For older vehicles, one of the more common causes of a breakdown is a failed timing belt. Sadly, this is also one of the easiest breakdowns to prevent—and one of the most expensive to repair. Replacing a timing belt before it breaks can cost a few hundred dollars, but if it breaks while you're driving, the damage to your engine can total in the thousands.
What is the timing belt? It's a small rubber belt that connects the crankshaft to the camshaft, controlling when the valves open and close. When the belt fails, the valves won't close in time, and the pistons hitting against them begin to cause damage immediately. (This is why repairs can be so costly when the belt fails—the engine itself may need to be rebuilt.)
If your vehicle's odometer is in the 70,000 to 100,000 mile range, a good auto repair shop should begin talking to you about replacing the timing belt. This is not a suggestion to be ignored—it could literally save your car. That being said, sometimes (not always) your car will show some warning signs that the belt is about to fail. If you experience any of the following issues while driving, you should take the vehicle in for engine diagnostics as soon as possible.
Smoky exhaust from the tail pipe
Smoky exhaust means the fuel isn't burning properly, which can be due to the valves not opening and closing on time. This may mean the timing belt is worn and stretching. (In older models, this may just mean the timing needs to be adjusted, but it's still not a symptom to ignore.)
Car vibrates or shakes when running
When the engine timing is off, it can cause the car to shake or vibrate when the car is running. (You may also notice a lack of response when the accelerator is pressed.) This can occur because of bad spark plugs, but it can also be a timing belt issue.
Difficulty starting the car
The same timing issues that make the car vibrate can make it difficult to turn the engine over when you're starting it. If this starts happening to you, don't wait—have the car looked at.
Overheating or leaks
If your engine runs unusually hot or is leaking fluid, this is likely due to issues other than the timing belt; however, these issues can affectthe timing belt and shorten its life span, making it more likely to break.
NOTE: The timing belt can break without warning.
It's important to mention that when your timing belt wears out, your car may experience no symptoms at all—that is, until it stalls on the road and won't start up again. If this happens, you are likely too late, which is why you should consider replacing the belt within the 70,000-100,000 mile range regardless of how the car is running.
For reliable and honest auto repair in Vancouver, WA, David's Auto Repair offers more than 15 years of proven quality in servicing both foreign and domestic vehicles. For a free estimate on timing belt replacement or other automotive needs, they can be reached and be sure to check their online specials for additional savings.