Timing belt

Timing belt
Timing belt
Timing covers, lower pulley, accessory belts removed, exposing timing belt on a Nissan RB30E Engine

A timing belt, or cam belt (informal usage), is a part of an internal combustion engine that controls the timing of the engine's valves. Some engines, such as the flat-4 Volkswagen air-cooled engine, and the straight-6 Toyota F engine use timing gears. Timing belts replaced the older style timing chains that were common until the 1970s and 1980s (although in the last decade there has been reemergence of chain use for many carmakers). Some manufacturers, such as BMW, are known for utilizing timing chains, because of their durability.[1] The term "timing belt" is sometimes used for the more general case of any flat belt with integral teeth, although such usage is a misnomer since there is no timing or synchronization involved.


Engine applications

In the internal combustion engine application, the timing belt/chain connects the crankshaft to the camshaft(s), which in turn controls the opening and closing of the engine's valves. A four-stroke engine requires that the valves open and close once every other revolution of the crankshaft. The timing belt/chain does this. It has teeth to turn the camshaft(s) synchronised with the crankshaft, and is specifically designed for a particular engine. In some engine designs, the timing belt may also be used to drive other engine components such as the water pump and oil pump (internal combustion engine).

Gear or chain systems are also used to connect the crankshaft to the camshaft at the correct timing. However, gears and shafts constrain the relative location of the crankshaft and camshafts. Even where the crankshaft and camshaft(s) are very close together, as in pushrod engines, most engine designers use a short chain drive rather than a direct gear drive. This is because gear drives suffer from frequent torque reversal as the cam profiles "kick back" against the drive from the crank, leading to excessive noise and wear. Fibre gears, with more resilience, are preferred to steel gears where direct drive has to be used. A belt or chain allows much more flexibility in the relative locations of the crankshaft and camshafts.

While chains and gears may be more durable, rubber composite belts are quieter in their operation (in most modern engines the noise difference is negligible), are less expensive and more efficient, by dint of being lighter, when compared with a gear or chain system. Also, timing belts do not require lubrication, which is essential with a timing chain or gears. A timing belt is a specific application of a synchronous belt used to transmit rotational power synchronously.

Timing belts are typically covered by metal or polymer timing belt covers which require removal for inspection or replacement. Engine manufacturers recommend replacement at specific intervals.[2] The manufacturer may also recommend the replacement of other parts, such as the water pump, when the timing belt is replaced because the additional cost to replace the water pump is negligible compared to the cost of accessing the timing belt. In an interference engine, or one whose valves extend into the path of the piston, failure of the timing belt (or timing chain) invariably results in costly and, in some cases, irreparable engine damage, as some valves will be held open when they should not be and thus will be struck by the pistons.

Indicators that the timing chain may need to be replaced include a rattling noise from the front of the engine.[3]


When an automotive timing belt is replaced, care must be taken to ensure that the valve and piston movements are correctly synchronized. Failure to synchronize correctly can lead to problems with valve timing, and this in turn, in extremes, can cause collision between valves and pistons in interference engines. This is not a problem unique to timing belts since the same issue exists with all other cam/crank timing methods such as gears or chains. To help alleviate a timing belt from being incorrectly installed, the timing belt had painted marks on the surface of the belt that line up with markings on the camshaft gears and crankshaft gear so that the belt is perfectly aligned and properly positioned.


Timing belts must be replaced at the manufacturer's recommended distance and/or time periods. Failure to replace the belt can result in complete breakdown or catastrophic engine failure.[4] The owner's manual maintenance schedule is the source of timing belt replacement intervals, typically every 60,000 to 90,000 miles (approx 96,000 to 144,000 kilometres).[5] It is common to replace the timing belt tensioner at the same time as the belt is replaced.

The usual failure modes of timing belts are either stripped teeth (which leaves a smooth section of belt where the drive cog will slip) or delamination and unraveling of the fiber cores. Breakage of the belt, because of the nature of the high tensile fibers, is uncommon.[citation needed] Correct belt tension is critical - too loose and the belt will whip, too tight and it will whine and put excess strain on the bearings of the cogs. In either case belt life will be drastically shortened. Aside from the belt itself, also common is a failure of the tensioner, and/or the various gear and idler bearings, causing the belt to derail.

