Nissan Maxima Timing Belt Change Tutorial
Recently I noticed that my 1991 Nissan Maxima, with the VG30E engine, was due for a timing belt change. Nissan recommends this every 60,000 miles but both times I've had it done at around 70,000 miles. The first time I had it done at the dealer which cost me $480 with parts and labor. This time I called around and it was going to cost me $700. That was money I'd rather spend on my car audio habit so I decided to see if I couldn't do it myself. I had always considered a timing belt change one of the most challenging maintenance procedures but had never really looked into how to do it. But I had three resources, a Haynes manual, a Chilton's manual and the Internet. I thought between those I could probably figure it out. What I found out was that there wasn't one really good resource available. So I took notes from all the sources and I was able to create an outline of what I needed to do.
While I was doing the actual work using that outline I took many photos so that I could create this tutorial for others to use. All of the smaller photos on this page can be clicked on to open the full resolution photo in another window. I highly recommend viewing the high resolution images so you can see more details. In addition to the timing belt change I also changed the three main belts (alternator, AC and power steering), the thermostat, the water pump, the camshaft oil seals, the spark plugs, the plug wires, the rotor and the distributor cap. It's generally a good idea to do all of these together, especially the water pump and oil seals since you have to do a good bit of labor in order to get the engine torn down to that point.
Wherever possible I reference either the Haynes or Chilton's manual pages that cover the same material. Also when a socket is required I try to include the socket size needed. This is actually my second attempt at this. The first time was a few weeks prior and apparently I was off a tooth or something because the timing was not right. So I had to do it all over again which makes for a better tutorial since I knew what I had to do and what was important to take photos of. I also learned to make a mark on the outer edge of the timing belt's white lines so I could see their position after installation (you can see the camshaft marks but the crankshaft mark is hidden once installed).
If there are any parts that can be improved or if you have any suggestions please let me know.
Other Nissan Maxima Tutorials:
Nissan Maxima Fuel Injector Change Tutorial
Nissan Maxima Digital Dash HUD Tutorial
Nissan Maxima Lower Control Arm Bushing Change Tutorial
Disclaimer: Use these directions only as a guide and at your own risk. You're responsible for any damage you do to the vehicle so BE CAREFUL. Your vehicle may in fact have slightly different methods so use common sense if the directions don't match what you see. The demo vehicle being shown is a 1991 Nissan Maxima SE with the VG30E engine.
The following list contains all of the parts you will need to get in order to complete the job. I actually did not change the crankshaft oil seal because I couldn't get the sprocket off of the crankshaft. It wasn't leaking so I decided not to tempt fate. The Haynes manual says to drill and tap the sprocket and use a special gear puller to get it off if this is the case. I don't think that can be done without removing the engine and that wasn't going to happen. You also have to replace the sprocket that you drilled and tapped.
All of the parts I used were ordered from Courtesy Nissan near Dallas, TX. They're cheaper than the local dealers and they ship quickly. I've linked all of the part numbers to the relevant pages on their site. This link that has all of these parts and more in one spot for changing the timing belt.
- Socket set
- 8mm socket
- 10mm socket
- 12mm socket
- 14mm socket
- 27mm socket
- Tack puller or similar tool
- Spark plug socket
- Long socket extension
- Phillips and standard screwdriver
- Torque wrench
- Electric impact wrench
- Long handled socket wrench
- Strap wrench
- 5mm Allen wrench
- 0.0138” feeler gauge
- Put the car in neutral and apply the parking brake
- Loosen the lug nuts on the passenger side front wheel
- Chock the rear wheels
- Jack up the car and place jack stands on both sides
- Remove the front passenger wheel
- Remove the inner fender splash guard (plastic clips). Mine was already removed and never put back apparently so I don't have a picture of that.
- Disconnect the negative battery terminal (10mm bolt)
- Disconnect the overflow tube and remove the coolant reservoir (10mm bolt). It slides towards the engine and then pulls up.
