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2.3 Ford Timing Belt Change

Fortunately for us, changing the timing belt on a 2.3 Ford is relatively simple compared to our front- and all-wheel-drive competition. First you remove the intercooler and throttle body so that you can get the valve cover off, and then you remove the accessory belts, water pump pulley, and timing belt cover. It will make things much easier later if you rotate the engine so that the crankshaft pulley timing mark is at Top Dead Center (TDC) before you remove the timing belt cover. At this point the your engine should look similar to the picture below.

A "while you're at it" job you may want to do at this time is to replace the timing belt tensioner. This is very easy to do when the belt is off, simply by removing the two bolts that you have to loosen to get the belt off. In the picture of the pulleys (toward the bottom of this page), the stock tensioner is shown on the top right, and the Esslinger heavy duty tensioner on the bottom right. You can also see another view of the heavy duty tensioner installed on the motor, in the picture above.

Now you'll need to remove your crank pulley. The bolt in the center is 22mm, and may take some extra torque to get off. After you get it off, the pulley slides off of the crankshaft. If it's been a long time since it was last installed, it may be impossible to get off without a puller.

Now it's time to loosen the timing belt. Ford has a special tool to do it, but it's not too tough to do with a prybar or breaker bar. You may want to go ahead and loosen the cam pulley bolt at this point, because it's easier to do when the belt is holding the cam in place. Anyway, what you do is loosen the two bolts that hold the belt tensioner in place, but don't remove them. Once they're loose and the tensioner is free to move, you pry the tensioner clockwise until the belt is as loose as possible, and then retighten the bolt the holds the tensioner in position. This leaves the belt loose, and ready to remove.

The thing to remember at this point is that when you are removing the timing belt, try not to rotate the accessory shaft pulley (the lower right one). If you can manage to complete this entire procedure without rotating it, your ignition timing will be unchanged when you're ready to start the engine.

Installation of the cam pulley depends on what kind it is. The stock pulley (top center of picture above) and some aftermarket pulleys can only be installed one way, but the Motorsport pulley from Ford (bottom center of picture above) is installed depending on what advance or retard of the cam timing that you may want. If you compare the two in the picture, you can see that the Motorsport pulley has slots all the way around the inside of the pulley instead of just one. These are machined so that the keyway (or slot) you choose to match with the key (or post) on the cam chooses your cam timing. If you are using a Motorsport pulley you have to choose your cam timing and install the pulley accordingly. If you're experimenting with cam timing for the first time, the rule of thumb is that you will raise your torque peak about 150rpm for every degree you retard the cam. So, for more bottom end you advance the cam, and for more top end you retard it. Either way, adjusting more than 4 degrees the first time you try it probably isn't going to be productive. Somewhere around 6 to 8 degrees of change or so, adjusting any farther stops doing anything useful and just makes your engine run more and more poorly.

Once you've got the pulley on, you need to get the timing belt back into place. You know it's correct when it's tight all the way from the crankshaft up the right side (as you face the front of the motor) with the teeth meshing in the accessory shaft pulley and cam pulley, and the cam pulley marker is pointing at the cam timing indicator. The cam timing indicator is not shown in the top picture because I broke mine off installing my head, and had to look through the plug in the timing cover after installing it to see that the cam timing was correct.

If you're as sure as you can be that you've gotten the cam pulley and accessory shaft pulley on the correct tooth of the timing belt, now simply re-loosen the tensioner bolt holding the tensioner in place, and the spring pressure will snap it back to the correct belt tension. Give the belt another look and make sure the pulleys are still where you want them. If so, tighten the tensioner bolts and put the timing belt cover back on. Install the accessory pulleys and belts, and then the valve cover. This is the perfect time to replace the valve cover gasket if you've been having leak problems. The new one from Ford is very good, and is available at the dealership. Now you can put the throttle body and intercooler back on and fire it up. Even if you've made a mistake it will probably start, but not run right. The first thing you will need to do is check your ignition timing with the SPOUT connector out and verify that the ignition timing is correct. If it is way off (and didn't used to be), that means you got the accessory shaft at least one tooth off, and you'll either need to rotate the distributor to reset the timing, or else go back and loosen the timing belt and move the accessory shaft. If things are so bad that it won't even start the first thing you might want to look at is the position of the rotor in the distributor cap. If you rotate the engine around to TDC, and the rotor is pointing at spark plug wire number one, then you may have gotten the cam timing completely off. If the rotor is not pointing at the first spark plug wire, then you know you got the accessory shaft way off.

If your ignition timing is right, but you're not running right, then either you got the cam pulley a tooth off, or your adjustable pulley is not adjusted correctly. Once your ignition and cam timing are both correct, your engine should run at least as well as it did before you started. Happy driving...


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Page last updated: Friday, 28-Oct-2005 11:26:29 EDT