Timing chain vs timing belt – What’s the difference?

The timing belt or timing chain is one of the most important parts of your vehicle’s engine. Either one can cause severe damage to your engine and lead to an expensive repair. While they both perform the same task of controlling the engine’s timing, a timing belt and a timing chain have their own advantages and disadvantages. If you’re planning to upgrade your engine or purchase a new vehicle, you may be interested in knowing the difference between these two timing components. Check out this detailed comparison between a timing belt and a timing chain.

What Is a Timing Belt or a Timing Chain?

Timing Chain vs Timing Belt

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Every part of a car’s engine works in precise harmony to generate power in a smooth and steady manner. To ensure a perfectly timed operation, the timing belt or timing chain works with the crankshaft and camshaft to keep the valves and pistons moving in synchrony.

The engine’s camshaft controls the valves to allow air and fuel to enter and exit, while the crankshaft is responsible for moving the pistons up and down. Referred to as mechanical timing, the timing in these processes must be spot on to achieve and maintain optimal engine operation. Bad timing can cause the engine to break down and damage the pistons, valves, and other components.

The timing chain has a longer history than the timing belt. When the internal combustion engine appeared in the late 19th century, every automobile was equipped with a timing chain. This went on until 1940, when Pontiac released a revolutionary six-cylinder engine that came with a rubber strap rather than the classic chain. Subsequently, major auto manufacturers began adopting this new invention for a number of reasons.

What Are the Pros and Cons of a Timing Belt vs. a Timing Chain?

Nowadays, most vehicles roll off the assembly line with a timing belt, but some models still use a timing chain. Both of these timing components are equally capable of facilitating perfect engine timing, but they’re different in many ways. Let’s compare the advantages and disadvantages of a timing belt and a timing chain.

Timing Belt

A timing belt is a rubber belt that’s similar to the serpentine belt in your vehicle. However, unlike the easy-to-change serpentine belt, it’s located behind the timing belt cover, making it difficult to reach and replace. Still, it’s recommended that you get a new timing belt once every 60,000 to 100,000 miles, depending on your vehicle. This means you need to change the belt two or three times over the lifetime of your vehicle.

Replacing a timing belt can cost anywhere from $400 to $1,000 or more. Nonetheless, it’s an essential part of auto maintenance. If you skip this procedure, the belt may snap and cause your engine to be totaled, which can set you back thousands of dollars. Typically, a timing belt has a higher maintenance cost than a timing chain, which may not need to be replaced.

One of the main reasons why most modern vehicles use a timing belt rather than a timing chain is because of the price. A timing belt is significantly cheaper than a timing chain. This allows automakers to reduce their production costs and pass the savings on to car buyers. Other things being equal, a vehicle with a timing belt is more affordable than one that uses a timing chain. Another benefit of a timing belt is that it usually produces less noise than a timing chain. However, some advanced engines with a timing chain are also capable of quiet operation.

Timing Chain

Made of metal, a timing chain is more durable than a timing belt. You’ll probably never have to replace a timing chain, but you may need to change the guides that keep it in place. Even so, most auto manufacturers recommend getting new guides once every 150,000 miles or more. Since it may not require replacement, a timing chain can help you save money on maintenance. However, if your timing chain breaks, you have to be prepared to fork out more than $1,500 to get it replaced.

As mentioned earlier, a timing chain is costlier than a timing belt. Therefore, automakers tend to charge higher prices for vehicles that come with a timing chain. This type of timing is usually found in vehicles with big engines, so you probably won’t have one unless you own a relatively expensive vehicle.

Besides being highly durable, a timing chain tends to deliver more consistent performance than a timing belt. Unlike its rubber-belt counterpart, it doesn’t become elongated as a result of excessive heat. Also, it doesn’t slip, which is something that can happen to a timing belt when it comes into contact with oil.

Should You Change Your Timing Belt or Timing Chain Yourself?

Regardless of the type of vehicle you own, you can’t see the timing belt or timing chain when you open the hood. This part of the engine is covered, and you have to remove many components to reach it. Replacing a timing belt or chain isn’t only a labor-intensive procedure, but it’s also a highly technical one. If you aren’t familiar with the process, you may accidentally line up the timing belt or chain with the incorrect grooves. As a result, you’ll have an improperly timed engine that can lead to a lot of damage.

When it comes time to change your timing belt or chain, it’s best to leave the task to a professional mechanic. While you can save some money by taking matters into your own hands, the possible long-term effects aren’t worth the risk.

Now that you know the difference between a timing belt and a timing chain, you’ll be able to make a better-informed car-buying decision. If you’re shopping for a used vehicle in Jersey City, New Jersey, consider stopping by New Jersey State Auto Used Cars. We have one of the largest selections of quality used cars, SUVs, and trucks in the Jersey City area, so you can rest assured you’ll find your ideal ride at our dealership. Contact us today to make an appointment.