Every vehicle has either a timing belt or a timing chain in the engine. Getting this item repaired or replaced is a part of the routine maintenance that your vehicle is going to have to undergo at some point in time. Although a timing chain is meant to last for an extended period of time, a timing belt only lasts for a finite amount of time. That means at some point you're definitely going to have to replace it. The question is, just how long can a timing belt last in your vehicle? Can it manage a full 200,000 miles of use? Let's take a deep dive into how a timing belt is made, what it does, and see what can keep one of these items working.
What is a Timing Belt?
Most drivers have heard of a timing belt before, and are aware that there is one somewhere in their engine. Odds are you've never seen one when you pop your hood however because of where it's located, deeper in your engine in a place that's rather hard to get to.
The function of a timing belt is to synchronize the movement of your camshaft and your crankshaft. These are two parts of your engine that have to work in precise alignment in order to ensure the movement of your valves and cylinders with the pistons. The way your engine creates the power to move your entire vehicle is by a combustion reaction in the engine itself that pushes the pistons which in turn rotates the crankshaft.
The movement of the pistons compresses the fuel air mixture, and the spark plug ignites this next which causes combustion to occur. That takes the form of a small explosion which forces the piston back down again and what is called the power stroke. This continually happens over and over again which is what makes your engine work.
As the pistons move down and rotate the crankshaft, the end of the crankshaft has a timing belt loop around it which connects to the camshaft and causes a proportional movement in that, which makes the valves and cylinders open and close. If it sounds complex it's because it is. Everything has to be precisely timed. If the timing belt is failing, whether it slips off the crankshaft or camshaft, or the teeth that hook on those parts come loose or break off, then your timing can be thrown off as well.
When the timing is thrown off, the combustion reaction doesn't care when it's supposed to. That can lead to engine misfires, for fuel economy, and if it gets bad enough you could end up causing serious damage to your engine if the crankshaft is rotating but the camshaft is not.
Your timing belt is often referred to as a rubber belt, although it's not actually made of rubber. It will be made of composite material, often something called nitrile or other reinforced fibres. It needs to operate under high stress in high heat, so actual rubber wouldn't get the job done. When someone refers to you as a rubber belt though, that's what they mean.
There are teeth on the inside of the timing belt which grip on to both the gears at the end of the camshaft and the crankshaft. These teeth are subject to some serious wear and tear over time and can wear down or break right off completely. When that happens, you will start experiencing problems with your timing belt.
What Does it Cost to Replace a Timing Belt?
When your timing belt has begun to fail then you're going to need to replace it. Whether it broke or just wore out over time, it's actually a bit of a costly repair job. As we said, the timing belt is fairly deep in your engine and getting to it is not easy. That's why the cost of replacing a timing belt is around $300 to $500 on average.
If you want to get a timing belt on its own, rather than pay to have it repaired, the price is much less. A timing belt can be picked up on Autozone.com for as little as $20. That big difference in price is purely the cost of labor that's involved in getting into the engine where the timing belt is located to get it replaced.
Of course the possibility exists that you can replace your own timing belt, but this is definitely an advanced level repair job that the average DIY auto mechanic is not going to be able to get done if they don't have experience with this kind of work.
Removing a timing belt and putting a new one on is complex not just because of location but because of the tools as well. For instance, you need a tool called a puller to remove the camshaft pulley when you're going to do this job. That's not something the average person has in their toolbox. You either have to buy the cam shaft puller or rent one and it is something that you need to learn how to use as well. It's not exactly the cheapest tool in the world either.
You'll also want to get a full timing kit rather than just the timing belt if you're going to do this on your own. That includes a timing belt tensioner and also very likely a water pump because more often than not in the water pump is replaced along with the timing belt. The two don't really have a lot to do with each other, but they're located right next to each other and they have a similar lifespan so most mechanics recommend changing the water pump when you change your timing belt just as a matter of routine maintenance. Since you're in there anyway, might as well get it done so you don't have to waste the time and money to do it later on.
If you do want to replace the timing belt yourself and you can get a hold of the tools then at least there are some guides on the internet that can show you how to get the job done. There are many skilled mechanics who have YouTube channels that have put videos up demonstrating the step by step process of changing your own timing belt. Like we said, this is an advanced level repair job, but with a clear and well produced video made by a mechanic you may be able to get it done if you're confident in your own auto repair abilities.
