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Timing Belt vs Timing Chain: what's the difference?

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Updated 12 Oct 2019

Joel Ilton

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One of the main parts of the modern internal combustion engine is the timing system. This system engages a number of components to keep your vehicle running in tip-top condition and performing as it should. On some cars, this system requires periodic maintenance, otherwise there could be costly implications! The two main types of timing systems are the timing belt and the timing chain.

Timing Belts

Timing belts are usually made of a composite based on rubber and other materials. They need to be replaced at certain maintenance intervals, which are noted in the log-book for your vehicle.

Timing Chains

Timing chain is a roller chain design that is far more reliable. It is very rare for vehicles fitted with a timing chain to require repairs or replacement on this system - as it is a maintenance free design.

Depending on the age of your vehicle, and the amount of kilometers you have travelled - the timing belt may need to be replaced. This can start as early as 40,000km - although most models are around the 90,000km - 150,000km mark. The replacement of the timing belt usually requires an inspection of:

  • Idler pulleys and the tensioner that the belt runs on
  • Water pump
  • Oil seals

Water Pump
The water pump is the main component of your car’s cooling system.

On most vehicles, it runs off the timing belt system and, if it fails, can cause expensive and irreparable engine damage.

Replacing it while you have the timing belt off the engine will save you time and money.

If your vehicle requires the water pump to be replaced, check out

How Long Will It Take?

Replacing the timing belt on most cars is a time consuming exercise, as most of the front part of the engine will need to be removed to allow access, and in some cases requires removal of body panels and other components. The average time for this kind of repair is around the 4-5 hour mark, so expect to be without your vehicle for a complete day to allow for the job to be completed to a high quality standard.

While the initial cost of a timing belt major service can be a bit of a shock - it is a crucial maintenance requirement to keep your vehicle running safely, reliably and at its best for years to come.

Image credit: Exposed timing belt by Nick Nguyen (license CC BY-SA 2.0)

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Written By

Joel Ilton

Finding a passion for cars from a young age, Joel carried out work experience as a mechanic whilst at school before starting an apprenticeship after finishing year 12.

After almost 10 years on the tools and in customer service, he moved into the IT realm as a Data Analyst and In-House mechanic at AutoGuru.