How long does a timing chain last? After how many kilometres does it need to be replaced?
The timing chain is a crucial element in the operation of our vehicle. They usually last for the whole car’s life cycle, but… Is there any maintenance to be done so that we never have to change our timing chain?
As we have discussed previously on this website, the timing chain is designed to last for many miles. While a belt can rarely last more than 60,000 miles, most manufacturers guarantee so many kilometres on their timing chains that it usually lasts as long as the vehicle itself. So we will never have to visit the garage to change this component. The average is 155,000 miles of useful life, although as we say, depending on the vehicle, they may last longer or shorter. If we use a commercial vehicle, such as a truck or van, we are more likely to replace the chain than a person who uses a utility vehicle to commute to work during the week.
So… There’s no need to replace the timing chain?
Most engines that operate with a chain-driven timing system are designed to last almost as long as the car itself. However, this does not mean that it should never be replaced —whether it’s due to wear and tear or a factory defect, some vehicles will need replacement during their lifetime.
Spare parts selling websites are full of timing chains, which tells us that it is not the infallible component people believe it to be. In any case, if you follow the advice below, it is unlikely that you will ever have to visit the workshop for a chain replacement (as long as you do not have a car with a defective unit from the factory). However, if any anomaly is detected, it is always best to visit a mechanic to prevent further damage.
How to Maintain the Timing Chain?
In contrast to cars with a timing belt, cars with a chain do not require extensive maintenance. There is no need to replace it when they reach a certain mileage or to perform any special procedures. This is why cars with a timing chain drive are suitable for people in the professional sector and for individuals who do not usually take special care in the maintenance of their vehicles.
However, there are adjacent elements that we must never forget even if we have a vehicle with a timing chain:
- Timing chain tensioner or tensioning pulley: this is the element that keeps the chain tight. It prevents the chain from slackening or even slipping off the sprockets. It is therefore highly recommended to replace it every 60,000 miles. The operation is inexpensive and prevents us from having major problems in the future with our timing system. It is also important that during this small maintenance we check the condition of the chain, in case it has suffered any damage.
- The water pump can go unnoticed in a car with a chain system. This is a mistake. Normally in vehicles with belt drive we replace the water pump at every belt maintenance. In other words, every time we change the belt, we also change the cooling circuit. The water pump is a very cheap element, but its replacement is expensive due to the many hours of labour required. Since we are already working on the belt, it is the perfect oportunity to also change the water pump and be on the safe side. If your car has a timing chain, you should also check the condition of the cooling pump every so often or after a certain milage.
- Oil. Checking the oil levels of our engine and changing them every year or after some milage is crucial for our vehicle to keep the timing chain in good condition. Lubricating oil is essential to keep the chain clean, as dirt (dust, rust, metal residues, etc.) is collected by the fluid, preventing the chain links from deteriorating due to excessive friction.
How can I take care of my Timing Chain? Tips for Extinding Its Service Life
Just like with a vehicle’s clutch, the timing chain can be significantly damaged or deteriorated by rough driving. Sudden changes in speed cause jerks that add stress to the chain, causing the metal to suffer minor rubbing, which can eventually lead to a broken link. If this were to happen, buying a chain-driven car would not have brought us any benefit over a belt-driven car, as we would have a very similar engine breakage and a high repair cost.
In addition to erratic driving, which puts stress on the various elements of our vehicle, the weather can also take its toll on our precious timing chain. While it is true that spending time outside a garage suits no car, our chain can be damaged by very high temperatures during a heat wave or very cold temperatures in the winter. It is therefore advisable to prevent our vehicle from spending too many hours or several days in a row in extreme temperatures, as the expansion can gradually deteriorate both the chain and other instruments of our precious car.
And while we’re on the subject of parking on the street, it’s also not a good idea to park your car on beaches or drive in places where there is a lot of dust in suspension. In addition to scratching the chain, it is quite likely that dust and sand will end up clogging the air filter or even damaging a valve. On the other hand, it is also advisable to avoid very damp places. Moisture can wreak havoc on the mechanics of our car by producing rust in quite inaccessible places and it could take months to detect it.
In any case, there are situations where it is not possible to avoid something on this list. If we live on the coast, near the beach, we will always be exposed to moisture and sand. Therefore, the most sensible thing to do in these situations is to keep the maintenance sheet up to date and check the chain regularly. In addition, it is advisable to drive moderately, checking the engine oil levels and monitoring the tyre pressure regularly to avoid putting more strain on the engine than normal.
How often do I have to change the timing chain?
For normal vehicle use, the chain should normally last the lifetime of the car. However, there are exceptions, and this should not be generalised. Every driver should take a look at the vehicle handbook and check whether the manufacturer recommends a replacement of the chain after a certain number of kilometres or whether specific maintenance is required.
Another interesting practice is to check the Internet from time to time for information about our vehicle, especially when it is a new model on the market. Reading the problems that other users of a unit like ours have detected can give us a head start in the event of a manufacturing defect, not only in our engine or timing chain, but in our car in general. And of course, this is also interesting to do before buying a used vehicle. Before jumping into a second-hand car with timing chain, it is interesting to investigate if the car we have in mind has any endemic problem. If it does, we should be able to ask the owner if the problem has been solved before agreeing to the sale.