Timing Belts and Timing Chains: Differences and Why They Should Not Be Ignored

February 14, 2018

Timing belts and timing chains, what differences divide these two process-sequencing machine components? Well, for starters, those belts are made from semi-pliable coils, from a single loop of flexible material. On the other hand, timing chains employ many rigid linkages. Made of metal, chains are obviously built to handle a load. Where do we go from here? How about a better definition? Let's get started.

Outlining Timing Belts

Threaded over camshaft pulleys and gear teeth, this flexible rubber loop is smooth on one side. On its inner surface, numerous teeth mesh with the gears and pulleys. The material is tough, not elastic. However, even a tiny amount of pliability can backfire here, especially if the camshafts can't tolerate slippage. That slipping phenomenon occurs because the belt isn't tensioned properly. Look at the inner workings of the machine again. There are several additional mechanical assemblies working away in there. They don't seem to impact the powertrain, so what's their purpose? Well, timing belts are semi-rigid, but they're still designed to act as power conveying loops. A certain amount of elasticity is just part of the deal here, but that's okay because the additional components function as tensioning rollers. They stop slippage-induced timing loss.

Describing Timing Chains

The metal linkages work like a bicycle chain inside an oil-immersed housing. Sealed in the geared enclosure, there's a tensioner assembly in here, too. In theory, this engine or machine component should never fail, nor should it stretch or wear. Manufactured from robust metals, the chain should last forever. In reality, however, there are rare timing chain failures. Unfortunately, unlike a timing belt, a chain failure could incur catastrophic damage. Remember, the belt is rubber. Here, then, is the biggest difference. A day in the garage is all it takes to replace a timing belt. And it should be replaced, for these teethed rubber loops wear after tens of thousands of kilometres have passed. As for that chained loop, a linkage failure could damage the camshaft, the engine cylinders, and pretty much bring the whole engine to a grinding, smoking halt.

Think of a timing belt as a loop of rubber that does its job on the machine periphery. Timing belts get deeper into the action. They're also immersed in oil. If the machine oil level is low, then those moving metal linkages could lock. In conclusion, the single rubber loop, the timing belt, should be replaced periodically. As for the timing chain, it's locked deep inside the engine. It's built to last, but it will only last if the equipment is maintained properly.

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