Several signs indicate a failing or broken timing chain including misfires, metal shavings in the oil, an engine that fails to start, an illuminated check engine light, and a rattling sound from the engine. The best way to reduce replacement cost is to catch it before any of the symptoms occur.
A timing chain replacement is common, especially in vehicles that have over 100,000 miles. The main reason for this replacement is normal wear and tear, although the type and quality of oil make a difference too.
If you ask your mechanic to check the timing chain before any symptoms are present, this replacement can be made without much stress. Yes, it is an expensive repair; however, the added costs due to a broken timing chain are far worse.
Research can help us determine if a timing chain needs to be replaced, how it got that way, and how much the repair will cost. This repair is vital in having a car that starts and drives properly.
This article outlines common questions about timing chains, what they do, and associated replacement costs.
What Is the Timing Chain and What Does it Do?
A timing chain coordinates the rotation of the crankshaft and camshaft.
This allows the engine’s valves to open and close when each cylinder is fired. The timing chain is located inside the engine. Every time you use the engine, the timing chain is used too.
The timing chain controls the pistons and valves, making sure they operate when they need to inside the engine’s cylinders. If the pistons and valves don’t fire or move when they should, your engine will suffer severe damage and not work.
What Causes a Timing Chain to Break or Wear?
Timing Chains stretch due to normal wear and tear. The guides connected to the timing chain can wear out, causing the timing chain to fail. If the chain fails, the vehicle will not run at all.
Failure can also depend on oil quality. Most modern vehicles only use synthetic oil. Using the wrong oil can cause extra weight on the chain, meaning the engine will not be properly lubricated.
Unless there is a specific problem, the timing chain normally needs to be replaced between 80,000 and 120,000 miles. If you drive an older vehicle, or one close to 100,000 miles, you should have it replaced or at least become aware of the symptoms of a failing timing chain.
What Are the Symptoms of a Bad Timing Chain?
Signs of a bad or failing timing chain include:
- Engine misfires
- Metal shavings in the oil
- The engine won’t start or fails
- Check engine light comes on
- Rattling sounds coming from the engine
Normal wear and tear causes the timing chain to stretch meaning the chain to skip a gear on the camshaft or crankshaft. This causes the engine’s timing to fail and often results in a misfire. Additionally, the engine may run poorly and lack accelerating power.
If the timing chain is worn, small pieces of metal can break off and enter the oil pan. If the timing chain breaks, loose metal rolls around inside the motor which can lead to serious damage. When you have your oil changed, ask your mechanic if any small pieces of metal were found.
A broken timing chain will cause an engine to not start. If the timing chain breaks while driving, the pistons will be damaged from contact with the valves. This could potentially ruin the engine.
Engine replacement is expensive, up to $6000. In many cases, the problem is so severe and costly that the owner decides to send the car to the junkyard.
The check engine light can come on for a variety of reasons including a failing timing chain. If you see the check engine line, the appropriate course of action is to take the car to a mechanic if the car is still drivable. You could also ask for a computer read out at an auto parts store.
Odd sounds coming from inside the motor indicate a serious warning. If the timing chain is loose, it may cause vibration and produce a rattling sound as the engine idles.
A failing or broken timing chain contributes to poor engine performance. A mechanic needs to inspect the vehicle and recommend necessary repairs.
Will a Car Run with a Failing or Broken Timing Chain?
Driving with a failing timing chain could lead to several issues. Driving with a broken timing chain is impossible. Don’t let the fear of this repair persuade you from putting it off. If you can’t afford the repair now, avoid driving your vehicle.
Driving with a failing timing chain could mean dealing with engine misfires, poor accelerating power, and odd sounds from within the motor. These are scary symptoms that contribute to more stress on top of the stress of driving.
A broken timing chain will cause your engine to immediately turn off. Imagine this happening while you are driving. You will have to immediately move to the side of the road before you lose all momentum as the vehicle will not start again.
Not only will this leave you stranded, but you will now have to replace vital components of the engine. In fact, you may be better of purchasing a new engine or trading your car.
In summary, you could drive your car with a failing timing chain, but you shouldn’t. If your car’s timing chain has already broken, you won’t be able to drive it at all.
