Timing belts and timing chains perform the same task in your vehicle: connecting the camshaft and the crankshaft. This ensures that your engine’s valves are synchronized and opening at the correct time. In a modern four-stroke engine, the crankshaft rotates twice for every rotation of the camshaft. Without a timing chain or belt synchronizing the two, your engine will run poorly, if it runs at all. However, the difference in materials between the two means that they each have pros and cons to their use.
What is a Timing Belt?
A timing belt is a continuous band made of strong rubber, with notches on the inside surface, similar to the teeth of a gear. It typically sits outside the engine, unlike a timing chain. This means that a timing belt is going to be more exposed to the elements. Over time, it will naturally weaken and degrade.
Though a timing belt will need to be replaced much sooner than a timing chain, the ease of installation and lower price means it’s simpler to replace than a chain (even if it’s still not a walk in the park). The typical recommended replacement interval is 60,000-100,000 miles.
In addition to the lower cost (for manufacturers and consumers), another big advantage of a timing belt is the less overall noise and vibration. Timing belts are constructed from rubber, so they’re lighter and quieter than a metal chain. However, modern timing chains are not as loud or prone to vibration as their predecessors. A disadvantage to a timing belt is that it requires belt tensioners to keep it taut, which are additional parts that will likely require replacement down the road.
Your timing belt or chain is different than your drive belt (also called a V-belt or accessory drive belt); in most modern automobiles, the complex, snaking configuration has led to the name “serpentine belt.” The serpentine belt powers accessories like your alternator, power steering, and air conditioning, and is not related to the direct operation of the engine itself.
What is a Timing Chain?
A timing chain is a continuous metal chain that connects to the camshaft gear and crank sprocket. It’s heavier than a timing belt, but the more precise configuration and stronger construction makes them the more popular choice for many performance applications.
There generally isn’t a recommended replacement interval for a timing chain; because it’s constructed of metal and receives oil lubrication like any other moving engine part, you don’t need to worry about replacing it unless it’s showing symptoms of wear. Many manufacturers say a timing chain should last the entire life of the engine.
Timing Belt vs Timing Chain Comparison: Advantages and Disadvantages
Though timing belts and timing chains serve the same purpose in a vehicle’s engine, there are advantages and disadvantages to each. Since they perform the same task and mostly go unnoticed, few drivers will specifically pick one car over another simply due to the timing system. With that said, it’s important to know the attributes of whichever type you have under the hood.
Timing chains were one of the first solutions to the problem of synchronizing the camshaft and driveshaft, replacing the direct gears that were used in the earliest cars. They remained popular until around the 1980s. At that point, timing belts then became the default choice for a few decades, due to their lower price and quieter operation. They were a cost-effective substitute that performed just as well for the average driver, with the caveat that the belt would eventually have to be replaced.
However, more recently, timing chains have become popular once again. Their more robust nature helps aid the operation of modern engines, and their much longer lifespan makes them a more reliable component. Timing chains are especially common in modern performance cars, but you’ll still find a number of vehicles that use a timing belt. Since they’re stronger, you won’t have to replace a timing chain as you would have to do for a timing belt (unless you want to upgrade it or you’re working on a restoration project).
Does the Ford Mustang Use a Timing Belt or Timing Chain?
The Mustang started off with a timing chain when it launched the first generation in 1964. However, some of the Mustang II and Fox Body generation models, those equipped with four-cylinder engines, opted for a timing belt. This makes sense, given the need at the time for cars that were less expensive to produce.
With the launch of the SN95 in 1994, every Mustang since has used a timing chain. Ford opted for timing chains due to the precision and durability required for its more modern performance motors.
If you have an older Mustang, you won’t be able to switch out your timing belt for a timing chain, the engine simply isn’t designed for it. But if you perform an engine swap, or if you’re in the process of beefing up your modern Mustang’s motor, you can select a performance-oriented timing chain. Check out some of our top options below.
For a look at all the products you might need for your restoration, take a look at our full inventory of camshaft, rocker arm, and valve train components.
If you don’t need to replace your timing chain but do need a new drive belt, you’ll find a variety of options of serpentine belts and V belts for your Mustang as well.
Sources: What Is the Difference Between a Timing Belt and Timing Chain, Your Mechanic | Worn Timing Chain Symptoms, It Still Runs | Timing Chain vs Timing Belt: Why Do Cars Use One or the Other?, NAPA | Timing Belt or Chain, All Ford Mustangs
Image Credit: Ford
Images used under Creative Commons License.