Top 5 Symptoms of a Bad Timing Chain
When your vehicle is approaching that 100,000-mile mark, you need to keep your ears tuned to the sounds your car makes after startup.
Is it making a rattling sound, and then that sound starts fading?
If so, you probably need to check if your timing chain is stretching out too much or needs to be replaced.
Table of Contents
- What Is a Timing Chain?
- What Is the Function of a Timing Chain?
- What Causes Timing Chains to Fail?
- Symptoms of Bad Timing Chain
- Difference Between a Timing Chain and a Timing Belt
- How to Prevent Timing Chain Failure
- How Long Does Timing Chain Last?
- Can You Drive on a Bad Timing Chain?
- How Much Does It Cost to Get a Timing Chain Replacement
- Best Car Deals by Category
- Frequently Asked Questions
What Is a Timing Chain?
The timing chain is located at the front of the engine bay of cars and is connected to a set of pulleys and gears.
These components, which include the gears and the camshaft, are responsible for powering multiple mechanical components.
The timing chain must rotate smoothly around the gears to start the engine. Although the chain is made of metal, it can still get damaged due to wear and tear.
The chain is composed of a series of links; over time, the chain can get damaged and stretch, which can cause inaccurate engine timing.
Some warning signs (symptoms) would become evident when something is wrong with the timing chain.
What Is the Function of a Timing Chain?
The timing chain is a component of a car's engine that regulates the rotation of its parts. It also aligns the higher and lower portions of the engine. This component allows the inlet and outflow valves to close and open at designated intervals.
If the chain is not working correctly, it can cause the valves to open and close incorrectly.
The timing chain links the lower and upper parts of the engine, such as the cylinder heads and valves, with the pistons and crankcase. The timing chain of a vehicle is similar to a bicycle chain.
The timing chain must work correctly to ensure that the cylinders are adequately synchronized.
This process can help improve the car's performance and fuel economy.
What Causes Timing Chains to Fail?
The most significant cause of failure is the timing chain's stretch. Since it's near the engine block, it gets hot when the vehicle is in motion.
As a result, the metal chain gradually gets stretched due to the heat.
When the chain gets loose, it can cause the gears to "jump teeth." A loose chain can cause the chain to fall off entirely.
Low oil levels can also cause the chain to stretch. Since the gears are metal, friction and heat can occur when the chain is not lubricated properly. Hence, the need to change the oils to prevent timing chain failure.
Symptoms of Bad Timing Chain
There are several symptoms of a bad timing chain. They include the following:
1. If the Check Engine Light Comes On
Several anomalies can trigger the check engine light. One of these could be a faulty timing chain.
In addition, when a car's computer detects an issue, it will display warning lights that indicate the need for further investigation.
The check engine light may come on when the onboard computer senses something is wrong with the engine's operation or emissions system.
A stretched timing chain can cause various problems, such as increased emissions and poor engine performance.
A mechanic will need to inspect and diagnose the issue if you're unable.
2. If the Engine Refuses to Start
A broken timing chain can prevent an engine from starting or failing while driving.
If the belt is already damaged, the engine will have less than enough compression to start.
If the timing chain jumps or breaks while driving, it will damage the piston valves, which will eventually bend and ruin the engine.
If your vehicle won't start or starts behaving erratically while driving, it may be on its way to having a timing chain failure which could ruin the entire engine. You should act accordingly by contacting a trusted car mechanic.
3. If the Engine Rattles While Idling
A strange sound from your engine might signal something wrong with your car's engine. Usually, an engine's smooth sound indicates that everything is working correctly.
However, if the engine sounds like it's vibrating while idle, it could signal that the timing chain is loose.
A loose chain can cause noise inside the motor, which means something is not working correctly.
Your car will not start or function properly without the proper timing chain. If the chain breaks while you're driving, it could cause severe damage to the engine.
If you notice these symptoms, you must immediately replace your timing chain.
However, a professional mechanic inspecting and diagnosing the issue will allow you to avoid costly engine damage.
4. If the Engine Misfires
One of the most common ways to achieve valve timing in an engine is by connecting the two-gear method. This involves connecting the camshaft to the crankshaft.
This timing chain is commonly used in heavy equipment and big trucks. However, it's also widely used in high-performance vehicles.
If the chain gets stretched over time, it can cause it to skip a gear on the crankshaft or the camshaft.
