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Cheap, but important: The timing belt
The timing belt is a very important component in a car, aligning the camshaft with the crankshaft, which is important for valve control. If it ruptures, serious engine damage is unavoidable.
Function and location of a timing belt
The timing belt is a flat belt with transversal projections, fitting into grooves on the drive wheels of crankshaft and camshaft. The projections (toothing) cause crankshaft and camshaft to stand in a specifically defined angle. This is very important. When the piston rises, the valves set in motion by the camshaft must be out of the way. If the piston hits the valves, an expensive repair is the result. The timing belt therefore sits on the longitudinal side of the engine, connecting both shafts. Furthermore, the timing belt is often used for driving additional auxiliary components.
Born in Deggendorf to conquer the world
Does anyone actually remember the German car manufacturer by the name of Glas? His most famous creation was the mini-car "Goggomobil". What generated large profits for the manufacturer, turned into his curse at a later stage: although Glas built phenomenally innovative cars, he never lost his reputation for being the Goggomobil builder. The consolation remains that many of Glas' inventions found their way into the cars of today, such as the timing belt. It was made with the intention of being smaller, lighter, more reliable and running smoother than the timing chain and was additionally meant to replace main shafts or spur gear and as a result setting new standards for construction. It turned out to be successful: in combustion engines the timing belt is number 1, although it was constructed as a wear part from the start. Modern timing belts are very durable and in no way inferior to the timing chains.
Defects of the timing belt
A ruptured timing belt is noticed right away: the car stalls and doesn't start. The starter jams and is unable to make the engine run. Pistons and valves have jammed and can only be disengaged through a complicated repair. There is only one way to prevent this serious engine damage: stick to the replacement intervals. Depending on type it is often recommended to preventively replace timing belts. Inform yourself about the experience with your car type: where a Golf 3 can exceed the replacement interval of 20.000 km without any trouble, in an Alfa 166 the timing belt should preferably be replaced long before that.
Replacing the timing belt
DIY replacement of a timing belt strongly depends on the car type as well as the individual experience. In the earlier mentioned example, there is a world of difference in amount of work for this repair: with some practice and experience the timing belt in a Golf 3 can be replaced within an hour. In the Alfa 166 on the other hand, the entire engine must be disassembled. As a result, many of these beautiful cars have died and untimely death: third owners were wary of the 2000 EUR expense for the replacement. A timing belt replacement requires working thoroughly and precisely. Even the offset of a single tooth might cause a faulty engine run. Therefore, after replacement the engine should be tested freewheeling: remove the spark plugs and manually turn the drive.
Always replace the timing belt as a set
A timing belt is not replaced individually. For every car there are complete assembly kits. Either the water pump or the tensioner pulley should be replaced as well. In many cars, the water pump has the additional function of maintaining the tension of the timing belt and therefore most timing belt sets only have one of these components. Prices for a timing belt set start at ca. 100 EUR (c. £90) in a satisfactory branded quality.