Drive Belt Vs Timing Belt – What Are the Differences?

Timing belts and drive belts are both widely used in vehicle engines. So, what is the difference between a drive belt vs. a timing belt?

The timing belt synchronizes the main components of the engine, such as the camshaft and crankshaft. Drive belts drive the engine’s accessories, such as the power steering pump, alternator, air conditioner, water pump, etc. Timing belts are expensive, while drive belts are cheap.

Regarding maintenance, you don’t have to replace the engine should a drive belt break. But if the timing belt breaks, the engine might need to be replaced. There is only one timing belt in every vehicle, but there can be multiple drive belts. The cost of a timing belt is much higher than a drive belt.

Read on to learn more about the difference between drive belts and timing belts, their important functions, and how to maintain them for longer use.

Drive Belt Vs Timing Belt

drive belt vs timing belt

The answer to the question of a drive belt vs. timing belt lies heavily on their similarities and differences. Though they may look so alike and are both in vehicle engines, they serve unique purposes. Both are equally important for a vehicle to run smoothly.

Let us go through each one before we look at them side by side.

What Is a Drive Belt?

Drive belts go by many names. Also called accessory drive belt, alternator belt, fan belt, and even serpentine belt. A drive belt is a rubber-made belt that powers vehicle engine accessories. It is a crucial part of the vehicle engine and performs some very critical functions.

The drive belt is located on the outer portion of the vehicle engine. It operates by providing power to parts such as:

  • Air conditioning,
  • Water pump,
  • Power steering, and
  • Alternator to enable your vehicle to work properly and smoothly.

You can easily locate it at the front or sides and power up accessories by moving along the crank winch

Because of its high usage requirement, drive belts usually do not last beyond 10,000 miles. But most can power through until 12,000 miles without fault. It all depends on the terrain and weather conditions you drive in.

And because drive belts have relatively fewer teeth, there can be moments of slippage and malfunctioning accessories. Do not fret should this happen, as drive belts are easily repairable and replaceable thanks to their open location. 

Needless to say, it is easier to replace old or damaged drive belts than to keep maintain one. After all, the total cost for replacing a drive belt is just between $100 to $200, with the actual part costing just between $28 to $80. 

There can be multiple drive belts in the vehicle engine. For front-wheel drive vehicles, drive belts may be visible on the side, while these are located at the front end for rear-wheel drive vehicles or those with boxer engines.

Older vehicle models and some rear-wheel-drive cars equip drive belts to aid the front engine fan. It really depends on the placement of accessories and configuration as to how many drive belts an engine needs.

What Is a Timing Belt?

The timing belt is the all-important link between the crankshaft and the camshaft in the vehicle engine. The camshaft is located in the engine cylinder head, while the crankshaft is located in the engine cylinder block. It works by synchronizing the movements of internal components such as valves and pistons to make sure the timing of compression and combustion cycles in your engine are correct. 

From a broad perspective, timing belts connect the upper engine to the lower engine. The timing belt has teeth that mesh perfectly with the teeth on the sprocket wheel it runs on in terms of its appearance. These teeth allow and maintain synchronization while the wheel turns. You should note that absolutely no slippage is allowed between the sprockets and the timing belt.

For upkeep, experts advise that timing belts are not to be serviced frequently but must be replaced once your vehicle has run a range of 30,000 to 40,000 miles or roughly three to five years depending on weather and road conditions where the vehicle is being used.

Since it is located inside the hood, it doesn’t prove easy to maintain and requires professional help. The cost of replacing a damaged timing belt is around $300 to $500 in total, with the part itself costing only less than $50. 

Difference Between Timing Belt and Drive Belt

Now that we have established what drive belts and timing belts are and how they function in the vehicle engine. Let us look at them side by side to really find out what makes each of them unique. Both products are reliable, and you can very well choose which one fits your vehicle’s requirement. 

Drive Belt Vs. Timing Belt – Main Functions

The drive belt uses mechanical power from the engine and passes it to several peripheral devices, which allow the whole vehicle to run smoothly. It is sometimes called a serpentine belt since it looks and acts much like a snake.

This continuously moving snake belt coils itself to accessories to provide power and drive. If the drive belt fails to run its continuous course, all the peripheral devices it affects will either malfunction or stop working entirely.

A timing belt’s main function, on the other hand, is to synchronize the camshaft and crankshaft. It aids the movement of the camshaft whenever the gears are unable to. Probably the most important bit is it allows the camshaft to open and shut the intake and exhaust valves at just the right moments for the piston never to hit them.

Make and Appearance

Some people still get a bit confused between the drive belts and timing belts in terms of appearance. And some even use the terms interchangeably. While both are long belts located in the vehicle engine, there are some distinct characteristics and similarities.

For example, both types of belts can be made of rubber. But the rubber in timing belts contains high-tensile fibers like Kevlar, Twaron, or fiberglass for additional tension. The timing belt itself is usually made with high-quality materials such as neoprene, welded urethane, and molded polyurethane. Drive belt material, on the other hand, may include fabric and flat leather aside from rubber.