- Unbolt the cruise control servo (2 bolts on the top, 1 bolt on the fender side, all 10mm), disconnect the wiring plug and move the unit up and out of the way.
- Remove the splash pans (10mm bolts) and radiator cap and drain the coolant. Capture the coolant for reuse or disposal. Don't pour it down the drain or on the ground like a douche bag. Most parts stores will take the used coolant. Call around to see who does.
- After the coolant has drained close the valve cock
Find Top Dead Center (TDC) for Cylinder 1 (p.65 of the Haynes manual)
- Remove the spark plugs and the distributor cap (three screw head bolts). You'll need to remove all of the spark plug wires if you're replacing the distributor cap and/or the plug wires. Otherwise just disconnect the three on the same side as the number one cylinder.
- Mark the number one distributor cap position on the distributor body (match the cap terminal to the rotor). Don't assume that the terminal is right under the number. They're all over the place under the cap.
- Rotate the crankshaft clockwise (27mm socket and a long handled socket wrench) until the 0 (zero) degree mark is aligned with the timing mark on the lower timing belt cover. This is the same mark you see when you set the timing on your car.
- Check if the rotor points to the number one mark on the distributor body. If not, rotate until it does (should be one full turn of the crankshaft)
Remove the Three Drive Belts (p.43 of the Haynes manual)
- A/C belt – loosen the pulley bolt (12mm) and then the tensioner bolt (12mm)
- Alternator belt – loosen the alternator bolt and then the tensioner bolt (both 12mm)
- Power steering belt – loosen the idler pulley nut (14mm) and then turn the adjusting bolt on the bottom of the bracket (12mm, clockwise to loosen the belt)
Timing Belt Procedure (p.73 of the Haynes manual)
- Disconnect the radiator hose from the upper thermostat assembly (10mm bolts on the clamps) and the upper radiator. Also disconnect the hose (pinch the clamps with pliers and pull off) that runs between the thermostat housing and the upper thermostat assembly (or whatever it is really called). Note the high quality duct tape hose repair. I wonder if that's why there is coolant all over the engine compartment?
- Remove the idler pulley bracket assembly (2 – 12mm bolts, 1 – 14mm bolt on right)
- Remove the water pump pulley (4 – 10mm bolts, hold with a strap wrench)
- Remove the crankshaft bolt with an impact wrench and a 27mm socket (that is a huge socket, I had to borrow one). Do not allow the crankshaft to rotate. If it does move it back to TDC before completely removing the bolt. It shouldn't move using an impact wrench. The Haynes manual calls for a chain wrench and the socket but seriously you should use an impact wrench. I tried an air impact and it wasn't powerful enough. I ended up having to use an electric impact wrench and it came off no problem.
Alternate method as proposed by Maxima.org member vernk. "If you don't have a impact wrench, and don't have a chain wrench to hold the crank you can pull the coil wire put the socket with the breaker bar on (set it to the frame) and kick the engine over with the starter to get it loose." That method could be dangerous if not done right so use extreme caution and be sure and have someone else around to help and to call 911 if something goes wrong :)
- Remove the crankshaft pulley. There is a small metal "key" between the crankshaft and the pulley so be sure not to lose it.
- Remove the thin metal plate that sits behind the pulley
- Remove the 18 bolts securing the upper and lower timing belt covers. Mark each bolt as it is removed. All are 8mm bolts. I placed all of my bolts into a plastic box that was divided into smaller compartments. The numbers on the pictures should correspond to the numbered diagram of the Haynes manual, page 74. Not all bolts are shown. With some bolts the black rubber washer on it may remain stuck to the timing belt cover. Don't lose these pieces.
- Remove the upper timing belt cover. You will need to disconnect the wiring harnesses from the top right part of the cover. You will also need to loosen the AC hose hold down bolt (10mm) to get it past the hose.
- Re-verify that the number one cylinder is at top dead center. Remove the lower timing belt cover.
Water Pump Replacement (p.128 of the Haynes manual)
I don't have any pictures of this because I did it a few weeks before creating this tutorial. The same goes for the thermostat replacement. Both are very straight forward so you really don't need any pictures to explain it.
