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.

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.

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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.

 

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

    • Hi Jennifer. You would have to contact a local shop for the exact cost but the Skoda would likely be on the lower end of the range given above if taking it to an independent mechanic.

      Reply
  1. My timing belt broke and the mechanic said he has to have the heads worked on? Is this correct or is he trying to screw me

    Reply
    • hi Jason
      Thanks for your informative article. I bought a VW T5 2010 2lt 4cil 132KW twin turbo diesel manual with 275000km some 2 years ago.( I only added 5000km in 2 Years) the previous owner only had the car 4 a short time, he missed out getting the service records.The engine seems fine-and powerful. a bit noisy in idle. but quietens down when touching the accelerator slightly. I got no idea at what stage the Timing belt is either not to long ago done, or well overdue. Being a pensioner, financially not well I am undecided how to go about. I am very mechanically minded and do many jobs myself. I done 1 timing belt/water pump on a ford tel star successfully. (i had a mechanic friend standing behind me , instructing me. He is not available this time around) I had 2 quotas 1.4K and 0.9K the first one is a vw workshop with a good reputation. the second one sounds OK but i don’t know them. I had previous twice bad experience with other cars and workshops, as they damaged other functions on the engine, by trying to get to where they had to work. including a spanner left lose in the engine compartment. Denial and costly repairs of the damage was the result. So I am a little hesitating. Nor do i know if i should worry about the T belt on the first place? Q 2: i seem to understand that the manufacturer not only recommend a km limit for the T belt. but also say 4 years max,( seems a very short time, if correct) Q3: besides water pump, tension-er and pullis is there anything else which would be advisable to be replaced. eg. fuel pump belt ? any good workshops in Coffs harbor nsw you can recommend?
      Thanks for your answer

      WS

      Reply
      • The first step is to do a bit of research to determine if that vehicle has a timing belt or a timing chain. If it uses a chain, you’re probably fine to leave it as is but check if there is a maintenance interval on any of those components just to be sure.

        I have never heard of a four year time limit on the timing belt.

        That’s a good starting place for other components to replace with a timing belt. Check forums and see what’s typically replaced on that vehicle while you’re in there.

        Reply
  2. My 2002 Kia Sportage just stopped running today without no problem no missing no noise just sit running. Is this a normal thing that happens when a timing belt goes bad?

    Reply
    • My 2005 Kia Sorento is the shop for a timing belt replacement right now for what sounds like similar issues. It just stopped running. Then it would crank up drive a quarter of a mile and then stop again. Apparently the belt had come lose and it is going to cost about $1,000 to fix.

      Reply
  3. i have a 2011 bmw 328xi. he just did the crankshaft and said it needs a timing belt. $1800. the car was kind of running loud and just died on me while driving. then it wouldn’t start. towed to mechanic. 160k miles. should i go elsewhere. he’s the guy that normally works on my car

    Reply
    • BMW uses a timing chain (not belt) on almost all its cars (including your 3 series). Timing chain issues are pretty rare and it’s considered a lifetime part on a BMW. Unless you heard wrong or he explained it incorrectly, I’d look to get a second opinion from another mechanic.

      Reply
  4. I have a 2009 honda accord exl v6 w/navigation. I have around 98,750 miles on the accord, and was wondering when to change the timing belt, as i know some of the honda mechanics says to change it close to 105k and am worry about driving it as the car is getting close to that mileage. I am trying to save money until then. What should I do, should I keep driving until i’m close to 105k or change the time belt before i get to 100k on my accord. As i’m worry the timing belt may break off soon and then cause more damage to the engine. As i don’t know the condition of the timing belt and the mechanics says they can’t see the condition of the timing belt until they take it apart.

    Reply
    • You should be fine to wait until you’re at 105k miles (unless you’re hearing some type of “slapping” noises coming from the area. The maintenance schedule set by car manufacturers has to be a bit conservative for something as important as a timing belt. The belt is not automatically going to snap as soon as it hits 105,000. But don’t try to get a few more thousand miles on it after that.

      Reply
        • That sounds reasonable. You might be able to find it cheaper if only the timing belt is replaced. However, when you go to do a timing belt there are usually several other components that should be replaced at the same time such as the valve cover gasket, idler pulleys, and water pump. These add parts cost but little to nothing in labor cost.

  5. I have a 2016 Ford Fiesta – timing belt just broke and we coasted into our driveway. We were that close by. What should cost look like?

    Reply
    • My friend has a 1996 Suzuki x90. Stopped running. Needs a water pump, which means a new timing belt too, with accessories. Is it worth fixing?

      Reply
      • Depends if any internal damage was done due to the water pump failing. Even then, I’m not sure I’d put the money into it unless they are really attached to the car. But you definitely don’t see many X-90s on the road.

        Reply
  6. I have a Kia Rio 2009 it was running fine then I stopped after few hours it wen I want start it has just cranks but no spark and it was sending the message to tracking company of battery disconnect but the fuses and relays are fine,

    Reply
  7. For a private used car sale of a Honda or Toyota with 100,000 or so miles on the odometer should one expect the timing belt needs to be replaced — unless the seller can produce documentation showing it has been replaced?

