Home » If Your Car Has A Timing Belt, It’s Not Really ‘Reliable’

If Your Car Has A Timing Belt, It’s Not Really ‘Reliable’

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The legendary Toyota Land Cruiser, the unstoppable XV20 Toyota Camry, generations of Honda Accords, the smooth and trusty Lexus LS — these are often mistakenly considered some of the most reliable cars of all time. I say “mistakenly,” because all of these vehicles are expected to grenade themselves after ~100,000 miles unless you tear their engine apart and spend four figures on a major repair job. That major repair job is replacing a timing belt, a part whose presence — in my opinion — disqualifies any vehicle from being considered truly “reliable.” Here’s why.

I realize this is a smoking hot take that might send Land Cruiser and Honda fans fuming, but it’s actually quite straightforward; it’s time for those of us hypnotized by factory maintenance guidelines to snap out of it. A timing belt does not fall under “regular maintenance” any more than a head gasket swap does (on a pushrod motor). It’s a major job, it’s not cheap, and it should be considered a substantial repair. Because the manufacturer decided to include an unnecessary consumable in the bowels of the engine, a 100 Series Land Cruiser or Camry or Accord has to go into the shop for a $1,300 repair after only seven years on the road; nothing about that is “reliable” (unless we take the word literally — in which case you can reliably expect to lose lots of money every 100,000 or so miles).

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Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s take a step back and talk about what prompted an even spicier edition of David’s Takes (my op-ed that runs every Sunday) than last week’s “It’s Time To Stop Hating On Fancy Pickup Trucks.” A few years ago, I was the proud owner of a 2001 Lexus LX470 — the Lexus version of the 100 Series Toyota Land Cruiser. The vehicle is, almost universally, considered to be one of the most reliable SUVs of all time. You’ll see it on safaris in Africa, on 15,000-mile overlanding trips through South America, and bouncing all over the Pacific Northwest and on Rocky Mountain trails; the 100 Series Land Cruiser is rough-and-tumble, and the vast majority of its reputation has been built on its longevity.

The Unstoppable Land Cruiser Is Stoppable. Every 90,000 Miles

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My 2001 (shown above) had 265,000 miles on it and ran beautifully. It towed my Jeep Forward Control across the country while keeping the Lexus’ cabin almost perfectly silent; the LX was really a no-bullshit SUV for me, and I enjoyed driving it.

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But as I wrote more and more stories about my adventures in that vehicle and read comments from Toyota fans stating how unstoppable that 4.7-liter V8 is, I decided to do a bit more research into the smoothest V8 engine I’d ever heard, and that’s when I spotted this in the Scheduled Maintenance Guide:

Replace Belt Schedule

 

This changed my whole perception of the motor.

This engine, known to be one of the most reliable of all time, has to have its timing belt changed every 90,000 miles. Since the average American drives around 13,000 miles per year, that means the belt has to be swapped every seven years. That’d be like buying a 2017 car today with 90,000 on it, and then the engine blowing up. Would anyone call that a reliable engine? No.

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But that’s what could happen if you forewent that timing belt job.

For those of you who don’t know, a timing belt is what connects the rotation of the crankshaft — which dictates the position of the pistons in their cylinders — to the camshafts, which dictate the positions of the intake/exhaust valves for each cylinder. It’s extremely important that the timing of the valves relative to each piston’s position in its stroke is precisely managed.

With a cylinder’s exhaust valves shut, the intake valves have to open as the piston goes down to suck in air; intake valves have to close as the piston moves back up to compress that air charge; both sets of valves have to remain shut as the piston is shot down during its combustion stroke; and then the exhaust valves have to open as the piston rises to expel its exhaust, ultimately out of the tailpipe.

If the valve timing — which is set by the timing belt spanning the sprockets at the ends of the crankshaft and camshafts — is altered, and, say, the intake valves are open when the piston rises up during its exhaust or compression stroke, the piston can hit the valves and destroy them. This could require a major engine repair. This happened to my colleague Jason.

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It’s Too Risky To Skip 90,000 Mile ‘Service.’ But It’s Not An Easy Job

Jason owns a VW Tiguan 2.0T; when the car was 10 years old with 120,000 miles on the clock, its engine blew up (the pistons hit the valves and bent them) because the timing chain failed (see video above). Google “VW Tiguan timing chain failures” and you’ll see that this is a rampant problem that has, in many people’s eyes, ruined the first-gen Tiguan’s reputation. Meanwhile, the Toyota Land Cruiser and my old 1995 Honda Accord and various Toyota Camrys behave in exactly the same way; after 10 years or 120,000 miles, their timing systems can fail (their belts snap), and the interference engines can grenade themselves. And yet, these vehicles have a great reputation while the Tiguan doesn’t. Why? Simply because Toyota/Honda writes in their manual that the timing belt is a maintenance item? So all VW had to do it write in its service manual: “Replace timing chain at 90,000” miles and the Tiguan’s rep would have been saved?

Does this mean that all GM had to put in the Saturn Vue’s service manual was “replace JATCO continuously variable transmission at 120,000 miles” and the car would have a sterling reputation? All Subaru had to write in its service manuals is “replace head gaskets at 90,000 miles” and it’d change the way people see Subarus?