- Remove the six bolts and mark them as they are removed
- Clean the bolts and the threaded holes
- Scrape all of the old gasket material from the engine. Make sure not to let any get into the water pump area of the engine.
- Clean the engine mating surfaces and new water pump mating surfaces with acetone and let dry
- Apply RTV sealant to the water pump mating surface that attaches to the engine. Do not use too much RTV or it will squish into the water pump area. It could break off and clog up the cooling system.
- Attach the water pump to the engine and hold in place with a couple of bolts
- Replace all bolts and torque to specs (16-21 ft-lbs)
Thermostat Replacement (p.122 of the Haynes manual)
- Remove the four bolts holding the thermostat housing on and remove the housing
- Stuff a rag into the opening and clean the old gasket from the housing
- Remove the thermostat from the housing and scrape it clean
- Clean the housing and mating surfaces with acetone and let dry
- Apply RTV sealant to the thermostat mating surface and insert the thermostat. Clean off any excess sealant from the housing’s mating surface. Again, do not use too much RTV or it will squish into the thermostat housing. It could break off and clog up the cooling system.
- Apply RTV sealant to the thermostat housing
- Install the housing with bolts and torque to specs (12-15 ft-lbs)
Timing Belt Continued
- Note the tension on the timing belt. You'll need to tension the new belt to pretty much the same level and it is hard to understand the "procedure" to do that.
- Break loose both camshaft bolts (if you are replacing the camshaft seals). The left one (closest to the firewall) on mine was bad. The other one was fine but I replaced it too. I've read that the left one goes bad more often.
- Loosen the timing belt tensioner nut (14mm)
- Slide the timing belt off the sprockets (DO NOT ALLOW MOVEMENT). Ease the belt off the sprockets gradually (in small increments).
Crankshaft front oil seal replacement (p.77 of the Haynes manual)
I couldn't get the crankshaft sprocket off. The directions say if this happens to drill and tap the sprocket. Then use a special puller to get it off. Then replace the drilled sprocket with a new one. No thanks. My seal wasn't leaking so I skipped this part.
- Use two screwdrivers to remove the crankshaft sprocket
- Remove the timing belt plate
- Carefully pry the oil seal out (DO NOT SCRATCH THE CRANKSHAFT)
- Apply a thin coat of assembly lube to the new seal inner diameter (the new seal should have some on it from Nissan)
- Install the new seal with the DIY seal installer (shown in the Hayne's manual)
- Replace the timing belt plate
- Apply assembly lube to the crankshaft sprocket and replace
Camshaft oil seal replacement (p.78 of the Haynes manual)
This I did do. It took up a good portion of the total job. Getting the seals out was the biggest challenge but moving all of the necessary items to get to the seals was also time consuming. The left camshaft oil seal was the most difficult to do. I even had to move my aftermarket strut tower brace among other things. Like the water pump and thermostat, I did this a few weeks beforehand so no pictures.
- Remove the camshaft sprocket mounting bolt (it should be loosened already)
- Pull the sprocket closest to the radiator out slighly but do not remove it from the shaft. Note how the sprocket mark aligns with a mark on the rear timing belt cover. You will need to align these marks when you replace the sprockets.
- Remove the camshaft sprockets. Note that one sprocket has an R and one has an L. Make note of which sprocket goes where.
- Remove the REAR timing belt cover (you may want to move a lot more items too)
- Carefully pry the oil seals out (DO NOT SCRATCH THE CAMSHAFT). Wedge a split pry tool (the tool kit calls it a tack puller) between the outer surface and the seal. Bend the seal down (towards the camshaft, not towards you) to dent the metal inner portion. Work enough of an area to be able to pull out the seal. Take your time on this part.
- Install the new seals. Be careful not to push the new seals in too far. You may want to do one at a time so you can see how far they should go in.
- Replace the rear timing belt cover
- Replace the sprockets being sure R is rear and L is front. The marks on the sprockets need to align with the marks on the rear timing belt cover. Hand tighten the bolts.
