Gear or chain systems can also be used to connect the crankshaft to the camshaft at the correct timing. However gears and shafts constrain the relative location of the crankshaft and camshafts. Even where the crankshaft and camshaft(s) are very close together, as in pushrod engines, most engine designers use a short chain drive rather than a direct gear drive. This is because gear drives suffer from frequent torque reversal as the cam profiles "kick back" against the drive from the crank, leading to excessive noise and wear. Fiber gears, with more resilience, are preferred to steel gears where direct drive has to be used. A belt or chain allows much more flexibility in the relative locations of the crankshaft and camshafts. Camshaft drives, whether gears, belts or chains are also able to even out wear, since the chain or belt can be made such that the number of teeth on the belt is coprime to the number of teeth on the crankshaft and camshaft sprockets, thus ensuring that each tooth on sprocket does not end up on the same tooth on the belt repeatedly.
While chains and gears may be more durable, rubber belts are quieter in their operation (in most modern engines the noise difference is negligible), are less expensive and are mechanically more efficient, by dint of being considerably lighter, when compared with a gear or chain system. Also, timing belts do not require lubrication, which is essential with a timing chain or gears. A timing belt is a specific application of a synchronous belt used to transmit rotational power synchronously.
Timing belts are typically inaccessible and difficult to inspect. Engine manufacturers recommend replacement at specific intervals.  The manufacturer may also recommend the replacement of other parts, such as the water pump, when the timing belt is replaced because the additional cost to replace the water pump is negligible compared to the cost of accessing the timing belt. For engines whose valves extend into the path of the piston, failure of the timing belt (or timing chain) invariably results in costly and, in some cases, irreparable engine damage, as some valves will be held open when they should not be and thus will be struck by the pistons.
Some indicators that the timing chain may need to be replaced include: reduced engine power and poor economy, intermittent back-fire, as well as a rattling noise from the front of the engine.