On some level, the answer is “yes,” because knowing when things are about to fail is pretty darn valuable. These cars with timing belts tell you: “Your engine is about to fail. Take it in to have the engine serviced,” and that’s useful. Having a transmission or head gasket or timing chain fail suddenly and unpredictably makes driving a car miserable. I’m also being a little facetious, because swapping a transmission, timing chain, and even a head gasket is typically harder than changing a timing belt, but still! It’s not like changing a timing belt is easy; it’s a job! (One that I’ve done too many times).

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On the Land Cruiser — which is among the easier vehicles on which to swap out a timing chain, as it has a longitudinal engine layout —  you’ve got to drain the cooling system, remove the radiator, take apart the accessory drive, undo the crankshaft pulley (which usually requires a HUGE breaker bar), and on and on. Some novice wrenchers say the job takes them 10 hours, though some who have done it before seem to be able to do it in half that time. Either way, it’s rough.

‘You’ve Got To Be Kidding Me’

Check out the video above and listen to this quote by YouTuber “The Car Wizard.” In the background is a relatively new Honda that needs a timing belt. The Car Wizard discusses a typical interaction with an owner who has to have this “service” done:

“So [customers] call up and say ‘How much is it gonna cost to do my timing belt service?’ And I look it up and figure it all up and I say ‘It’s gonna be $1300.’ And I hear the phone hit the ground. And they pick it back up and they’re like: ‘You’ve got to be kidding me!'”

That owner’s response makes perfect sense. Here’s this car known for its reliability, and it has to have a $1,300 engine service done every seven years. Meanwhile, many cars with timing chains have to do nothing. Zero. Nada. Timing chains and their guides/tensioners — if properly designed (Jason’s Tiguan proved that not all of them are) — are meant to last the entire life of the vehicle. In the case of a pushrod engine, they pretty much never fail, and engines with timing gears? Even better.

Well-Designed Timing Chains Never Have To Be Replaced

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So coming back to my Land Cruiser — it has a great, buttery-smooth and torquey engine, and I love how it makes oil changes and other basic maintenance easy. But the reality is that, by the time I got rid of the vehicle, its engine was due for its third timing belt replacement. That’s three times $1,300 — almost $4,000 to do something that, in my view, you should never have to do in the first place.

Why would I ever consider an engine reliable when it needed $4,000 in repairs done to it to get to 270,000 miles? My Grand Cherokee above, which had similar mileage, almost certainly never needed a new timing chain. Granted, it wasn’t an overhead cam design (meaning the cam and crankshaft are quite close, so the chain is tiny), but the point is, if an engine requires a new timing belt every seven years, then I’m just never going to consider it reliable. I could have bought an entirely new engine for my Jeep and still come out ahead over the Land Cruiser 4.7-liter V8’s timing belt jobs.

In my view, a reliable engine is one that’ll do 250,000 miles with basic maintenance. A good example is the Mazda MZR 2.5, also called the Ford Duratec 2.5; it’s a four-cylinder with a timing chain, and because it’s so well designed, the engine requires only basic maintenance. Basic. That means oil changes, maybe some new things on the accessory drive like the alternator or water pump, some filters here and there, new plugs, maybe a few ignition coils, and that’s about it. These are all relatively cheap and easy things to swap. A timing belt is not.

Compare a Honda F22B, which requires a pricy timing belt swap every 7 years to a Mazda MZR 2.5, which requires oil and filter changes, and you’ll understand why I consider the latter the truly reliable motor.

To Be Sure…

To be sure, timing belts can last longer than 90,000 miles (though some are expected to be changed at 60,000 miles). Heck, some have had them last 150,000 miles or more. But the reality is that the risk of blowing up the engine is too high, and this leads most folks to follow roughly the recommended service schedule. It’s also worth noting that Toyota Land Cruisers are known to survive timing belt failures, so even if you were to try to stretch that change out to 150,000 miles, there’s a chance that if the belt snaps, the engine will be fine. (Still, in general, timing belt failures in interference engines can often lead to bent valves or damaged pistons; it’s not worth risking it).

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It’s also worth mentioning that, while The Car Wizard’s $1,300 quote does line up with typical timing belt jobs you see posted to the web (especially recently, as labor rates have skyrocketed in the past few years), historically it’s been possible to do a timing belt at an independent shop for $600 to $700.

It’s also worth mentioning that some timing belts are easier to change than others. But I’ve done the job a few times, and it’s never been remotely fun. It’s easier to swap a head gasket on my Jeep 4.0.

Anyway, there’s a reason why timing belts are pretty much gone from modern engines. Expecting such an intensive and expensive service every seven or so years is just ridiculous. The weight/noise/cost reduction just isn’t worth it. As you can see in this table, Toyota has moved on from the clearly inferior technology:

I try to avoid engines with timing belts. In my eyes, they’re just not worth the worry, especially if it’s not clear when the latest belt-change was done. This isn’t a concern for a well-designed timing-chain engine.

