You might see the terms “timing belt” and “timing chain” and think they’re the same thing. Your assumption is close to being right because they both perform the same task. For starters, the internal combustion engine is the home of these two components. Both the timing belt and timing chain can help synchronize the rotation of the crankshaft and camshaft. However, an engine doesn’t use both components together. It will either have one or the other.
When the crankshaft moves, it causes the timing belt or timing chain to rotate the camshaft. Once the camshaft moves, it can open or close various engine valves, such as the air intake valve. This is the valve which allows outside air to enter the engine for the purpose of combustion. Since these components are all about “timing,” they’re responsible for opening and closing the valves at the appropriate time. If this timing is ever off, then it’ll cause a lot of problems for the engine’s performance.
Timing belts are the newer of the two. They were invented roughly 50 years ago as a timing chain alternative. There are certain benefits to using a timing belt which the timing chain doesn’t possess. For instance, timing belts are much quieter as they move and operate. They’re also much stronger than timing chains too. And even if a timing belt were to break or snap apart, it won’t inflict that much damage to the engine. You’d still be able to salvage your engine without having to spend thousands of dollars repairing it.
Wear and tear do affect timing belts more than timing chains. For this reason, timing belts will only last you for up to 100,000 miles. After you reach the 60,000-mile mark, you should start to worry about your timing belt going bad. It could happen at any point in between those two mileage points. When you finally must replace your timing belt, it’ll cost you anywhere from $300 to $900.
Read also: 5 Symptoms of a Bad Timing Belt in Your Car
Timing chains were the first of the two. These chains last a much longer time than timing belts. Most people who drove older vehicles never had to replace their timing chains because they outlived the cars themselves. You can easily keep the same timing chain for up to 200,000 miles. And if for some reason you ever had to replace the timing chain, it would cost you from $400 to $1,000.
As great as timing chains are, there are some good reasons why they were replaced with timing belts. One big reason has to do with the loud noises they make. Timing chains generate noise while they’re moving while timing belts do not. And if the timing chain were to eventually break, it would be a disaster for your engine because pieces of the chain would fall everywhere. Then your engine would likely suffer permanent damage. Not only would you have to replace your timing chain, but you’d have to replace your engine as well. At that point, you might as well just get a new car.
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People don’t typically think about whether they have a timing belt or timing chain in their vehicle. The only time it will concern you is if your current chain or belt breaks and you must replace it with a new one. Since most people sell their vehicles after about 80,000 miles anyway, you probably won’t ever need to deal with this issue if you usually buy newer vehicles. But just be aware of the differences between these two components in case you do need to replace one of them.