To know what the heck a timing belt IS, we must first explore what the heck a timing belt IS NOT. A timing belt is not:

  1. Fancy spaghetti
  2. A note sung loudly for an undetermined amount of time
  3. The thing in an airport that delivers your luggage at baggage claim
  4. A fashion accessory that simultaneously holds up pants and enables time travel


So…what the heck is it then?

The timing belt is a very important of an engine. It connects the crankshaft to the camshaft, and synchronizes them to turn at the proper moments to make the vehicle go.

It is a this thing.

It is a this thing.

Your line is: “But what are a crankshaft and camshaft?”

Go on…say it out loud. Don’t be shy! Need some motivation? Here’s a backstory: You are an urban farmer from upstate New York. You are on a quiz-style game show similar to “Do You Want to Be a Millionaire?”. You are on your last question before winning one million dollars. The host asks you to define what a crankshaft and camshaft are. You elect to use your Phone A Friend lifeline, and you call your local Chad Miller Auto Care. They answer the phone, and you ask, “[insert your line here]”.

That was fantastic. You know what? I’m so glad you asked!

CRANKSHAFT: We can dig it

A crankshaft is the part of the engine that is a shaft, and contains cranks. (How informative!)

  • The crankshaft is attached to pistons that are moved by combustion of air/gas mixture inside the cylinders.
  • When the pistons are moved up and down, the crankshaft rotates. This, through a short process, causes your wheels to turn.
  • The crankshaft is connected to the camshaft by a timing belt, which causes it to rotate as well.

CAMSHAFT: We can also additionally dig it too as well

A camshaft is the part of an engine that is a shaft, and contains cams. (So much knowledge!)

  • Cams are usually pear-shaped, but they come in other shapes as well. Each shape has a different effect on the engine’s performance.
  • Each cam, as it rotates, operates valves that bring new air/gas mixture inside the cylinders and let exhaust escape from the cylinders at the appropriate times.
  • The camshaft should rotate once for every two crankshaft rotations, which is regulated by the timing belt.
Here’s an animation of a crankshaft and camshaft in action! Even though this is technically for a motorcycle engine, it works the same. Credit: www.HowMotorcyclesWork.com

It’s All in the Timing

If the timing belt gets too worn, some of the teeth break off, it gets too loose, or it actually snaps, bad things can happen:

  • You can have problems starting your engine.
  • Your engine can go into much higher than normal RPMs while accelerating, and may overheat.
  • Your vehicle can create a lot more exhaust than normal.
  • The valves and pistons can collide, which damages them and possibly the engine block.

It is VERY IMPORTANT to have the timing belt replaced when your vehicle manufacturer recommends (that can typically be found in the owner’s manual or online). It is better to prevent engine problems than to pay for them afterward. Engines are not cheap!

This is an all too familiar image.

This is an all too familiar image.

So, there you have it. Now you know what a timing belt is NOT, what it IS, and what it does to help the crankshaft and camshaft move your vehicle.

Tell me what other automotive parts baffle you. I’ll tell you what the heck they are!


Written by Ben Scharff

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *