Timing chains are normally designed to last the lifetime of the vehicle. If they don’t, the repair can be a considerable one.
In some cases, it’s reasonable to replace your timing chain. In others, you might find it’s better to skip the repair and to get a new vehicle instead.
Timing chains ensure the top and bottom of the engine block work in unison. In most cases, they also operate the water pump and the oil pump.
Unlike timing belts, timing chains are also intended to last the duration of the car. They’re made of metal. So, if something does go wrong, you have a real problem.
The average cost of replacing a timing chain is $300-$1,500. In most cases, you can expect the job to cost at least $800. However, if you have a complicated engine, it can cost several thousand dollars. Here, parts cost $50-$400. The rest is all the cost of labor.
The table below shows a quick price comparison of timing chain replacement cost estimates from reputable suppliers:
How Much Does Timing Chain Replacement Cost?*
Timing chains are normally relatively affordable. In most cases, they’re metal chains, constructed similarly to a bicycle chain.
You can get the parts for under $20 for most vehicles. However, the cost of labor can be much more significant.
Here, the make and model of the vehicle is extremely important. For example, one engine might offer easy access to the timing chain. It might also have very few tension gauges and pulleys.
Therefore, you might be able to change the timing chain in as little as a few hours. In other cases, the system is much more complicated, and the mechanic might actually have to lift the engine out to remove the timing chain.
The following includes rough estimates for 10 different popular vehicles.
|Vehicle||Timing Chain Cost||Labor Cost|
|BMW 3 Series||$170-$250||$560-$780|
|Dodge RAM 1500||$295-$510||$539-$779|
*Note: Prices are estimates and were correct at the time of writing (February 2022). Cost estimate may have changed since, our figures should be used as a starting point for your own research.
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Timing Chain Replacement Price Factors
Replacing a timing chain can cost anywhere from $300 to well over $10,000.
What’s the difference in cost? Normally, it’s the time and effort required to take the engine apart.
In addition, you might need a full timing chain assembly instead of just the chain. This can increase the cost of the replacement.
However, the largest factor will always be labor.
Make and Model
Most older vehicles use timing belts, not timing chains. So, the age of your vehicle is not usually a consideration. However, the make and model always affect the cost of the parts.
For example, you can expect to buy budget timing chains for as little as $20. These are aftermarket parts and designed to fit as many vehicles as possible. However, there is no quality guarantee other than what the brand offers.
Other brands like Honda also normally offer affordable parts. For example, you can get a Honda timing chain for as little as $94.
On the other hand, some brands are very expensive. Chevy markets its timing chain assembly starting from $740. While you can get the part cheaper by choosing aftermarket or a remanufactured chain, it will always be costly.
Labor is the most significant part of replacing a timing chain. However, this significantly depends on the make and model of your car.
In some models, the timing chain is very accessible. In others, you have to take the entire engine apart and lift it out.
The complexity of your timing setup also matters. For example, getting a timing chain in and out means perfectly aligning all of the timing gauges, gears, and tensioners. The more there are, the more time it will take.
Depending on your mechanic, you can expect to pay $15-$210 per hour for work. In most cases, the average cost of a mechanic per hour is $60. And, a timing chain takes about 4-8 hours to replace.
Some models are exceptions. For example, simple Dodge engines are very easy to replace timing systems on. Toyota and Honda are also notoriously simple to access and replace. A Chevy pickup or Ford F150 are definitely the opposite.
Parts to Replace
In some cases, you might be able to get away with replacing just the timing chain. In others, you’ll want to replace the full timing assembly.
In fact, because you won’t always know what went wrong with the timing chain, that may be a good idea. That’s especially true as the cost of the parts is often significantly less than the cost of labor.
Therefore, just replacing the entire timing assembly at the same time could save you the off chance that something else is wrong and you have to take everything apart again.
In addition, the timing chain tensioner frequently goes bad. It’s also much cheaper to replace than the timing chain. And, the symptoms of a bad tensioner are very similar to the symptoms of a bad timing chain.
Finally, you also probably want to replace the sprockets as well. These are cheap and are more likely to fail than the timing chain itself.
5 Symptoms of a Bad Timing Chain
If your timing chain is going out, you’ll notice significant issues with gas usage, vehicle power, starting, and misfiring.
While many of the symptoms of a bad tension chain overlap with other issues, including a bad tensioner, you can always check when you notice things are going wrong.
1. Power Usage
If you’re using more gas than previously and feel like your vehicle isn’t responding as well, it might be a timing chain issue. That’s especially true if you notice a marked drop in engine responsiveness and power.
Most people won’t notice this. You might have to use more gas to get up to speed. You will notice if you normally pull trailers or if there are a lot of hills in your area.
However, extra gas usage is normally the first giveaway during normal vehicle usage.
If the pulleys are grinding and rattling, it usually means the timing chain isn’t firmly in place. That happens if the timing chain is loose.
It also happens if one or more of the pulleys goes out or even if the bearings go out. So, you’ll have to inspect the full system to see what’s going on.
If the timing chain is too loose to rotate the camshaft and crankshaft at the same time, your engine will misfire.
This happens because the cylinder valves close at a rate not timed with the rest of the engine. So your engine will misfire.
