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”?

TriangleRAD
TriangleRAD
3 months ago

Fiat 1.4L turbo engines have a recommended timing belt replacement interval of 150k miles. I wasn’t comfortable with that so I did mine “early” at 130k.

Angrycat Meowmeow
Angrycat Meowmeow
3 months ago

100% with David on this one. Timing belts should not exist. People consider German cars unreliable because most people don’t do the scheduled maintenance, and then they break. If you do the maintenance, which is a lot of maintenance and a lot of money, they will last indefinitely. I don’t see how a timing belt is any different.

The question is: Is a car “reliable” if you have to dump loads of money into preventative/predictive maintenance to keep it from breaking? Can you make a Subaru “reliable” by doing the head gaskets every 50k miles as preventative maintenance?

Rust Buckets
Rust Buckets
3 months ago

Timing belts have a similar lifespan to many other parts, like alternators, fan belts, and brakes.

Is a car reliable if you have to dump loads of money into preventative maintenance to keep it from breaking? Can you truly call a car reliable if it has an alternator and brakes that will universally go out before 200k miles?

Angrycat Meowmeow
Angrycat Meowmeow
3 months ago
Reply to  Rust Buckets

The problem is alternators, accessory drive belts, and brakes (which don’t count at all) don’t have alternatives that are proven to be more robust. My beef with timing belts is there’s an alternative which is flat out better, no debate. There is no alternative to brakes (in a gas car at least) that would be maintenance free for 250k miles. It’s a poor comparison.

Rust Buckets
Rust Buckets
3 months ago

You could certainly make the argument that the Toyota beltless engine is an alternative that is proven to be more robust. Gear drive accessories(common in industrial and heavy duty engines) also are totally more robust.

So maybe the next article will be titled “If Your Car Isn’t A Prius Or A Semi Truck, It’s Not Really ‘Reliable'”

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
3 months ago

My car’s so old it has timing suspenders.

Bracq P
Bracq P
3 months ago

Hi David, the timing belt diva would like to have a word with you…just ask Adrian about the schedule on his F108 engine 😉

OnceInAMillenia
OnceInAMillenia
3 months ago

If you’re only spending $4,000 in maintenance to get a car to 270,000 miles, that’s a freaking bargain. That’s less than you’d just pay for tires, even if you replace them every 50k or so.

V10omous
V10omous
3 months ago

I’m not sure why singling Toyota out makes sense here.

From your own chart, they haven’t manufactured anything with a timing belt since 2010.

Even granting that they are “reliable” and some will last, the debate is going to be academic in short order as these old models depart from the roads.

Rust Buckets
Rust Buckets
3 months ago
Reply to  V10omous

Old models? I believe the Honda J series used in every single Odyssey and Pilot, among others, used a belt until 2023. Many engines still do.

We got a WHILE before there are no 2023 Odysseys left on the roads.

Last edited 3 months ago by Rust Buckets
V10omous
V10omous
3 months ago
Reply to  Rust Buckets

Exactly, so why is the article about Toyota?

Rust Buckets
Rust Buckets
3 months ago
Reply to  V10omous

Gotcha. Also mentioned was Accords, which have mostly used a chain since they went to the K series 22 years ago.

Jay Maynard
Jay Maynard
3 months ago

Toyota went to a timing chain somewhere between my roommate’s 1998 Corolla (he bought it new and drove it for 23 years till the clutch died on the Interstate, and it wasn’t worth fixing) and his 2012 Lexus IS250. That Sienna may have a chain.

Paul B
Paul B
3 months ago

Wait until David finds out about the oil pump belt on the GM 3.0 Duramax.

I understand the advantage of the timing belt, but, their replacement must be easy and low cost. Electric water pumps and accessories paired with a starter-generator would let you have a design where the timing cover would not be blocked by a crank pulley and the belt.

Angry Bob
Angry Bob
3 months ago

A Toyota timing belt lasts longer than a BMW timing chain.

