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Have Timing Belt Problems? Here are Signs to Replace Your Timing Belt or Chain

The timing belt or chain of a vehicle is part of the engine timing system – a system that synchronizes the movement of the crankshaft and camshaft to ensure proper combustion. Manufacturers that most commonly use timing chains in their vehicles include BMW, Nissan, and Perodua. On the other hand, most Proton, Honda, and Hyundai vehicles tend to have timing belts.

Both the timing belt and chain are essential engine components that ensure your car can run optimally. That’s why it’s important to keep an eye on them if you don’t want to incur expensive repairs. Here’s everything you need to know about timing belts and chains from the lifespan to signs you need a new timing belt.

What Does a Timing Belt or Timing Chain Do?

A car’s timing belt or chain has the same function, which is to synchronize the motion of the camshaft and crankshaft. In turn, these two components control the movement of the engine valves and pistons during combustion, ensuring precise timing. Since the engine components move at thousands of revolutions per minute (rpm), this is important to ensure efficient combustion so the engine can produce enough power without being damaged.

Timing Belt vs Timing Chain

Although they both work the same way, many vehicle owners are of the opinion that timing chains are better as they typically last the vehicle’s lifetime. On the other hand, some prefer timing belts as they cost less to replace. If the timing system is an important consideration for you, here are the main differences between a timing belt and chain.

1. How They Work

Generally, a timing belt is made of rubber and doesn’t require lubricating to enhance its performance because it is already compact and streamlined. However, the timing belt is equipped with teeth that grip the gears during operation. If these teeth become detached or worn out, the belt can slip off the gears, thereby affecting its performance. A slipped timing belt can cause the engine to lose power, and the engine operation becomes rougher compared to normal situations.

Unlike a timing belt, a timing chain looks and works similarly to a bicycle chain and requires lubrication to reduce friction and vibrations. Therefore, proper maintenance of engine oil is crucial if your vehicle uses a timing chain. Regular maintenance and timely oil changes can extend the lifespan of the timing chain. Other factors that can cause a car’s timing chain to become damaged or worn out more quickly are:

  • Using oil with the wrong viscosity
  • Using low-quality engine oil

Read More: From Engine Oil to Coolant: Here’s How to Check the 6 Essential Car Oils & Fluids

car mechanic checking engine

2. Lifespan

The lifespan of a timing chain is typically longer than that of a timing belt. It doesn’t need to be replaced as long as it doesn’t exhibit any signs of damage such as loud noises. Additionally, the lifespan of a timing chain is said to be at least 400,000km. However, this depends on how you use, maintain, and care for your vehicle.

A timing belt’s lifespan is generally around 100,000km. However, this can vary depending on the type and model of the car. For example, the timing belt of a Proton Saga or Proton Waja needs to be replaced every 90,000km to 100,000km. The timing belt of a Honda CRV is said to last up to 160,000 km, subject to usage and maintenance.

3. Operation Noise Level

Since a timing belt is coated with a rubber or polymer layer that absorbs vibrations, it operates more quietly than a timing chain. This makes it a highly popular choice among car manufacturers. However, advancements in modern timing chain designs have also made it fairly quiet, turning it into the preferred choice for many car manufacturers, especially luxury automakers.

Modern timing chain designs are said to be more robust. They produce less friction and vibrations, resulting in a quieter operation compared to previous designs. Additionally, the engine compartment design with the latest technology also plays a role in reducing noise issues in most modern car models that use a timing chain.

4. Replacement Cost

Timing belts are usually significantly cheaper than timing chains as they’re made of rubber or a polymer material, whereas timing chains are made of metal. That said, the price of a timing belt or chain depends on the type and model of the car it’s made for. The labor cost to change a timing chain is typically more than it is to change a timing belt. 

Cars with bigger or more complicated engines will also incur a higher replacement cost. On average, replacing your timing belt or chain should cost between RM200 to RM500. As an example, replacing the timing belt on a Proton Persona costs around RM310 including the labor charge.

5. Maintenance

Both timing belts and chains are disposable parts that should be replaced at the end of their lifespan. Timing belts have a fixed lifespan, and since they’re made of rubber, they can crack or have wear and tear on their teeth. If you use a timing belt past its maximum lifespan, it could snap, causing severe damage to your engine.

On the other hand, a timing chain tends to last throughout your vehicle’s lifetime, so you probably won’t need to fix or replace it unless there are unexpected problems. To maintain a timing chain, just ensure you replace your engine oil regularly. This keeps the chain lubricated to slow down wear and tear.

Car timing chain

Signs to Replace Your Timing Belt or Chain

Problems with your car’s timing belt or chain shouldn’t be ignored as they can lead to more serious problems. If the belt or chain breaks while the engine is running, it could cause severe damage to your engine, which could be costly to repair. Therefore, pay attention to the way your engine sounds while driving and do check on your engine components every time you service your car. Here are possible signs that you need a new timing belt or chain.

1. Rough Engine Sound 

A timing belt can break on its own without any sign. However, one common symptom of a timing belt problem is abnormal noises coming from the engine, most notably squealing or ticking noises. To confirm a damaged timing belt, sprinkle water on it while the engine is running. If the noise disappears after it gets wet, it’s a sign that the car’s timing belt is damaged and needs to be replaced.

In contrast, a timing chain will produce specific sounds when damaged. It will generate a loud rattling noise after starting the engine. The sound tends to be more audible when the engine is heating up and will disappear after some time. However, this sound is also commonly associated with low engine oil pressure. If you hear strange noises, check the engine oil level first. If it’s normal, it’s highly likely that your car’s timing chain has an issue.

2. Abnormal Engine Combustion

A worn or damaged chain or belt can cause the engine pistons and valves to not move in sync leading to abnormal or incomplete combustion. Since the air and fuel mixture doesn’t ignite at the right time, you get less power and fuel efficiency out of the engine. It could also cause carbon buildup in the engine, and in certain cases, cause engine damage. If you notice odd sounds from the engine accompanied by a drop in power, you should get your engine checked immediately.

3. Check Engine Light Turns On

The check engine warning light illuminates when the car’s engine sensor detects a potential issue with the engine or exhaust system. This light usually comes on when you turn on your car and goes off after a few seconds. If it stays on even after your engine is running, you could have a problem with the engine. However, if there are odd sounds from the engine as well, there’s a higher likelihood that you have a worn or damaged belt or chain.

We hope this guide can help you familiarize yourself with the differences between a timing belt and chain, as well as know when and if you need to replace them. 

Service or Repair Your Car at a CARSOME Service Center

If you’re looking to service or repair your car, check out our CARSOME Service Centers, located in Ampang and Petaling Jaya. Our certified mechanics are skilled and experienced in handling a variety of cars so you can rest assured that your car will be in the best hands. Furthermore, we only use quality spare parts and are transparent with our billing. 

Not sure what your car needs? We’ll conduct a free 20-point inspection checking everything from the battery health to the undercarriage and even the interior before recommending a suitable service for your car. And with service packages starting from RM98, servicing your car at a CARSOME Service Center doesn’t have to be expensive.

Need a repair or service? Book an appointment on our website or download our app.

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