The Timing belt, also called the cam belt, is the belt that keeps an engine synchronized and running. The timing belt is a toothed belt that is a component of an elaborate pulley system that connects and coordinates the crankshaft and the camshaft(s). The grooves or teeth in the belt fit into the grooves on the camshaft and the crankshaft which allow traction when torque is applied to the belt from the crankshaft. The pistons are connected to the crankshaft by the connecting rod, so the combustion that makes the pistons to fire up and down is therefore also the motion that causes the crankshaft to spin with force. The teeth on the timing belt lock into the crankshaft, so as the crankshaft spins, so does the timing belt.
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It can be said that the reason it is referred to as the “timing” belt is because as the belt makes one revolution around the camshaft, it is making two full revolutions around the crankshaft. Exact timing in this situation is impeccable. The reason this is so crucial is that the pistons, which are connected to the crankshaft, need to move twice as fast as the valves that are connected to the camshaft(s). Half of the valves (which are located just above the pistons) are opening while the other half of the valves are closing, always in synchronization.
The timing belt is linked to the crankshaft, the camshaft(s), and a tensioner pulley in all cases, however often times there is also a water pump, an idler pulley, and maybe more. This is important to note because if the timing belt is in need of a change, it may also be wise to go ahead and change the water pump at the same time, even if the water pump is not malfunctioning. Both tend to have the same life expectancy of anywhere from 60,000 to 105,000 miles. This is basically a preventative replacement which makes sense to do while the timing belt is being changed, since the two are connected.
Not all cars and trucks operate with a timing belt, as some run with a chain or with gears. If this is the case it would be much more difficult to effect repairs. If your vehicle does not have a timing belt, or even if it does have a timing belt, we have a network of professional mechanics to get you a quality, worry free repair. It is recommended that the timing belt be changed between 60,000-105,000 miles. More importantly, however, is to notice whether or not there are any loud noises coming from where the timing belt is located (as this may show signs of a damaged bearings), or whether or not there are cracks and wear in tear in the belt.
There are basically 2 different types of engines when referring to the timing belt and timing belt replacement. The first type is called a “non-interference” engine. In this scenario, the pistons and the valves do not cross paths so if the belt breaks the pistons and valves do not make contact with one another, thus typically there is no serious damage done to the car. The second is called an “interference” engine. This is when the valves and pistons cross one another’s paths when the motor is running. As long as the belt is intact, is missing no teeth and isn’t slipping, this isn’t a problem. However, if the timing belt breaks, serious damage to the engine could occur. Since the valves and pistons cross paths when in sync, once the belt breaks there is a complete loss of synchronization, and the pistons and valves could collide, creating serious damage to the cylinder heads and possibly resulting in a complete engine overhaul.
In either of the aforementioned cases, typically what will happen is the engine will stall and you may be stranded. In the interference engine situation depicted earlier, you want to hope that the engine stalls quickly enough to avoid any serious damage. As a rule though, as long as you adhere to the maintenance guidelines and change the belt when recommended, especially if you observe any visible wear and tear like cracks, erosion or missing teeth, you should be just fine.