Image credits: Toyota, Genems Systems via YouTube screenshot

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Baron Usurper
Baron Usurper
3 months ago
Reply to  David Tracy

I’m loving these articles DT! (serious)

J Money
J Money
3 months ago
Reply to  David Tracy

It’s so weird how mad everyone gets (I know, this is the whole point of comments/replies on the internet) when they hear an opinion that is different from their own. And in this case, it’s backed up by facts….you can love your timing belt time bombs, people — but the fact remains that they’re time bombs.

Bjorn A. Payne Diaz
Bjorn A. Payne Diaz
3 months ago
Reply to  J Money

The problem is his opinion is in theory. Most of the replies, mine included, are in practice. In practice the opinion is chains suck because of poor implementation. He can certainly have it, but it’s kind of like saying I’d be cute if I wasn’t so fucking fat.

Bjorn A. Payne Diaz
Bjorn A. Payne Diaz
3 months ago
Reply to  David Tracy

I know. I shouldn’t have said it that way. Apologies. All else Chains are better than belts yes. Modern implementation of chains I don’t like as the OEMs are cheap and belts are cheap enough to make them good and chains are pricey and lead to cost cutting and failure.

That said, I find it interesting that although they don’t have nearly the market share as chains, belt driven bicycles are far more reliable even in single speed form than chain driven bicycles. Now, a difference is you need a special frame (or to cut yours!) to use a belt drive on a bicycle.

Bizness Comma Nunya
Bizness Comma Nunya
3 months ago
Reply to  David Tracy

David, I feel like it’s not really the issue of the points you make in the article, but more of the issue of using the word “unreliable” in comparison to timing belts, and then using images of a Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, and 100 series Land Cruiser/LX. Three vehicles known for their reliability, unless you skip the timing belt service interval, and/or cheap out on parts (i.e. not paying for a new tensioner(s)… that’s the owners, and maybe the technicians fault.

Doing a timing belt service isn’t fun, some are really easy (i.e. Ford Pinto Motors in Rangers) some look to be a fucking nightmare (Ferrari 360 Modena).

However, timing belt service IS part of routine maintenance. If you don’t want to buy a car with a timing belt, that’s understandable. But I feel like you should respect reliable cars that did use belts as, what they are…reliable cars. Much like the cheap Sienna you purchased that made it to >230k miles on a timing belt system, maybe it was even the original belt? Probably not though…

Side-note: go ahead and search the internet for what owners are saying about their timing chains (and associated hardware) needing replacement on Ford 3.5/3.7Ls (ecoboost or not), GM 3.6Ls, VW/Audi I4’s/V6’s/V8’s, various BMW motors, JLR V8/V6 post-2009, etc…

MOPAR switched from a belt drive SOHC to a chain drive DOHC arrangement going from the 3.2/3.5L to the 2.7L…. and we all know the 2.7L is garbage vs. it’s close relatives.

Why am I so adamant (borderline being a turd) about this issue? If you were a dealer tech (or independent) who got paid to work on enough OHC motors with timing chain issues, and stupid timing chain designs, I promise you, you would understand my position better.

I hope you feel that you aren’t being attacked, because that’s not cool. And at the end of the day, it’s all just opinions, and a matter of preference.

david kenney II
david kenney II
3 months ago

I agree with you and have done the chain replacements on some of these vehicles. unfortunately there may be an audi 4.2 chain service in my future, (customers car, not mine).

Bizness Comma Nunya
Bizness Comma Nunya
3 months ago

Yikes…sorry to hear that. Unless it pays good flat-rate and you’ve done it before so you know how to do it quicker?

Would you rather have to do the timing belt service on an older Audi 4.2 V8?

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
3 months ago
Reply to  David Tracy

Good story DT. Thanks. Learned my lesson about 35 years ago. No more timing bels ever. Never had a big issue, but I refuse to buy another car with a timing belt.
Thanks again.

MP81
MP81
3 months ago
Reply to  David Tracy

Tell that to Audi S4 owners with timing chains on the back of the engine, against the firewall that definitely requires service.

Ok_Im_here
Ok_Im_here
3 months ago
Reply to  David Tracy

As a Honda Odyssey owner, I’ve been waiting for someone to say this. I love this minivan, but this is the thing I literally have to bank money for. And I know a few people who have said “we had all kinds of serious engine problems with ours” and the first question out of my mouth is, “did you do the schedule timing belt and transmission fluid changes?” Honda’s are particularly finicky about both. I swear the only reason why the timing belt is there is because Honda makes money on it.

Anonymous Person
Anonymous Person
3 months ago
Reply to  David Tracy

We just bought the new 2024 Trax LS with the 1.2L Turbo 3-cyl. The owner’s manual says to change the timing belt and oil pump at 150,000 miles. Of course, you never have to touch the transmission fluid (6-speed auto) for the life of the car (transmission) unless it’s used in a “severe duty” application.
Our local stealership included the “Warranty Forever™ program in the MSRP of the vehicle. As long as I bring it to the stealership (or any certified service center if I call a toll-free number and let them know first) for all scheduled maintenance and promise to never personally do any oil changes or scheduled service on the vehicle, they will, in turn, cover the entire powertrain from the turbocharger all the way to the front wheel bearings for the life of the vehicle or until the cost of the repair exceeds the NADA book value of the vehicle.
I’m skeptical, but does this make it more “reliable”?

