How To Count Timing Chain Links (Explained)

How to Count Timing Chain Links

Timing chains and the set of gears function in sync to rotate the camshaft and crankshaft and regulate the closing and opening of your vehicle’s engine valves.

In other words–they are super important. That is why you should get it right when counting timing chain links during a do-it-yourself installation.

In this post, I’ll tell you everything you need to know during a chain-link count when you want to replace a worn timing chain.

After replacing a worn timing chain with a new one, you should do a chain link count to ensure that all the timing chain link marks line up before you finish. You need to position your vehicle well, place it on maintenance, and label your chains with a grease pen before you do the counting.

How to Count Timing Chain Links: Step by Step Guide

How to Count Timing Chain Links

When replacing a worn timing chain with a new one on your vehicle, you should ensure that every chain link is where it’s supposed to be.

Failure on your part can mean a damaged engine; I’m sure you don’t want that. That said, here are the steps you should take when counting timing chain links:

#1. Step One: Prop on Maintenance 

When you want to do a chain link count, the first thing to do is to place it on the maintenance and consult the instruction manual for quick and accurate information.

The aim is to adequately position the vehicle in the best possible way, allowing the wheel and the chain to rotate freely.

I recommend keeping it so that you get maximal access to the chain. Remember, you need to be accurate, so you need plenty of room.

#2. Step Two: Marking

In this step, you’ll need to use a grease pen to label one of the chains, which is crucial because it will help you to know when you’ve reached your starting position.

For detached chain links with a single strip chain, you shouldn’t bother to label it.

Just begin from one of the free ends because you can quickly identify your starting point, so there’s no need for marking the links.

#3. Step Three: Counting

This step is the main one; every other step is to prepare you for this.

It would be best if you used the outside links of the chain, and you can locate it easily using the big plates on either side of the chain links.

When counting, do not use the inside link because it saves time and energy, and you’re going to factor it in during the later stage of counting.

When counting the external links, multiply the total links count by two.

Remember that you only counted the outer chain links, so this procedure is to incorporate the inner chain links into the count.

Suppose your total outer chain-link count was 55. If you multiply this figure by two, you’ll get 110. Therefore, the actual links in the chain are 110.

A pro tip you should remember is that the full links on your chain are always an even number because the outer and inner links are attached and vice versa, so the number has to be even.

How Many Chain Links Do I Count to Set the Timing?

To set the timing for the timing chain links, there should be:

  • Twelve chain links between the timing marks of the front camshaft.
  • Twenty-seven chain links between the crankshaft and camshaft timing marks.
  • Thirty chain links between the timing marks for the camshaft and crankshaft.

You must do this right and confirm the timing because if you don’t do it properly, you may end up causing severe damage to the engine.

Tips to Count Timing Chain Links

When you replace a worn timing chain and install a new one, you need to count the chains to confirm that everything is in the correct position.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when counting timing chain links:

  • Start with the lower chain, and you will notice a notch at the 12 o’clock position on the cover for the intermediate gear. It would be best to paint it so it is easier to see.
  • On the shaft is a flat spot, and you should place the flat area at the top so that it lines up with a dull mark on the gear for the lower chain. 
  • Before you put the lower chain on, you need to bring the crankshaft back to the top dead center. To do this, but the timing chain’s bright links so that they match with the marks on the crankshaft and camshaft gears.
  • Ensure the shaved-down tooth and the marks on the front all lineup. 
  • In addition to having that flat spot on the gear, there’s a mark at 12 o’clock, which should line up with the cover for the intermediate shaft.
  • The slack should be on the non-tensioner side, the lower right-hand side.
  • Mark the gears so that they are easier to see. 
  • Put guides in when installing the upper chain. Don’t allow any slack between the two camshafts.
  • When timing the lower gear on the upper chain, ensure the slack is on the tensioner side. 
  • The marks you made and all the factory timing marks should still line up after installing the upper and the lower chains. 
  • Before rotating around, hold the tension on the upper chain, so it doesn’t jump during rotation. 
  • You should rotate the crankshaft a total of two times. The rotation should be clockwise because that is how the engine turns when it is running. 
  • Never forget to go back and recheck everything and make sure that everything lines up correctly. 
  • The marks on the gear to the plate in the intermediate gear should line up correctly, and the cam plate should fit so we know our camshafts are good. 
  • If the timing chain marks are not visible enough, you can apply a permanent marker to make them more visible.

Worn Timing Chain – Symptoms

Every vehicle with an internal combustion engine has a timing chain or belt, as the case may be.

Timing chains are integral for the crankshaft and camshaft to function. They are coupled to pulleys and gears while sitting in front of the motor.

Without this component, the smooth operation of your vehicle is not possible.

The timing chain needs to rotate smoothly around the gears, and although composed of metals, it is also under the influence of the forces of wear and tear.

It can get damaged if you don’t replace it as the manufacturer recommends.

Below are the most common warning symptoms and signs a worn timing chain will give you:

#1. Engine Misfire

Timing chains find applications mostly with high-performance engines and consumer vehicles.

Continuous usage makes the timing chain lose and stretch, which can make the timing chain skip gears on the crankshaft or camshaft.

That fails the engine to be in sync with the calibration leading to a misfire. If this occurs, the engine will not function well and won’t accelerate properly.

Therefore, anytime you notice this, it’s likely that the timing chain is damaged, and you need to install a new one as soon as possible.

You don’t want the timing chain to break and have the loose metal rolling all around in the motor. That will cause massive damage to the engine.

#2. Engine Failure

A worn timing chain can prevent your engine from starting or even stopping when driving if it becomes broken.

If the timing chain jumps or breaks during a drive, there will be damage to the contact with the piston. That’s because there won’t be sufficient compression for the engine to start.

Additionally, the valves can bend and damage the engine. Therefore, if your machine fails to start or your driving becomes rough, you should contact a mechanic to check your timing chain.

#3. Metal Shavings in the Engine Oil

Every manufacturer of automobiles requires you to change your filter and engine oil every 3,000 to 5,000 miles.

If your timing chain starts to wear out, tiny pieces of metal can come off the timing chain and fall into the oil pan.

Therefore whenever you take your vehicle for an engine oil and filter change, always ask the auto mechanic if there are metal shavings in the oil.

That is an excellent early sign to suggest a worn timing chain.

Other common symptoms that can suggest a worn timing chain include:

  • Illumination of the check engine light,
  • Rattling noises when you’re driving,
  • A rough idle.

The table below shows the difference between an engine’s performance with a healthy timing chain and one with a worn timing chain.

Healthy Timing ChainWorn Timing Chain
Purring sound when idlingRattling noise when idling
Smooth revving when roaring when firingEngine misfire
It’s easy to start the carDifficulty starting the car


The timing chain is an essential component of your vehicle’s combustion system, and your car becomes useless if it becomes broken.

For this reason, you should take precautions and change a worn timing chain whenever you notice the early warning signs.

If you want to replace it, ensure it is well in place by doing a chain-link count.

Josh Matthews

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