Home TroubleshootingEngine Timing Chain Symptoms – How To Tell If You Need Timing Chain Job?

Timing Chain Symptoms – How To Tell If You Need Timing Chain Job?

by Kelvin Yates

Are you hearing some rattling noises from the front of the car and do you also have performance issues? If this is the case, you might be experiencing some timing chain symptoms.

Having a problem like a bad timing chain can be a really frustrating thing to deal with. Namely, because these things are really expensive and cost a whole fortune to replace. Not to mention the potential for your engine to destroy itself if they are left unchanged when the symptoms start to show up.

That’s why you shouldn’t ignore these timing chain symptoms and make sure that you replace the timing chain on time. But it is a good thing that you are here where we will learn all the symptoms of the timing chain and cover a lot on this topic in general. After reading this article, you are going to be properly informed on this topic and make sure that you make the right conclusion and decision when it comes to the timing chain itself.

First, we are going to start from the basics and that is what is a timing chain and why it is so important. Then we will learn the probable causes for the timing chain to fail and also the timing chain symptoms. After learning the causes and the symptoms, you will be ready to tackle this problem. And later on, we are going to explain precisely that, how this thing is diagnosed, replaced, and at what cost all this comes. So, if you want to learn more, follow along.

What Is A Timing Chain?

So, before we dive into the timing chain symptoms, let’s first cover some of the basics and learn what is a timing chain in general. This would be quite useful for beginners that are not into mechanics and can’t tell if their car is running a belt or a timing chain or maybe none of the two mentioned. If you are feeling that you know this stuff, you can just jump on the causes or the timing chain symptoms. If not, keep up with us for a bit.

Before we learn what is a timing chain we need to understand what are interference engines and what are non-interference engines.

Interference engines are the ones that have the camshafts located on the top of the engine head. Also known as overhead camshaft engines. In order for these engines to work properly, they have to have proper timing. If they don’t they would suffer internal damage. Meaning that the valves and the pistons will collide and cause carnage.

Non-interference engines on the other hand are engines like the classic pushrod V8s that are still widely used. On these engines, there is a chain, but this chain is not a timing chain. Even if this chain breaks or gets stretched, the engine will keep working and no damage will be done to it.

So, if you are trying to learn the timing chain symptoms, you probably have an interference engine. These interference engines are also using timing belts. In fact, most of them are running these belts. But some, mostly the engines on the more expensive cars are running timing chains.

The timing chains are known for their durability but still have to be replaced when timing chain symptoms start to show up.

Why Is The Timing Chain So Important?

Now before we cover the causes and timing chain symptoms, let’s discuss why the timing chain is important? What is so crucial about the timing chain that makes it an irreplaceable component on your car?

The answer is simple, the timing chain is connecting the camshaft or camshafts that are located on top of the engine with the crankshaft which is located in the center of the engine.

When the camshafts start spinning at the top, the valves open and close. Thus, allowing fuel and air to be inserted into the engine and the exhaust gases to be released from the exhaust valve.

If there is nothing there to open and close these components, the engine will simply not work. That’s why the timing chain is so important. Without a timing chain, the internal combustion engine will be incomplete and you will not have a combustion process.

So, you can understand how crucial is this timing chain on your car. Sadly though, even though the chain is really strong and can withstand a lot, it can still fail and cause a number of problems on your car.

What is important for you is to learn the timing chain symptoms that we are going to discuss later in the article and based on these symptoms you to be able to tell if your timing chain is done and needs replacing. What is good though, is that the timing chain is not so sensitive as the timing belt that can snap and destroy the engine.

Usually when the timing chain is going bad, is developing timing chain symptoms. But what are the causes for this timing chain going bad? Let’s elaborate on them in the following chapters.

Causes Why The Timing Chain Fails?

Now before we dive into the timing chain symptoms, let’s first learn the causes of why the timing chain fails. Knowing the causes is going to help you, later on, to connect the dots much easier and understand the timing chain symptoms better.

Timing Chain Symptoms

So, what causes the timing chain to fail quicker than previously expected? Let’s elaborate on it in the following chapters.

1. Timing Chain Not Replaced On Time

The first most probable cause why the timing chain symptoms develop and the timing chain fails is delaying the timing chain replacement.

As you know, every component on your car has a lifespan and so does the timing chain itself. These timing chains usually last between 80,000 and 100,000 miles. Then they have to be replaced by technicians.

If the owner pretends like everything is fine and the timing chain symptoms are not there. The timing chain will eventually fail completely and you will have a big problem with your car.

Timing chain replacements are often skipped because the replacement process is expensive and people just keep delaying it until the damage is too significant and the car simply is not good anymore. That’s why don’t ignore the timing chain symptoms and address the problem.

2. Rare Oil Changes

Another cause why the timing chain fails and develops timing chain symptoms are the rare oil changes.

As you probably know, timing chains spin quite fast and they got to have fresh oil to run well. If they do not have fresh oil, the chain will start to wear off and it will get stretched and even break in some instances.

