Timing belts need replacements every so often, but when and how much that belt replacement will cost you can vary from car to car, mechanic to mechanic. For that reason, it is good to know what a timing belt is in your car and what it does, so that you can understand where the huge variance comes from when you get a few quotes from local garages. It means that you will not be ripped off and that you can make the best-informed decision about where to take your vehicle for the work it needs.
In this guide to how to timing belt replacement and how much a belt replacement costs, we look at specific information on timing belts, why a timing belt needs to be replaced, what to do if your timing belt does break, the lifespan of timing belts and what you can expect in terms of costs. In the main, the major difference in costs of replacing a timing belt is labour and the level of expertise you choose to hire, as well as the size of your vehicle itself. It’s good to be able to pinpoint where the difference comes from given that a replacement of a timing belt for a smaller car can start at just $300, but for a larger car or minivan, it can go up to $1000, which is an obvious divergence.
The reason labour costs so very much, when really the timing belt as a part will only cost at the very most around $50, is that so many different parts have to be removed from your car to fit the belt itself. Not only is this complicated and means that you need a person with a great deal of experience, but it is also simply time-consuming having to take all those car parts out, and then having to put them back again. It is one of those part replacements as well that owners would do well to pay for the best they can afford in terms of a mechanic as it is such a difficult task.
But What is a Timing Belt?
To learn why it is so important to have your timing belt replaced at regular intervals and pay the large bills to have them replaced, it is good to know exactly what a timing belt is.
A timing belt is the part of your car that allows your engine to keep running by making both the crankshafts and the camshafts work together in perfect synchronicity. This allows both the valves and cylinder heads (at the top of the engine) to work at the same time as the pistons at the bottom of the engine.
Most timing belts are made out of rubber, but not all. Some newer cars use timing chains instead which last a great deal longer than the rubber versions. In the main, if your car was made before the millennium, you can expect a rubber timing belt to be included as standard in your car’s engine. Your owner manual is a good place to look to see if your car does have a rubberised timing belt, however, and how often that that belt should be replaced – if at all. You may be lucky and have a chain fitted instead which will not need replacing like the older versions.
Some car owners get confused and mixed up between what a timing belt is and what a serpentine belt is. Whilst they are similar, it is good to realise the differences – especially if you want to investigate any engine problem under the hood of your car yourself before taking it to your mechanic.
For starters, a serpentine belt won’t affect the ability of your car as much if it breaks down, plus they are far more easy to see from when you open your car’s bonnet. This is great for the ease of keeping on top of the condition of your serpentine belt – though gauging how your timing belt is faring is that much more difficult.
In comparison to what happens when a serpentine belt fails, if your timing belt fails on you, you are in for far bigger an issue. This is why all cars and their manufacturers come with prescriptive detail in the manuals about when services should be conducted on each car and model. If you take services and their timings into your own hands, you are opening yourself up for far bigger repair bills and much bigger headaches to sort out. For starters a call out service from a pickup firm that you will need when your car is unable to drive any further down the road you are on.
If you are unable to find the information regarding your belt replacement in your car’s owner manual or other documents, it could be that you simply don’t have a belt that needs replacing in the first place. However, if you are at all uncertain, it is a good idea to have this confirmed by a trained expert as it is too risky just to wait and see. While replacing your timing belt is expensive, if your car needs it, it is well worth the outlay at that point as other issues that arise from a broken timing belt can be far more costly.
The Cost of Replacing A Timing Belt
As previously mentioned, the cost of replacing a timing belt can vary massively. It is a good habit to get into to call several mechanics for different quotes before taking your car to just any old garage or auto shop. That being said, your most local mechanic may very well offer you the best price and package, but it is good to investigate this first. In doing so, you could save yourself a small fortune by shopping around and being wary of upselling from larger brands and outfitters.
For example, Goodyear prices for replacing a timing belt are very high compared to the rest of the market, however with that price you know you will get a reputable service as well as an experienced mechanic, or team of mechanics. Your local mechanic will undoubtedly be a great deal cheaper, but only you and the small network of customers will know the quality standard of that mechanic’s work.
