Is it time to replace your timing belt?

The timing belt synchronizes the motion of your car's camshaft and crankshaft (the...

The timing belt synchronizes the motion of your car's camshaft and crankshaft (the camshaft controls the opening and closing of engine valves, and the crankshaft turns the up and down motion of the pistons into rotation). A broken timing belt can leave you stranded by the side of a busy street and cause expensive damage to your engine.

What can go wrong?

The two categories of engine design are non-interference and interference. Engines that allow pistons and valves to collide when a timing belt snaps are called interference engines, because the valves and pistons can "interfere" with each other when the belt breaks. Consult your owner's manual or ask your mechanic to find out if your car has an interference engine. If so, prepare to pay $1,200 or more for repairs, or $5,000 or more for a new engine.

A broken timing belt can still leave you stranded with non-interference engine, looking for a tow to the nearest mechanic. This is why regular maintenance is very important; procrastination can still be costly.

Regular maintenance and warning signs

Take your car to a trusted mechanic for regular maintenance; you will avoid emergency repairs and save money in the long run. Like many other car parts, timing belts are meant to be replaced at regular intervals, so check your owner's manual for the manufacturer's recommendation, and plan for a replacement every 50,000 to 90,000 miles.

Trouble can develop between scheduled replacements, so check your belt for warning signs as often as possible. For instance, take a moment to look at the belt when you open the hood to check your oil or add wiper fluid. If you notice signs of wear or damage, replace the belt right away.

  • Look for cracks, splits, peeling, frayed edges, oil or other fluids on the belt or a shiny, glazed appearance.
  • Keep an eye out for fluid leaks under your vehicle because leaking fluids can damage belts; have your mechanic check the timing belt while repairing the leak.
  • When driving, listen for squeaking or squealing sounds.

Replacement costs

Take your car to a mechanic for this job, since removing most vehicles' timing belts will require disassembling several items in the engine compartment, and some cars may even require you to remove at least one motor mount. Instead of attempting that task on your own, call a few local Atlanta mechanics for price estimates. Plan to pay around $400 or more, depending on the make and model of your car. This is still substantially less than the cost of repairs after a belt breaks.

Remember to take care of this and other regular car maintenance to avoid expensive repairs and stay safe on Atlanta roads.

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