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”?

Andrew Wyman
Andrew Wyman
3 months ago

I’m glad you covered chains and the reasons why someone would choose a belt over the chain.

I would actually like an article about timing guides (which you briefly talk about), another problem and too often a consumable because of bad design.

Drive By Commenter
Drive By Commenter
3 months ago

Turbos are also a bit of a replacement item. As are all gaskets.

John Patson
John Patson
3 months ago

You need a cheaper garage. Always have had it done by the pros from a garage with a big car logo on it matching the car, and never paid more than €400, of which more than half were parts including water pump.
I suppose when you do it all day, and it is the job apprentices are trained on, it gets much quicker.
Steering dust boots are where you should be aiming your ire. Tear if a twig even looks at them, and they are €200.

ZeGerman
ZeGerman
3 months ago

I don’t mind that my older Subaru Impreza has a timing belt. It’s supposed to be changed out every 105k miles, and it’s a very easy DIY job. Takes me about an hour or so, and the parts are cheap. My other cars have timing chains, and when they eventually need to have the chain guides replaced, it’s going to be a huge job, many times worse than my old Impreza.

Ultimately I prefer chains over belts, but I’m not of the opinion that having a timing belt is inherently a bad thing.

Last edited 3 months ago by ZeGerman
Micah Cameron
Micah Cameron
3 months ago
Reply to  ZeGerman

This x100. Let’s do some math.

Say an engine is expected to last 300,000 miles. One with a timing belt needs a belt change every 100k miles. One with a timing chain never needs service, but around 200k, the chain stretches and guide wears and everything needs to be replaced.

Well, on your Subaru, you’ve spent a whopping three hours over 300k miles on timing belt service. The timing chain service on a BMW N20 (infamous for guide issues), takes around 6 hours and requires, at minimum, three special tools which individually each cost over $100.

I know which one I’d rather do.

Vetatur Fumare
Vetatur Fumare
3 months ago
Reply to  Micah Cameron

A well-designed timing belt design can definitely beat a badly-designed timing chain engine, but I don’t think that necessarily disproves David’s point.

Micah Cameron
Micah Cameron
3 months ago
Reply to  Vetatur Fumare

I think it sort of does because of exactly what you said – it depends. David’s point is that timing belts are always bad. My point is that there is way too much variation and nuance in automotive engine design to make such an absolute, blanket statement.

D-dub
D-dub
3 months ago

I feel the same way about sealed transmissions. Blocking my ability to change the fluid and calling it “lifetime fluid” is like welding on the oil pan plug and calling it “lifetime oil”.

Nico
Nico
3 months ago

So glad my first car, a 2008 Toyota Yaris, had a timing chain. I commuted a long distance almost every day for college and eventually work. Lasted until 360,000 miles and engine started to fail. Best purchase I’ve ever made, low maintenance cost (original brakes lasted until 150k miles), low cost to insure, and decent gas mileage. I got rid of it when I got a Lexus RCF and I’ve had many nice cars since then but I still miss the Yaris. If I could find a nice low mileage 3-door one from 2008 to 2009, I would buy it immediately.

Rollin Hand
Rollin Hand
3 months ago

A car with a timing belt is reliable, as long as you treat the belt like the maintenance item that it is. You change it when it’s time to change it. Do the water pump when you’re in there. It’s just maintenance.

BMWs of a certain age basically require a coolant system re-do every 69k miles. You know it’s coming, you plan for it, and then you do it.

Chains can give a false sense of security, as many of them stretch, or the guides fail, or the tensioners…and it’s usually a surprise. A planned maintenance item is way more enjoyable than a shock $2000 repair bill because your chain guides disintegrated and the chain jumped a tooth. Trust me on this one.

Scott Ashley
Scott Ashley
3 months ago

As for the Camry I owned 3 and still have 2 combined mileage north of 300k all 4 bangers. No worries on the timing belt. The cars have plenty of power good on gas. Who needs a 6?

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
3 months ago

What about timing chains? Those aren’t exactly foolproof either- look at GM’s 3.6V6s

How about any car that uses something other than timing gears isn’t truly reliable?

Dennis Ames
Dennis Ames
3 months ago

My Miata had a timing belt that needed to be done at 90K mile, but Along with it was the water pump, which was timing belt drive leading to “While you’re in there you should change the water pump” I can’t tell if the Lexus had that as well.