Jj
Jj
3 months ago

David hates replacing anything earlier than thirty years past its useful service life.

Jj
Jj
3 months ago

$1300 doesn’t even cover a 2 axle brake job at Midas these days – something that will be required before the timing belt hits the end of its service life.

If you own a Subaru, just replace the timing belt every other time you replace all your wheel bearings

Pappa P
Pappa P
3 months ago
Reply to  Jj

Was just about to do a timing belt service on my STi.
It spun a bearing before I had the chance.

Jj
Jj
3 months ago
Reply to  Pappa P

At least it had the courtesy to let go without wasting your time.

Pappa P
Pappa P
3 months ago
Reply to  Jj

True
#Grateful

Matti Sillanpää
Matti Sillanpää
3 months ago

Quite hard disagree. Belt is most often possible to check visually. It’s more DIY:ble than chains and not suspectible to bad oil or extended intervals (unlike chains, which these days are just ticking timebombs).

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
3 months ago

> My Grand Cherokee above, which had similar mileage, almost certainly never needed a new timing chain.

But it probably needed everything else.

Planetelex
Planetelex
3 months ago

My VQ40 with its plastic chain guides says hi

Widgetsltd
Widgetsltd
3 months ago

Would you believe that the timing belt on the 1.4L Multiair engine (Fiat 500, Abarth, etc) is specified for replacement at 150,000 miles or 15 years? I discovered when fixing my Abarth’s burned exhaust valve that a new Gates timing belt (made in the UK) is $17.66 at Rockauto. That, plus a new $50 water pump while I was in there, plus a $50 timing setting tool kit and the timing belt was handled.

Jj
Jj
3 months ago
Reply to  Widgetsltd

Maybe they don’t expect any of those engines to actually survive to that service interval.

Sarah Blikre
Sarah Blikre
3 months ago

For most cars I think I would disagree but then I thought of the Chevy Aveo which has a 40,000 mile timing belt change interval, and you better do it or your engine will violently decommission itself. I was looking at one for sale and was told it was on its 4th engine at 200k.

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
3 months ago
Reply to  Sarah Blikre

It’s pretty incredible that an Aveo made it to 200k, and that some people decided to replace the engine three times.

Jj
Jj
3 months ago

The 3rd and 4th engines were Predators.

Man With A Reliable Jeep
Man With A Reliable Jeep
3 months ago
Reply to  Jj

Underrated comment.

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
3 months ago

My friend here missed a reference. I don’t want to explain it and make him feel dumb, so maybe you could explain?

Jj
Jj
3 months ago

Predator is the brand name of the lawnmower engines they sell at Harbor Freight.

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
3 months ago
Reply to  Jj

Bahahaahhaha

Taxi maniac
Taxi maniac
3 months ago
Reply to  Sarah Blikre

This is the best comment I ever read on this site.

I just learned a company made a car with a 40k timing belt….(you can get tires rated at 100k)

Someone would put 4 engines in an aveo

They must be more fun to drive then I ever imagined!

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
3 months ago
Reply to  Taxi maniac

They’re actually pretty neat little machines.

Mark Tucker
Mark Tucker
3 months ago
Reply to  Taxi maniac

70s Fiats had 25-30k intervals. Ignore it, and they’d snap at 40k. And yes, they were interference engines.

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
3 months ago
Reply to  Sarah Blikre

What did you end up getting? A different Aveo?

Sarah Blikre
Sarah Blikre
3 months ago

I said hell no even at $800 and bought an 05 Focus.

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
3 months ago
Reply to  Sarah Blikre

Hahaha good move.

Eslader
Eslader
3 months ago

I avoid T-belt engines these days too, mainly because it’s easier since more of them are coming with chains again.

But saying they’re not reliable is a little overblown. My ’93 MR2 has a timing belt, but it also has a non-interference engine which means I didn’t bother changing it at anywhere near 100k. It had 180k on it when I finally changed it, and only because the main seal was leaking and it made sense to change it as long as I was in there anyway. It was pretty ragged out, but I’d probably have gotten another 10 or 20k out of it.

On the ’07 Acura TL I had, the T-belt job was expensive but the only other repairs I had to do was a power steering inlet o-ring for less than a dollar, and an axle change when the Minnesota winters finally ate through it at the balancer enough for it to snap one day.

I owned that car for 10 years and put less than $2,000 into it other than oil changes and tires. Even with the timing belt maintenance, that thing was cheap to run.

And since a full set of decent tires also costs 4 figures these days, and you have to do them considerably more often than a T-belt, I don’t think T-belts are all that bad from a cost perspective anyway.

Frankencamry
Frankencamry
3 months ago

Since we’re talking about maintenance relative to what it costs at a reputable shop, this take only works if the timing belt maintenance is outlandish compared to other systems.

I’m not a Landcruiser owner, but I’ll hazard a guess that over the course of 250K or 500K miles, the timing belt replacements won’t cost more than 1) oil changes & air filters, 2) tires, 3) brake work or 4) suspension and alignment work.

That’s probably true for any vehicle covered by this hot take.

