Any vehicle with a combustion engine has a timing chain or a timing belt installed in it. If it is a very old vehicle it may even have timing gears. All of them do the same job, it's just a matter of the way they perform this function. If you drive a Lexus then odds are you have a timing chain installed in your vehicle right now. If you have an older model Lexus, something from the 2006 model year or earlier, then there's a chance you may actually have a timing belt in yours. However, anything made from then onward it's going to have a chain. It's important to know the difference and to know which one you have because it has a big effect on how you maintain your vehicle.
If you're not 100% sure whether or not your model of Lexus has a timing chain or timing belt because it was made around the 2005 or 2006 model year, the easiest way to find out for sure is to check your owner's manual. That will definitively state whether or not there's a chain or a belt install. However, it's safe to say if you do have a newer model of Lexus that's been made in the last decade or so then you do have a timing chain install.
The timing chain in your Lexus is important for managing the precision timing of your engine. The timing chain connects the camshaft to the crankshaft in your engine. One end is looped around a pulley on the crankshaft, and the other end is looped over a pulley on the camshaft. As the crankshaft rotates it allows the pistons to rise into the cylinder of your engine. At the same time, the timing chain will rotate your camshaft and allow the valves at the top of the cylinder to open. When this happens, the piston is able to pass through the open valve and the combustion reaction can occur creating a small explosion that forces the piston back down again. When this reaction happens over and over again, many thousands of times per minute, that is where the power generated by your engine comes from to allow the wheels to move and your Lexus to drive down the street.
If something were to happen to your timing chain, it would throw off this precise timing that is necessary to keep your vehicle running properly. You could potentially end up having problems with the pistons crashing into the valves, and your combustion reaction happening at an improper time. Maybe the air and fuel ratio will be off, it will be injected into the chamber at the wrong time, or your spark could happen at the wrong time as well. Whatever the case, it's important to make sure your timing chain is functioning properly otherwise your entire engine could fail on you as a result.
How Long Does a Lexus Timing Chain Last?
Timing belts are subject to fairly regular maintenance in order to keep them working properly. The timing belt on most vehicles would last about 60,000 miles to 120,000 miles. The Toyota Camry, for instance, has a recommended lifespan of 60,000 miles for the timing belt. Chains, on the other hand, are meant to last much longer.
The timing chain in your Lexus should theoretically be able to last you the life of your Lexus. Of course, the life of the vehicle may not be the same in your definition as it is when it comes to the definition created by the manufacturers of timing chains. A timing chain is typically good to last anywhere between 200,000 and 250,000 miles without causing you any troubles. If the average driver gets about 15,000 miles worth of travel every year then a timing chain could theoretically last you about 16 years, give or take.
Obviously if you do a lot more driving with your vehicle, maybe you have a long commute to work everyday or you drive for Uber or something like that, then you're going to be putting more strain on your engine and your timing chain could theoretically we're out much sooner than 16 years.
The reason a timing chain lasts so much longer than the timing belt is apparent in the name. Timing belts are typically made of some kind of rubber composite material. Timing chains, as the name suggests, are made of metal. They're very much like bike chains. They're designed to be sturdy and strong, and you can expect them to last a very long time without breaking on you.
Timing chains were actually standard back in the day in what would now be considered vintage automobiles. It was as a result of the oil crisis that timing belts took over as the standard in most engines, however. Auto manufacturers were attempting to reduce costs in order to save money and maximize profits. One of the things that changed was heavier, more expensive timing chains made of metal were swapped out for cheaper, lighter timing belts made of rubber. This contributed to lowering the overall weight of the vehicle which improved fuel economy as a result.
Fast forward it to the present and many manufacturers are now heading back to the more reliable, more sturdy timing chain rather than timing belts. As we’ve seen, timing belts wear out faster and aren't as reliable. If the timing belt breaks while you're driving it can cause catastrophic engine failure. Timing chains are far less susceptible to breakage and are therefore much safer to have in your vehicle as a result. It's just one less thing for you to worry about as a driver, and one less expense because you don't need to swap out your chain anywhere nearly as often as you would need to swap out a timing belt. It's a win-win for drivers to have a timing chain rather than a timing belt installed in their car.
How Much Does It Cost to Replace a Lexus Timing Chain?
