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When Should You Replace Your Car’s Timing Belt?

Car Engine Bay

Everyone has heard the urban legend of a timing belt breaking… the stories are terrifying and repairs are exorbitantly expensive. But what exactly is a timing belt? And how do you maintain it?

What is a timing belt?

A timing belt (or a car timing chain in some cases) is the part in your engine that synchronises the rotation of the crankshaft that drives the wheels, with the movement of the engine valves, which provide the power. The timing belt makes sure that the valves open and close at the right time to ensure the car runs smoothly and has the correct airflow. It effectively helps the car to ‘breathe’; ensuring clean air comes in, and exhaust fumes (used air) goes out.

Why is the timing belt so important?

It’s what keeps everything moving together in sync, it’s a reasonably simple part in itself (just a rubber belt or a chain), but does an incredibly complex and vital job. Without this critical part, the engine’s operation will not be timed properly. If an engine is not timed properly it will misfire, resulting in some severe banging noises, possibly sending pistons flying out of their cylinders and completely bringing the car to a stop – maybe even to never start again!

What happens if a timing belt breaks?

In short, it causes a lot of damage. If the engine (as a whole) is not moving in the right way, at the same time, it can lead to disaster. Timing belt damage can include:

  • bent valves
  • piston and cylinder wall damage
  • cylinder head damage

Any one of these could stop your car from running. And they are VERY expensive to fix, because fixing them requires taking the engine apart and reconditioning the whole thing, from the core out.

How much does a timing belt replacement cost?

It mostly depends on the make and model of your vehicle or the mechanic you use. Autoguru states the average cost of replacing a timing belt starts at $500 and can reach well over $1000. Labour costs alone can be upwards of $1,200 (8 hours to replace at $150 per hour). And that’s without parts! Also, most of the time, your water pump will be changed as well, which adds to the bill.

Keep in mind that dealerships can often be more expensive than your local mechanic, so make sure you get a second opinion. It’s also highly advised to make sure your vehicle service logbook is updated when your timing belt is replaced and you keep the receipts for parts and work completed. This can impact the value of your vehicle if or when you come to sell it.

It’s worth mentioning that if it’s too late, and the timing belt has already broken, it might be the end for your car. If the pistons bend or the cylinder head blows, you’re looking at replacing the engine. As you can imagine, this is not cheap, no matter the model of car you drive.

How often should your timing belt be replaced?

Unfortunately, you won’t know when your timing belt is wearing, as you can’t actually see it. If you don’t replace it after the recommended period, it may break without notice. Replacing a timing belt when the manufacturer recommends it is essential.

Mechanic Repairing Car

But what is the recommended timing belt interval?

Once again, it depends on the model and make of your vehicle. Some need changing at 40,000km, others don’t need changing until 150,000km. The general industry consensus is 100,000km or five years. Past this, it’s time to chat to your mechanic about changing it.

Can a timing belt affect the value of your vehicle?

Definitely! If you are trying to sell your vehicle when close to a timing belt change, no savvy buyer is going to pay you the full price. Your buyers know they have to spend the money to get it changed and will negotiate the cost of this off your price. This is one of the many things to do when looking to sell a car that needs work.

It WILL reduce the value of your vehicle.

If your timing belt breaks, then the value of your vehicle will reduce even further. So make sure you replace your timing belt to maintain the value of your vehicle and that it is recorded in your service history with the receipts and invoices. Remember: if it’s not recorded, it didn’t happen!

The conclusion is…

There are three key things to keep in mind:

  1. Changing your timing belt is critical to keeping your car operating and saving you thousands of dollars in damage.
  2. Check your manufacturer’s guide or speak to your mechanic to make sure you change it at the right time.
  3. Make sure you shop around to find the best deal. Prices can vary, and you don’t want to be paying more than you have to!
  4. Be demanding! Make sure you mechanic records the change in your vehicle’s service history. If it is not recorded, it will be assumed that it is not done.

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