Is time running out on your car's timing belt?

Is time running out on your car's timing belt?

There are two essential questions that every car owner should ask their mechanic. Does my car have a timing belt and does my car have an interference engine? 

Some cars have a timing chain, which is more durable and has a much longer life span than a timing belt. The function of a timing belt or chain is to open and close the engine’s valves in sequence and at the correct time. 

Just like your heart, if the engine jumps time, it will run poorly or fail. If a timing belt fails, your car will not start. It may fail while driving and cause the engine to stall or you may be suddenly surprised when your vehicle just won’t start. 

There are rarely any warning signs that the timing belt is weak. If you don’t replace the belt as a preventative measure, you’ll have to add a tow bill to the repair. 

If the timing belt fails in an interference engine, it will bend valves in the cylinder head, requiring very expensive engine repairs. The estimate to perform a complete timing belt job, including the water pump and all the tensioners and pulleys in the timing belt system as preventative maintenance, will run around $900. 

It seems like a lot, doesn't it? In the photo above, maintenance was due on the vehicle and recommended at 105,000 miles, but it was never performed. The car had 150,000 miles when it suddenly stopped running and had to be towed for repairs. 

We found that the water pump had locked up and one tensioner came apart. When the remaining pulleys tried to turn the timing belt, it generated heat, melted and literally shredded the belt. More bad news – this is an interference engine and the cylinder heads where badly damaged. The new estimate to get the car repaired was nearly $4000.

We have found it best to replace any part that acts as a pulley for the timing belt when the new belt is installed. Most timing belts supply power to the water pump. In that case, be aware of the danger of a leaking or noisy water pump that will damage the belt. 

Both the water pump and one tensioner had failed on this car. Any timing belt pulley, idler, hydraulic or mechanical tensioner failure can cause the same catastrophic damage to an interference engine and replacing the belt only at 105,000 miles would not have changed the outcome!

At this point the customer was over a barrel, facing a huge expense and the decision to repair or replace the vehicle. Either option could take a week or more and required the use of a rental car as well. 

Keep your car’s heart (engine) and pacemaker (timing belt) in good working order. Ask the questions and know your options in advance. 

About this Angie’s List Expert: Kathy Wallace is the owner of Central Garage Company, Inc., providing auto service in Columbus, Ohio. Since 1995, Central Garage has specialized in maintenance of domestic and foreign cars, including brakes, air conditioning, tune ups, electrical, suspension, diagnostics, exhaust and more.

As of February 5, 2014, this service provider was highly rated on Angie's List. Ratings are subject to change based on consumer feedback, so check Angie's List for the most up-to-date reviews. The views expressed by this author do not necessarily reflect those of Angie's List.

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Leave a Comment - 2


Pastor John praise

Subject: Car Engine Not Starting

Compliments , please I need a technical advise on how my mechanic can put my car in order . I have an Audi A4 2009 2.4 Engine I bought already used from someone , though I had to get some things change but the recent one was the dragging of the car. Nomarly once you put the car on and off your leg from the foot brakes, it suppose to move not to talk of when the trottle is applied. But moving became an issue until a Vokswagon specialist advised to change the fuel pump which at the day it was changed, and the engine coupled back, at the point of of starting the ignition, the car will come up as though it's about to start but will not. Later checkings was done again and was discovered that the timing belt had a rough edge . Pls can it be the reason why the engine would not start or could you please help me with technical advise on how or what step to take so my mechanic can follow through ? Thank you so much.

Felinda Hammond

Subject: timing belt

I have a 2004 mitsubishi lancer. I am not sure when to change the timing belt. It has 78000 miles on it and I drive about 8000 miles/year.

Thank you.

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