Among the various components of your engine, the timing belt is the one thing that you cannot afford to break during the course of a trip. If the timing belt breaks or gets dislodged while the engine is running, this will cause your crankshaft to turn incorrectly, damaging the pistons and cylinders. Some modern cars use timing chains instead of timing belts for added durability, but at the expense of engine noise.
Most manufacturers recommend changing the timing belt at every 90,000 mile interval, or at about 60,000 miles for extreme driving conditions. The timing belt is actually an inexpensive accessory, but changing it is labor intensive. Because of this, mechanics usually suggest changing other components, as well, which can include the water pump, alternator belt, and the like.
Changing the timing belt on a 2003 Dodge Stratus is fairly straightforward. What makes it complicated is the fact that you have to remove a whole lot of other components to reach the timing belt.
- First, disconnect the battery. Disconnecting the negative terminal should suffice. Then, jack up the car’s front and set the front up using jack stands.
- Remove the front right-side wheel, splash shield, drive belts, crankshaft damper, and alternator belt tensioner.
- Take out the connections from the alternator, which you should then remove from its bracket.
- Remove the cover from the timing belt. Take out the coolant reservoir.
- Next, remove the mount from the engine’s right side. You will also need to remove the support bracket at this side of the engine.
- Make absolutely sure that you align the camshaft and crankshaft at this point, by rotating it through the crankshaft. You can no longer rotate it once the timing belt is taken out, as you might damage the engine’s valves and its components.
- Before removing the timing belt, align the crankshaft along the timing marks. The TDC indicator on the oil pump housing should align with the TDC indicator on the crankshaft sprocket.
- Loosen the tensioner bolt.
- Rotate the tensioner pulley’s top plate clockwise until you get enough slack from the timing belt to remove it.
- Take out the timing belt. If it was damaged through a misalignment, you will need to replace the whole set, including the bracket assembly and the tensioner pulley.
- Align the crank sprocket, such that it lines up with the indicator on the housing of the oil pump. Set up the camshaft’s timing marks such the intake camshaft sprocket is about one half a notch above the exhaust camshaft sprocket. Both indicators should be pointing upwards.
- Install the new timing belt. Start at the crankshaft area, then go around the water pump, then the idler pulley, then the camshaft sprockets, then finally around the tensioner.
- To take up slack, move the exhaust camshaft sprocket counterclockwise. This should also be done to align indicators.
- Rotate the tensioner pulley’s top plate counterclockwise. After some turns, the setting notch should be aligned with the belt. You will need to use a torque wrench to set the torque to 25 Nm.
- At this point, you can only adjust the crankshaft clockwise when ensuring it is aligned to the TDC position, and for seating the belt.
- Check the spring tang to see whether it is within tolerance level. If it is not, you will need to repeat the process from the point when you installed the new timing belt.
- Return all components in the reverse order you removed them.
Do note that if you are replacing a broken timing belt, your engine’s valves might have already bent. Have this checked by a professional for best results.