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What is a timing belt and when should I have it replaced?

Timing Belt

We do our best to protect our vehicles and to keep them maintained against all possible problems. However, one of the greatest dangers to high mileage cars is also one of the least well known. The death of many older or high mileage cars is nothing other than a failure of the timing belt. In order to understand what makes the timing belt so important and how we can prevent it from failing, we first need to discuss what it does and what we can expect in the life expectancy of the belt.

The timing belt serves a very important part to making your engine run. Namely, the timing belt is the belt that controls the camshafts in your engine and keeps the entire operation running smoothly. Timing belts are essential to keep these camshafts turning at the right time with the crankshaft. A camshaft is the shaft that opens and closes the intake and exhaust valves in your engine and the crankshaft controls the movement of the pistons. A timing belt must be properly calibrated in order to keep these components moving together in proper time.

There are two types of engines: Interference & Non-Interference. An Interference Engine is one whose valves extend into the path of the piston. A timing belt failure in an interference engine invariably results in internal engine damage (i.e. bent valves and or damaged pistons). Regardless of the type of motor present in your car, a failure in the timing belt will cause the engine to suddenly stop running and you will not be able to get it started again. In all cases, this means calling a tow truck.

If this sounds like a nightmare, that's because it can turn out to be one. Luckily though, timing belt failure is somewhat easy to prevent, and although it may not be the cheapest or easiest operation in the world, it is definitely a better option than purchasing either a new car or a new engine.

Different manufacturers & different engines have varying timing belt service schedules according to mileage. If you have trouble finding out when exactly the timing belt should be changed in your vehicle; you can consult with your mechanic for the exact mileage requirement. If you are a low mileage driver another good general rule of thumb is that a timing belt should be changed every 7 years. It is best not to let a belt go more than the recommended mileage change point or 7 years, whichever comes first. Along with the timing belt there are other engine components that can be replaced at the same time such as the timing belt pulleys, tensioner, water pump, drive belts & seals. Changing your belt is definitely a lot safer for your engine, and a little money out of pocket can save you a lot of money and a new car in the long run. Service is the key.

Remember, even though you may get your oil changed every 3,000 miles, and do all of your scheduled repair services, nothing can save you from a timing belt failure. Make sure to get your timing belt replaced regularly and by a certified mechanic. It can mean the difference between a good running car or a very expensive repair.

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