So, if you are delaying your oil changes more and more. There will be timing chain damage and the timing chain will require servicing much sooner than anticipated. If you don’t change your oil, the chain could wear even at 60,000 miles. Which is not good.

So, do your oil changes regularly if you want to avoid timing chain symptoms and timing chain failures.

3. Running The Car On Low Oil

Also, besides doing rare oil changes, running the car low on oil can also hurt your timing chain and cause you timing chain symptoms.

As you know, oil is there in the engine to lubricate the components and also to dissipate the heat that is built when this timing chain spins.

So, if you run the engine low on oil, it will not like this and the timing chain besides the rod bearings and the piston rings will be one of the first components that will react to this abnormal low level of oil.

So, you will start to experience timing chain symptoms sooner or later. But more on the symptoms later. In this case, it is important to check the level of oil and top off the oil always if you want to avoid problems like this.

4. Overloading The Engine

Another cause for timing chain failure and the development of timing chain symptoms is engine overload.

Timing chain engines usually do not want to be run at high RPM for a long time. This is the case because running these engines like this will cause stretching of the timing chain. And then this could make these timing chains become loose.

A loose timing chain will show its bad sides by causing some of the timing chain symptoms sooner or later. More on these symptoms later in the article.

5. Worn Or Poor Quality Tensioners

And the last cause that we are going to cover when it comes to the timing chain failure is the timing chain tensioner. These more often cause timing chain symptoms that we are going to discuss later in the article.

The important thing about the tensioners is that they wear and this wear will cause some poor engine performance.

And in some cases, they even break. Mostly because they are made out of cheap plastic that breaks after many years of use. Some engines are more prone to tensioner breaking and you should investigate this issue about the engine you intend to purchase, or you already have.

When these tensioners break, they could cause the timing chain to jump and make the valves and pistons collide with each other. Destroying the engine in the process. So, it is key to read the timing chain symptoms that we are going to cover in the following chapters.

Timing Chain Symptoms

Now we came to the important bit and that is the timing chain symptoms. Knowing these symptoms will help you out in telling if a timing chain needs to be replaced or not.

Timing Chain Symptoms

Some of them are easy to tell while some are more hidden and difficult for the problem to be diagnosed. But we are going to help you out by dissecting the problem into small bits so you will be able to tell if these are timing chain symptoms in no time. So, if you want to learn more, follow along.

1. Frequent Engine Misfires

The first in the timing chain symptoms that we are going to cover is the frequent engine misfires that will love to happen whenever there is an issue with the timing chain.

If the timing chain is loose or skipped the timing, you will notice how the engine misfires will be more and more noticeable. Basically ruining the engine performance overall.

But why is this the case? Well, this is the case because the valves and the crankshaft are not properly timed. If there is a lack of timing, they will not perform as they should and misfires will be experienced. But what are misfires in general?

Misfires in simple terms are the condition of the engine where the explosions are not happening when they need to and they are either delayed or premature. Whenever there is a misfire in the engine you will notice how small pops from the exhaust come out as well as the ticking sound from the top of the engine.

What is worth noting is that misfires are mostly associated with ignition and you should look at the culprit there first, in components like the spark plugs and coils. Then if they are good, you can see if this is one of the timing chain symptoms and properly address the issue.

2. Check Engine Light

The check engine light is the second in the timing chain symptoms. Why is this the case? Well, this is the case because the ECU is detecting the misfires that are happening because of the bad timing.

So, you can expect a check engine light on the cluster if this situation is happening with your car. In the beginning, you will not be able to tell what the problem is.

But after you get an OBD2 scanner and go through the codes, you will probably get misfire codes across all of the cylinders. This is a clear example that the timing is off on your vehicle and this is a problem. A problem that can be really expensive to fix if you delay fixing it. So, whenever there is a check engine light, it is important not to pretend like it’s not there. That’s why it is useful to learn the timing chain symptoms.

Later, we are going to explain how you can diagnose this problem based on these timing chain symptoms that you are experiencing.

3. Rattling Noise Coming From The Engine

The most common of the timing chain symptoms is the rattling noise that develops when the timing chain fails.

This rattling noise should not be ignored. In the beginning, this rattling noise will be common when you cold start the car, and then it will smooth out. But on engines that have this problem and carry it for a while, this rattling noise becomes really obnoxious and will happen all the time.

The worst thing in these situations when the timing chain is loose and rattle is the potential for the timing chain to jump a few teeth and engine damage to happen inside. If the valves and pistons collide, the damage will be quite substantial and you will basically need to get yourself a new engine after this is over. So, this is one of the timing chain symptoms that should not be ignored.

4. Plastic Or Metallic Shavings In The Oil

And the last in the timing chain symptoms are the metallic particles also known as metal shavings floating around in the oil filter as well as in the oil pan.

If you flush the oil and there are metallic flakes or pieces of metal, then this is not a good situation for you and your engine. This means that the engine needs major overhauling and inspection.

