There are a number of parts in your Toyota that require routinely scheduled maintenance in order to keep them working properly. Most of us know that at some point we're going to have to change the motor oil in our car as well as the oil filter. If your engine starts overheating you may need to add more coolant to the tank. And of course, you also have to rotate your tires and add air when they start to get a little low. Your timing belt is another part of your Toyota's engine that also requires routine maintenance. Of course, that maintenance doesn't apply if you actually have a timing chain rather than a timing belt.
Most drivers aren't aware of whether their particular model of vehicle has a timing belt or a timing chain under the hood. However, if you have a combustion engine then you definitely have to have one of the two in there. Your owner's manual can tell you for sure but the fact is most of us only check the owner's manual when we need to look something up in a pinch, and probably very few drivers have ever read their owners manual cover to cover just for the sake of curiosity.
Understanding whether you have a timing belt or a timing chain in your vehicle is just one step towards fully knowing what it is that this piece of technology does for your vehicle, not to mention the distinct difference between the belt and the chain in terms of how they perform your vehicle.
Let's take a look at precisely what a timing belt and a timing chain do, the differences between the two, and which models of Toyota operate using which of these two similar but unique pieces of technology.
What's the Difference Between a Timing Chain and a Timing Belt?
At the end of the day the timing chain or a timing belt perform the exact same function. Inside your engine the crankshaft is what is connected to the pistons that rise and fall in the cylinders in order to power your car. As the crankshaft rotates the pistons will rise in each of the cylinders of your vehicle. The combustion reaction inside the cylinder is what forces the piston back down again and allows the crankshaft to continue rotating.
At the end of your crankshaft is a gear or pulley. It is this gear that the timing belt or timing chain will be attached to. The chain or belt loops around your crankshaft pulley and then connects to a second pulley at the end of your camshaft. The camshaft is what opens and closes the valves in your cylinder. Since it is synced up with your crankshaft thanks to the timing belt or timing chain, as the crankshaft rotates so too does the camshaft. The piston rises thanks the crankshaft, and the valves in your cylinder open thanks to the camshaft.
All of this motion is integral for the precise timing of how your engine works. The piston has to be in the exact right place for the combustion reaction to occur and force it back down again. The valve has to be open at the right time, or the piston could crash into it. Everything, from the fuel and air mixture being injected at the exact right time to your spark plug sparking to ignite it all needs to be done in a very specific order and the timing belt or timing chain is what makes sure all of it happens when it's supposed to.
If your timing belt or timing chain were to break, your engine would simply cease to function because this entire reaction that we just detailed would be unable to occur as a result. If the belt or the chain broke while you are in the middle of driving your car it can cause some serious and catastrophic damage to your Toyota's engine as a result. The piston would crash into the close valve, potentially vending the valve, and warping the cylinder and the piston itself. Remember, this happens extremely quickly inside your engine, hundreds of times per minute, so there would be no reaction time whatsoever to do anything about it. That's why maintaining your timing chain and timing belt is so important. You want to avoid the serious damage that can occur if something were to go wrong.
Timing Chain vs Timing Belt
Now that you know the timing chain and the timing belt has the exact same job, understanding the difference is important to understanding how they are maintained. The names of these two parts pretty much gives away the exact difference. A timing chain is made of metal, you can think of it not unlike a bicycle chain. It's very tough and durable and is meant to last for a very long time in your engine. The timing belt is typically made of a rubber composite. It will have notched teeth on the inside that allow it to grasp onto the camshaft and crankshaft pulleys, but it is far less durable than the timing chain.
While the timing chain may be able to last the life of your vehicle, well over 200,000 miles worth of driving, a timing belt does not necessarily have nearly that long of a lifespan. It's not impossible that a timing belt could last 200,000 miles, but it is also extremely rare as well. In fact, the standard rule of thumb for changing out a timing belt is that in a Toyota you're probably going to want to change your timing belt before you hit 100,000 miles. In a Toyota Camry, for instance, Toyota recommended replacement take place every 60,000 miles. The owner's manual for your particular year and model will let you know for sure how long you can expect your timing belt to last.
Of course, this does lead to the question of whether or not you have a timing belt in your engine at all. If you have a timing chain that's completely different.
Does My Toyota Have a Timing Belt or Timing Chain?
Toyota's customer service is top-notch when it comes to helping you figure out how your Toyota works. While some manufacturers make you dig into figure out what's going on under the hood of your car, Toyota makes the information readily accessible for you so you don't have to worry too much about what's going on. It's possible for a mechanic to just do a quick inspection and see for themselves whether or not you have a belt or a chain under the hood of your car, but for most of us it's hard to know even where to look to figure this out of the first place. With that in mind, here's a quick breakdown of some popular Toyota models and what they have controlling the timing.
