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Say Arrivederci to Your Cam Belt Cover!

FIAT owners have long had mixed feelings over the slew of coverings with which the Italian automaker adorned Aurelio Lampredi’s precious and innovative camshaft timing belts. While my position may not exactly make waves, I’d like to set out to treat you with (hopefully) the final word on the subject:

Kill it with fire.

Obviously, I don’t think anyone is a fool for keeping one on their car, but I’m here to change minds and improve lives, man. Roughly in order of importance, here are a myriad of reasons to liberate your overhead cam 1100, 1300, 1438, 1500, 1592, 1608, 1756, or 1995cc FIAT, Pininfarina, Bertone, or Lancia engine of its timing belt cover:

  1. It is unnecessary. That’s the truth. It might look like it protects your motor from debris, but your motor is actually safer without it. We have spoken with thousands of FIAT-family car owners, and have never once heard a credible tale of a properly maintained timing belt breaking on the street. I will elaborate at the close of the article, because this is such an important point, and I know some of us will need convincing.
  2. It hides your most important maintenance items. THIS is the single biggest reason FIAT overhead cam motors die: lack of timing belt and tensioner bearing maintenance. You can (at least partially) blame the timing belt cover for that phenomenon. As they say, “Out of sight, out of mind.” Many new owners don’t even realize they have a timing belt or tensioner because of the scourge that is the obtrusive timing cover.
  3. It makes your most important maintenance item harder to maintain. Anything you can do to lower the barrier to entry of timing belt maintenance is a good thing. Make it easier on yourself by leaving the cover off, and you will care for it more often. Seriously, removing the DOHC timing cover requires breaking the water jacket (opening the cooling system) of your motor — every single time you need to get behind the cover. And we all know how much fun it is to bleed the Lampredi cooling system…

It might look like it protects your motor from debris, but your motor is actually safer without it.

In the immortal words of Macaulay Culkin, “You guys give up, or are you thirsty for more?” Well, here’s even more reasons!

  1. It makes almost everything harder to get to. This is the flip side of point 3. Anything that makes general maintenance harder, without a significant upside, is a significant loss.
  2. It’s ugly. Seriously, why hide the beautiful workings of an advanced Italian engine? Especially if you have a nice set of anodized aluminum pulleys, there’s a lot to love about the front end of a 124 Spider or X1/9 powerplant.
  3. It’s one more thing to maintain. Following up on my last point, have you ever seen one of these that looked really nice after a few years? Sure, you can take it off, clean, and repaint it (both the plastic and aluminum covers pose certain challenges to proper paint adhesion), but what do you get in return for your effort? I’ll tell you what you get: hidden consumables, longer maintenance intervals, unnecessary bulk, and one more thing to worry about breaking if you have to work on it (again). Wouldn’t you much rather put that time into cleaning your carpet, or doing some task that really mattered (like your driveshaft flex joint)?
  4. It’s a freeloader. There’s a saying that dates back at least to the American Great Depression: “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.” Your timing belt cover wants to see the world at your expense. Sure, the heaviest covers still weigh less than five pounds (I haven’t checked one recently, because they’re all in the bin where they belong), but 100,000 or 200,000 miles is a long way to carry something that doesn’t benefit you in any quantifiable way.

What say we stop there and come back to the first — and most important — point: they are unnecessary. Imagine with me for a moment — the inside of your engine bay. Visualize the approach vectors to your timing belt, remembering that only a small area of the leading face of each pulley or idler poses a real threat. Let’s face it: the only way a rock is getting into a meaningful (read: dangerous) position along the route that your belt travels is if it becomes a “magic bullet.” My friend, I hate to tell you this, but if your belt breaks, it’s because there was a shooter on the grassy knoll. End of tragic metaphor.

Rocks and debris almost solely come up from the road surface when they bounce or get lifted by a tire. In order to hit them, you have to be traveling at a significant speed. If you consider that the maximum approach angle of a flying rock will be much less than 45 degrees, there’s really no way a rock is getting in there unless you have much bigger problems.

On a 124 or 131, the determined timing-belt-assassin would have — at the very least — to go through your radiator on it’s merry way to creating camshaft chaos. On an X1/9, well… it would probably have to go through the floor pan, your passenger’s hammies, the spare tire, and the firewall. So yeah, bigger problems.

So, without any more jibber-jabber on my part, I hope we can agree that timing belt covers are not the panacea that we’ve been sold. If anything, they may do much more harm than good, when you consider all the wonderful cars that went to scrapyards — and the FIAT reputation for “unreliability” — owing directly to American owners not realizing that they had a timing belt under that behemoth plastic eyesore.

Honestly, I think there’s a real possibility that the timing belt cover is the worst thing ever to happen to the fledgling Lampredi design, and one that we’ll do well to end in our time.

there’s a real possibility that the timing belt cover is the worst thing ever to happen to the fledgling Lampredi design

As always, thanks for reading,

Aaron

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