Timing Belt or Chain Driven

A timing belt and timing chain are both used to synchronize certain aspects of the engine such as the crankshaft, camshaft, piston and valves. Although they both perform the same task, there are many differences as we discuss below.

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Timing Belt or Chain
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As long as you don’t own an electric car, all diesel and petrol powered engines will use either a timing chain or timing belt. As you can imagine, there are some minor difference between a timing chain and timing belt. The obvious is the fact that a timing chain is made of a number of metal links but it’s also available as a single, double or triple chain too. They are often built into the engine because they are kept lubricated by the car’s engine oil.

A timing belt on the other hand runs through various pulleys and is used to drive the water pump. However, apart from these difference, they both do the same job of synchronising the crankshaft, camshaft, valves and pistons.

How To Tell If Your Car Has a Belt or Chain

As mentioned above, a timing chain needs to be lubricated, which is achieved by the car’s engine oil. Therefore, the chain itself will be built into the engine block itself such as the above photo of a Mercedes engine.

The timing belt is often covered with plastic covers in order to protect it against dirt and debris. Therefore if you removes these plastic covers, you will be able to see the the timing belt of the car.

What Cars Are Chain Driven

Due to the fact that timing belts are cheaper to manufacturer, many of the budget car manufactures tend to use them. However, there are many cars that are chain driven that include:

  • Most Mercedes’s
  • Most BMW’s
  • Certain engines from Audi & Volkswagen
  • Many Mazda engines
  • Many KIA engines
  • All turbocharged Saab’s
  • All Cadillac engines
  • … and much more

There are hundreds of engines we can list but with the ever changing list of engines, the list would be huge!

Benefits of a Timing Belt

  • Superior strength and most can last the lifetime of the car
  • Doesn’t require much (if any) maintenance
  • Resistant to temperature changes

Benefits of a Timing Chain

  • Much lighter than a chain, which may improve fuel economy
  • Produces less noise than a chain
  • Cheaper to manufacturer and replace

Common Problems

When your timing belt or chain begins to fail, you will more than likely have an engine management light appear. You may also notice other malfunctions such as misfiring, rattles, reduced performance and much more.

Another symptom that’s specific to chain driven cars is metal shavings in the replaced oil. This could be a sign that the chain is starting to wear but it could also be a number of different issues relating to the engine.


Deciding upon which is best, the timing belt or timing chain is a matter of preference. Although chain driven vehicles are more expensive at first, the minimal maintenance pays for itself depending upon how long you keep the car. Timing belts offer a number of benefits but the fact that they have to be changed along with the water pump can be expensive.

YourCar Author Dan

Written By Dan

Dan has been a car enthusiast ever since he can remember and has an extensive range of cars that include classic cars that he has restored himself from a barn find condition to modern performance cars. Whether you need advice on how to install car parts or recommendations on what products to buy, Dan’s first-hand experience will certainly help.

If you want to find out more about Dan, our testing process or the website itself, visit our about page for further information.

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