip: Need help repairing something in your car or RV? We uncovered The Dirty Truth of RV Service.

5 Signs That It’s Time to Replace Your Timing Belt

The sooner you can catch any issues, the better. Here are a handful of signs that it’s time for you to get your timing belt replaced. 

Tick, Tick, Tick

You’ll start to hear a distinct ticking noise when your timing belt is nearing the end of its life. Your timing belt is kept snug by a tension dependent on a specific level of oil pressure. The tensioner cannot keep the belt snug if the pressure is low. The loose belt can cause issues with pulleys in the system or even break.

So if you notice a repeated ticking sound when your engine idles, don’t think it will fix itself. It’s a good idea to record a video of your vehicle making the noise and get it to the mechanic as soon as possible.

Engine Misfire

An engine misfire can scare the daylights out of you. The loud pop occurs due to unburned fuel exiting the cylinder during an exhaust stroke and igniting further into the exhaust system. You’ll experience a momentary loss of performance and likely turn a few heads of any bystanders.

A bad timing belt can cause your engine to misfire if it is loose, slips, or causes the cylinders to open or close at inappropriate times. In some of the most severe circumstances, your engine may not start at all. If it does run, it will likely function very erratically. It’s best to get your vehicle to a mechanic to avoid further damage.

Oil Leaks

Oil leaks can be severe and not something you should ignore. Your vehicle heavily depends on oil. It flows through various components and helps them function appropriately. When there’s a leak, it can reduce your oil pressure and cause parts not to function appropriately or erratically.

When it comes to your timing belt, an oil leak can throw off the timing of your camshaft. This could cause it to lock up or even snap the belt. If oil gets onto the timing belt, it could cause it to slip or even entirely slip off a pulley or other component. If you spot an oil leak, make sure you check your oil and immediately take action. Putting off a repair will only make the situation worse.

Check engine light
If your check engine light pops on, check to make sure your timing belt doesn’t need replaced.

Check Engine Light

It may seem obvious, but there could be a problem if your check engine light illuminates. Modern vehicles come with tremendous technology to detect even the slightest temperature differences or timing issues. Just because you haven’t noticed a difference in performance or saw any indications of a problem doesn’t mean there’s not something wrong under the hood.

Difficulty Starting

You’re more likely to break your timing belt while the vehicle is running than for it to break while sitting still. However, it’s not impossible. 

If your timing belt breaks, the crankshaft won’t turn to fire up the engine. You’ll likely hear the clicking noise of the starter, but that’s about it. Turning the key to try to start the car will only drain your car’s battery. Your next stop will likely be the mechanic to get a new timing belt installed on your vehicle.

Can You Replace Your Own Timing Belt?

If you have the proper tools and skills, it is possible to replace your timing belt yourself. A timing belt typically costs roughly $50 to $75 and takes a few hours to install. However, not everyone should attempt to do the work themselves.

Hiring a professional to replace your timing belt will typically cost you several hundred dollars. However, you have the added security of knowing the job will get done right, and they’ll not damage other parts in the process. If you don’t know what you’re doing, hire a professional.

Pro Tip: We spoke to an RV mechanic, these are the RV systems he says will break first.

Pay Attention to Your Timing Belt

One of the biggest mistakes we often make is not paying attention to our vehicles. You can avoid a hefty repair bill down the road by listening and watching for changes in your vehicle. While turning up the radio will drown out a strange noise coming from your engine, it won’t help when you get handed a hefty repair bill from the mechanic. So pay attention to your vehicle and take action as soon as possible. 

Have you ever had a timing belt fail and leave you stranded? Tell us about it in the comments!

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