Incidentally, is every Sunday post going to be a hot take for the sake of hot takes? Getting away from takes that were hot first and thought out second was one of the things I enjoyed about the Autopian vs the old site.

Jj
Jj
3 months ago
Reply to  Frankencamry

These are the timing belt replacements our readers enjoyed the least.

Camp Fire
Camp Fire
3 months ago
Reply to  Jj

No! NO! NOOOOOOOOO!

I’m never going back to that.

And I continue paying my membership dues to help ensure I never need to.

Last edited 3 months ago by Camp Fire
Taxi maniac
Taxi maniac
3 months ago
Reply to  Frankencamry

You forgot to mention the fuel bill!

Rust Buckets
Rust Buckets
3 months ago

Really hard disagree. Bad take David.

My biggest issue is your assertion that a timing belt motor will grenade itself every ~100k miles if you don’t replace the timing belt, and that just isn’t true. A timing belt will generally last 150-200k+ miles without giving out. 100k miles is not the lifespan of the belt, it’s the time before there is any shadow of a doubt about the belt’s integrity. Even then it’s probably abundantly cautious, because manufacturers have a reputation to uphold and speccing a shorter interval doesn’t directly cost them anything.

“That’d be like buying a 2017 car today with 90,000 on it, and then the engine blowing up.”
There is roughly a 0% chance of the timing belt giving and the engine blowing up at 90k miles. Because if there was any chance whatsoever of that happening, the manufacturer would spec shorter than 90k miles so that this never ever happens to a customer following the factory service schedule.

You know what else routinely gives out at 150k-200k miles? Alternators. Manufacturers could recommend alternator replacements every 100k miles, and that’s probably the only way that they could guarantee that you will never have an alternator failure. But since alternator failures aren’t that big a problem(comparatively), they don’t.

Preventative timing belt replacement is just that: preventative parts replacement.

And if timing belts last up to 200k ish miles on the long end, then there is significant overlap between the normal lifespan of even well designed timing chains and belts. Making the whole belts vs chains argument kinda less black and white. And, as others have pointed out and as you mentioned, you’re lucky if you make 200k miles on some stupidly designed timing chain systems.

Im not saying that people SHOULD gamble and not change timing belts, but that they probably could, and still get a good healthy lifespan out of the engine.

Rust Buckets
Rust Buckets
3 months ago
Reply to  Rust Buckets

And I can understand the weight and noise advantages of a belt vs a chain for OHC engines. That’s how it used to be: all pushrod engines used a chain/gears and all overhead cam engines used belts. So that’s a very real reason for manufacturers to use belts.

Marathag
Marathag
3 months ago
Reply to  Rust Buckets

<cough> Ford 427SOHC.
One huge chain

Rust Buckets
Rust Buckets
3 months ago
Reply to  Marathag

I should have added a “mostly” cuz there’s always exceptions.

The OHC 427s were never production street engines, right?

Hondaimpbmw 12
Hondaimpbmw 12
3 months ago
Reply to  Marathag

Yeah, but the timing on the 2nd cam was several degrees retarded compared to the 1st one.

Taxi maniac
Taxi maniac
3 months ago
Reply to  Rust Buckets

My subaru timing belt blew out at 80k after the first one was changed at dealer according to subaru dealer at 100k.

I was so Hella bummed.

I know a lot of peeps that had subarus that blew belts. Seemed pretty common on those 2000 to 2009 outbacks

I did take a highlander to 420k on the likely original belt. I bought that car with 157k

Rust Buckets
Rust Buckets
3 months ago
Reply to  Taxi maniac

So likely 420k on the belt, but definitely at least 320k on the belt? That’s very impressive.

Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Phantom Pedal Syndrome
3 months ago

Chains hold us down.
Belts hold our pants up.
That’s all I have to say on the subject.
What are we talking about?

Slower Louder
Slower Louder
3 months ago

That is beautiful.

Beached Wail
Beached Wail
3 months ago

Belts hold our pants up
What are we talking about
I fixed your Haiku

Jay Maynard
Jay Maynard
3 months ago

Sorry, David. You’re full of prunes on this one. Three examples prove my point:
1) A 2001 Lexus RX300. 3.0L V6, timing belt. I had it done at my local independent shop. Easy peasy, was about $600.
2) A 2000 Subaru Outback Limited. The timing belt was never done, as far as I or the service tech at the Subaru dealer could tell, in its 192,000 miles. I still have it. It had cracks between every tooth…but it held together.
3) The Mercedes M117 V8 engine, in 450/500/560-series cars from 1972 to 1990. Timing chain. Tensioner is known to get weak and lose the spring pressure that holds tension until oil pressure comes up after about 10 years. The nylon guides get old and brittle. Tensioner gets too loose, chain slaps the guides on startup before the oil refills the tensioner, guide breaks, falls between the chain and the crank sprocket, one dead engine. My 1987 560SL almost fell victim to that failure, and was down for three years because, while I caught it before the broken guide caused a problem, the two washers I dropped down the channel would have done just as well. If you buy an M117-equipped car and don’t check the guides to see that they’re white or light tan instead of dark brown, you’re rolling the dice every time you crank the engine.

So no, timing belts are not inherently evil or unreliable as long as you keep the maintenance up, like you do on every other belt on the engine.