A timing belt also has more teeth than a drive belt, as it deals more with the synchronization of the camshaft and crankshaft and requires better grit and zero slippage. Since a drive belt’s task is more geared towards the smooth continuous flow of power across several vehicle accessories, it does not require the same teeth as a timing belt.


The durability of the drive belt vs. the timing belt is not an issue for debate. It is a well-known fact that timing belts are more durable than drive belts and would not require repair and maintenance for far longer and after more miles.

The discussion of durability is usually tied with a rundown of the best brands for manufacturing these vehicle engine parts. Brands like Goodyear, Dayco, and Bando will be your best choices for the most durable and value-for-money drive belts. As for timing belts, brands like Aisin, ContiTech, and ACDelco are the best and most reliable manufacturers.

Cost – Parts and Labor

When it comes to costing, timing belts are undeniably more costly to replace or repair than drive belts due to their location inside the engine. Since the timing belt is harder to reach as it is located inside, labor for repair will be significantly more than the repair and replacement for drive belts.

The total repair cost for drive belts is in the $100-200 range. About half of the total cost goes to labor, while timing belt labor costs can go as high as $500, with almost 90% of the total cost paid to labor. 

Parts are relatively cheap, especially for easily replaceable drive belts. The actual drive belt part can be as cheap as $28, while timing belts are around $50.

Possible Effects of Malfunctioning Parts

If one of the drive belts in your vehicle breaks while the engine is running, the ripple effect of this malfunction will only be on the accessories it provides power to. It can also cause overheating, which, if not checked, can lead to total engine failure.

On the other hand, if the lone timing belt inside your vehicle malfunctions, your engine will suffer significant damage, which can also lead to full engine replacement.

Care and Maintenance

You will know you have a drive belt due for replacement if it is too old (ran more than 12,000 miles) or if you notice oil or coolant leaking out onto it from within the engine. There are also some cases wherein a tensioner may be putting undue tension on the drive belt, causing it to misalign.

If any of these circumstances do happen, it is still best to visit your mechanic to replace the failing drive belt. After all, replacement is fast, easy, and also cheap for both parts and labor. You probably would not spend a whole day waiting if you need a drive belt replaced.

It is a different story when it comes to a broken or malfunctioning timing belt. When a timing belt is broken, the valves stay open and get stuck by the piston. This alone can cause expensive and even permanent damage to your vehicle engine should it not be fixed right away. 

A tip to keep your timing belt’s durability longer is to ensure your vehicle engine never leaks oil or runs too hot. Overheated engines and oil leaks are the topmost causes of timing belt damage. In short, always check your vehicle’s manual for the specifics relating to replacing the timing belt and intervals in doing so.

Conclusion – Timing Belt Vs Drive Belt

Both drive belts and timing belts provide their own unique function to make the vehicle run properly and smoothly each time.

Timing belts synchronize the movement of the camshaft and crankshaft as main components for the engine. The drive belt drives the engine’s accessories, such as the power steering pump, air conditioner, water pump, etc. Timing belts are expensive, while drive belts are cheap.

Here is a rundown of their similarities and differences again:

1. Main Functions

Drive Belts to provide power to peripheral accessories in the vehicle engine such as the air conditioner, alternator, water pump, and power steering pump. In contrast, Timing Belts are responsible for the synchronization of movement between the crankshaft and camshaft.

2. Make and Appearance

Both belts can be made of rubber, but timing belts are mixed with even more durable materials such as molded polyurethane or neoprene. Drive belts may also include fabric and flat leather as materials for extra stability.

3. Durability

Timing belts are incredibly more durable when compared to drive belts. This is partly because of the main functions they provide to the vehicle engine. Brands such as Bando, Goodyear, and Dayco are great choices if you are shopping for drive belts, while ContiTech, Aisin, and ACDelco are the best in the market when it comes to quality timing belts.

4. Cost of Parts and Labor

It also follows that the cost of timing belts with labor is much higher compared to drive belts. Timing belt part and labor can set you back up to 500USD, while drive belt part and labor will only be up to 200USD. 

5. Possible Effects of Malfunctioning Parts

Broken drive belts will result in a malfunction of peripheral accessories but will be less likely to cause irreparable damage to the whole vehicle engine. On the other hand, a broken timing belt will cause major damages to the engine and can lead to full engine replacement.

6. Care and Maintenance 

If you notice leaks such as oil or coolant onto the drive belt, it is a sure sign that the drive belt is in danger of malfunction if not already broken. This would be the same for timing belts, as oil leaks and overheating in the engine can easily cause it to fail.

To maintain your drive belt and timing belt’s durability, it is best to have a periodic check-up with your mechanic to ensure all parts are in tip-top shape. Consult your vehicle manual to know the timing of replacement as well as the intervals for each.

In the end, both the timing belt and drive belt are essential parts of a vehicle engine. Without them, the engine itself will not run the way it is supposed to. It is important to invest in good quality vehicle parts such as these two for you and your family’s safety, which is your utmost priority each time you take a ride in your vehicle.

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