How Your Vehicle Can Vary The Cost of Replacing Your Timing Belt
As previously stated, a good rule of thumb for what changes the cost of replacing your timing belt in terms of your vehicle will be its size. This is because this has a direct impact on the amount of labour that is required to get to the timing belt itself through the engine. In short, looking at the timing belt takes a much shorter time in the average passenger car as their smaller engines are that much easier to disassemble. In comparison, an SUV obviously requires more time and probably people to disassemble so correspondingly costs more to have the timing belt replaced.
In terms of figures, it is not unfeasible to pay around $300 for a car like a Ford Escort, but expect to see this rise to around $800 for a Nissan Pathfinder.
Additionally, the older the model, the more replacing the timing belt will cost.
The Lifespan of a Timing Belt
The lifespan of a timing belt really does vary, so again, if you are unsure, check the schedule for your car model, make and year in the manual you have. However, broadly speaking it is thought that your timing belt should be replaced every 75,000 miles or so, or every 5 years.
The reason being is that the timing belt will have materially broken down in that time or distance owing to the heat and general stress levels that your car’s engine reaches. The part of the belt that is ruined and eroded the most are the teeth that keep the engine parts running in time together which is necessary for a smooth driving car. When the teeth are no longer large enough to do this, there is a huge risk that your belt will simply slip or stretch so that your car’s engine parts no longer work together and are more likely to work against each other.
Other times to replace your timing belt, other than recommended in your service schedule is if your car starts making a high pitched squealing noise. Sadly, your car is close to failing if this noise is down to a faulty timing belt. When the belt does eventually break, there will be a large crack or huge sound as the engine parts will not be protected so they will literally be cracking under pressure. Your engine will simply stop working and you won’t be able to start it again.
What Happens If My Timing Belt Snaps?
So why does your engine stop working if your timing belt snaps? Unfortunately, it is because the valves and pistons that the timing belt keep synchronised will suddenly hit into each other with a huge force. This means that those very piston and valves will be incredibly damaged as well as the cylinders that will have their internal walls completely broken.
At the very worst, the camshaft will also be broken which is one of the most expensive parts in your car to repair.
Some engines will have a different design in that they will have a non-interference type engine so if the belt does snap, the engine not be further damaged in any way, but your car will still stop working and be undriveable.
How To Replace A Timing Belt
Replacing a timing belt is an incredibly complicated affair. If you are anything short of an extremely experienced mechanic, it is good to get a trained professional to replace the belt for you.
However, if you think you are up to the challenge, these are the steps you should follow:
- Take out all parts of the engine that stop you from accessing the timing belt and its cover
- Take the cover off and look at the belt. Check its condition.
- If needed, then replace the belt with the relevant part.
- At this juncture, look at replacing any other parts that need replacing, or are simply a good idea to replace while you have so much of the engine disassembled.
- Replace all parts to their original location and ensure that all covers have been replaced too.
Final Points To Consider When Replacing Your Timing Belt
Given that so much of your car’s engine parts have to come out of your car to replace your timing belt, it’s not a bad idea to consider having other parts changed at the same time. Whilst these obviously increases the one time cost of that service, it should hopefully mean that you save money further down the line given the amount you save in labour costs as your mechanic can replace the following parts at the same time as your timing belt.
- Water pump
A water pump is inexpensive, though highly necessary engine part so it is worthwhile having it replaced at the same time as your timing belt, especially given that the water pump itself works because of the timing belt itself.
- Pulleys and Tensioner
We highly recommend having these parts replaced at the same time as the timing belt because they are crucial to your car working smoothly. They keep the timing belt taut so that it can work with absolutely no slack that could cause the timing belt to come away from its track.
- Front engine seals
These seals are an excellent car hack to replace at the same time as the timing belt as their cost is so small in comparison to the labour cost that would be incurred were they replaced at a separate time. They can really help elongate the life of your engine as well as its overall performance.