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

Updated

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.

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.

#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.

 

Comments

    • 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
  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
  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

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