The timing chain should last for the lifetime of your BMW.
Unfortunately, if something goes wrong, the chain, the tensioner, and other parts of the timing system can go out.
When that happens, the repair can be a considerable one – with the cost of materials and the cost of labor being quite high. This means you can always expect the job to be at least $1,500 – unless you go to an aftermarket parts supplier.
Here, the average cost of timing chain replacement is $1,200-$2,200. Here, you can expect parts to cost anywhere from $170-$400 and labor to cost anywhere from $300-$1,800. For a BMW, you can expect an average of about $1,500, although it will be higher if you go to the dealer.
The table below shares a quick price comparison of BMW timing chain replacement cost estimates from reputable suppliers:
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How Much Does BMW Timing Chain Replacement Cost?*
The timing chain is not necessarily meant to be replaced. Unlike the timing belt, which is meant to wear down, the timing chain is meant to stay in place for the duration of the vehicle. If something goes wrong, the cost of replacement is significant.
For BMW, those costs are relatively the same across most makes and models of vehicles.
|Model||Timing Chain Cost||Labor Cost|
|BMW 1 Series||$120-$580||$1,050-$5,500|
|BMW 3 Series||$170-$350||$560-$1,780|
|BMW 2 Series||$304-$356||$310-$2,590|
*Note: Prices are estimates and were correct at the time of writing (May 2023). Cost estimate may have changed since, our figures should be used as a starting point for your own research.
What Is A Timing Chain?
The timing chain aligns the top and bottom of the engine block to ensure they work in unison. Unlike a timing belt, this part is not intended to be replaced, which means that you often have to disassemble the engine – including taking off many of the accessories to access and change the chain.
In addition, the timing chain operates the water pump, the air pump, the oil pump, and accessories like the air conditioning.
If yours goes out or breaks, you could be looking at major damage to the engine, including overheating, inability to brake properly, and lack of engine lubrication. All of that can spell permanent and irreversible damage to your engine if you keep driving.
Timing chains are more durable than timing belts. They rarely require replacement. However, when they do, you’re looking at very high costs that can be in the thousands of dollars.
If your engine has to be disassembled or lifted to access the timing, your dealer could charge you over $6,000 for the job.
BMW Timing Chain Replacement Price Factors
Replacing a BMW timing chain can vary quite a bit in cost depending on the make and model of the vehicle, where you go, and how the engine is setup. Therefore, you’ll have differences in costs, even for the same make and model of BMW.
The following costs will usually affect the total price of replacing the timing chain.
The model of your BMW will heavily impact the total cost of the job. However, that’s almost entirely related to the complexity of removing the engine and installing the timing chain.
For example, the BMW 320d requires more time to change the timing chain than the X5. However, in most cases, the newer the BMW, the more it will cost to replace the chain.
Make and Model of Parts
Most people who replace a BMW timing chain prefer to purchase an OEM model. BMW normally prices timing chains at around $170-$250 for the OEM model.
However, you can also opt to buy an aftermarket part, for sometimes as little as $40. That can amount to considerable cost savings.
It’s important to consider the quality and the longevity of the chain, though. Most of the cost of timing chain replacement is in labor.
So, if your mechanic thinks it’s better to pay $250 for your timing chain, it’s a small part of the cost when you’re looking at $850+ for labor.
In addition, if the aftermarket chain ends up being a wrong call, replacing it again will cost you a lot more than simply paying for the OEM part, to begin with.
So, most people replacing timing chains will opt to replace them with OEM or performance parts instead of budget parts.
Labor will always be the most significant cost in replacing a timing chain. Here, you can typically expect to pay a premium for work on a BMW.
However, you can also choose to go to a non-BMW certified mechanic –which means you’ll pay less but you’ll lose the certainty of the technician being an expert in your vehicle.
Here, rates also vary depending on where you go:
- BMW Dealer: $95-$260 per hour
- BMW-Certified Mechanic: $75-$110 per hour (unless you live on the West Coast, in which case, $200 per hour)
- General Mechanic: $25-$95 per hour
The process of replacing a timing chain is extremely complex. Your BMW engine has to be lifted, the timing assembly removed, the accessories removed, and then the timing chain re-fitted with a new timing assembly.