Even worse, on the BMW, there’s no keyway on the cam sprockets. Every other engine, line up the dots and set the chain. You’re either dead on or a tooth off. BMW takes a special set of tools to align everything. And you have to use the factory tools. Aftermarket tools won’t get it right and you’ll get a check engine light.

JMJR
JMJR
3 months ago

The incremental fuel efficiency gain and engine noise decrease does not justify using a timing belt rather than a chain.

Depending on the car, the cost of a timing belt replacement could exceed the value of the vehicle by the time it’s due for the second or third replacement, at which point the car will either be scrapped or driven until the belt ultimately lets go and leaves someone stranded on the side of the road.

A well engineered timing chain will last the life of the engine and cause no extra stress or expense for the owner.

Jay Maynard
Jay Maynard
3 months ago
Reply to  JMJR

The chain will. The guides and tensioner won’t.

Rust Buckets
Rust Buckets
3 months ago
Reply to  JMJR

What about the significantly reduced rotating mass?

And yes, it may not be worth it to do a timing belt change once it’s time for the 2nd or 3rd belt, at 200k or 300k miles…… Aka the expected lifespan of the car.

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

If you’re building a no-compromise high RPM screamer for a sports car, then maybe you could justify a belt, but really, a lightened flywheel would make a greater difference and you could still avoid timing belt replacements. I’m pretty sure the Porsche 911 GT3 engine uses timing chains, and it revs to 9000 RPM.

For a regular commuter car meant to pile miles on, a timing belt is the way to go.

Hondaimpbmw 12
Hondaimpbmw 12
3 months ago
Reply to  JMJR

The key point being “well engineered”.

Ford Friday
Ford Friday
3 months ago

I don’t think a timing belt is comparable to blown head gaskets in a Subaru and prematurely failing CVT transmissions. Timing belts are a known maintenance item and are designed to be replaced at a somewhat regular interval unlike a transmission or head gaskets. Replacing a timing belt is much simpler and cheaper than replacing a transmission (I’m sure anybody would be thrilled to hear if a replacement transmission only cost $1,300, installed). I think it would be better to compare it to replacing spark plugs on a transverse V6, or a turbo Subaru (which from my experience, timing belts are easier). It’s just something you need to do if you own a car with a timing belt.

All that said, I do agree that timing belts suck and it’s annoying to have to replace them.

Last edited 3 months ago by Ford Friday
Christo Arvanitis
Christo Arvanitis
3 months ago

I have a 2019 Ridgeline with 97K miles and expect to be replacing my timing belt soon… something that I’ve never done before because I’ve never kept a vehicle that long. Credit my pragmatic wife for breaking me of my habit of wasting money on new cars. Exhibit B: 2015 CX-5 with 108K trouble free miles. That one has a chain.

Last edited 3 months ago by Christo Arvanitis
JMJR
JMJR
3 months ago

I believe all modern I-4 Mazdas using timing chains, as god intended. Not sure about their new I6, but I’d wager those also use a timing chain.

Goose
Goose
3 months ago
Reply to  JMJR

Yeah, it’s a chain. But oddly Mazda decided to copy BMW a little too much and put all that stuff on the backside of the engine, but hopefully you’ll never have to access it.

JMJR
JMJR
3 months ago
Reply to  Goose

I believe you’re mistaken. The timing chain is driven off the front of the engine in the SkyActiv lineup of I4s.

This parts fiche shows

https://dz310nzuyimx0.cloudfront.net/strapr1/04993c04907993152fd40d72b937e3ac/42f5ac139179591f202442a213f8ef01.png

Goose
Goose
3 months ago
Reply to  JMJR

I was referring to their new I6, not their I4s.

JMJR
JMJR
3 months ago
Reply to  Goose

That sounded odd, but I double checked and you’re correct. Odd that they would have moved them to the back of the block. Fingers crossed that they don’t have any issues and require replacement.

