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Thursday, September 9, 2010

Automobile Maintenance And Timing Belts

Automobile Maintenance And Timing Belts

In order to extend the life of your vehicle and keep it running at peak efficiency, it is important to perform regular automobile maintenance. These days, most car manufacturers, either domestic or foreign, have onboard computer systems that alert owners to potential problems and remind them when it's time for an oil change or a tire rotation. Long-term maintenance, however, goes beyond regular periodic check-ups. There is also required maintenance that is very infrequent, such as checking on your timing belt.

For those vehicles that still have timing belts, most manufacturers suggest replacement as infrequently as every 60,000-100,000 miles, a repair that can be easily overlooked with the availability of longer-lasting components and automated alerts. In most vehicles, the part is inconveniently located, often requiring a partial dismantling of the engine to access it, so periodic checks for excessive or unusual wear are overlooked and often deferred. This also makes the cost of replacing this crucial engine component pretty steep. However, remembering to take care of this detail can save the owner thousands in future auto repair.

The timing belt is a piece of fiber-reinforced rubber that turns the camshaft at exactly half the speed of the crankshaft. This ensures that the intake and exhaust valves move in time with the pistons, which in turn move up and down in the cylinders. The engine can only run properly when each of these parts is calibrated correctly and moving at the proper speed. There are two types of engines that use these parts: interference engines and non-interference engines. Though a slipped timing belt will mean engine failure in both, it can also destroy the insides of an interference engine by causing the valves to bend and the pistons to break. A repair of this magnitude can cost the owner 10 times the amount that the replacement would have.

The owner's manual for each vehicle will spell out the recommended time when the belt should be inspected and replaced. Some manufacturers have eliminated it and instead install a more durable timing chain. Nevertheless, an inspection is recommended at some point because of the damage a broken chain can cause. While replacing a belt or chain, it is recommended that the water pump also be replaced, even if in excellent condition, because much of the labor required to access the water pump has already been done. Manufacturers and mechanics may be able to suggest other maintenance to be done at the same time.

Before buying a used car, it is critical to check the condition of the timing belt while diagnosing the vehicle for any other issues. In fact, it is often suggested that you insist the part be replaced before purchase. Once cars reach 60,000 - 100,000 miles, it seems that many vehicles require more expensive types of maintenance, so it is not unusual to find owners selling cars before this occurs. It costs about $500 to have the belt replaced, and at about a tenth of the cost of repairing the entire engine, replacing this component can save thousands in the long run and double or triple the life of the vehicle.

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