    Reply
    • In general, yes, I would expect it to be replaced along with documentation. If not replaced and the vehicle is running fine, use that as a negotiating point so you can pay for the timing belt job asap.

      Reply
  8. My Subaru forester with automatic transmission sometimes revs high while changing gears. Is this an indication of timing belt wear?

    Reply
    • No, it wouldn’t be the timing belt. Check the level and condition of your automatic transmission fluid right away. If that’s fine, you may have an internal transmission issue. Scan to see if there are any codes popping up.

      Reply
  9. My 2009 Chevy Traverse LS suddenly lost power and could not accelerate stalled on a highway. The car won’t start at all and mechanic thinks engine it’s locked due to Timing Chain break or malfunction. What do you think, and what be the average cost to repair? Or should I just chunk it now at 164,000 miles on it? Thanks much!

    Reply
  10. Hi, so I’m from Tennessee and the cost of the timing chain kit is 400 dollars and some change. That does not include labor. I just took it to my mechanic. My question is what is the probability that its messed up the heads? It is still driveable if that helps any.

    Reply
  11. My mechanic replaced the timing belt and water pump in December. My car broke down less than 2 months later. The timing belt was slipping off so I had it towed. When he checked it out the camshaft had completely snapped off. Did his work on the timing belt involve doing anything with the camshaft? It is a 2000 Toyota Sienna.

    Reply
  12. how can i tell if the timing belt/chain being broke caused the valves to bend…which from what I am told is that if the valves were bent, the engine needs to be replaced or re-built. I have a 2001 saturn s series. it was put in the shop because of the breaks and my exhaust seemed too loud (that is the only symptom I experienced of a timing chain issue before putting it in the shop) My mechanic ended up having to replace my entire break system…master cylinder all the lines etc., and the power steering pump. the car sat at the shop for about 3 months before I could pay the bill so when I paid, they went to jump off the battery and couldnt get it started, he said it seemed to be misfiring. he dug into it and used the camera to find the guide for the timing chain had completely broken, said it jumped time and the chain was off. He said what he saw (dealing with the valves) is that he could not really tell without completely tearing it apart if the valves were bent or not but he did say that with his camera he could see some shiney spots on the valves which led him to believe they did get bent. I am now trying to sell the car and do not know if i should place the ad stating that the timing chain needs to be replaced or the engine? Basically this long question is asking, by what you have read does it sound like the engine was destroyed when the timing chain broke? Im trying to be as honest as possible in disclosing the issues with the car to any potential buyer, but obviously wanting to get as much money for it as I can…because I did just pay the mechanic $876.00 to fix the car only to find out there was another issue when I went to pick it up. Any advice would be greatly appreciated!!

    Reply
    • Hey Valerie, a broken timing belt on an interference engine (like yours) would likely require an engine rebuild and replacement. An interference engine means the valves and/or pistons are able to contact each other if the engine is not properly timed. However, I know someone who got very lucky and had no damage after a snapped timing belt on his interference motor, so it’s definitely possible your engine is still OK.

      You could probably figure out if the engine needs a rebuild with a compression test or a leak down test.

      A compression test will test the pressure achieved in each cylinder as the engine cranks. It will show you the health of your valves, valve seats and piston rings. If pressure is high and relatively similar (about 10% variance) across all cylinders, you probably have a healthy engine. You would need to replace the timing chain to perform this test.

      A leak down test is a static test (the engine is not moving), and will test where air is escaping from. Each cylinder is oriented in its compression stroke (when the valves are closed), and shop air is pumped into the spark plug hole. The location and volume of how much air is escaping could tell you if the intake or exhaust valves are open, if you have worn piston rings and excessive blow by, or if you have blown head gaskets.

      A leak down test is usually slightly more expensive as it is more involved, but gives you more information than a compression test. Theoretically, if your mechanic can figure out how to close the valves on each cylinder without making contact with other valves or pistons, he may be able to perform this test without replacing the timing chain. I don’t know Saturns well enough to say for sure.

      Reply
  13. after change of Timing belt car does not iddle. When you stop pressing on the accellerator the car just switches off. Could the problem be timing belt or something else ?

    Reply
    • Yes, I would double check that the timing belt is aligned correctly. If you’re off even one tooth the car will run poorly, if at all.

      Next I would check for vacuum leaks. Make sure you didn’t forget to hook up any hoses, or tear one in the process of replacing your timing belt.

      Reply
    • I see a lot of timing belt jobs get quoted around the $800 mark, +/- $200 depending on what other work they’re doing while they’re in there and how familiar they are with that particular vehicle.

      Reply
  14. I have a Honda Accord V6 with 87K miles. Runs fine. How long can I wait before I need to change the timing belt? Does the fact that it’s been used mostly for short trips (5- 10 miles) and is 12 years old affect the decision of when to replace it?

    Reply
    • A timing belt is one of those things will work perfectly fine until it doesn’t. You can’t see the condition of the timing belt by popping the hood. You would have to take off the valve cover or timing covers. Even then, it’ll be hard to know for sure how much longer you can go on the belt without changing it unless it looks really rough (cracks or broken teeth, for instance).