Last edited 3 months ago by Jay Maynard
Rubbit
Rubbit
3 months ago
Reply to  Jay Maynard

I did my 2000 Honda Odyssey @ 160k and it looked cherry. Now I’m looking at doing an 03 Accord at 190k, which may hit 200k by summer when I plan to do the work. My cost is about $250.00.

However, I had a belt fail on a 2.3l Turbo Ford at about 220k…the difference is how much heat the engine compartment is in. The Turbo puts way more stress on engine components.

Last edited 3 months ago by Rubbit
Rust Buckets
Rust Buckets
3 months ago
Reply to  Rubbit

Hey, this is what I was saying about timing belt life. Good to hear more actual evidence and know that I’m not actually crazy.

Jj
Jj
3 months ago
Reply to  Jay Maynard

I’m pretty sure In had to address timing chain issues on both the KA20DE and SR20DET in my S13. The chains were intact, but guides a,d tensioners were the issue.

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
3 months ago
Reply to  Jay Maynard

Reminds me I should check the guides in my ’88 R107. IIRC they changed the tensioner and guide material for MY 1988, but one can never be too careful.

Jay Maynard
Jay Maynard
3 months ago

AFAIK, all M117s except the very earliest had the same nylon guides that get brittle and break. If you start it and hear the chain rattle till oil pressure comes up – known as the rattle of death – you need to park the car till they get changed.

Echo Stellar
Echo Stellar
3 months ago

Anyone who watches I Do Cars on YouTube knows that accessing the timing belt on these engines is actually fairly “easy” compared to many engine repairs. Placing said timing belt in oil, like Ford and others have demonically done? That is unreliable and evil.
It does all seem to come down to predictability and how often the vehicle doesn’t leave you stranded, or frustrated, compared to others.

Rubbit
Rubbit
3 months ago
Reply to  Echo Stellar

The biggest killer is lack of oil changes which I’ve never neglected and can easily show by the high mileage in my vehicles.

Matti Sillanpää
Matti Sillanpää
3 months ago
Reply to  Rubbit

Kinda related, I’m pro belt, but in our city (Oulu) we’ve got interesting problem.

Slag from mine was used in making of tarmac. For years there was mystical much-much-faster-than-standard belt wearing issue that caused problems cross different manufacturers. Then finally they noticed some powdery substance in most of then in lab analysis. It was found to be slag. Apparently even in powder form it’s got super aggressive grinding charasteristic, so it pretty much chews through belts in half time. To counter possible problems, belts are visually inspected in every service .

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
3 months ago

Wow, that’s crazy! I can only imagine what it was like before someone analyzed that powder. “What the hell: is this place cursed?”

Wilson Hoyer
Wilson Hoyer
3 months ago

I have the tools to change many timing belts. For walnut blasting a direct-injection head I don’t. I’m glad timing belts are disappearing, but I feel the trend towards expensive major maintenance jobs is here to stay.

Hondaimpbmw 12
Hondaimpbmw 12
3 months ago
Reply to  Wilson Hoyer

TBH, IF you have a compressor, a blaster tank is $70-$80 and the port vacuum device is another $50-100. It’s still a pain in the rear.

Geo Metro Mike
Geo Metro Mike
3 months ago

Unkillable, sure. But unreliable? Timing belt replacement intervals improve engine reliability. While your digging around other service can be performed. Accessory belts, water pump, coolant flush, hoses, oil seals, valve adjustment, gaskets, etc. And it helps identify other issues like loose shift linkage, worn motor mounts, exhaust corrosion. Problems that could pop up 800 miles from home are now getting attention beforehand.

Sure it’s a pain but it gives the owner confidence to make that trip to work or family… reliably.

As for high prices, you got to shop around. I used to be an apartment dweller where the lease stated “no oil changes in the parking lot” so timing belt service was out of the question. While mainstream shops were quoting close to $900 for my civic, I came across a shop that specialized in Honda/Toyota timing belts that did it for $258.

Echo Stellar
Echo Stellar
3 months ago
Reply to  Geo Metro Mike

Great point about belts adding built-in checkpoints for many other critical components.

The Dude
The Dude
3 months ago
Reply to  Geo Metro Mike

I paid about $1.3k to have my timing belt replaced on my Toyota 3mz-fe engine from ’06 with about 120k miles. I pretty much had to assume that any car I was purchasing last year of that vintage would require the timing belt, and the cost a likely reason as to why the car is up for sale. In my car’s case, I’m pretty sure I still had the same belt from the factory.

Anyway, I was surprised at how much smoother and quieter the engine ran after the timing belt change. I had all the typical work (water pump, accessory belt, etc.) replaced and it did clear up an issue where I think the A/C compressor sometimes wouldn’t work right due to the old age of the accessory belt.

Doug Kretzmann
Doug Kretzmann
3 months ago
Reply to  Geo Metro Mike

Geo Metro is a special case.. The timing belt was $30, took me 90min to replace it, time includes 15min for finding my metric wrenches.
If the replacement was straightforward then timing belts were no crime.

But, most belts are in transverse-mounted or boxer engines, and the replacement is a couple of days work for the average home mechanic, with special tools required. The dealer price of $1100-1500 is fair honestly for that work.

