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Timing Belt Change Intervals

Timing belt vs chain

Recently in the forums, user akresch1 asked about the timing belt interval on a car he's considering buying. The car, a 1993 Cadillac Allante, doesn't actually have a timing belt, but instead uses a timing chain. As Big Block 409 pointed out in his response to akresch1's question. Regardless, teh question is valid in another sense: knowing when intervals are coming up.

Whether purchasing a car or keeping your own vehicle properly maintained, one of the most important (and often-neglected) maintenance issues is the timing belt change. It's often skipped because it's a time-consuming and expensive item that often costs a thousand dollars or more to have done and several hundred in parts (plus a full weekend or more) to do yourself. It's also the interval where a used car is most often sold in order to avoid those costs.

Know the Interval

Timing chain and belt intervals on vehicles vary according to the engine and its use cycles. Most manufacturers recommend timing belt changes in the 60,000 to 100,000 mile range. The actual interval will depend on the vehicle, of course. Some manufacturers, especially on pickup trucks and heavy-duty vehicles, will have intervals based on "usage" cycles (engine hours or type of work usually done with the vehicle).

For timing chains, intervals are far longer. With proper maintenance, most vehicles utilizing a timing chain on their engine will not require a change during their expected lifetime. Chains are usually replaced at the 200,000 or higher interval, if at all.

Timing Belt or Chain?

For those car shopping who may not always have access to the Internet to find out whether the particular vehicle they're considering utilizes a chain or belt, there is a simple way to tell.

Looking under the hood, the timing cover will give away whether it's a belt or chain. Belt covers are usually in several pieces, made of plastic, and will not be sealed together or against the engine compartment. These are "debris covers" to keep the garbage out, but do not have to be sealed to allow lubricants to circulate or be kept clean.

Chains, on the other hand, will have a closed cover that is sealed to allow oil or other lubricants to be kept clean and circulate. These covers are usually made of metal as well.

Click here for more information on how to tell if a vehicle has a timing belt or chain.