A significant element of the “brain” of a car engine, the timing belt (aka cam belt), controls your vehicle’s valve timing. The timing belt connects the crankshaft to the camshaft, which controls the opening and closing of valves necessary during the internal combustion process. On some engines, it may also turn the water pump. According to Wikipedia, the first car to use a timing belt was in 1945, and the timing belt first went into mass production in 1962 with the German Glas 1004 car. It hit America with the 1966 Pontiac Tempest, and the 1966 Vauxhall introduced the modern-day use of the timing belt with the four-cylinder overhead cam design that is common to most cars today. Auto manufacturers recommend that the timing belt be replaced at regular intervals, so it is wise to consult your owner’s manual and keep accurate records.
Make changing the timing belt part of regular maintenance
All automotive belts are important to an engine’s proper function, and the timing belt is no exception. It’s made of rubber, so it’s relatively inexpensive. However, it can also snap without warning. Depending upon whether you have the “free-wheeling” type of engine (as AutoMedia.com puts it), a snapped timing belt can cause the engine pistons to bend the valves, which requires the head to be removed. That’s an expensive repair procedure, so have your timing belt replaced regularly. As the timing belt is typically covered up and not easily visible, it’s generally a good idea to have a trained professional perform the inspection and replacement. However, mechanic-savvy consumers can perform the procedure at home. See About.com’s detailed instructions for more info on the procedure, and be careful not to over-tighten.
How long will a timing belt last?
This varies by manufacturer. It could be about 10,000 miles for a belt tension check, or as many as 100,000 miles before total replacement. If there’s any doubt, preventative maintenance is better than waiting until it snaps and the valves warp. If you drive hard and live in a warm climate, you will probably have to change the timing belt more often, as excessive heat causes rubber to crack over time. Exposure to oil or antifreeze can also wear down the rubber, so if you have a leak, you’ll want to inspect the belt. Since the cost of a new water pump is relatively low compared with the cost of having a mechanic go in and check the timing belt, many experts recommend replacing the water pump at the same time as the timing belt.
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Changing a timing belt on a Vtec Honda Accord: