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Timing belt replacement cost on internal combustion engine (ICE) cars gives many folks sticker shock. Wrapped onto tensioners and pulleys under a special set of covers, access to the timing belt takes time. Labor is going to be a good portion of the final bill. However, it’s important to understand which components are deemed “extra labor” and which you should never pay additional time for.

With replacement due at certain maintenance intervals, a healthy timing belt is critical to properly functioning internal engine components. Timing belts are usually made of rubber and corded fibers. When they age, they can dry rot and crack. A badly cracked timing belt can break. In certain engines, called interference motors, a broken timing belt will cause catastrophic engine failure.

A vehicle engine timing belt is shown installed with timing cover off
Timing belt | Warut1 via iStock

You should never see a separate labor line item for accessory belt replacement. This is because the serpentine belt and other belts, if applicable, have to come off anyway.

Other accessory belt components, like pulleys and the tensioner, may need to be removed to clear access to the timing cover(s). Sometimes close inspection or removal reveals defects. If replacement is recommended, confirm whether they are part of the natural timing belt procedure before approving extra labor. Some are, some aren’t.

In a word, the labor for anything outside the timing cover that naturally needs to come off – brackets, pulleys, engine mounts – should never be in addition to typical timing belt replacement cost. Of course, you’ll pay for a new part if called for.

You should expect to pay more for what’s called a timing belt kit. A boxed timing belt kit can include anything from the timing belt and a couple of pulleys to a more complete kit with a hydraulic tensioner and a new water pump assembly. A complete kit is more expensive than just a timing belt, and additional labor is required to replace everything included. While under the cover, these components don’t actually have to be removed. You’d need an extra 1.0-1.5 hours of labor behind the cover. After that, some time to properly fill and burp the cooling system, plus coolant.

While I’m sure some drivers are out there electing for simple timing belt replacement and no kit components, this isn’t recommended. Spend the extra for the full kit. If your old water pump starts leaking or a timing belt tensioner or pulley bearing fails, you’re worse off than you started.