Head gasket--necessary to remove timing belt?

I’m putting a new head gasket in my '98 Contour, and am at the stage where I have the valve cover off, and am about to remove the cams.

The Haynes manual calls for the timing belt to be removed. Since the belt is new (< 10k mi), I was going to re-use, and wanted to know if it could be left alone: either by leaving it on the sprockets, or if the sprockets must be removed, keeping it under tension by hanging it from the hood.

It seems like leaving the belt alone would result in one less thing to mess up on re-assembly. I’ve noticed Haynes frequently suggests I dissasemble far more stuff than is absolutely necessary to get the job done, IMO.

If you leave the belt installed on the sprokets, you run the risk of having the marks not line up on reinstallation. You could tie the belt to the cam sprokets with more than one zip tie to be safe, but how can you be sure it will stay put on the crankshaft sproket? You’ll still have to remove the timing cover to check the marks. And then there’s the tensioner to contend with on reinstalation. I think I’d trust Haynes.

Have You Ever Chamged Your Socks Without Removing Your Shoes First ?
While I’m sure somebody could figure out how to do it, that could take longer than doing it the right way and have disasterous unintended consequences.

I’d remove the belt after marking the direction of travel on the belt. Carefully follow installation proecdures when you’re ready to put it back.


How can you remove the cams without taking the belt off?

You just unscrew the bolts and watch the tensioner displace the first sproket. Easy as pie.

Before you continue, turn the engine to TDC on #1 cylinder. You can determine this by going to the timing belt section and looking at the diagram that shows the sprocket alignment when you install a new belt. You want to match that diagram.

Now you can loosen the tensioner and slip the timing belt off the cam sprockets. You can leave the belt in place for the rest of the job. When you reassemble, align the cam sprockets, put the belt in place, release the tensioner so that it tensions the belt and double check the cam sprocket alignment. If all is good, tighten down the tensioner and you should be good to go.