What are the Symptoms of a Bad Timing Chain?

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What are the symptoms of a bad timing chain?

  • The engine misfires. Once a timing chain is stretched and has lost its integrity, the chain may skip a gear and lose the necessary coordination leading to an engine misfire. Repeated misfires could indicate a timing chain issue and should be investigated.  

  • There is a rattling sound. A lax timing chain, or worse, a broken timing chain with loose parts within the engine, will produce a rattling sound when your car is idling. This rattling sound is typically most prominent while the engine heats up and disappears after some time. Above and beyond the noise, loose parts within the combustion system can cause significant damage to the engine therefore any rattling sound is concerning and it is best to have it investigated.  

  • Check your car's oil for metal shavings. As a timing chain wears out, it disintegrates and some of the metal shavings may land in the oil pan of your car. When the oil and oil filter are changed, these small metal pieces are observed and indicate a problem with your car's motor. A mechanic should investigate the source of the metal shavings as it may well be the timing chain.

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Timing chain advantages and disadvantages

Advantages:

  • A chain offers superior strength, giving it a far longer lifespan. Hopefully, with proper care and maintenance, a timing chain should last the lifetime of your vehicle.
  • Maintenance is simple—keep up with your oil changes and consider a one-off check at the 125k-mile mark.
  • A metal chain is heat resistant, so isn’t vulnerable to changing conditions in the weather. A rubber belt can freeze in low temperatures, affecting performance.

Disadvantages:

  • A timing chain is much heavier than a rubber timing belt. This increases fuel consumption, and in turn, affects your fuel economy, adding to pollution, and impacts engine power.
  • A timing chain is far noisier than a timing belt.
  • Due to the extra weight, a timing chain is often only available for use on larger engine cylinders.
  • They’re considerably more expensive to replace and to work on.
  • A timing chain requires constant lubrication.

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On most vehicles it just means you’re walking, but a few older and collectible models, including some performance engines from the 1990s and early 2000s, had an “interference” design. When the valves open, they move so far down they’re within the piston’s travel area, which allows in more air for more power. Of course, by the time the piston gets to the top, the valve’s already vacated the space. But if the timing belt breaks, piston and valve can meet, resulting in expensive damage that, in the worst-case scenario, may require a new engine.

The big issue with replacing a timing belt is that it isn’t cheap, and most of the money is in the labour. Not only does the front engine cover have to come off, but the technician has to get to it first. Any other components in the way will also have to be removed, and on some, the engine itself might have to be moved.

The shop might suggest replacing the water pump at the same time, but the intention isn’t to pad the bill with an extra part. The water pump is a wear item – and since it takes the same amount of work to get to it, replacing it now means you won’t be paying that big labour bill twice if it needs replacing in future.

What happens if the timing chain breaks?

Although timing chains are metal and are less prone to breaking, it does happen from time to time. If you don’t replace the timing chain and it happens to break, then the engine can completely destroyed. Most engines today are “interference engines,” which means that the engine’s valves move in and out of the same cylinder space as the pistons.

Since the timing chain is part of the timing system that makes sure that the valves are out of the way when the piston moves up the cylinder chamber, it can cause a valve to smash into a cylinder head if it breaks. As you can imagine, this will lead to the entire engine needing a complete rebuild.

AAMCO Colorado Fixes Timing Belts Chains

Visit an AAMCO Colorado transmission repair and total car care center near you. When issues arise and you need to have your timing belt or timing chain checked or replaced, as well as any repairs needed due to damage from a broken belt or chain, book an appointment.

How much does it cost to replace a timing chain?

If they’re so robust, why are we even talking about what they cost to replace? Well, even though they’re built to last, we know that no vehicle component is invincible.

Without the correct lubrication, your chain will suffer. That means excessive wear and introducing weaknesses. If your timing chain snaps, it can kill your engine. And it doesn’t have to be the fault of the chain. Other engine components that develop faults can put enough extra strain on your chain, leading it to fail.

Changing a timing chain can take all day, even for the most experienced mechanic with all the right tools at their disposal. The extra work will add to labour charges and the total cost of your bill.

So, how much is a timing chain?

With a replacement chain costing anywhere from £50 to £150 on a typical family car, the total price can end up anywhere between £500 and £1,500. The average price is usually somewhere around £700/£800. Don’t be surprised, though, if the higher-end marques’ prices rise considerably. You could be looking at paying up to and beyond £3k for sports models and luxury vehicles.

Whats the Difference Between a Timing Chain and Timing Belt?

Mechanically, there is no difference between a timing chain and a timing belt. Both perform the same action and are attached to the same parts of your vehicle. The difference is in the material and location within the automobile. A timing belt is made of reinforced rubber and is housed outside the engine casing. A timing chain is made of metal links and housed within the engine unit. Timing belts are cheaper and easier to repair, but they don’t last as long as timing chains. 

You cannot replace a timing belt with a timing chain, or vice-versa. The type of timing element used in a car is decided upon during the manufacturing processes and becomes a core part of design. They are not interchangeable. 

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