Hondaimpbmw 12
Hondaimpbmw 12
3 months ago
Reply to  JMJR

SAAB thought it was perfectly reasonable to put the timing chain end of the engine right against the fire wall. Of course you had to remove the cam to adjust the valves and if you didn’t do everything perfectly, the spring loaded tensioner would take up a notch and keep the cam from being put back (ugh). Then you have to snatch the engine/trans out to fix that simple mistake. There was a reason they charged $500 for a valve adjustment. The made out big time if they made no mistakes; the extra was to pay for that oops and pull the engine. .

JMJR
JMJR
3 months ago
Reply to  Hondaimpbmw 12

Even worse was the Ford 4.0L SOHC Cologne V6, which had timing chains at the front AND back of the engine.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ford_Cologne_V6_engine#Timing_chain_problems

Hondaimpbmw 12
Hondaimpbmw 12
3 months ago
Reply to  Goose

The BMW has the timing chain up front, along with the chain drive oil pump.

Goose
Goose
3 months ago
Reply to  Hondaimpbmw 12

They moved it to the back with the B series.

https://www.theineosforum.com/threads/b58-engine-overview.12085290/

Hondaimpbmw 12
Hondaimpbmw 12
3 months ago
Reply to  Goose

Ugh! But at least it doesn’t have the failure prone electrical water pump of the N54 fastened to the lower block and near enough impossible to reach/replace.

Rusty S Trusty
Rusty S Trusty
3 months ago

My ’76 Cutlass was completely worn out by 90,000 miles. I had an ’83 Delta 88 that needed new piston rings at 60,000 miles. My ’91 Lincoln needed all new air suspension at 100,000 miles. By 130,000 miles my well cared for ’89 Thunderbird Supercoupe was on it’s last legs. I’ve heard stories (but haven’t seen it for myself) of original hemis needing to be fully rebuilt at 30,000 miles. When I started buying cars the general rule passed down to me by my father was not to buy a car with over 40,000 miles on it because it might not have much longer to go. It seems these cars make it to their 90,000 mile timing belt changes relatively trouble free. That’s pretty reliable compared to what we used to have to deal with.

Last edited 3 months ago by Rusty S Trusty
Mr. Asa
Mr. Asa
3 months ago
Reply to  Rusty S Trusty

Your newest car in this list is 33 years old. Of course they died at a time that would be considered premature to today’s vehicles. There was such an improvement in quality and abilities in that time frame that its difficult to even explain in a comment.

It also misses the point. There are plenty of vehicles today that don’t have timing belts. You shouldn’t have to include one in today’s world.

Rusty S Trusty
Rusty S Trusty
3 months ago
Reply to  Mr. Asa

The whole point of my facetious comment is that cars used to be much less reliable. Thanks for pointing that out, I guess?

Mr. Asa
Mr. Asa
3 months ago
Reply to  Rusty S Trusty

Those were random ass failures, though. Not a planned obsolescence by the manufacturer. Which was the point of the article. Those cars were badly designed, manufactured, whatever. David is complaining about built-in failures which is a completely different bird.

You can’t look at old cars that were just bad and compare them to modern cars which were engineered with a built-in fault.

Which was my whole point.

Rusty S Trusty
Rusty S Trusty
3 months ago
Reply to  Mr. Asa

It’s a facetious comment. You’re taking it entirely too seriously.

Mr. Asa
Mr. Asa
3 months ago
Reply to  Rusty S Trusty

Just cause its facetious doesn’t mean I can’t take it seriously. Its the internet. Lots of kooky things happen.

Rusty S Trusty
Rusty S Trusty
3 months ago
Reply to  Mr. Asa

I’ll explain my logic here. Since David is looking at reliability from a different perspective by including maintenance items, so am I by talking about old less reliable cars. If there is a serious takeaway it’s that reliability has as much to do with the perspective of what a person might consider reliable as it does anything else.

