Timing Belt vs. Timing Chain: What’s the Difference?

Everything within your engine is perfectly synchronized. It’s amazing that motors can produce so much power and move so quickly with perfect precision, every stroke, every time. 

This flawless timing of your engine is the responsibility of, unsurprisingly, your timing chain/belt. Both timing belts and timing chains carry out the job of ensuring your valves and cylinders are in perfect harmony every time you start your car.

Without proper timing, your engine wouldn’t survive for very long. Valves crashing into each other, mistimed air intake or exhaust, pistons extending at the wrong time; all of these can and will lead to catastrophic engine failure.

Timing Belt vs. Timing Chain

Now that we’ve established the similarities between the two, and how important they are for the operation of your vehicle, it’s time to look at what sets these two parts apart. 

Despite carrying out the exact same duties, belts and chains are made of completely different materials. 

Timing belts are made of a thick rubber material, allowing for quiet operation and cheap production. Timing chains on the other hand are, well, chains. They’re made of durable metal and are usually more expensive to produce. 

Material isn’t the only difference though. Timing belts are located on the outside of the engine, exposed to the air and debris around them. This can cause them to dry out, stretch, or crack and cause issues down the line. Timing chains are instead located on the inside of the engine and are constantly lubricated by the engine’s oil. 

Exposed timing chain
Timing belt
I, 天然ガス, CC BY-SA 3.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/, via Wikimedia Commons

Which is Better?

While it may seem like timing chains are flat-out the superior option, they do come with downsides. Timing chains are usually considered much noisier than their rubber counterparts, which can make them unappealing for manufacturers looking to make a dead-silent and luxurious car. Belts are made of a soft material, which means that they’re usually the much quieter of the two options.

However, many manufacturers are focusing on timing chains for their modern vehicles, as advances in quieter chains and cheaper production have made them the clear choice for many models. 

Timing chains are also the more durable and long-lasting option. As stated earlier, what makes belts so appealing for their price and noise reduction also makes them the higher maintenance of the two. 

Timing Failures

Both timing chains and belts have made advances in durability and last much longer than their precessors, but timing failure is still a very real possibility and needs to be taken seriously, as it can quite literally cause your engine to grenade itself. 

Sometimes, timing belts will begin to squeal as the engine runs. This is one of the only warning signs of timing failure and should be addressed immediately. It can be a product of a misaligned or improperly tensioned belt, and cause major issues without repair.

In a wide variety of cases though, there won’t be a warning. Timing service is one of the most important preventative maintenance items for any vehicle. It’s a silent killer for engines if not taken care of properly. 

Timing belts can often run anywhere between 50,000 to 100,000 miles, and replacement should be considered within this range. Chains can run for a little longer, with 80,000 miles considered a healthy interval for replacement that minimizes risk. 

Timing Service at Becker Service Center

Whether your vehicle has a belt or a chain, timing service is vital. The experts at Becker Service Center in Naperville, Illinois can take care of yours! Our ASE-certified technicians and friendly service advisors will ensure your timing system is safe to drive for a long time.

Call or schedule an appointment with us online today!