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How Much Does a Timing Chain Replacement Cost?

How Much Does a Timing Chain Replacement Cost?
Austin Kilham
Austin KilhamUpdated September 8, 2023
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The timing chain is a critical component of the internal combustion engine. When it fails, it’s critical to have it replaced as soon a possible. Unfortunately, the cost of timing chain replacement can run into the thousands of dollars. Here’s a look at what the timing chain does, how to know when it needs to be replaced, and the cost to replace a timing chain. 

What Is a Timing Chain?

To understand what the timing chain does, it helps to know how the internal combustion engine works. This type of engine has pistons, which sit inside the cylinders, that drive the crankshaft. A mixture of fuel and air is injected into the cylinder and ignited by the spark plug. The resulting combustion pushes the piston, and exhaust exits the cylinder. The camshaft helps time the intake of fuel and exhaust, and the timing chain helps coordinate the movement of the camshaft and the crankshaft. This ensures the intake and exhaust valves open and close at the right time. New vehicles likely have a timing belt rather than a timing chain. The function of the timing belt is the same, but they run quieter, they’re stronger, and they potentially do less damage if they snap. 

What’s Included in Timing Chain Replacement?

There are a number of other components surrounding the timing chain, including the tensioners and guides that hold the chain in place. These are replaced at the same time as the timing chain, as are the crankshaft and camshaft sprockets, since they tend to wear out at the same rate as the timing chain. 

When to Replace a Timing Chain

Experts suggest that you replace your timing chain every 80,000 to 120,000 miles due to normal wear and tear. If your timing chain is faulty or experiences damage, it would need to be replaced before this period. The more miles on a vehicle, the more likely it is to experience a problem.  

Timing Chain Warning Signs

If your vehicle is getting older, there are signs you should be on the look for that could signal your timing chain needs to be replaced.

It’s Difficult to Start the Vehicle

If your timing chain breaks, your engine will not start. If the timing chain snaps while you’re driving, your engine may fail. Other components may be damaged, and you could end up needing to replace your engine. As a result, it’s very important that you stay on top of warning signs your chain is failing. 

The Check Engine Light Is On

If there’s something wrong with your timing chain, your check engine light should come on. The light won’t tell you specifically what’s wrong with your engine, but it will let you know that it’s time to have your car looked at by a mechanic. 

The Engine Is Sluggish or Misfires

If your timing chain is wearing out, it could skip a gear on the camshaft or the crankshaft. When it does, your engine may accelerate poorly or even misfire. 

The Engine Vibrates or Shakes When Idling

A failing timing chain could cause your engine to vibrate or shake because components may not be lining up properly. It may be easier to feel these vibrations while the engine is idling than it is when you are driving your car. Rattling sounds can also be caused by a loose timing chain. 

What Happens If You Don’t Replace the Timing Chain?

A failing timing chain will cause poor engine performance because the intake and exhaust valves may not open and close correctly. As a result, you may not be getting complete combustion, and your car may not accelerate properly or you may experience misfires in the engine that cause stuttering. If your timing chain breaks, your car will not start. If you’re driving, your engine may fail, which could put you in a dangerous position, especially if you’re driving on the highway, for example. If the timing chain snaps while the engine is on, it could cause damage to other engine components. For example, the valves and pistons could hit each other, which could cause the valves to break and cause damage to the pistons. 

How Much Is Timing Chain Replacement Cost?

On average, the cost to replace a timing chain is about $1,600 and $1,900. Much of this cost is the labor, which can run from $900 to $1,200, while the cost of parts is usually about $700. Recommended: How Much Does a Head Gasket Cost?

What Impacts the Cost to Replace a Timing Chain?

There are a number of factors that play into the cost of replacing your timing chain, including:

Make and Model of Your Car

Most older cars have a timing chain. You can get timing chains that are generic and built to fit as many cars as possible, and they tend to be relatively inexpensive. However, your car may require a higher-quality chain, in which case it will cost you more to replace it. The type of timing chain you need comes down to the make and model of your car.

Cost of Labor

Replacing a timing chain will usually take a mechanic between five and eight hours. Compensating your mechanic for this time will be a large component of cost. Exact timing will depend on the make and model of your vehicle and how complicated the set up and replacement is on your specific vehicle.  

Parts That Need to Be Replaced

Oftentimes, other parts will need to be replaced, too. The tensioners and guides that hold the chain in place and the crankshaft and camshaft sprockets will likely be replaced at the same time as the timing chain, for example. Cost of these parts and time to replace them can increase your overall bill. 

The Takeaway

Your timing chain is a critical component in your engine. As your car ages, it’s important to watch out for warning signs that it needs to be replaced to avoid engine failure and costly damage to nearby parts. Unfortunately, replacing your timing chain is expensive. If you can’t pay cash, you may consider financing the cost with a car repair personal loan. If you’re looking for ways to make room in your budget to pay for replacement costs, consider refinancing your auto loan. When you refinance your auto loan, you pay off your old loan with a new loan, preferably one with a lower interest rate. You can direct your monthly savings to paying off the cost of repairs. Alternatively, you can extend your term when you refinance, which can lower your monthly payment, as well. Be aware, though, that you will be making interest payments for longer, which can ultimately increase the cost of borrowing. A car loan refinancing calculator can help you determine whether refinancing is worth it and how much you’d save. If you’re considering refinancing, Lantern by SoFi can help you compare interest rates and terms from top lenders to help ensure you get the best deal.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it worth it to replace a timing chain?
Can you drive with a damaged timing chain?
How many hours does it take to replace a timing chain?
Photo credit: iStock/RyanJLane

About the Author

Austin Kilham

Austin Kilham

Austin Kilham is a writer and journalist based in Los Angeles. He focuses on personal finance, retirement, business, and health care with an eye toward helping others understand complex topics.
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