5 Symptoms of a Bad Timing Belt (and Replacement Cost)

Last Updated on April 6, 2021

The timing belt is located in front of your vehicle’s engine. It is made of a strong rubber material which includes cords that are nylon-reinforced. That way, the timing belt’s lifespan can be preserved.

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While the timing belt is moving inside the motor, it is placed under a lot of stress and tends to wear out quickly for this reason. As a result, you will have to replace the timing belt on a regular basis determined by the car manufacturer.

If you let your timing belt get worn out and you don’t replace it, you can cause a lot of expensive damage to your engine.

How a Timing Belt Works

how a timing belt works

The timing belt links the camshaft to the crankshaft, which manages the pistons of the engine. As for the camshaft, it is responsible for opening and closing the valves.

Overall, the timing belt makes sure the engine performs the best that it can by controlling the timing of the crankshaft and camshaft.

Related: SOHC vs DOHC (What’s the Difference?)

Symptoms of a Bad Timing Belt

If you have a bad or worn out timing belt, the following are symptoms that may occur. Once you experience one or more of these symptoms, have a certified auto technician or mechanic inspect the timing belt and then replace it if necessary.

See Also: Code P0017 (Engine Timing Issue)

#1 – Rough Idling of the Engine

rough engine idle

There are teeth on timing belts which grip gears as they’re rotating various engine parts and components. If these teeth ever start falling off or become brittle, the timing belt will start to slip away from the gears.

Once this happens, the teeth will fall directly onto the gears and form a jolt in the engine. Worst of all, the engine will begin to stall because the camshaft timing is off.

#2 – Misfire of the Engine

cylinder misfire causes

The fire rate of the engine could be jeopardized from the timing belt being worn out. If the timing belt were to slip away from the gears and fall onto the camshaft, one of the cylinders will open and close too soon.

If that happens, an engine misfire could occur which means the belt needs to be replaced right away. If you don’t replace the belt soon, the engine could be permanently damaged.

#3 – Smoke from the Engine

smoke from car engine

If it is wintertime and cold outside, it may be hard to tell if the vast amounts of smoke coming from your tailpipe are actually harmless steam or water vapor. But if you see too much smoke that looks unusual even for the winter, then it might have to do with a timing belt problem.

The top of every cylinder has two holes which are responsible for letting out the exhaust and letting in air. The opening and closing of these holes are synchronized with how the cylinders move and how the camshaft rotates.

If you have a worn-out timing belt then this will become unsynchronized, which means that exhaust will be let out and air will be let in at inappropriate times. The result will be lots of smoke coming out of your exhaust system.

#4 – Oil Pressure Decline

low oil pressure warning light on

The timing belt spins the gears of the camshaft. If the timing of the belt is off, it can skip and break off pieces of the camshaft. Some of these pieces might fall into the vehicle’s oil pan, resulting in the oil pressure to drop in the bottom of the engine.

This will cause the engine to fail altogether. The only way to recover from this is to rebuild the entire motor.

#5 – Pistons or Valves That Are Broken

hole in piston

The worst symptom you can experience is having the timing belt cut off or broken completely. If this is the case, the crankshaft will end up turning on its own and not be in sync with the motion of the camshaft.

Once this happens, the piston will come in contact with the valves as they open. This could end up bending the valves or damaging the piston.

If you want to prevent your engine from from further damage, shut off the engine immediately once you experience this symptom and there’s a chance you may avoid major engine damage.

Average Cost to Replace a Timing Belt

timing belt replacement cost

The replacement cost of a timing belt is dependent on the number of labor hours that were spent on the replacement job. After all, with some cars, it is a lot harder to gain access to some of the components like the timing belt.

For economy cars with small engines, the labor should be cheaper for this because they are easier to disassemble. But if you’re driving an SUV or a truck, they have bigger engines which mean you’ll be paying more money.

The average cost to replace a timing belt will be anywhere from $300 to $500 in total (more for larger cars, trucks, and SUVs). The timing belt itself will usually only cost less than $50 but the majority of a timing belt job is spent on labor.

The cost of the labor will be anywhere from $250 to $450 or more. There will likely be taxes and fees added onto these prices too.

NOTE: It’s often recommended to replace the water pump at the same time while in there since it’s in the same area. It may cost a bit more for a new water pump but you’ll save a lot of money on labor costs if you were to do it later on.

Read also: The Average Steering Column Replacement Cost

When Should a Timing Belt Be Replaced?

A timing belt is one of those things that’s critical to replace according to the auto manufacturer’s schedule. Most often this will be between every 75,000 and 100,000 miles. Check your owner’s manual for the exact schedule for your vehicle.

Replacing your timing belt is not one of those things you can just put off indefinitely. Eventually, the belt will break and you may have thousands of dollars in engine damage. It’s simply not worth the risk.