Even though a timing chain could theoretically last you 16 years to 20 years or more, there's no guarantee that it's going to last that long by any means. As you know the unexpected can happen at any time with your car, and there could be unforeseen circumstances that lead to your timing chain wearing out or breaking on you.
If you happen to have a Lexus that still has a timing belt installed and you need to get it replaced the cost is probably going to be anywhere between $600 and $1,000 to get this job done. That's a little more expensive than you might pay in some other models of vehicles to get the timing belt replaced, but Lexus is a premium brand and repairs do tend to cost a little bit more.
A timing chain is going to be a little bit of a pricier repair when it comes to getting that done for your Lexus should the need arise. If you also need to get your timing tensioners replaced, which often is done at the same time as getting the timing chain switched out, you might face a repair bill somewhere in the neighbourhood of $1,500 to $2,500. It really does depend on the model of Lexus that you're driving, and of course who you take it to for repairs. The neighbourhood mechanic will often charge you less for repairs than your local dealership for instance.
As bothersome as it is to have to pay that much to fix a problem with the timing chain, it absolutely has to be done. If your timing chain fails, you simply can't drive your car anymore so it's an expense that you'll have to take if you want to keep driving your car.
How Do You Know If a Lexus Timing Chain Has Gone Bad?
When a timing chain goes bad it can be difficult to diagnose the signs that you have a problem. Timing belts tend to be a little easier for a driver to figure out in terms of the signs and symptoms, but it's not impossible to figure out if this is your problem, and there are still some signs you can be on the lookout for.
Metal in the Oil: Over time your timing chain can wear down and the metal itself will grind off in the form of shavings. Your timing chain is located just above your oil pan so these little metal shavings will fall into the oil and you may notice them circulating through the oil when you do a routine oil change later on. If you are noticing any bits of metal in your old motor oil when you do get it changed, take a look at the timing chain to see if it's in a state of good repair or not.
Rattling Sounds: A timing chain will produce a noticeable rattling sound when it's not working the way it's supposed to. You'll notice it most readily when you're just idling, but it should be persistent no matter what you're doing with your vehicle as long as the engine is running.
Misfires: Since the timing chain is responsible for maintaining the timing in your engine, if it's not working the way it's supposed to your engine will not have that precise timing any longer and that can result in misfires. This happens when your camshaft and your crankshaft are no longer synchronized and your fuel and air mixture is not being ignited exactly when it needs to, and in some cases not at all.
How Do You Know If Your Lexus Timing Belt Has Gone Bad?
If you have an older Lexus with a timing belt in it, the symptoms of a bad belt are slightly different than those of a chain.
Ticking Noise: While the timing chain is going to produce a rattling sound, a bad timing belt produces a ticking sound. This is because the rubber belt has teeth on the inside track that connect it to the pulleys on your camshaft and your crankshaft. As those teeth wear down and break off, it produces a distinct ticking noise that you can't mistake for anything else.
Misfires: Just like when the chain stops working, when your timing belt stops working your Lexus engine is going to suffer some misfires as a result because the combustion reaction won't be happening exactly when it's supposed to as a result of the timing being thrown off.
Rough Idling: This happens when your timing belt is stretched out and the timing is no longer precise any longer. Your car will shake and struggle even when you are just sitting idling in it.
Check Engine Light: A bad timing belt or a bad timing chain for that matter can cause your check engine light to come on. You're going to need to have some of these other symptoms at the same time to help you confirm that it's an issue with your timing belt or timing chain that caused it to go off because a check engine light is typically a pretty vague warning that doesn't give you a lot of information about why it came on in the first place. However, as we said, if you have these other symptoms manifested at the same time then there's a good chance that the timing belt or chain may be the source of the problem. Your best bet is always to head to a mechanic to find out for sure.
The Bottom Line
Your Lexus will very likely have a timing chain if it has been made within the last decade, and it may have a timing belt if it's an older model. Regardless of what it has they both perform the same function and they both can cause some serious problems if they go wrong on you. Your timing chain should be lasting the life of your Lexus, but you never know for sure, and you need to keep your eyes and ears open for any problems just in case. If you have any doubts, get your car into a mechanic as soon as you can so they can check it out for you.