Have you ever heard of a timing belt? Chances are pretty good if you drive a car made in the last 20 years or so that your car has a timing belt.  If not, it has a timing chain.   The reason it is called a timing belt or timing chain is because the purpose of it is to ensure that operations in your engine happen at the right time.  Engines are complex and the pistons have to move in concert with the valves, while fuel is injected at a certain time and spark fires at a different time.  Piston and valve movement is coordinated with the timing belt or chain, while in most cases, fuel and spark is handled by the engine computer.

So clearly the timing chain or belt is important in order for your engine to run properly, but mechanics give it even more importance because if a timing belt snaps, catastrophic damage can occur inside the engine. Imagine the pistons inside your engine moving up and down thousands of times per minute and the valves opening and closing in carefully timed synchronicity – now imagine that the belt that keeps that timing suddenly snaps.  Pistons move up, valves move down and then the valves come into violent contact with the tops of the pistons.  The kind of damage that occurs can cost thousands to repair.

There are some types of vehicles that have what are called “non-interference” engines.  This means that if the valves are open all the way and the pistons are at the top of their stroke, then the valves do not actually interfere with the piston – meaning if the belt breaks, they won’t come into contact with the piston and cause the expensive damage that occurs in an interference engine.  I once had a timing belt snap in an old Ford Focus in a Tim Horton’s drive through and the car just immediately died.  Once I pushed it the rest of the way through the drive through (I got my double-double don’t worry) any attempts to restart the car just sounded like it was a sewing machine.   Luckily in that case, just replacing the timing belt was all that was required.

Auto manufacturers have recommended replacement intervals for your timing belt. While it varies by manufacturer a good rule of thumb is to replace it between 100,000 and 160,000 kilometers.  Many vehicles have a water pump that is driven by the timing belt and it is recommended to change the water pump at the same time.  In fact, many companies sell timing belt replacement kits that include the belt, all tensioners, and the water pump for just that reason.

So if you have a car with an interference engine and haven’t changed your timing belt in 100,000 kms, now may be the time to do it.  If you aren’t sure if your car fits into this category,  contact us here at Auto Tech West and we can help you out by telling you if your car has an interference engine and what it would taker to perform this necessary maintenance.