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Your car’s engine has many moving parts to make it run properly. One such part is the timing chain, which connects the engine’s crankshaft to the camshafts and makes everything work well in conjunction with another. The timing chain is supposedly stronger than a timing belt, but does that mean it doesn’t need to be replaced?

What does a timing chain do?

Engine timing chain
Engine timing chain | via Wikimedia Commons

Unlike a timing belt, which is typically located outside of the engine, a timing chain is located inside the engine. It’s located there because the chain is metal, and it needs lubrication from the oil circulating through the engine in order to perform correctly, reports Carfax.

If you’re unsure whether or not your car has a timing chain or belt, you can refer to the car’s owner’s manual to find out. If that doesn’t work, then you can also check the manufacturer’s website or even call a mechanic shop to find out. Either way, it’s essential to find out which type of timing mechanism your car is equipped with in order to maintain it properly and prevent any catastrophic failures.

What happens if the timing chain breaks?

Although timing chains are metal and are less prone to breaking, it does happen from time to time. If you don’t replace the timing chain and it happens to break, then the engine can completely destroyed. Most engines today are “interference engines,” which means that the engine’s valves move in and out of the same cylinder space as the pistons.

Since the timing chain is part of the timing system that ensures that the valves are out of the way when the piston moves up the cylinder chamber, it can cause a valve to smash into a cylinder head if it breaks. As you can imagine, this will lead to the entire engine needing a complete rebuild.

When should a timing chain be replaced?

A worker installing a timing belt on a Chrysler minivan motor at the Windsor assembly plant in Ontario
Installing a belt on a motor | Fabrizio Costantini/Getty Images

Although a timing chain is made of metal, that doesn’t mean it’s invincible. Autoblog reports that a timing chain typically needs to be replaced occasionally, depending on its condition. However, it should last well over 100,000 miles. On some occasions, timing chains tend to stretch or break over time, so if your car is exhibiting any of the following symptoms, then it could need a new one:

  • Poor engine performance
  • Trouble starting
  • Overheating
  • Complete engine failure

Fortunately, your car’s check engine light will likely come on if anything is going wrong with the timing system. So if it does, be sure to get it checked out as soon as possible, reports Repair Pal.

How much does it cost to replace a timing chain?

If you find out that your car needs its timing chain replaced, then you should be prepared to spend close to $1,000, depending on your application. Drive Cave notes that the timing chain typically costs around $100, but the labor to replace it can cost anywhere between $400 and $1,000. 

While you can’t see the timing chain inside your engine, it’s essential to know that it’s there. Timing chains play an integral role in keeping your engine running well, so if it needs replacing, remember to get it done.


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