That takes an average of 8 hours – but if you have to vent the AC and remove the compressor, it could take up to 12. So, you might be looking at 2 days of work.
Parts to Replace
It’s extremely unlikely that you’d just want to replace the timing chain. After all, something happened to damage the timing chain.
In most cases, replacing the timing chain involves changing the full timing assembly, the tensioner, the sprockets, and the pulleys. This is generally a good idea because those parts are cheap and most of the cost to replace them is in the labor.
If you’re taking them off anyway, putting new ones back on doesn’t add too much to total costs.
So, if your vehicle has a lot of lifespan left, you might want to discuss what you should replace with the mechanic and then go from there. Of course, that should involve inspecting the parts – because there’s no sense in replacing things with no real wear and tear.
6 Symptoms Of A Bad Timing Chain
A bad timing chain can have a lot of symptoms. However, one of the earliest is power, increased fuel usage, and engine misfires.
For this reason, early warning signs of timing chain failure are often thought to be exhaust issues – and in reality, they are because they are affecting the timing of your combustion engine.
1. Reduced Engine Power
If the engine timing is off, even because of a single dent or misshapen chain link, the engine will fire badly on at least one cylinder or set of cylinders. This means you’ll get a gap in power or a simple reduction in power because the cylinders aren’t lining up with the fuel injection and air intake as they should be.
That could mean a reduction in fuel and air, throwing the fuel-to-air ratio off, or cutting the total supply. This will mean your vehicle has a reduction in power – which could result in reduced power, reduced acceleration, and an engine that performs sluggishly.
Of course, power issues are also symptoms of exhaust and fuel injection issues.
2. Increased Fuel Usage
If your fuel usage is going up for no discernable reason, it’s normally related to the exhaust or the fuel injection.
In this case, the issue outlined above causes increases in fuel usage, meaning you have to use more fuel to get the same performance.
3. Grinding Noise
A broken, slipped, or worn down timing chain can cause grinding – both because the chain grinds against the pulleys, because the pulleys grind, and because the cylinders fire and grind into each other.
Here, grinding noises can be caused by a larger number of issues but are always a cause for immediate concern and action.
The timing chain aligns the cam and crankshaft, so that the engine fires at the right time, injecting fuel into the right cylinders. When that timing is off, the cylinders could miss and might not receive enough air or oxygen.
Any specific cylinder fire could have no fuel, could be swamped by too much fuel and not enough oxygen, meaning that it misses that fire.
The result is gaps or stutters in your engine’s rhythm. That could be rhythmic, e.g., the same cylinders on every rotation, or intermittent.
Both can be an issue other than the timing chain, such as the fuel injection or bearings or even the camshaft. However, they are also a timing chain issue.
5. Starting Issues
If your timing chain isn’t tensioned properly, either because the tensioner has gone out or the chain has, you might have issues starting.
Here, there could be several direct causes. For example, the crankshaft turns the engine to begin with – if the timing isn’t aligning it properly, the engine won’t start.
But, the timing chain also powers the starter and synchronizes the camshaft, allowing the engine to turn over. If that doesn’t happen, your engine will fail to start.
Of course, there are plenty of other reasons you could be having this issue, so you’ll need more symptoms of a timing issue before you’ll want to replace the chain.
6. Knocking and Banging
Clanks, bangs, and knocking sounds from under the hood are always a reason to go to the mechanic. Here, your chain might be loose enough that it actually knocks around and bangs into the pulleys and the engine casing.
A rhythmic knocking sound almost always means it’s the chain that’s loose and slapping against the timing cover or the case.
How Do You Replace A BMW Timing Chain? (Steps)
Unless you have access to specialty equipment such as a cherry picker/engine hoist or a good lift, you do not want to replace the timing chain on your BMW yourself.
It is possible to drop the engine to access the part – however, doing so is difficult and runs the risk of not being able to get the engine back into the vehicle.
Using a hoist to lift and twist the engine is always the best option. This means that if you don’t have one, you should go to a shop or rent one.
Things you’ll need:
- Drain pan
- Wrench set (metric)
- Ratchet and socket set (metric)
- Breaker bar
- Impact wrench
- BMW timing chain tension tool + pulley puller
- Harmonic balancer puller (for rent at most shops)
- Replacement timing cover gasket
- Replacement timing chain (or kit with tensioner, covers, etc.)