Construction and design

A timing belt is typically rubber with high-tensile fibres (e.g. fiberglass or Twaron/Kevlar) running the length of the belt as tension members.[6]

Rubber degrades with higher temperatures, and with contact with motor oil. Thus the life expectancy of a timing belt is lowered in hot or leaky engines. Newer or more expensive belts are made of temperature resistant materials such as "highly saturated nitrile" (HSN).[citation needed] The life of the reinforcing cords is also greatly affected by water and antifreeze. This means that special precautions must be taken for off road applications to allow water to drain away or be sealed from contact with the belt.

Older belts have trapezoid shaped teeth leading to high rates of tooth wear. Newer manufacturing techniques allow for curved teeth that are quieter and last longer.

Aftermarket timing belts may be used to alter engine performance. OEM timing belts "will stretch at high rpm, retarding the cam and therefore the ignition.[7] Stronger, aftermarket belts, will not stretch and the timing is preserved.[8] In terms of engine design, "shortening the width of the timing belt reduce[s] weight and friction".[9]

Usage history

The first known timing belt was used in 1945.[10]

The German Glas 1004 was the first mass produced vehicle to use a timing belt in 1962. The first American vehicle to use a timing belt was the 1966 Pontiac Tempest. In 1966, OPEL started production of the Slant Four overhead cam four-cylinder design which used a timing belt, a configuration that is now used in the vast majority of cars built today.

See also


  1. ^ BMW Timing Chain - BMW World
  2. ^ "Gates - Timing Belt Replacement Guide with illustration of V6 timing belt installation and list of engines and replacement recommendations". Gates Corporation. http://www.gates.com/downloads/download_common.cfm?file=428-1466_web.pdf&folder=brochure. Retrieved 2010-10-23. 
  3. ^ Siegel, Ira (2007-04-05). "Rattling noise could be from worn timing chain". Chicago Sun Times. http://searchchicago.suntimes.com/autos/news/letters/316766,srch-letters-IS040507.article. Retrieved 2010-10-23. 
  4. ^ Bennekom, Fred Van (2005). "Audi A4 Car Timing Belt Quality". http://www.greatbrook.com/Personal/audi_a4_quality_broken_timing_belt.htm. Retrieved 2010-10-23. "Example of an Audi belt that broke before the recommended replacement interval." 
  5. ^ "It's All in the Timing". Car Care Council.. 2008. http://www.carcare.org/car-care-articles/timing-belt. Retrieved 2010-10-23. 
  6. ^ Carley, Larry (2005). "Timing chains, gears & belts". Carley's Online Library of Automotive Technical Articles. AA1Car Automotive Diagnostic Repair Help. http://www.aa1car.com/library/ar594.htm. Retrieved 2006-06-09.  - "Contrary to what you might think, rubber timing belts do not stretch with accumulated mileage and wear. They are reinforced with strands of fiberglass which makes them virtually unstretchable. After making the crankshaft to cam drive circuit millions of times, the strands can become brittle and may begin to break. Eventually the reinforcing cords give way, the belt snaps and the engine quits."
  7. ^ Simmons, Keith (February 2009). "Timing To Win: Ignition Timing for Maximum Performance". Circle Track Magazine. http://www.circletrack.com/howto/1842_ignition_timing_maximum_performance/. Retrieved 2010-10-23. 
  8. ^ "Goodyear Develops New NASCAR Cam Drive Belt". PR Newswire Association. 2006. http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Goodyear+Develops+New+NASCAR+Cam+Drive+Belt.-a0155155032. Retrieved 2010-10-23. 
  9. ^ "An Overview Of The2005 Mitsubishi Galant". The Auto Channel. 2004-10-24. http://www.theautochannel.com/news/2004/10/14/253444.html. Retrieved 2010-10-23. 
  10. ^ Temple, Steve (2004). "Behold Your Timing Belt: Keeping the camshaft and crankshaft in sync". Know-How. Advance Auto Parts. Archived from the original on 2006-04-13. http://web.archive.org/web/20060413074241/http://www.advanceautoparts.com/english/youcan/html/ccr/ccr20020301tb.html. Retrieved 2006-06-09.  - "In earlier engines, camshafts were often gear-driven off the crankshaft. Later, powerplant designers developed chain drives in OHV (overhead valve) configurations that allowed some flexibility in the placement of the camshaft so that shorter pushrods could be used, for more performance and efficiency. Those engines with long chains sometimes tended to whip about and cause problems. The only alternative was a noisy and complicated multi-gear train until the cogged rubber synchronous timing belt was invented in 1945. Though it was once considered the hallmark of a cheap engine, now it is used in distinguished automobiles such as Acuras, Volvos and Porsches".

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