Also, the timing chain tensioners often tend to fail and these plastic components can destroy themselves. Leaving a lot of plastic debris into the oil pan as well. Checking the oil while you do an oil change will prevent your engine from running with this debris for a long time and cause even more damage.

Oil filters are designed to stop these particles, but sometimes they don’t and this will cause even more damage inside of the engine. That’s why you should not ignore timing chain symptoms. But how you can diagnose a broken timing chain? Well, that’s what we are going to learn in the following chapter.

Timing Chain Diagnosing

Now let’s see how you can diagnose a timing chain based on the timing chain symptoms that we already discussed.

As you know the timing chain is inside of the vehicle. Meaning that in order for you to get close to it the valve covers have to be removed and all the other components on top of the engine.

Then you will also need to remove the timing chain cover and inspect the timing chain for slack. See if the timing chain has play in it and if the tensioners are in decent condition.

These are some of the most crucial things that you need to address when it comes to the timing chain issue. Without a proper inspection, you will not be able to diagnose the problem and fix the issue.

You can still rely on the timing chain symptoms. If the timing chain is rattling a lot. Then this is a good example of a timing chain that has issues and it needs to be changed.

But this doesn’t always need to be the case. Because the tensioner could also fail and make the chain behave like that. So, if you are already there and you opened the engine. Just replace both of these components. How you can do this we are going to learn in the following chapter in-depth.

How To Replace A Timing Chain?

We covered the timing chain symptoms. We learned that the rattles are one of the dead giveaways of this problem. And when the engine starts to rattle, it means that the timing chain is due to be replaced as soon as possible. Normally, if you want to avoid some other possible problems with the engine.

So, how this timing chain is replaced? Well, timing chains are really complicated to replace. This is because you need to know how to set up the timing of the engine. If you mess up the timing, the engine could destroy itself when you start the car. That’s why this is a job that not a lot of people know how to perform as it should be performed.

That’s why you need to leave this work for the professionals. As you know, we encourage DIY stuff. But in this case, we do not recommend it. In the video that we attached above, you can see how this procedure is performed on an Audi engine. And you will see how complex it is to disassemble and reassemble the engine back again. Though not all of the engines are this complex to do. But what is the cost to replace the timing chain? That’s what we are going to learn next.

Cost To Replace A Timing Chain?

We have covered the timing chain symptoms and how this replacement is performed. Now let’s discuss the cost to replace this timing chain on your car. And the short answer is that replacing the chain is not cheap.

On the cheapest end, you can replace the timing chain for $400 to $800. This is if you have a low-end car that requires less work to get this problem sorted out.

Timing Chain Symptoms

But if you have a BMW or an Audi, the prices for timing chain replacements can be crazy expensive going into the four-digit numbers. It could easily cost you $1,000 to $2,000 to get this problem sorted out.

Signs of a Faulty Timing Chain

  • A timing chain is a crucial component in an internal combustion engine that regulates the opening and closing of the engine valves in coordination with the firing pistons, enabling efficient vehicle operation.
  • A timing chain is composed of metal links that run along a set of gears, and it receives its lubrication from the engine oil, which is essential for its smooth functioning.
  • Despite having a metallic composition, timing chains can wear off, get loose, or break due to stress, which can result in extensive engine damage and costly repairs.
  • Some symptoms of a faulty timing chain include a rattling sound on starting the engine or idling, a misfiring engine, contaminated engine oil with metal bits, the check engine light illuminating, and an inability to start the engine.
  • Unusual rattling noise when the engine is started or when brakes are engaged is a common finding in a vehicle with a bad timing chain, as the loose or stretched timing chain shakes and rattles while rotating when the engine motor is running.
  • A damaged timing chain can unbalance the air-fuel ratio, resulting in a misfiring engine with a jerking motion and loss of acceleration.
  • Metal bits in the engine oil are a warning sign of a damaged timing chain, as metal parts may break off and land in the oil, indicating the need for an inspection.
  • The check engine light will illuminate in the case of a faulty timing chain, indicating the need for a vehicle assessment for underlying engine problems, which might include a bad timing chain.
  • The inability to start the engine is a sign of the ultimate breakage of the timing chain, and it can result in damaging other engine components as well.
  • Regular engine maintenance and inspections can help identify and prevent issues with the timing chain before they cause extensive engine damage and costly repairs.

Conclusion To Timing Chain Symptoms

In this article, we have covered quite a bit when it comes to the timing chain symptoms. First, we learned what is a timing chain and why it is so important.

Then we covered all the causes that could cause timing chain symptoms. These are the less frequent oil changes, low oil, bad timing chain tensioners, and more.

After this, we discussed the timing chain symptoms. As we noted, misfires often happen with this problem and the diagnosing process is a bit tricky. But if the engine produces rattling symptoms, then this is a dead giveaway that the timing chain is rattling.

Lastly, we have covered the timing chain replacement as well as the timing chain replacement cost that is involved in this job. And frankly, it is not cheap.

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