A timing belt is the ribbed belt that is placed in a specific configuration along one side of your engine to keep the crank and camshafts timed properly. Essentially, it keeps the top half of the engine (cylinder head, valves) in sync with the bottom half (crankcase, pistons).
If you have an older car from the 90s and below, odds are you have a timing belt. Some new car manufacturers, such as Audi, still use timing belts in their engine designs, but for longevity, many manufacturers have switched to metal timing chains that in theory last for the life of the engine. My advice would be to refer to your owner's manual and look up the maintenance schedule (or give us a call and we can help Identify if a timing belt replacement is applicable to your vehicle.) If you don't have one, Google it. If you don't see a timing belt service listed, you have a timing chain.
Manufacturers employ various schedules and measures for timing belt replacement, but the rule of thumb is 60,000 miles, or 5 years, whichever comes first.
Well, that depends. There are two types of engine timing configurations: interference, and non-interference.
An interference type engine means that the valve's stroke and piston's stroke take up the same space in the cylinder, so the timing belt essentially keeps them from smashing into each other, since they do it at different times. If the timing belt snaps, they run into each other, causing bent valves (most common), cylinder head or camshaft damage, and possibly piston and cylinder wall damage. While it is possible that no damage could occur from a snapped belt on an interference engine, such a case is unlikely.
In a non-interference engine, the pistons and valves don't occupy the same space, so if the timing belt snaps, no valve or cylinder damage occurs. You just pop a new belt on, and the engine should theoretically drive normally.
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