Timing System Evolution
Back to 40-50 years ago, before timing chain and belt were invented, engine delivered power via gears.
Bottom crank has a gear connected to another gear to the up camshaft. Crank pushes rods open and close the valves. The system is reliable and durable. The complaint is the whining noise caused by gear on gear spinning. The other thing is these 2 gears must be premium quality to be durable and which means cost will be high.
So in early American V8 Engines, they decided to use chain to operate the system. Crankshaft sprocket was invented at one end of timing chain and the other end is camshaft gear. Timing sprockets are with teeth to embed into the chain so whole system can work with harmony. So now timing chain system is even stronger and lasts longer. Afterward, based on same design idea, timing belt is launched to the world; with the advantages, lighter, cheaper, quieter than the timing chains.
Needless to say the timing chain durability is much stronger than the belt. The belt, sometimes broke in high speed due to lack of proper maintenance and regular change. Further damage will happen if pistons hit the valves. In the Non-interference engine design, which most Toyota cars use, if timing belts break, the pistons won't hit the valve to cause damages. The cars without Non-interference system with belt design, take Nissan as example, suffered loads with belt snapping problems. That's why Nissan adopted chain design for his recent decade car models. They did receive bricks and stones complaints from fury car owners about failed belts. Sales dropped as well. So back to use the timing chain is the correct idea to eliminate the belt snapping headache.
The other advantage of timing chain is it allows higher horsepower engine design with smaller size. More power design like Variable Valve Timing, GDI Direct Injection and more gears are also allowed to be put into the engine design. The timing belt is not able to hold these higher performance requirements. Plus, with the use of timing chain and sprocket, non-interference engine is not necessary as chain system is much more steady and solid.
Belt or Chain?
The belt, made with rubber, required more frequent change than the chain to prevent snapping issue. In this aspect, chain is relative low requirement as all you need do is the periodical change of engine oil to provide clean lubricant for the whole system.
Timing chain is part of the engine system, so it is coated with engine oil. As long as engine oil is clean, no big issue will occur.
Some chains did stretch, but still much more solid than the belt. Also more mileages and longer time will your car run with timing chain system.
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