If you have a 4-cylinder Toyota 4Runner then it was running on a timing chain. However, if you had a V6 model that was made from 1990 until 2002 that was on a belt. If you had a V8 4Runner that was also running with a belt. But, since the year 2003 if you have a V6 4Runner then you were using a timing chain.
Toyota 86 / Scion FR – S
From 2013 until the present, all four-cylinder Toyota 86 and Scion models have been using a timing chain.
For this model, if yours was made before the year 2005 then you must have had a timing belt. However since the 2005 model year up until the present, all V6 Toyota Avalon engines have been sporting a timing chain.
One of Toyota's most popular models, there has been quite a bit of variety under the hood, so you'll need to know exactly the year and engine type of Camry that you're driving. From 1990 until the year 2001 every Camry used the timing belt. Until 2006 that also applies if you had a V6 Toyota Camry. However, if you're driving a 4-cylinder Camry then starting in the year 2002 it switched over to the chain. The V6 models followed in the year 2007 and still use timing chains to this day.
Toyota C HR
This relatively new Toyota has only been around since 2018, and as you can imagine it's been using the timing chain since its inception at that time.
The Toyota Corolla is actually the best selling car in history. Toyota has sold well over 44 million of these cars since they were first introduced so it's good to know whether or not you're sporting a chain or a belt under the hood of your Corolla. If you bought a Corolla up until the 1997 model year it was using a timing belt. From 1998 until the present however they've all been using timing chains. This also applies for the Corolla hybrid, as well as the Corolla IM and of the Scion IM that were available from 2016 until 2018.
Highlanders have had quite a variety under the hood over the years as well. From 2001 to 2007 and then again from 2009 to 2014, if you were driving a 4-cylinder Highlander it was using the timing chain. However, from 2001 to 2007 if you were using a V6 it was a timing belt. It was only in 2008 that the V6 changed over to the timing chain. In addition, the Highlander Hybrid used a belt until 2010, and then it switched to a chain after that.
Toyota Land Cruiser
Interestingly enough, the Toyota Land Cruiser is the only Toyota model that, in recent history, actually had a third option available. If you had a 1990 to 1992 Land Cruiser, it wasn't using a belt or a chain, it used the timing gear. That's a much older technology that again performs the same function, but instead of having the belt it's just a series of interlocking gears.
From 1993 to 1997 the Land Cruiser switched to a timing chain while the V8 model from 1998 until 2007 was using a timing belt. Subsequent to that, in switched to a timing chain which it still uses to this day.
Introduced in 2016, this vehicle is actually electric and therefore doesn't have a timing chain or a timing belt.
Every Prius, Prius C, Prius V, Prius Plug-In, and Prius Prime uses a timing chain.
Older models of the RAV4 from 1996 until the year 2000 used a timing belt. Starting 2001 until 2019 the 4-cylinder used the timing chain. The V6 also used the timing chain from 2006 until 2012. The hybrid model uses a timing chain as well, and of course the electric model uses neither.
From 2001 until 2009 the 4.7 L V8 Sequoia was on a timing belt. After that time, they switched engines and the 2010 4.6 V8 was on a timing chain. The 5.7 litre V8 also uses the timing chain.
From 1998 until 2006 the Sienna was using a belt. However, after 2007 the V6 was on the timing chain and the four-cylinder model in 2011 also used a chain.
Toyota GR Supra
The evolution of the Toyota Supra, the 2020 GR Supra uses a timing chain.
Older V6 Tacomas used a timing belt from 95 until the year 2004. After that time the V6 switched to timing chains. The four cylinder has always been using the timing chain.
This is another model that's been all over the map over the years. From 2000 until 2004 the V6 Tundra used the timing belt. From 2000 until 2009 the 4.7 litre V8 also used the timing belt. Every subsequent model however has used a timing chain regardless of engine type.
All Toyota Yaris models use a timing chain.
As you can see, there's quite a bit of variety from one Toyota model to another and although most current models are on timing chains, there's definitely a chance that if you have an older model of any kind it could be operated on a timing belt. That would be even more important today because if you're driving one of these older models, you likely have gotten close to the end of your timing belt's lifespan.
The Bottom Line
Toyota is known for their high-quality vehicles, great safety features, and reliable service. There's a reason they are one of the most popular manufacturers in the world and they are the first auto manufacturer that ever produced more than 10 million vehicles in a single year. They're world-renowned because they make quality cars. And if you want your Toyota to serve you well, it's important to know how the vehicle operates and part of that means understanding whether you have a timing chain or a timing belt.
As high quality as a Toyota is, it does require maintenance to make sure it's working properly. Knowing what you have under the hood is important to understanding what you need to do to keep it working properly so that you are not surprised by any malfunctions in your Toyota.