Mr. Asa
Mr. Asa
3 months ago
Reply to  Rusty S Trusty

No argument with that.
However, there’s a substantial argument for quality of build Vs quality of engineering decisions when choosing that perspective.

Its seeing the forest Vs the trees, I guess. A holistic viewpoint maybe?

Dumb Shadetree
Dumb Shadetree
3 months ago
Reply to  Mr. Asa

Sure, but Toyota was phasing out timing belts 30 years ago. It is a good comparison because these cars are a similar vintage to most of Toyota’s cars that have timing belts.

Rust Buckets
Rust Buckets
3 months ago
Reply to  Mr. Asa

Actually, all of those were premature at the time too. Old cars didn’t actually have super short lifespans as a rule.

Mr. Asa
Mr. Asa
3 months ago
Reply to  Rust Buckets

Depends on the definition of old. Pre PCV (so, early 60s?) that’s about normal.

There have been hiccups along the way, feedback carburetors were a shit show, but there is a serious argument to be had that most engine longevity is a result of improved emissions.

Rust Buckets
Rust Buckets
3 months ago
Reply to  Mr. Asa

Since we’re not talking about pre PCV vehicles here, I’m not talking about pre PCV vehicles.

Hondaimpbmw 12
Hondaimpbmw 12
3 months ago
Reply to  Rust Buckets

My uncle would lease a new Mercury every 2 years (55,57,59 etc) w/ all maintenance included. He would drive them 100K miles and rinse and repeat. They typically weren’t junk when he turned them in (mostly highway miles), but I’ll bet the residuals were a pretty low percentage of the capitalization cost.

pizzaman09
pizzaman09
3 months ago

Timing belts are one of them main things keeping 6 cylinder BMW e30s from being worth more. BMW did the timing belt thing once, in the M20 engine, learned their lesson and switched back to chains. They also learned the 90s V8 lesson of not use plastic timing chain guides, that is also an expensive similar preventative maintenance that needs to be done that also lowers the value of certain models.

Doug
Doug
3 months ago

Used to be a fan of DT but he is off the rails with this one. Timing belt is a maintenance item and I would bet in every instance is easier/cheaper to do than a chain in a similar setup. For DT himself and all of us here that like to do our own wrenching, thats a huge plus. And a high mile engine with a chain is eventually going to need work as well. Ive done the TB on my ancient Nissan Hardbody with the VG30 engine and it is not that bad of a job. I doubt I would attempt to do chains on a newer Nissan truck and those VQ engines DO have timing chain issues.

Jay Maynard
Jay Maynard
3 months ago
Reply to  Doug

Replacing a timing chain itself isn’t that bad of a job: cut the old chain, link the new chain to it, rotate the engine by hand till it’s all in place, link the new chain to itself, done. It’s the guides and tensioner that will get you.

R Rr
R Rr
3 months ago
Reply to  Doug

Up to this point I actually believed DT actually went to engineering school, but this dumb take and dumb statements like “tear their engine apart and spend four figures on a major repair job” when talking about a timing belt replacement, make it clear he most likely went to baking school. Timing chain replacements are the “tear the engine apart” kind of jobs where the chain is sealed inside the engine, while timing belts are all outside the engine.

As a definitely NOT a car mechanic, I’ve replaced quad-cam V6 engines timing belts in an afternoon on jackstands in a driveway, I can do an inline-4 in a couple of hours.

It’s obvious now why DT doesn’t work for Jeep anymore, instead writes something he calls “automotive journalism”, which is still a bit of a stretch, when he should probably write a baking blog 🙂

Last edited 3 months ago by R Rr
Doug
Doug
3 months ago
Reply to  R Rr

exactly

Rust Buckets
Rust Buckets
3 months ago
Reply to  Doug

The only thing I object to here is your calling a Nissan Hardbody ancient. That’s almost new by my standards.

