If your vehicle’s timing cover or front engine cover is leaking, it means you’re up for a major engine repair.
Timing cover leaks can result in damage to the engine and you’ll have to replace a significant number of parts if they’ve been damaged by the leak.
That can mean this seemingly simple replacement can cost well into the thousands of dollars.
In fact, the average cost of a timing cover leak repair is about $1,700-$2,200. On the other hand, dealers can offer quotes of over $5,000, because they have to replace the cam seals, valve seals, timing cover, oil pan gasket, and timing chain or belt. Here, labor is the largest part of the job, with most timing seal replacement jobs taking a full day. The gasket itself should only cost $10-$500.
The following chart covers quotes from reputable suppliers and mechanics who can do the work.
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Timing Cover Leak Repair Cost*
The cost of repairing a front engine cover leak will normally depend on how much work it costs to pull the cover out of the engine. Depending on the vehicle, that could be anywhere from 3-10+ hours.
In addition, you’ll have to pay for parts, which can range significantly in cost.
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*Note: Prices are estimates and were correct at the time of writing (February 2023). Cost estimates may have changed since, our figures should be used as a starting point for your own research.
What Is A Timing Cover?
The timing cover or front engine cover is a pan that bolts to the front of the engine. It holds the front crankshaft seal.
It also covers the timing chain or belt, preventing oil loss and preventing debris from entering the timing belt or tensioners.
Often, the timing cover also holds the timing belt or chain into place, preventing it from slipping off of pulleys and tensioners.
This means that repairing the leak can mean disassembling the full front of the engine. Here, the physical leak is either caused by the crankshaft seal or the front cover gasket.
In addition, the gasket may not even be a physical gasket, as many timing covers use a simple sealant instead.
Symptoms Of A Timing Cover Leak
There are plenty of signs that your engine might be leaking oil.
However, not all of them are straightforward and you may need an engine inspection to determine what the problem is.
If your timing case has oil around the outside of the case, it’s a good sign the case is leaking. However, this might not be because of the timing case.
Here, you can run a clean rag around the bottom of the seal. If it has oil on it, it’s likely a timing gasket issue. On the other hand, it might be the crankshaft seal, which can spray oil over the front of the engine if it goes bad.
It’s always a good idea to inspect the full engine to see where the leak is coming from.
Rough Idle or Run
If your timing cover is leaking, it won’t have enough oil inside. That can result in reduced lubrication for belts.
You might get grinding sounds and skips in the fuel injection (also known as running rough), and your vehicle may even idle rough. These symptoms normally occur when you have a fuel injection or an exhaust problem.
However, the timing ensures that the fuel injection stays in time with the crankshaft and the camshaft. If the timing goes off, your vehicle will run rough.
If your vehicle is knocking or grinding, it’s usually a sign that belts or the fuel injection system are having issues.
You’ll want to inspect to see what the problem is. Here, if the oil is leaking, your belts could be slipping, could be creating too much friction, or could be out of time.
4 Timing Cover Leak Repair Cost Factors
The rate you pay for labor is the most important cost factor in replacing a timing cover gasket.
That’s because the process of taking it off will be at least 3 hours but could take more than a day depending on your vehicle.
Removing the timing cover means accessing the front of the engine.
In the best-case scenario, the technician may have to remove engine accessories and perhaps the radiator. In the worst-case scenario, you might have to actually drop the engine to access the front.
In addition, depending on the vehicle, it’s highly likely that you’ll have to remove the valve cover, the manifolds, and possibly even the cylinders.
This means you might have to fully dismantle the front of the engine to access the timing cover.
On the other hand, in some vehicles, the timing cover is a simple matter of removing a few bolts and pulling the cover out.
You’ll almost never complete the work in under a few hours. However, in a few models, you might be able to do so in less than 2 hours.
2. Cost of the Gasket
Timing cover gaskets range in price from about $12 to over $500. Here, costs depend on the make and model of the vehicle and the manufacturer.
Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) parts are always more expensive. However, gaskets are quite often cheap, even from OEM dealers.
For example, Lexus charges just $12.50 for its original timing cover gasket. On the other hand, Ford gaskets can be over $200.
In addition, not all vehicles use physical gaskets.
Instead, you might use a tube of silicone sealant made for the purpose. This can cost as little as $4 in supplies if you go to a mechanic and they use a tube they already have.
3. Other Damaged Parts
Replacing a gasket is a relatively straightforward job with a low parts cost. However, an oil leak in the front of your engine can damage a lot of parts.
In addition, if you go through the trouble of pulling the timing cover, it’s a good idea to inspect everything under it and replace anything showing wear or damage.
Therefore, it’s common practice to replace the timing chain, the cam seal, the crank seal, and, often, pulleys. If you have a timing belt, you’ll definitely want to replace it.
This can increase the cost of parts to over $500.
However, that’s still well below the average cost of pulling the timing cover, which means you’ll still save money over having to pay for the work again to replace a different part in the near future.
4. Cost of Labor
The average cost of a mechanic in the United States is about $80 per hour. However, rates go as low as $15 and as high as $215+.
It’s not uncommon to be able to find a significant number of options between $50 and $100 per hour.