Of course, this could also stem from clogs, bad valves, and other issues. However, a timing chain issue might be the problem.
4. Trouble Starting
If your vehicle isn’t turning over when you start, the tension chain might be the culprit. Here, you also have to consider the starter, the crankshaft, and even the ignition.
However, if the timing belt is too loose, your cam and crankshaft won’t synchronize. The engine might fail to turn over.
Eventually, this might also relate to the pulleys or to the tensioner. In either case, you can check and replace the bad parts.
5. Knocking or Banging Sounds
Loose belts knock or bang inside the engine. This happens as the chain bangs against the pulleys and the timing chain cover.
This normally only happens when the chain is fairly loose. Here, you’ll get a metal on metal sound.
If you have an older timing belt, you might hear a knocking or slapping sound instead. In either case, it means the chain is loose. You’ll have to replace or repair it to stay on the road.
Changing Timing Chain: 17 Steps
Timing chains are difficult to replace. In most cases, it means it is a challenging and technical project. You don’t want to attempt this project unless you’re prepared to spend a significant amount of time on the job.
Not all timing chains can be replaced without an engine hoist. However, most can.
In addition, the parts and tools needed to replace your timing chain vary significantly depending on your make and model.
We’ll cover the basic steps. It’s up to you to check which tools you need. For example, you’ll want:
- Oil pans
- Adjustable wrench
- Ratchet and socket set (in mm)
- If you have an older car you might want English rather than metric tools
- A breaker bar
- Impact wrench if available
- Harmonic Balancer (optional)
- Some cars also have special tools to remove the timing chain. E.g., Honda sells special timing chain removal tools.
- Replacement timing cover gasket
- New timing chain
- Replacement timing tensioner
It’s up to you to check the specific requirements for your vehicle and to ensure you have the right tools at hand.
If you replace your timing chain, you should normally replace the tensioner, the timing chain, and the sprockets.
If your vehicle is old, now is a good time to replace the water pump as well.
- Park the car on a clean and level surface, chock the wheels, and disconnect the battery from the negative post.
- Drain the coolant and the oil. In some cases, you might also have to drain the power steering fluid. However, this isn’t always necessary.
- Remove the air intake.
- Then remove the serpentine belt.
- Remove the radiator hoses running to the water pump. You’ll also want to remove the radiator fan and shroud if they are in the way, which they likely are.
- Remove or adjust parts out of the way. Common issues include the power steering pump, alternator, and air conditioning compressor. You might also have issues with the power steering reservoir being in the way – in which case you want to drain that as well.
- Remove the water pump. You can use a pry bar or large screwdriver to pop the pump out of its housing after you remove the bolts.
- Hold the crank pulley in place and use a breaker bar to remove the bolts.
- If the harmonic balancer is in the way, remove it. This might require a harmonic balancer puller, which can be rented for free at most major parts shops.
- Disconnect the fuel lines and remove the valve cover.
- Remove the timing cover. You might have to use a pry bar to pry it off. You’ll also want to remove any old gasket and then clean both surfaces before you put them back together.
- Rotate the crankshaft by hand and line the indicators up. The top cam sprocket should be at 6 o’clock and facing the crank sprocket indicator. You can use the crank bolt to manually rotate this with a socket.
- Use a socket to remove the chain tensioner and bolts. It’s also recommended to just replace it.
- Remove the cam sprocket and the cam sprocket bolts.
- The timing chain should come off.
- If you’re replacing the crankshaft sprocket, use a gear pulley to remove it. Otherwise, make sure that it’s in good condition and leave it.
- Inspect and clean all existing parts that you’re putting back.
Eventually, this process will change depending on your engine.
Make sure you inspect the parts, figure out where your timing cover is, and work out the best way to get to it.
Afterwards, you can put everything back in reverse order.
Replacing a timing belt is complicated and you probably have questions. This Q&A should help.
Is timing chain worth replacing?
Sometimes it is. In some cases, you can replace the timing chain for a few hundred dollars.
On the other hand, in other cases, you might receive quotes as high as $10,000. In that case, it’s rarely worth having the work done, unless the vehicle is worth significantly more.
How many hours does it take to replace a timing chain?
On average, it takes at least 4 hours to replace a timing chain. In some cases, you can get away with as little as one.
In others, it might take several days of work. That depends on your engine and its setup.
Can you drive a car with a bad timing chain?
Normally you can drive a car with a bad timing chain. However, you will lose power and your engine may be unreliable.
What happens if the timing chain breaks while driving?
Your engine will misfire and it will likely stall. You also won’t be able to get the vehicle started again. In this case, you’ll have to have the vehicle towed to a mechanic.
Luckily, this is extremely unlikely. Metal chains almost never break unless there’s something blocking the pulleys. If you have a timing belt instead of a chain, that is not the case.
Replacing your timing chain is a time-consuming and complicated process. Accessing the timing chain can mean tearing down half your engine.
In addition, you’ll have to get the engine alignment perfect to take the timing chain out.
If you have the work done for you, it will likely cost you at least $300 but likely more to do so. In fact, many mechanics will quote $1,000 for the parts and labor together.
Unfortunately, doing it yourself isn’t always possible, depending on your skills, tools, and the engine.
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