It’s always a good idea to go through the service manual to check if your BMW model requires something specific, such as a specific tensioner tool.
Start by practicing good safety. Park your car on a flat surface, chock the wheels. Put the car into neutral.
Then, turn the engine off and take the key out of the ignition. From there, you can disconnect the battery from the left negative post and tuck it up out of the way.
- Drain the coolant and the oil.
- Empty the power steering fluid.
- Detach the air intake and move it out of the way.
- Disconnect the serpentine belt.
- Find and remove the radiator hoses connecting to the water pump and any hoses in the way of the timing cover.
- Take the radiator fan off.
- Remove the radiator shroud.
- Unbolt the power steering pump and push it up out of the way or remove it fully.
- Move the power steering reservoir.
- Take off the alternator.
- Remove the air conditioning compressor.
- Loosen the bolts on the water pump and use a large screwdriver to pop it out of the housing.
- Take off the crank pulley. Normally you’ll have to hold it in place and then loosen the bolt with a crank pulley, you might need two people for this.
- Remove the harmonic balancer.
- Disconnect the fuel lines.
- Take off the valve cover.
- Attach a cherry picker or hoist to the engine and tension it to support the engine.
- Unbolt the engine from the front engine mounts.
- Slightly lift and twist the engine, giving you access to the timing cover.
- Remove the bolts from the timing cover. You might have to pry it loose, especially if the old gasket is gluing it in place.
- Rotate the crankshaft by hand (your engine must be in neutral) and line the indicator marks up. The top cam sprocket should face downward and the crank sprocket indicator. If necessary, use a crank bolt to manually rotate it.
- Use a ratchet and socket to remove the chain tensioner and bolts.
- Remove the cam sprocket and bolts.
- Take off the timing chain.
- Use a gear pulley to remove any sprockets or pulleys that show signs of wear and tear or damage. You’ll want to inspect the full system, as missing teeth, debris, and worn-down teeth or rings can damage the new chain.
- Refit any gears.
- Fit the new chain.
- Tension everything to the instructions in your BMW service manual.
- Remove any old gasket from the timing cover and clean both surfaces. Then apply the new gasket. Replace the timing cover.
- Put everything back in reverse order. Refill fluids, check lubricant, and double-check that you haven’t missed anything.
- Start the engine and idle it for about 10 minutes to ensure everything is running smoothly.
Replacing the timing chain on your BMW is a big job so chances are you still have questions.
Is it worth it to replace a BMW timing chain?
In most cases, it is worth it to replace the timing chain on your BMW. However, quotes can be as high as $6,000 from the dealer. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to replace a BMW for that.
On the other hand, if the vehicle is nearing end-of-life, you probably don’t want to invest that much. A good rule of thumb is to check what you’d pay to replace the vehicle with a secondhand one of the same year, and don’t pay more than that for the job.
How many hours does it take to replace a timing chain?
On average, it takes 4-8 hours to replace the timing chain on a BMW.
However, if you’re unlucky, it can take 12-14 hours to do so. That’s because you have to dismantle the engine and quite often you’ll have to unbolt the engine and lift it from the vehicle.
Can you drive a BMW with a bad timing chain?
You cannot drive a BMW with a bad timing chain. Doing so risks completely destroying your engine.
However, in minor cases, you’ll mostly just risk power loss, using too much fuel, and an unreliable engine.
How long do BMW timing chains last?
Theoretically, the timing chain should last for the lifetime of the vehicle. However, that sometimes works out to about 100,000 miles.
If the timing chain breaks before that, you should contact your dealer or check what else may have caused the issue.
What happens if the timing chain breaks while driving?
If the timing chain actually snaps, your engine will stall and will not start again. However, metal chains are extremely unlikely to actually break.
Issues are usually about deformations, cracks, and tears, which prevent the chain from rotating smoothly.
If the timing chain on your BMW goes out, you’ll want to replace it ASAP. However, that’s likely to cost you over $1,500. Here, OEM parts usually cost about $250 for just the chain (and you’ll usually want other parts as well) and you’ll pay (on average) $800 or more for labor. Those costs can vary quite a bit, and it’s not unusual to get quotes of $2,000-$6,000 from BMW dealers.
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