Doug
Doug
3 months ago
Reply to  Rust Buckets

it is the 2nd newest in my ‘fleet’ actually. also have a ’68 Fairlane and a ’82 Jeep Scrambler (dont tell DT about my Jeep, he might like me lol)

BentleyBoy
BentleyBoy
3 months ago

Timing gears are the only way to fly and I mean METAL gears not some wonder fiber thing that will disintegrate.

Jay Maynard
Jay Maynard
3 months ago
Reply to  BentleyBoy

Has anyone ever done a timing gear train for an overhead cam engine? That would seem to me to take an awful lot of gears.

Rust Buckets
Rust Buckets
3 months ago
Reply to  Jay Maynard

They have done both gear drive and shaft drive cams on motorcycles, and they are an awful lot of gears.

R Rr
R Rr
3 months ago
Reply to  Jay Maynard

The VW V10 TDI has timing gears.
It is absolutely the only ‘owner friendly’ thing on those engines, since pretty much anything you want to do on them is an ‘engine-out’ procedure.

Jay Maynard
Jay Maynard
3 months ago
Reply to  R Rr

Considering everything else I’ve read about the V10 TDI…that does come as a minor surprise.

I once considered buying one. Then I lay down until the feeling went away. I loved my Mercedes diesel SUVs, and if they’d sell me one new, I’d buy it today.

R Rr
R Rr
3 months ago
Reply to  Jay Maynard

I’m pretty sure they did it only so they could fit that engine under the hood, there really is zero room around it in the engine bay.

Also that timing system looks amazing, part work of art, part wizardry 🙂

BentleyBoy
BentleyBoy
3 months ago

Too bad they could not make the timing belt out of some material that is better suited to the task and could remain for the life of the engine.

Pit-Smoked Clutch
Pit-Smoked Clutch
3 months ago

Definitely not pulling your punches when you go for these hot takes, are you? I like it

I’m with you. Timing system service isn’t reasonable to consider routine maintenance unless you can do it in an hour or so. (See also: transverse V6 spark plugs)

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
3 months ago

As CAD became more & more of a thing, timing belt replacement became more arduous. It just depended on the number of accessories in the way. 80s & 90s Toyotas & Subarus were fairly straightforward the first time, if tedious. After that, just a procedure. 90s Hondas had quite a tourque on the crank pulley as noted—broke a Snap-on 3/4 to 1/2 adapter on the first one—but, again, somewhat designed to be worked on. A human built it: I can do it too. Mostly: this is why I’ve never owned an Audi as beautiful as they are. It’s just too damn much work for my lazy arse.

Stop Making Us Register To Comment
Stop Making Us Register To Comment
3 months ago

My daily is a 98 Sentra 5 speed manual, has a timing chain. The 95-99 Nissan Sentra (with a manual) is the secret reliability king of the 90s. Keep it secret. ????

Doug
Doug
3 months ago

actually even the automatics were bulletproof back then, they only screwed shit up when the went all in on the CVT

Rusty S Trusty
Rusty S Trusty
3 months ago

Late 90’s Nissans are all pretty reliable. I had a ’97 Maxima for over 20 years. It was running fine when it died at 390,000 miles because of catastrophic rust around a control arm mounting point. I could have kept driving it, just not safely.

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
3 months ago

Mmmmeh. You’ll spend as much on tires and brakes over that time span. And chains aren’t invulnerable. You’ll also *not* spend it on other things that every other car owner *will* and then some. This is officially scheduled maintenance, so it’s not like it’s a surprise.

Stuff wears. Maintain your shit.

Brau Beaton
Brau Beaton
3 months ago
Reply to  David Tracy

I I agree but also feel the prime difference lies in that it is *buried* in the Toyota, requiring major service. On my Fiat it’s as easy and cheap as replacing the fan belt, can be done in ten minutes, and in that scenario qualifies as only a routine maintenance item.

Alexander Moore
Alexander Moore
3 months ago
Reply to  David Tracy

The Mazda MZR, for example, never requires a $1000 timing replacement; now THAT is what I call a reliable motor.


