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Timing belt or chain? An easy way to tell

Timing Belt

A common question asked is "Does my car have a timing belt or a chain?" Often, a quick Internet search for the vehicle in question gives the answer, but this is not always the case. Some models have mixed years or engine types and even engines themselves can be a mixed bag of belt/chain depending on where they were made.

Plus, as we all know, an Internet search isn't always going to produce the right answer. Here's a quick way to tell if your vehicle has a timing belt or a timing chain. With this plus our next piece of advice, you'll know for sure.

How to tell quickly

Open the hood of your car and look at the engine. Look at the front of the engine (this will be closest to you (the grille) if the car is rear-wheel drive, or to one side (usually to the right) if the car is front-wheel driven. You can tell which side is the front by where the transmission is located - the front of the engine will be opposite of that.

An engine with a timing belt will usually have plastic covers around the front of it to protect that belt. These dust covers do not have to be robust, but will run from the engine head (camshaft) to the crank shaft (bottom of the engine block) to protect the timing belt from debris.

An engine with a timing chain will usually have a metal cover over the chain in a similar way. This serves two purposes: it protects the chain and it keeps lubricant clean. Timing chains must be lubricated with oil or grease and if that lubricant is fouled (contaminated), it can become an abrasive, doing the opposite of what it's meant to do.

Testing your diagnosis

Now that you know whether or not you have a timing belt, check your vehicle's owner's manual. Somehwere in the engine specifications, it will list the engine's model number. For example, a Toyota engine usually has a two-part model name separated by a dash. So "2AZ-FE" designates a specific four-cylinder engine used in the Camry and similar vehicles. These model numbers can be broken down to specify things about the engine, but your concern here is just knowing the engine model.

With that, do an Internet search or call the vehicle maker's local dealership and ask whether or not that engine has a timing belt or chain.

Simple, straight forward, easy.