Geo Metro Mike
Geo Metro Mike
3 months ago
Reply to  Doug Kretzmann

Regardless of the complexities involved in the repair, the argument, although straying from the point David was making, was the mechanic has an opportunity to replace and inspect other parts of an engine to ensure reliability.

Just did timing belt service on a Dodge Neon Friday and now it not only has the usual components replaced but also hoses, thermostat, that stupid plastic housing, 2 other belts & an idler pulley. Also inspected the motor mounts since they had to be removed, and I found a wiring harness that came loose and was loosing its protective cover. Now it will continue to operate reliably because I had the chance to dig around in there due to the service interval.

Of course this doesn’t work if it’s a hack job. 20 years ago a friend of a friend had me do a timing belt on a civic. When I was finishing up the cranky guy down the street stopped by to tell me he’s calling the cops because he’s tired of me working on cars all the time. The conversation irritated me so much I forgot to torque the crank pulley. That engine wasn’t very reliable since the belts and pulley flew off the car on the highway two days later.

As far as Geo Metros, yes they are 45 minutes on the shoulder of the interstate easy.

Hondaimpbmw 12
Hondaimpbmw 12
3 months ago
Reply to  Doug Kretzmann

My Hondas w/ SOHC were sorta painful due to the engine mount for that end of the engine being inside the loop of the belt, so add 20-30 min to jack up the engine and take the mount off. It was about a half day job all in.

Aardvark775
Aardvark775
3 months ago

This hot take is not fair to Accords. Many (including my 2009 4-cyl) have a timing chain expected to last the life of the engine. I have had a timing belt fail in a Volvo 240 though. Required a tow and repair but did not kill the engine.

Rust Buckets
Rust Buckets
3 months ago
Reply to  Aardvark775

All Accords 1976-2001 used a timing belt. All Accords 2002+ use a chain.

Interestingly, all Accords(and other Hondas) til 2001 put the engine on the driver’s side of the car, while all 2002+ put it on the passenger side, which is normal for most other makes.

JumboG
JumboG
3 months ago
Reply to  Rust Buckets

In my Former Acura CL (fancy Accord) the 4 cylinder was on the driver’s side, while the V6 was on the passenger side.

Hondaimpbmw 12
Hondaimpbmw 12
3 months ago
Reply to  Rust Buckets

The engine on the left was to counter the weight of the driver on the right. They finally figured out where the sales were and set it up the other way round.

Rust Buckets
Rust Buckets
3 months ago
Reply to  Hondaimpbmw 12

I’m not sure the engine direction affects weight balance all that much. The engine on my Accord occupies about 2/3 of the engine bay on one side and the transmission occupies the other third. I’d say the transmission weighs almost half as much as the engine, so I think there’s pretty close to the same amount of mass on the left and right sides of the car.

Plus the battery is on the transmission side to help counter balance.

Hondaimpbmw 12
Hondaimpbmw 12
3 months ago
Reply to  Rust Buckets

The buff books of the time mentioned it being why the European transverse cars had it on the right and the Japanese (and early minis had it on the left.

My earlier Hondas had the engine on the left and the last on (2002) had the engine on the right. My parents 94 Buick had the engine on the right and the autotragic on the left. I’m sure the cast iron block and crank weighs more than the aluminum case transmission.

Dead Elvis, Inc.
Dead Elvis, Inc.
3 months ago
Reply to  Aardvark775

The Volvo B-series engines are non-interference, so that tracks. And quite possibly the easiest timing belt to change. It might take you an hour, if you take your sweet time.

Aardvark775
Aardvark775
3 months ago

Yeah, the tow cost more than replacing the belt if I remember correctly. Worst part was that it broke in a busy intersection in SF during rush hour. It was a car I got used with around 200k miles on it and unknown maintenance history.

Widgetsltd
Widgetsltd
3 months ago

Now THIS is a hot take! It makes sense, coming from a Jeep guy. The only Jeep engines that came with a timing belt are the 2.4L Wrangler (which David doesn’t like) and the VM Motori 2.8L 4-cylinder diesel (similar to what David owns in his minivan but I guess doesn’t count in this discussion.)

Widgetsltd
Widgetsltd
3 months ago
Reply to  David Tracy

OK – I have no experience with the 425, but the DOHC version in the Liberty has a timing belt. Fun fact: They designed the rocker arms on the VM 2.8L to break in the event of piston interference, so that the valves are NOT bent! (Yes, the valves are oriented vertically). I’m pretty sure that fact is in the Chrysler training book on the Liberty CRD, because we taught it in class.
Also, the head gasket thing is on the Subaru EJ, primarily the SOHC. It’s not an issue with the FA/FB engines.

Rust Buckets
Rust Buckets
3 months ago
Reply to  Widgetsltd

Basically all diesels have the valves completely vertically oriented.

