How Much Does It Cost To Replace a Timing Belt In 2023?
Having a mechanic say that a timing belt needs to be repaired can send shivers down your spine. The timing belt is an important engine part, and that usually means big bucks to have it replaced. The good news is that timing belts are not as expensive as other critical engine parts to get replaced. However, if a timing belt goes bad, it counts as an emergency for the car that needs to be fixed as soon as possible.
How much does it cost to replace a timing belt today? Less than you might think. There are a host of factors that go into the final cost of a timing belt replacement, including a bevy of additional costs that often appear at the same time. This article will break down the typical cost of a timing belt replacement and the importance of your timing belt. Plus, we go over most of the common additional costs that can occur during the repair.
Why Is The Timing Belt Important?
The timing belt is a critical component of a car’s engine. An engine will not run without the timing belt. The timing belt system works to keep everything in the engine working in concert with everything else. Without a timing belt, the engine will get out of synch, which can cause catastrophic damage.
Imagine an off-balance washing machine or a clock that does not tick regularly. That is how an engine performs without a timing belt. Everything gets severely out of whack, which prevents the car from being used.
The Cost To Repair or Replace Timing Belt
As far as major engine repairs go, the timing belt is relatively benign in terms of price. The typical cost to replace a timing belt in a standard vehicle runs around $650. That price is much lower than other things such as the transmission or the alternator. But it still is not a cheap fix.
A large portion of the costs for timing belt repairs comes from labor. Replacing the timing belt is a labor-intensive fix that requires 3-5 hours of mechanic work on average. That means if you live in an area with high labor costs, your prices are going to be higher. The parts themselves are fairly inexpensive, but timing belts cannot be replaced by an average owner. Timing belts require professional expertise.
Some cars have very common and inexpensive parts, which can lower the cost. But affordable parts can quickly be overshadowed by expensive labor.
A good number to use for budgeting is $1000 for a timing belt repair. That number will cover the cost of the timing belt replacement plus some additional costs that are likely to go along with the timing belt. There are many additional costs that are common with a timing belt, and since the timing belt is such an integral part of the engine, it is a good idea to get a full workup while the repair is being done.
Typical Costs For Timing Belt Repairs
Water Pump Replacement
Oddly enough, one of the most common replacements that go along with a bad or failing timing belt is the water pump. One of the most common ways that a timing belt fails is when the water pump has also failed. A leaky water pump will drop water directly onto the timing belt, which accelerates wear and tear and often leads to a complete failure of the part. Do not be surprised if your mechanic also suggests having your water pump replaced at the same time as the timing belt.
It may sound like a scam or an upcharge to have the pump replaced, but it is actually a common occurrence. It is wise to have the water pump checked and often replaced when the timing belt is getting serviced. If you replace the timing belt but leave a faulty water pump in place, it could cause the new timing belt to fail much faster than anticipated. This will leave you having to replace the timing belt all over again.
The average cost to replace a water pump is around $600. But the cost might be lower than that if you order the repair in conjunction with the timing belt replacement. The labor costs of the two jobs will overlap, which could decrease the cost down closer to $300. If your mechanic suggests you pony up for this additional repair, it is well worth the money.
Another common cost associated with a bad timing belt is towing. A car without a timing belt will not run, and in most cases, you will not be able to get the car restarted. Towing the car to a shop is the safest option. Towing costs can range anywhere from $50 to $250. Check with your insurance company to see if they cover the cost of towing for repairs. Some insurance policies have roadside assistance included.
Full Belt Replacement
The timing belt is simply one belt in a system that includes multiple different pulleys, chains, and belts. A bad timing belt is a good excuse to get the rest of your belts replaced. It would be frustrating to replace the timing belt only to have your serpentine belt fail weeks later. Many of the belts in an engine have a similar lifespan, so if your timing belt is bad, there is a good chance other belts might be on the cusp of failing as well.
The good news is many other belts are much cheaper to fix than the timing belt. Getting your other belts looked at and replaced could cost anywhere from $100 to $500. Doing this general maintenance at the same time could save you a lot of money down the road.
Lastly, it is a good idea to get a full tune-up after a timing belt is replaced. In some cases, your repair shop might include a tune-up after a large repair. Tune-ups focus on key areas of the engine, like the timing belt, and make sure that everything is running smoothly. A typical tune-up usually costs around $100 and it can help identify other problem areas of the engine while the car is in for repairs. If no problems are found, the engine will be cleaned and given some general maintenance which will help prevent other failures in the future.
Signs Of a Bad Timing Belt
Unfortunately, timing belts seldom give any indication that they are ailing and about to fail. In many cases, an engine will go from acting normal to completely dead without warning. But sometimes, the belt does start showing signs of wear.
Engines that knock sound out of rhythm or begin to feel rough and jerky while driving could be showing signs of imminent timing belt failure. Since the engine is the most vital part of the car and one of the most expensive components, it is crucial to pay attention to any abnormal signs or sounds coming from your engine.
How Often Do Timing Belts Go Bad?
The lifespan of a timing belt can vary greatly depending on the make and model of the vehicle as well as a host of use factors. Wear and tear on a timing belt comes from the repeated heating and cooling an engine goes through during typical use. Over time, the plastic and rubber that make up the belt’s parts will begin to wear down, and eventually, the materials fail which then causes the belt to break. However, the exact time frame for this to occur can happen between 80,000 and 150,000 miles.
Most vehicles have a service window that suggests having the timing belt inspected starting at 70,000 miles. Catching a worn timing belt before it breaks can save you a lot of headaches down the road. Consult your vehicle’s individual owner’s manual to find the suggested maintenance window for your specific timing belt.
The typical timing belt lasts around 100,000 miles.
Can You Drive With a Bad Timing Belt?
No. A car whose timing belt has failed will automatically shut down. If you are driving along and the timing belt breaks, the engine will stop, and the car will die wherever you may be. This can alternate between extremely inconvenient to downright dangerous, depending on the situation.
You should never try to drive a car in the rare circumstance when the timing belt breaks and the engine manages to refire. Running an engine without a timing belt can cause irreparable damage to the engine. In the most extreme cases, an engine with a bad timing belt will destroy itself, leaving you with a $5000 engine replacement bill rather than a $1000 timing belt repair.
If you suspect your timing belt has gone bad, the best thing to do is to leave the car wherever it shuts off and have it towed to a reputable repair shop to start the replacement process.
If you have a vehicle with over 100,000 miles and you have never heard of a timing belt it is probably a good idea to set aside $1000 just in case. A timing belt failure is a critical problem that will need to be repaired right away. Not being prepared for the cost of the timing belt itself and the subsequent work that might need to be done at the same time could put you in a bad spot. In many cases, it is not if a timing belt will fail but when. The timing belt and surrounding components are not areas of the engine you want to put off or neglect.
Featured Image Credit: Alexander Schimmeck, Unsplash