If you go to a dealer, you can expect rates of $100-$220. If you go to a national chain like YourMechanic or Pep Boys, rates are almost always $90+.
How Do You Repair A Timing Cover Leak? (19 Steps)
Repairing a timing cover leak almost always means replacing the timing cover gasket.
However, the leak might also come from the cam or crank seals. This means it’s a good idea to replace those at the same time.
Things you’ll need:
- Floor jack + jack stands
- Gear puller
- Wrench set
- Ratchet set
- Impact wrench
- New gasket or RTV silicone sealer
- Torque wrench
- Belt tensioner
- Breaker bar
- Crankshaft tool
- Screwdriver set
- Crank and cam seals
- Optional: New timing belt/timing chain
- Optional: New timing pulleys
- Drain pan
If you have a transverse engine, skip steps 5 and 6.
- Park your car on a flat and level space. Turn off the engine. Chock the back wheels.
- Jack up the front of the car and stabilize it with jack stands.
- Wait for your vehicle to cool down.
- Remove the radiator fluid cap, then find the plug on the bottom of the radiator and drain the coolant into a drain pan.
- Disconnect the radiator hoses and oil cooler lines from the radiator. Use shop towels to prevent them from dripping on the engine.
- Unbolt the radiator from the engine and the frame and pull it up and out of the car, most cars have 4-8 bolts holding the mounts in place.
- Check if your car uses a tensioner on the drive belts. If so, use a belt tensioner to loosen it. Then, remove the drive belts. It’s a good idea to take a picture or to ensure you have a diagram of how the belt should go back on before taking it off. It’s also a good time to inspect the belts to see if you should be getting new ones. If the belt doesn’t come off, turn the engine with a wrench and walk the belt off.
- Remove the hose connecting the water pump. Then, undo the bolts holding it to the frame.
- Use a crankshaft holding tool to hold the crankshaft in place. Then, remove the bolt holding the harmonic balancer in place. Use a soft hammer to knock the harmonic balancer loose. If it doesn’t come off, use a gear puller.
- Check what other accessories are in the way. For example, the power steering, alternator, and air conditioning commonly have to be removed. In the case of each, try to move them just enough to get them out of the way so you don’t have to drain the fluids.
- If your car has an overhead or dual overhead camshaft (e.g., most Ford cars), you’ll have to remove the valve cover. Here, you’ll have to remove the crankcase vent and disconnect the spark plugs. Then, unbolt the case. Pry the valve cover up. It’s a good time to replace the gasket.
- Draw a diagram of the timing cover and bolts onto a piece of cardboard. Mark where each of the bolts is. Then, remove the bolts one at a time and attach them to the cardboard at that location. This ensures you can put the bolts back in the correct order, so you don’t damage the engine.
- Use a pry bar or a screwdriver to pry the timing cover up. Be careful not to scrape the cover over the head gasket. In addition, if you have a two-part timing cover, you may have to remove more bolts after you remove the upper part of the timing cover.
- Inspect the cover for damage. Then, remove the old seal. This may require a scraper and solvent.
- Inspect the timing chain or belt and decide if it should be replaced. Check the other gaskets, seals, and pulleys. If they’ve been damaged because of the oil leak, replacing them now is the best option.
- Apply the new cam seal to the cover. Then, apply the new gasket to the cover or to the block if the block has the pins.
- Apply gasket sealer to both surfaces,
- Reinstall the timing cover, being careful not to damage the head gasket. Getting the timing cover back in place can be extremely difficult, so go slow, be patient, and don’t rush the job. Make sure you tighten the head or pan bolts last.
- Then, reinstall everything in reverse order. Make sure you use a torque wrench to tighten everything to specifications from the owner’s manual.
The full job will likely take 3+ hours.
If you don’t know what you’re doing, you might want to ensure you have the full weekend for the job.
Frequently Asked Questions
Repairing a timing cover leak is a big job so chances are, you still have questions.
How serious is a timing cover leak?
A timing cover leak can be extremely serious. Here, ignoring the leak might result in complete engine failure, especially if the timing belt or chain slips.
On the other hand, the leak might come from something as simple as a cam seal leaking, which is a much less serious problem.
How do I stop the timing cover from leaking?
The only way to stop a timing cover from leaking is to replace the gasket.
You can also use sealant if you don’t have a physical gasket in your vehicle.
Can you drive without a timing cover?
It is unlikely that you can safely drive without a timing cover. Here, the cover may hold the timing belt in place.
In addition, the harmonic balancer usually attaches to the cover. If it’s not there, your belts could slip, the balancer won’t be situated properly, and you might have issues with belt spacing as well.
Debris could also stick to the chain and the pulleys, causing them to slip or fail.
Can you replace the timing cover?
You can always replace the timing cover. However, these parts are normally very specific to the vehicle and can cost several hundred dollars.
You might also be able to buy a secondhand one from a junkyard for much less money – however, you’ll have to expect to take it out of the vehicle yourself.
Fixing a timing cover leak is a big job. Often, you can expect those costs to range between $1700 and $2,200. However, if you go to a dealership, you can expect costs to be $2,500-$5,000. Here, most of the job is labor, because you’ll have to dismantle much of the front end of your engine. The gasket itself can cost as little as $12.
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