A timing cover is a curved sheet of metal or plastic that protects a timing belt or chain as well as other timing components from dirt, dust and debris. Along with the belt or chain, these components allow for the proper synchronization of the pistons with the intake and exhaust valves, which is crucial for safe and smooth engine operation.
A timing cover may differ in design and materials it is made from. There are two basic designs of timing covers, including a timing chain cover and a timing belt cover:
Timing chain cover
As its name says, a timing chain cover can be found on engines equipped with one or more timing chains to drive the camshaft(s). As a general rule, it is made of metal and is properly sealed to prevent oil leaks and different contaminants from getting in. A timing chain cover is subjected to a specific amount of pressure since engine oil is used to lubricate the chain and gears. Thanks to this design, a timing chain lasts the life of the engine on many vehicles.
Timing belt cover
This type of cover is common for vehicles equipped with a timing belt or a serpentine belt. Unlike its timing chain counterparts, a timing belt cover does not protect an engine from oil leaks since a belt and other related components do not need lubrication. The only job of a timing belt cover is to keep dirt and debris from contacting timing components.
Whether you have a timing belt cover or a timing chain cover, its failure may cause serious engine problems, including oil leaks and damage to timing components. That’s why you should be aware of the most typical signs of a bad timing cover:
Oil leaks from the cover
This symptom is common for vehicles with a bad timing chain cover. There can be marks of oil on the ground under the engine or where the gasket seals the cover to the engine. If you notice them, the first thing you should check is the timing cover gasket as it may be the source of oil leaks. Then look for cracks on the timing cover.
You have to top up oil on a regular basis
Checking the oil level is a part of routing engine maintenance. If you notice that your oil level reduces or your warning lights come on soon after you have topped up the oil, the root of the problem can be a leaking timing cover. This symptom can’t be ignored since it may lead to severe engine damage.
Rough idling or misfires
Dirt, dust and different contaminants can get under a timing cover if its gasket fails or the cover cracks. If this happens, they can damage the timing belt or chain, or other timing components, and cause them to malfunction. In addition, malfunctioning timing parts and the damaged cover can lead to oil leaks and a major oil loss. As a result, the engine may overheat and even fail to run. Your check engine light may also come on to alert you of the problem.
Can I drive a vehicle with a bad timing cover?
Obviously, driving a vehicle with a bad timing cover is not recommended if you want to avoid serious engine troubles and prevent it from damage. However, if you face an emergency you could drive a vehicle taking into account that it has just a minor oil leak and your engine is running smoothly. But anyway, once you notice any other signs of a bad timing cover, you should shut down the engine and get in touch with your mechanic.
Can I fix a bad timing cover?
If your timing cover is cracked or damaged it must be replaced as soon as possible to prevent severe damage to other engine components. Keep in mind that the timing cover gasket must be replaced along with the cover, and all bolts need to be properly tightened to prevent oil leaks.
In many cases, signs of a bad timing cover can be caused by a failed gasket. If this is the case, all you need is to replace the gasket and clean all timing components under the cover. It is also a good idea to inspect all your timing parts for wear and damage to avoid possible problems in the future.
At first glance, replacing a timing cover may seem to be an easy task, especially when it comes to a timing belt cover. However, this is something you should leave to a professional, unless you’re a mechanic yourself. This is reasonable since in many cases replacing the cover involves removing other timing components, which is a complex task. Besides, once installed, all timing parts must be properly synchronized to ensure smooth and trouble-free operation of your engine.