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Don’t Ignore Your Car’s Timing Belt, Or You’ll Regret It!

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Car timing belt

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Your engine’s timing belt is one of the most important maintenance items in your car. That’s because if the timing belt breaks, your car will immediately stop running and — even worse — your engine may be destroyed. The last thing any car owner wants is to deal with an engine that doesn’t work…

What is a timing belt, anyways? Simply put, it’s usually a heavy ribbed rubber belt deep in your engine that couples the crankshaft to camshaft(s) and keeps the valves in the top half of the engine moving in sync with the pistons and crankshaft in the bottom half.

Instead of timing belts, some cars and trucks have metal timing chains that are sturdier and more durable, generally not breaking like rubber belts have a tendency of doing. Timing chains can last the life of the engine in theory, but they are more expensive to develop and assemble than traditional timing belts.

Assuming your car has one, should you replace your timing belt? The answer is “yes”, and while most car and truck manufacturers employ various schedules for timing belt replacement, the rule of thumb is 60,000 to 100,000 miles (the techies at Arrigo Fiat of Sawgrass, FL tell us that the Fiat 500, in particular, should have its timing belt changed every 75,000 miles.)

Used cars pose a unique challenge because you may not know when their timing belts were last replaced. If you’re in doubt about the age of your timing belt, see your local dealer to have it examined. A mechanic can usually judge a timing belt’s condition just by pulling a cover.

As we mentioned earlier, your engine could be severely damaged, if not destroyed, if your timing belt breaks, but only if it’s an “interference” as opposed to a “non-interference” engine. With an interference engine, the valves and pistons physically overlap during operation. If the timing belt snaps, the valves will smack into the pistons, causing bent valves or even cylinder head damage. We don’t need to tell you how bad that is and how costly it will be to fix…

In a non-interference engine, however, the pistons and valves don’t overlap, so if the timing belt breaks, no valve or cylinder damage occurs and the engine just stops running. It’s a wonder why all engines aren’t designed this way…

Now that you know what timing belts are and what they do, is it best to simply replace them if in doubt? No, not necessarily. Generally speaking, changing a timing belt involves a lot of work, making it an expensive procedure. A typical job costs around $600, but that figure can be much higher with some engines.

The best thing to do is to find out when your timing belt was last changed, something a brand-certified mechanic should be able to help you with. Don’t waste your money unneededly.

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