      If you’re not sure if the belt has been changed, follow Honda’s recommended service interval for the timing belt. This should be listed in your owner’s manual, or can be found online in a Honda owner’s forum. Most Hondas are interference engines, which means if the timing belt snaps, the valves may contact each other or the pistons. This is an expensive fix that may completely ruin the engine.

      Reply
  15. I was told at my Acura dealership that a timing belt on my 2013 RDX Acura would be $1500.00 – that seems high to me, what do you think

    Reply
    • It seems high to me too, but dealerships are almost always more expensive than independent shops.

      In addition to the timing belt, what other components are they planning to replace?

      Reply
  16. I’m wondering about the cost of replacing a timing belt, water pump, etc. on an ’05 PT Cruiser (2.4l turbo). Can you suggest a “ballpark” figure?

    Reply
  17. what would you say about a toyota tacoma 2002 its been sitting for about three years and im trying to work on it and get it going again as a project

    Reply
    • Is there something specific you would like to know? Tacomas tend to be good vehicles if taken care of, but without knowing more about the condition of this example I can’t really offer anything of substance.

      Reply
  18. What about a Mitsubishi Galant, 2006, when should it be done and about how much $$. ….Thank you very much for this site—I’ve learned a lot from the Q/As.

    Reply
  19. My Honda Pilot 2011 has about 45,000 miles, but it is over 10 years old now. My mechanic said that timing belt is plastic as tire and will be oxidized easily to become weak by time. Should I change it? If yes, how much is cost for this vehicle model? Or should I wait until it hits to 100k mileages?

    Reply
    • The timing belt interval for your car should be 60,000 miles, but you can double check this interval in your owner’s manual. You should absolutely change the timing belt when it’s recommended to do so. If you don’t change the timing belt and the belt snaps, you will be stranded in the best case. In the worst case (for interference engines), you will need a new engine.

      If you or your mechanic have reason to believe that the timing belt is on its way out already, it would probably be best to change the belt a little early.

      Reply
  20. I have a 98 Ford escort zx2 and recently the bearing went out in the alternator, so I was told. So I had it replaced, right after the replacement I had to ride the gas to keep it from stalling. I went and had it read and the code came up for the timing belt gone bad. Did replacing the alternator cause it to go bad?

    Reply
  21. I have a 2009 Hyundai Elantra. Recently my timing belt broke. It also caused head damage which I paid to repair, $1500. After the work was completed the check engine light appeared and has not turned off yet. They replaced cam sensors and did several resets , but to no avail it is still on. The car runs fine but this check engine light is telling me something was not done right. Any suggestions. They are telling me that it is possibly a cam sprocket, Does this sound right.

    Reply
    • What code was thrown with that check engine light? I’m not sure why the cam sprocket would cause that check engine light. Perhaps VVT isn’t functioning correctly, in which case maybe they replaced the cam sprocket with one from a different year Elantra that is slightly different than the one that came with your car. That is just a guess, though.

      Reply
  22. 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?

    Reply
  23. 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.

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  24. 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!

    Reply
  25. 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?

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  26. 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?

    Reply
  27. 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!

    Reply
  28. 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

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  29. I have a 2003 Honda Accord, have owned the car since 2018. Have been a good car all of the sudden, one day i got in tried to start the car and it cranked over but, didn’t start. after the 3rd try it started. Then it had no problem starting and running for about a week. Then i tried to start it again and it would crank over but, not start. the car has 148,247 miles on it and i don’t know if the timing Belt has ever been changed. We had the battery test to rule that out and they said it was good on cold cranking amps, battery is approx. 4 yrs old. Someone also mentioned a crank positioning sensor….any ideas where i should start???

    Reply
    • Start by scanning for codes. If the check engine light is or has ever been on since the battery was last disconnected, there should be some stored codes that might help you narrow down the problem.

      Could be a sensor issue, could be a wiring issue, could be old spark plugs. There are so many possibilities you’ll have to start narrowing down the scope of the problem a bit before you will likely find the issue.

      Reply
  30. I’m driving 2015 Hyundai Sonata and it’s on 108137miles.
    My car read high idle, check engine light on and theleration not work as normal (it won’t pick up the speed as usual).
    And I came to check and they ran diagnostics test. They said it timing chain and it would cost almost $4000. It sounds very expensive. Is it normal?

    Reply
  31. Yesterday I was driving my Cadillac STS on the freeway and I ran something over however second later the car stopped reacting when I pushed the pedal for the gas I pulled over to the side of the freeway and turned the car off once I started it back the car would turn on but the engine wouldn’t start up or car wouldn’t drive what could have tore at the bottom causing this to happen?

    Reply
    • Do you have an idea of what you might have run over? I’m wondering if something broke in the engine that caused a similar jolt to what you might feel if you ran something over.

      My next steps would be to scan for codes. Unfortunately that’s not a lot of info to go off of by itself. Did you have the car towed? Will the car start and run now?

      Reply

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