How Long Does a Timing Belt Last?
It's hard to put a definitive number on just how long a timing belt is going to last. On average you can expect a timing belt to last 60,000 miles to 100,000 miles. This will change based on the make, model, and year of your vehicle. Every manufacturer has their specific recommended years or mileage to replace the belt. For instance, Toyota recommends that the Camry replace their timing belts after 60,000 miles. If you have a Ford Focus you can expect to replace the timing belt between 60,000 miles and 90,000 miles. The manual for the Volkswagen Jetta says that you can keep your timing belt until 120,000 miles.
According to the US Department of Transportation, the average driver in America travels 13500 miles per year. At that rate, A timing belt should last between 4.4 years and 7.4 years worth of travel. The average Jetta owner would get all the way up to 8.8 years.
Can a Timing Belt Last 200,000 Miles?
When the auto manufacturer recommends routine maintenance at a specific time or mileage, it's always good to pay attention to that. They stress test the parts in your vehicle to know how long they're going to remain at their optimal performance levels. So, if Ford or Chevy says that their timing belt is only going to last you for 80,000 miles, you should really consider replacing it around 80,000 miles. It can prevent a lot of damage further down the road if you get it done when you're supposed to. That said, if the belt still seems to be in good working order once it hits the limit of use, can it keep going?
A quick search of the internet will show you that there are a number of drivers who have experienced timing belts that have lasted for an extended period of time well beyond when it was recommended, they be changed.
Volkswagen, as we said, has some of the longest life spans for their timing belts based on their own recommendations. There are reports from mechanics and on mechanic websites that suggest some drivers have managed to keep their VW Golf's going for 150,000 miles on the same timing belt. Other vehicles that have had long live timing belts include things like a Plymouth Voyager that topped 270,000 miles and a Chrysler LeBaron that got to 190,000 miles on the original timing belt.
Hondas have been known to last for a while with timing belts up to 180,000 miles. Honda typically recommends you change your belt closer to 60,000 miles, so this would definitely be an anomaly. At least one driver on CarTalk mentioned that they had a Honda Prelude that got to about 230,000 miles on the original timing belt. Another stated they had a Honda Accord that got up to 217,000 miles.
So, is it possible that you can get 200,000 miles out of your timing belt? Absolutely. There are a number of drivers of a variety of different vehicles that have experienced timing belts that have lasted 200,000 miles and there are even rumours of truly astounding feats like timing belts that managed to get to 400,000 miles. The thing you need to remember about this though is that these are remarkable anomalies. This is not the normal way a car works, and the odds on your timing belt lasting that long are fairly slim.
If you push your timing belts to the limit and beyond, then of course there's a good chance it's going to break. When that happens, you can experience some serious damage with your engine. If you run what is known as an interference engine, when your timing belt breaks the crankshaft will continue to move even though the camshaft has stopped. The result of that is the valves and cylinders will not be opening even though the pistons will still be moving up and down. When the piston collides with a closed valve then you can end up causing serious damage to your engine, which includes warped pistons and valves, damage to the cam heads and more. This kind of damage can end up costing you $3,000 to $4,000 or even more depending on the kind of vehicle you drive.
The Bottom Line
Because of the damage that you can sustain by not replacing a timing belt when it needs to be replaced, it's really not worth it to see just how long this part can go beyond its recommended lifespan. Does that mean you need to replace your timing belt at 60,000 miles exactly? Of course not. But, when you realize you are around the recommended time for your belt to be changed, it never hurts to take it into a mechanic, especially if you're experiencing any issues related to timing belt problems like misfires or unexpected drops in performance or gas mileage.
A mechanic should be able to take a look at your belts and tell if it's worn down too much it requires a change, or if it's still pretty much as good as new and able to keep going for you. Just remember, your manufacturer has made the recommendations they have not just as a way to make money by making you buy more parts, but as a way to ensure that the investment you made in your vehicle is a sound one and it's going to perform as well as it can for as long as it can. Don't let routine maintenance go for too long otherwise you may end up paying quite a bit more in the long run.