How to Identify and Measure Synchronous (Timing) Belts

Refer to these handy tips the next time you need to identify and order a synchronous belt.
timing belt

In an ideal situation, you can identify the belt you have by its markings alone. Typically, those are alphanumeric labels that identify the belt's specifications, often describing the most important dimensions critical to properly identify them.

(In another article, we discussed how you can identify a power tranmission V belt.)

For example, in Gates nomenclature, in their PowerGrip range, you’ll see a marking that designates the belt’s pitch length, pitch and tooth profile (the letters), and the width. 

gates powergrip ocde

(Image taken from the Gates Industrial Power Transmission Catalog)

 

Note: 

  • This applies to both single-side and double-sided synchronous belts. 
  • Nomenclature and order may vary by manufacturer. 

You may, however, be in a situation where you don’t have access to that information for many reasons, such as: 

  • The belt is still installed in the pulley and there’s no way you can see the markings. 
  • The belt is already snapped and torn. 
  • The markings are too faded or dirtied to be read. 

In this case, you may have to manually figure out your belt specifications. We hope this article points you in the right direction. 
Here are the 3 key identifiers you need to determine to order the belt: 

1. What is the tooth profile of the belt? 

2. What is the length? 

3. What is the width? 

 

1. What is the tooth profile of the belt? 

This is the most important identifying factor of synchronous belts, so it’s important to get this right. If you get the wrong profile, it may not fit the pulley at all and, if it does, it will wear out very quickly. 

You can tell the profile of the belt by its pitch and shape. You can also measure the thickness as a cross-check. 

timing belt dimensions

Pitch

  • This is the “centre-to-centre" distance between two adjacent teeth. 
  • To get this number, measure the distance between the middle of one tooth, to the middle of the adjacent tooth. 
  • Imperial vs Metric: This is another key factor in finding the type of belt you have, so it’s equally important to get this right. 

Important: When manually measuring the pitch, please make sure to use the metric system (eg. by millimeters), as we often do here in Australia. Otherwise, let us know that you’re giving us the measurement in imperial, so we can help you work out its metric equivalent. 

In this sample reference from the Gates PowerGrip range, you’ll see the pitch is indicated in imperial units (eg. 1/5 inch), as it would be typically written.  

gates sections nominal dimensions

(Image taken from the Gates Industrial Power Transmission Catalog)

 

Here’s another reference from the Gates PowerGrip timing belt range. Note that this range is imperial but, for ease, dimensions are shown in both imperial and metric units. In this illustration, label A is the pitch. 

gates powergrip timing belts

(Image taken from the Gates Industrial Power Transmission Catalog)

 

Aside from the belt, don’t forget to check the pulleys for any markings too. The pulley won’t give you everything you need to order the belt but they often have the pitch/profile printed on them. If so, this will make life a lot easier. It also helps a lot because, occasionally, we find that someone has previously fitted the wrong belt, so checking the pulley is a great way of ensuring you’re getting the right belt.

 

Shape 

  • This is how the angles of the peaks and valleys in between the teeth look like, as well as the shape of the tooth. Some belts have rounded teeth, whilst others are quite ‘square’ or trapezoidal. Some people refer to this as the tooth form. 
  • Metric belts usually have rounded teeth, while imperial belts have trapezoidal ones, but keep in mind that is not always the case.  
  • If you’re having trouble and need our help identifying the belt, we won’t need the exact angle of the shape, but as always, it will be helpful if you can send a photo of the actual belt that needs replacing, as well as the pitch as accurately measured as possible.

 

Thickness 

  • Aside from the shape, this value will help us get a better understanding of the belt you have. Although it’s more challenging to get this exactly right considering the wear on the belt. 

Warning: 

  • Don’t be confused by the T and AT profiles (eg T10 & AT10). As you can see in the illustration below, the Ts are more trapezoidal, while the ATs are more rounded. Both, of course, have the same Pitch (eg. 10mm) but the shape is very different. If in doubt, send us a photo of the actual belt and we’ll help you figure it out.

gates t vs at

(Image taken from the Gates Industrial Power Transmission Catalog)

  

2. What is the length? 

Sometimes also referred to as pitch length, this is the total (circumferential) length of the belt, as measured along the pitch line. Put simply, this is the pitch (see #1) multiplied by the number of teeth the belt has. 

timing belt tooth count

For example, if your belt has a pitch of 10 mm and 32 teeth, then your pitch length is 320 mm. 

Tip: 

  • Mark the tooth where you are going to start counting, and count carefully from there. 
  • Some even make subtle marks for every 10th tooth, so it’s easy to go back (and verify) in case you lose count. 
  • If possible, get someone else to count as well and then cross-check. We do that with every belt to avoid errors. If you don’t have someone else to check it, then count it yourself 2 or 3 times to ensure you have it right. 

Special case for imperial belts: 

  • Imperial belt pitch lengths are marked in imperial by 1/100 or 1/10 of an inch (in decimal inches). Naturally larger belts are measured in 1/10 and smaller in 1/100. Here is an example from Gates: 

gates powergrip mxl pitch length

That means it’s 2.88 inches long and it’s listed this way in the table where you’ll see its metric equivalent of 73.15 mm: 

gates powergrip mxl metric

 

3. What is the width? 

Measuring this is pretty much straightforward. Just bear in mind that the belt may be a little worn. 

timing belt width

(Timing belt 3D view illustration courtesy of Pfifer)

Special case for imperial belts: 

  • Imperial belt widths are identified in decimal inches, as in the previous example by Gates: 

gates powergrip mxl width

In this example, the belt width is 0.19 inches. Furthermore, if it were 050, then that would be 0.50 inches. Or 0.75 inches. 100 would be 1 inch and so on. 

 

Other factors to consider

In addition to those three questions, we may occasionally need to confirm the following: 

  • What’s the application? Even when two belts are dimensionally the same, one may be stronger than another and therefore designed to withstand heavier loads (eg. for systems with forced induction mechanisms such as superchargers). 
  • Are you sure it’s not a cogged V belt? Cogged V belts look like they have teeth, but they go into a pulley with no teeth. Occasionally, people mistake these for timing (synchronous) belts as they have “teeth”. Again, if the pulleys have no teeth, then it isn’t a timing belt. It is then typically a cogged V belt or, occasionally, a Variable Speed belt. 
  • What is the belt made of? Most are made of rubber, while some are made of aramid, neoprene, carbon fibre, polycarbonate or polyurethane. Some are strong enough they can replace chains, provided they can fit in the proper (or appropriately converted) sprockets. 

For more information, you can refer to these catalogues by Gates: 

 

Conclusion

  1. Measure your belt pitch. From there, identify your tooth profile. 
  2. Measure your belt length by counting the number of teeth and multiplying it by the pitch. 
  3. Measure your belt width. 

In addition, it’s best if you can identify: 

  • The intended application 
  • The material of the belt 

If in doubt, just reach out to us and we’ll help you figure it out. It would be helpful if you can include pictures of the actual belt you want to replace and any measurements you’ve taken.