How Much Does It Cost to Replace the Timing Chain?
Replacing the timing chain is a complicated job with high labor costs. Before panicking, be aware that this is a difficult repair so the labor costs are worth it, unless you are a professional. In total, timing chain replacement costs between $400 and $1,000.
In the past, a timing belt was preferred to a timing chain; however, in recent years, the timing chain has proven to be a more reliable solution that lasts longer. Although it is more expensive upfront, it will be cheaper over time. For most car owners, this sounds like good news.
Failing or broken timing belts can cause real damage, possibly disabling the car. With this risk, it is better to bite the bullet and make the repair. But, if it is not worth the investment, you could sell your car or send it to the junkyard.
Can I Replace the Timing Chain Myself?
Replacing the timing chain is something that should be done by your mechanic or another certified car professional. It is a complex repair. Making a simple mistake could lead to serious, and expensive, damage to your vehicle. Rather than take chances on a weekend DIY job, let the pros handle it.
The best way to save money on this repair is to have the work done early before it causes more damage to the engine. Ask your mechanic to check this when performing routine maintenance on the vehicle and ask for their input on when it should be replaced.
Ask your family and friends for recommendations on area garages. Call those garages and get quotes on what you can expect to pay for parts and labor. Choose the garage that has a fair price and a good reputation as quality of work is just as important as the part itself.
If you don’t want to pay out the nose for a timing chain, you could ask the mechanic about used parts or other ways to save money. Some consumer savvy car owners get multiple estimates from garages to ensure that they are paying the best price.
If this repair causes more harm than good, you have another option: recycling your car at a junkyard.
Is Fixing a Vehicle with a Broken Timing Chain Worth It?
The timing chain is an integral component of the engine. Without it, the vehicle will not run.
It is expensive to replace a timing chain. That being said, the damage caused by driving a vehicle with a failing timing chain will be far more expensive. Taking the financial hit early means avoiding engine damage and repairs that could cost thousands of dollars.
Traditionally, one of the problems with the timing chain is that it wasn’t replaced as often as it should have been. Because it is an expensive repair, many people would sell or trade their car instead of having it repaired. If someone bought their vehicle, they may not be aware of the problem until it is too late.
Regardless of vehicle age, this is a necessary repair. If you are unable to replace the broken timing chain, you have other options.
You could sell or trade the car, but disclose the information regarding any repairs that need to be made especially the failing or broken timing chain.
You could also send the car to the junkyard.
Search the Internet or ask friends and family for recommendations on area junkyards. Ask about the process and whether or not they offer tow service. You will more than likely need it as it is not recommended to drive with a failing timing chain, and you can’t if the timing chain is already broken.
Once your vehicle is at the junkyard, they will assess it for valuable parts and then recycle the vehicle. The best part is they offer payment in cash.
When it Comes to Auto Repair, Timing is Everything
What do we do with a vehicle that doesn’t drive? The vehicle is useless. We can find ourselves facing this problem if we don’t replace the timing chain in time.
It is important that we know when the timing chain was last replaced, especially if the vehicle is not new to us. Ask your mechanic to check it the next time you have maintenance done.
If we know the symptoms of a failing timing chain, and ours has not yet failed, we can save ourselves the frustration of shelling out thousands of dollars in engine repair. Catching the symptoms early means the cost will be much less.
If you know the timing chain is failing but can’t afford the repair, it’s best not to drive your vehicle. You risk causing more damage and being stranded without a running vehicle.
If you are driving when your timing chain breaks, try to remain calm and move your vehicle to the side of the road before you run out of momentum and call for a tow service.
Now you have to weigh your options. At this point, you know your engine will not start and therefore the repair will likely be expensive. If you can afford to have it repaired, have the tow service send it directly to your garage. If not, the tow service can also send the vehicle to a junkyard.
No one wants to deal with vehicle repairs, but this repair is paramount to a functioning vehicle. It is an expensive repair, but your safety is worth it.
What if the time chaining repair comes at the worst possible time? You can throw out the whole vehicle and start over with one phone call to the junkyard. They’ll haul off that broken car and leave you with cash in hand. You can take things from there.
Catching a failing timing chain early is the best way to reduce potential harm to both your vehicle and wallet.