Jon Benet
Jon Benet
3 months ago

Same thing happened to me. Timing belt shredded its self, valves tattooed themselves into the top of the pistons. Bent every valve and ruined the valve guides. Had to buy a new little nzns! 4ZD1 head. $250 with a complete valve train from Alibaba. The Faster Pick-up 3rd GEN was built from 1988 to 1995 in the US, but finished up in China in 2016. 28 years in production is crazy. No wonder they are so cheap. The 94 nzns! Pickup was the last production US vehicle sold with a carburetor. Kinda shows it simplicity. Check out the camper version. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/55/Isuzu_Rodeo_Camper.jpg

Zelda Bumperthumper
Zelda Bumperthumper
3 months ago

This is a scalding hot take, but you’re mostly right. Timing belts are a ridiculous design choice and should be shamed. The only mitigating factor is the predictable replacement intervals. Which works out great for the 3rd and 4th owners who realize the heavily depreciated car they just bought was due for a $1300 repair 5,000 miles ago. As an owner of a 2UZ, I can confirm it’s middling at best and the need to disassemble half the fucking thing every 90,000 miles or 108 months is a big contributor to my feelings about it.

Raptor
Raptor
3 months ago

I am a novice mechanic, but I’ve done (3) timing belt replacements in the last 3 years— two Honda V6s and one 3.3 Toyota V6. The Hondas were easy (first one took 12 hours, second time 8 hours) but the Toyota took me 27 hours all in due to some rusted bolts and a really difficult to access rear camshaft. I swore I would never do one again, but… here I am with a 1999 LS400 and a 1997 T100 that are wildly overdue for timing belt jobs.

It is a pretty dumb maintenance job, I agree, but timing chains aren’t guaranteed to be better. My 2005 XTerra just cost me $1900 to have my mechanic replace the failing timing chain guides and a bunch of related parts, but it did have 175k miles on it at the time.

Really, everything should have timing gears like in the 5.9 Cummins. Gears like that won’t ever wear out if properly designed.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
3 months ago
Reply to  Raptor

Imo, it also is partly due to the higher output per liter over the last 40 years: my old 80s Subarus would have struggled a bit spinning up a heavy chain—much less the noisy gears. This is just a personal opinion, though

Pappa P
Pappa P
3 months ago
Reply to  Raptor

I had a friend with a similar experience with the 3.0 toyota same as Jason’s Sienna. Definitely 20 plus hours due to all the rusty and broken bolts.
It’s time for you to enter the world of modern Toyota chain driven cams. They pretty much never fail.

Raptor
Raptor
3 months ago
Reply to  Pappa P

Chain drive + Toyota sounds like a match made in heaven. Now I just have to wait for change of Toyotas to depreciate enough to be in my price range

Doug Kretzmann
Doug Kretzmann
3 months ago
Reply to  Raptor

my sympathies on the Toyota.. I looked at the job on my Sienna and decided not to do it.. spent $3k on a brand new used car instead..

Bruce Springsteen – USED CARS 2005 (live) (youtube.com)

Logan King
Logan King
3 months ago

Whole I agree with this in principle and have never bought a car with belts for this reason, engines with shitty timing chain designs and/or guides are even worse.

Peter Andruskiewicz
Peter Andruskiewicz
3 months ago

Any engine that requires the oil to be changed is unreliable! Who wants to be bringing their car into the shop every 10,000 miles for a $150 job, that’s more than once a year for the average owner! By the time the timing belt needs to be replaced at 90k miles, you’ve already spent $1350 on just oil and filters! By 270k you could have bought a new engine! I prefer my cars to never need their oil to be drained, instead they strategically consume or distribute it along the undercarriage.

Not a great take considering the author has been stranded along the side of the road for over a day when the timing sprocket failed… Not even a chain but the sprocket itself.

Ricardo
Ricardo
3 months ago

While I understand the point being made can I provide three words in response?

timing chain guides

These things that are made of plastic and wear and break and cause grief inside your timing chain driven engine.

Raptor
Raptor
3 months ago
Reply to  Ricardo

Yup. $1900 later my xTerra has a new timing chain, guides, water pump, and no more whining sound

JumboG
JumboG
3 months ago
Reply to  Ricardo

I think the newer timing chains are the manufacturer’s ‘gotcha’ on people complaining about timing belts. Old cars with simple timing chain routing are generally very reliable with chains. Newer timing chains, however, have plastic bits and hydraulic cylinders. So the chain itself may not cause a problem – but the ancillary parts will break down and then can cause catastrophic damage to the internals of the engine.

Ricardo
Ricardo
3 months ago
Reply to  JumboG

My point exactly.

Shop-Teacher
Shop-Teacher
3 months ago

That might be your spiciest take yet!

Although I happen to agree with you.

Speedway Sammy
Speedway Sammy
3 months ago

Small correction unrelated to the main topic. The toxic Saturn Vue CVT had no connection to Jatco. It was designed and developed by Hydramatic in Michigan and manufactured by the GM plant in Hungary. That program exemplified all the things that were wrong with GM in that era.

Alexander Moore
Alexander Moore
3 months ago
Reply to  Speedway Sammy

I wonder if it was in any way inspired by/drew on the Audi program developed by LuK at the time.

Speedway Sammy
Speedway Sammy
3 months ago

I don’t know how the ball started rolling on that program, but the selling point was it would be less expensive than an 8 to 10 speed planetary design but provide similar fuel economy.

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