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.