This condition can cause the engine's timing to fall out of calibration, leading to a misfire. It can also cause the vehicle to sputter and lack power.
If this happens, it's possible that the timing chain is damaged, and you need to replace it immediately.
A broken timing chain can also cause the metal to roll around inside the motor, leading to severe engine damage.
5. If Metal Shavings Are Found in the Oil
All car manufacturers recommend that vehicle owners change their engine oil and filter because the oil will eventually separate and become exposed to harmful chemicals over time.
If the timing chain is wearing out, it could be noticed during an oil change by detecting metal shavings in the discarded oil. Small metal pieces can break off the chain and enter the oil pan.
When you change the oil, the mechanic might be able to detect small metal pieces in the oil as it was being drained or in the filter. This could be a sign that the timing chain is failing.
Metal shavings can also be seen when the cylinder head hardware, such as the retainers, valves, and keepers, gets worn out.
Again, professional inspecting and diagnosing the issue will allow you to make necessary repairs.
Difference Between a Timing Chain and a Timing Belt
The difference is the location and material used in making them.
Timing chains were first used in cars, while belts were introduced during the 1960s. A timing belt is made of rubber, but a timing chain is 100% metal.
Compared to timing chains, timing belts are quieter and are made from materials that are cheaper to produce. They also have a shorter life span when compared to the timing chain that receives lubrication from the engine oil.
Another notable difference is that timing belts are usually located outside the engine while timing chains are in the engine. Due to the advantages of using a timing chain, more car companies have recently started incorporating them into their vehicles. They came with new features which have led to a reduction in the noise and vibrations generated by the car's engine.
Although a timing belt is also used for driving water pumps, it's also important to note that different types of timing operations are utilized by other vehicles. For instance, if your vehicle's manual says that the car uses a timing operation different from year to year, it's probably a good idea to check it.
How to Prevent Timing Chain Failure
There are simple steps to take to prevent timing chain failure, which could have disastrous consequences for your engine. They include the following:
- Ensure your engine oil is changed frequently. Low engine oil levels are one of the most common reasons for timing chain failure.
- Another essential step is regular inspection of the timing chain once the car mileage exceeds 150,000 miles. A timing chain is built to last so, at 150,000 miles, signs of wear and tear might begin to creep in.
- Always make sure your engine does not overheat. You can observe this by looking at your dashboard; your engine's temperature is displayed there. If the engine is overheating, do not drive it.
How Long Does Timing Chain Last?
Although most modern timing chains are designed to last the life of an engine, they can still go bad after around 150,000 miles.
Some of the symptoms that can show up before a car's timing chain completely fails are poor idling and engine misfires. These are usually signs that something is wrong with the chain.
Common reasons a car's timing chain can fail prematurely include low oil levels and engine overheating.
These conditions can put excessive stress on the chain, which can cause it to stretch.
Can You Drive on a Bad Timing Chain?
As we earlier revealed, the timing chain stretches gradually over time.
Therefore, it is possible to drive with an old timing chain that is not completely bad, but it is dangerous and not advisable.
Consequently, it is recommended that you replace the timing chain immediately if you notice any stretches or any of the symptoms listed above.
How Much Does It Cost to Get a Timing Chain Replacement
The cost of replacing a timing chain can vary depending on the type of repair and how it's done.
For instance, a DIY (Do It Yourself) could cost around $600, while involving an auto mechanic could see it rise to $1,600.
Unlike rubber timing belts, which are usually replaced after a certain period, timing chains are made from durable materials which should last for a long time.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a timing chain?
A timing chain is a lot like a timing belt, except timing chains are made out of metal rather than rubber. The timing chain helps to connect the upper and lower parts of the engine.
What causes a timing chain to break?
Over time, timing chains wear and stretch naturally. By about the 100,000-mark, you will want to start keeping an ear out for rattling sounds that dissipate after a few seconds. That’s one of the first signs that your timing chain is going bad.
How long can you drive with a bad timing chain?
You can drive with a bad timing chain for a time, but you run the risk of breaking the timing chain. Naturally, this is extremely dangerous. The best rule of thumb is: Get it changed as soon as you diagnose the problem.
What kind of noise will a bad timing chain make?
Bad timing chains make a rattling sound right after you turn on the vehicle, but after a few seconds, the sound will dissipate to the normal hum of the engine. Don’t be fooled just because it goes away! That rattling sound is not something to ignore.