If it’s in a CX-7, MPS3, or MPS6 (or JDM mk3 MPV) it will need just about everything else replacement though.

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
3 months ago
Reply to  David Tracy

Fait enough, but then we also need a hot take about why interference engines and rotary engines are unreliable no matter what.

R Rr
R Rr
3 months ago
Reply to  David Tracy

What’s your take on sparkplug replacements on transverse V engines, where the rear bank is under the windshield and the intake plenum covers both valve covers? On a Mitsu 3000GT twin-turbo I could easily do 2 timing belt jobs in the time it takes to replace 3 spark plugs.
Or how about replacing timing chains/guides at the back of the engine?

You call timing belt jobs “tear your engine apart”?? When those are specifically outside the engine, unlike chains which are sealed inside the engine? Also nowadays the timing belt intervals are over 100k miles, the last one I did on my TDI the service interval was 130k.

If you got your engineering degree from Trump University, I’ve heard you could ask for your money back nowadays 🙂

Last edited 3 months ago by R Rr
Donavan Linder
Donavan Linder
3 months ago

It is actually a good thing this journalist doesn’t know what he is talking about, because it brings the value of these vehicles down for the people that actually want them and know how to properly maintain them. After you do a timing belt on a Toyota/lexus vehicle you realize how well designed and simple they really are to work on and you realize that changing the timing belt is so easy that a teenager can do it in his parents driveway with just basic hand tools in a couple of hours, if that sounds like to much work every 100k miles than please don’t buy these vehicles and destroy them for the rest of us. And a little side note timing chains are definitely not a maintenance item, and the reason you see all these timing chain issues on almost every automaker except Toyota and Honda is that Toyota and Honda use heavy duty chains unlike most other manufacturers use chains that are just strong enough to make it past the warranty because it’s cheaper that way and it keeps the shops busy, and they know that 90% of the people in the USA are to lazy to do any research on this issue and just keep buying these poorly build junk vehicles. And the biggest reason that Toyota and Honda can still build a quality vehicles is that don’t have to rely on US vehicle sales, they have many other industries that make them money and they take pride in building a quality product.

Danny Zabolotny
Danny Zabolotny
3 months ago

I feel like there are very few engines with truly bulletproof timing chains. Most BMW engines aside from the M30/M50 have timing chain issues, VW/Audi have always had timing chain issues, the Ford 4.6L/5.4L Modular has chain issues, etc. If it’s not the chain that fails it’s the chain guides, and if it’s not those, it’s the chain tensioner (many of which are internal and require heavy disassembly to replace).

Scoutdude
Scoutdude
3 months ago

You don’t seem to understand the definition of reliable. The cars are reliable if you replace the timing belt per mfg recommendations. Now if you want to say they aren’t durable, low maintenance, or inexpensive to own then I would agree with you 100%.

It is unfortunate that the cost to do a timing belt has become so expensive. As they say “back in the day” many of the vehicles with a timing belt could be done in an hour or so and thus weren’t that expensive to do. Of course back then it wasn’t standard practice to replace idlers, tensioners, seals and water pumps too, and many of those engines were non-interference.

Taxi maniac
Taxi maniac
3 months ago

I love this article.

Snapped a belt in my favorite car I ever owned. 2005 legacy wagon 5 speed.

Smashed almost every valve up.

Rebuilt everything… not a fun job.
got rid of car after.

Last subaru I ever owned. And that’s too bad. Cause still my favorite car I ever had.

But I only will buy timing chain cars now. Timing belts are trash. Now I driving boring toyotas or fords and am a loser.

But a loser with no stress

AlterId
AlterId
3 months ago
Reply to  David Tracy

We do not put ourselves down here on The Autopian!

Each other, yes, but never ourselves.

Fix It Again Tony
Fix It Again Tony
3 months ago
Reply to  Taxi maniac

Did it break before the timing belt replacement schedule?

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