Timing Belt Installation
- The new timing belt will have three white lines on the outside (smooth) surface. These will correspond to the two white marks on the camshaft sprockets (reportedly some have divots which should be marked with chalk or similar so they're easily seen) and the one mark on the crankshaft sprocket. Unfortunately these white marks do not wrap around the edge of the belt. That's fine for the two camshaft sprockets since they can easily be seen from the top but when the belt is installed on the crankshaft sprocket you can't see that mark. I have a feeling that's what caused my initial problem after the first attempt. This time I transferred the mark from the smooth side and around to the edge of the belt (that the arrow was facing) so that it could be seen with the belt in place. I highly recommend you do the same.
- Install the new timing belt with the arrow facing out and the factory white lines on the belt aligned with the marks on the camshaft and crankshaft sprockets. The white marks on the camshaft sprockets should also align with the marks on the rear timing belt cover (which is not removed). Installing the belt is not easy since it is very wide so you have to ease it on all three sprockets gradually in steps. Take your time and don't expect it to just slip on. I used one of the thicker feeler gauges to act as a shoehorn in order to slip it onto the crankshaft sprocket.
- Keep the tensioner steady with the Allen wrench (5mm I think) and loosen the locking nut (if someone can provide the socket size I will add it to the tutorial)
- Swing the tensioner, using the Allen wrench, 70-80 degrees clockwise and tighten the locking nut. Basically rotate it until it stops. The tensioner spring on the back should be pushing against it. If you don't rotate it enough the spring will be loose. I had to figure out that one for myself.
- Turn the crankshaft clockwise two full rotations to bring the number one cylinder to TDC. Watch for excessive resistance when turning.
- Keep the tensioner steady with the Allen wrench and loosen the locking nut
The following is the Haynes manual procedure for setting the tensioner. I just adjusted it to feel so the belt deflects about a half an inch when pushed or pulled. I pretty much know how tight a belt should be but the following is the official method. I have no idea how you apply 22 pounds of force to the belt. Who has that tool? Not me.
- Place a .0138” feeler gauge adjacent to the tensioner pulley
- Slowly turn the crankshaft clockwise until the feeler gauge is between the tensioner and the timing belt
- Keep the tensioner steady with the Allen wrench and then tighten the locking nut
- Turn the crankshaft to remove the feeler gauge
- Turn the crankshaft clockwise two full rotations to bring the number one cylinder to TDC. Watch for excessive resistance when turning.
- Check the timing belt deflection by applying 22 pounds of force to the timing belt between the rear camshaft sprocket and the tensioner. The belt should deflect 13-14.5 millimeters. Readjust the belt if necessary. Torque the tensioner 32-43 lb-ft
- Torque the camshaft sprocket bolts to 58-65 lb-ft.
- Replace the lower timing belt cover
- Replace the upper timing belt cover
- Install the thermostat housing to upper thermostat assembly hose
- Install the crankshaft pulley and torque to 90-98 lb-ft (I just used the impact wrench again)
- Install the water pump pulley
- Install the idler pulley bracket assembly
- Reinstall and adjust all three drive belts
- Reconnect the radiator hose to the thermostat assembly
- Replace the rotor and distributor cap
- Replace the spark plugs
- Replace/reconnect the spark plug wires
- Reinstall the cruise control servo assembly and coolant reservoir
- Reinstall splash guards under the car
- Replace the wheel and loosely tighten the lug nuts
- Lower the car and remove the wheel chocks
- Reconnect the negative battery terminal
- Remove the air bleed bolt on top of the engine. Refill the coolant until it comes out of the air bleed bolt. Close the air bleed bolt. Start the engine and let it warm up. Move the heater control all the way to hot. Add more coolant as needed. Squeeze the upper radiator hose to work some of the air bubbles out of it. Put the radiator cap back on and drive the car around the block a few times. Bring the car back and shut it down. Open the hood and wait for the engine to cool. After it cools remove the radiator cap and add more coolant as needed.