Timing Belt Replacement Process

Unless you have a lot of auto repair experience, a timing belt replacement is not an easy DIY job and should be handled by a professional.

The mechanic needs to gain entry to the timing cover of the engine by removing various accessories. After removing the cover, the mechanic will analyze the timing belt and its pulleys to see what is in need of replacement.

At this point, he will begin to remove the timing belt and replace it with a new one. They will likely replace the pulleys, tensioners, and water pump if they feel it is important to do so.

Once all the new parts are in, he will put the timing cover back on and any other parts that were removed. Now that it is all put back together, it can be tested with the start of the engine.

Is the engine running like it should? Is the timing of the engine good? If the answer to both of these is yes, then you are in good shape. Pay the mechanic and then you are done.


74 thoughts on “5 Symptoms of a Bad Timing Belt (and Replacement Cost)”

  1. Any rough idea of the cost to replace a timing belt/chain on a 2007 Hyundai Santa Fe?
    I was quoted $1600. This is not due to the belt/chain breaking yet, just as a needed precaution due to the age of the vehicle. The car has 165K miles on it. The most major repair was a catalytic converter and A/C repair due to Exhaust valve and service port replacements. All in all, this has been a very dependable vehicle. So is it a timing belt or chain and is $1600 to high?

    • Is that the 2.7 L or the 3.3 L engine?

      That quote sounds high to me. Is there other work they gave you an estimate for while you’re in there? What parts are they planning to replace?

  2. Hi,
    i just bought a 2011 honda odyssey with 106K miles, drove it for few days and last day i parked it in good condition, and after shopping, tried to start the engine, it cranked normal, strong battery and everything sound good, except it won’t start, ran diagnostic test, nothing wrong , no error codes or anything. spark is good, gas pressure is good everything seemed in good manner, then i towed the car to honda dealership and after a week they said timming belt is broken and valves are damaged ? i have no idea what they are talking about how did this happened.

    • My guess is the timing belt snapped when you tried to start the engine. Do you know when the timing belt was last replaced? If it’s never been replaced, 106k miles is a lot of miles on a timing belt. Most manuals ask you to replace it after 60,000 miles.

  3. I have a 2002 Acura MDX in amazing condition sure to good regular maintenance. It has roughly 190k miles on it. Recently took it in to get a 50 point inspection done and one of the big things they recommend was replacing is the timing belt at about $1,750! Does that seem like a fair price? I’m now considering just selling the car, it’s not worth much more than what they want to charge me for replacing that part. Ugh!

    • That sounds like an expensive timing belt change. I would expect the cost to be closer to $800-1,000. Did they say which components they were planning to replace with that estimate?

  4. I have a 2005 Hyundai Tiburon with a 2.OL engine, 4-cylinder. I took it to my local repair shop for an estimate cost to replace the timing belt and water pump as I have 160K miles on it. They gave me an estimate cost of at least a $1000.00 with a repair time of at least seven hours. Is this a fair price now days, and is this really a seven hour job? Two years ago I inquired the same to a couple of other repair shops and they to me it was around a $500.00 job. I can’t believe the cost has doubled in two years. What is really a fair price for this sort of job on a Hyundai Tiburon in excellent condition?

    • It depends on what the shops 2 years ago were going to replace. If you replace just the belt, it’ll be cheaper than the water pump, pulleys, and other associated bits. Right now you can get the absolute cheapest timing belt kit with everything for around $100 online. If a shop charges a 30% parts markup, that makes it $130. Add $50 for what they’ll charge you for engine coolant. Then you have the labor costs. The shop rate around here is $100 an hour. Labor really adds up.

      You might ask around and see what their book times are for this job. Some shops might use a different bit of estimation software. You could also save a few dollars by buying your own parts, but then you go without a warranty.

  5. I have a 2007 jeep compass 4fwd. Yesterday the check engine light came on & today I’m noticing an intermittent rough idle. I bought it used so no clue when the timing belt was changed so I’m thinking that may be it since it isn’t constant. I haven’t started checking prices yet. Do you have any idea what price range I should getting?

  6. I own a 2001 Acura 3.2cl with 333,000 miles (Yes you read that right!). I have been religious about maintenance and as such have replaced THREE timing belts as soon as I pass another 100k miles. The first one from the dealership was $1000 but the next two were hundreds less from private mechanics. It is worth shopping around!

  7. hello, I have a 2009 Honda Accord right now it is in the workshop they will change the timing chain for $ 650 … my question is the gasoline needle is going crazy sometimes it is not marking well what problem will be they already changed the fuel pump gasoline and nothing

    • Could the problem be in the instrument cluster? Those clusters do go bad occasionally. Perhaps there is a poor ground behind the cluster that is affecting the fuel gauge. If this is true, you may notice intermittent problems with some of the other gauges too.


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