Abdominal Snoman
Abdominal Snoman
3 months ago
Reply to  Dennis Ames

My first miata made it to 190K before the original timing belt snapped. This was a ’91 so I think their interval was 60K. Fortunately these are a non-interference engine so I was able to buy it for $450, and fix it for another $150. Even told the seller it’s that easy / cheap but he just didn’t want to deal with it.

Dennis Ames
Dennis Ames
3 months ago

Mine was the NB ’04 I believe that the interval was 90K, reason being was that I wasn’t going to spend more on the tooling and the belt, than to get it changed once while I owned it. Got rid of it @ 165K mile with the original clutch, cause rust got it, as I was a year round driver.

Isaac Fortner
Isaac Fortner
3 months ago

I’d say the timing mechanism design itself has little to with a car’s reliability and things like design parameters, design for serviceability, and quality of the parts matter far more. BMW’s use timing chains, and they have all kinds of guide wear issues requiring service.

The Toureg V10 TDI used a timing GEARTRAIN and that engine had all kinds of issues with gear noise and wear (and a million unrelated issues) despite no belt to replace.

There are so many factors that go into the reliability of these systems, I don’t see any one method (belt, chain, geartrain) as better or worse than the others as it’s all in the implementation.

If the timing belt was designed to be easy to replace, and it was a non-interference engine, that seems perfectly acceptable to me: do the scheduled maintenance, but if it does fail, it won’t grenade the engine and it’s easily fixed.

David Kieras
David Kieras
3 months ago

Unless you have a car like my old ’70 Olds Delta88, which developed enough timing chain slack to skip a few teeth and grenade the valves and pushrods on the 350ci V8, necessitating major repairs.

Or the timing chain on my kid’s venerable 4.0L Jeep, which slapped around so much that the timing was way off and wouldn’t run right until replaced.

Both of those were light-years more complex than the timing belt on our Volvo 240, which took about a half-hour if you weren’t changing out the water pump. Same for my old MX-3, Kia Rio, and a handful of other cars whose timing belt service is a snap.

But then you have that handful of cars that use timing _gears_, which you fail to mention.

Indeed, I think the points here should be that

  • maintenance items should be easier
  • easier = cheaper
  • some manufacturers stepped in it when choosing the appropriate solution for their engine

You cannot, and should not, paint the choice with a broad stroke as you have here.

Stef Schrader
Stef Schrader
3 months ago
Reply to  David Kieras

You cannot, and should not, paint the choice with a broad stroke as you have here.

This this this this, a billion times this. There are WAY too many variables in play with these to make a broad statement based on a few more difficult versions.

Stef Schrader
Stef Schrader
3 months ago
Reply to  David Tracy

Fair, but I don’t know if it’s a good take with that many caveats.

Besides, we all know from years of being on the internet that everyone’s going to defer to the main point in the headline, hahahaha.

Stef Schrader
Stef Schrader
3 months ago
Reply to  David Tracy

Belts are basic maintenance, though! Also, that’s a wild quote for a timing belt job when other cars have belts that are designed to be easier to service.

I definitely prefer “replace this belt at this time or you will suffer” over “oops, our lifetime chain does need maintenance after all”-type surprises, though. Including larger maintenance items in a maintenance schedule is just…honest? Fine? Acceptable. (I will say, kudos to Mitsu for saying “check your timing chain at [mileage], dummy” in the manual.) Like, (probably a flawedish analogy, but I’m running with it anyway) tires are also expensive wear items, but we replace those to the tune of a few hundo a round and don’t write off the whole car because of them.

Last edited 3 months ago by Stef Schrader
Stef Schrader
Stef Schrader
3 months ago
Reply to  David Tracy
Micah Cameron
Micah Cameron
3 months ago
Reply to  David Tracy

When I was young and stupid, I refused to buy cars with automatic transmissions. I didn’t understand how they worked and did not trust them to be reliable.

Then I grew up, learned more, and realized I was wrong. Sure, manual transmissions are simpler, but with proper maintenance, automatics can be extremely reliable too.

There are a lot of comments in this article from which you could learn and become a better informed person. Instead, you choose to double-down on your broad strokes statement and repeatedly insist that every timing belt change is a four-figure cost, which simply is not true in many cases.

Your responses are unfortunate, and I expected better quality articles and commentary from The Autopian.

Stef Schrader
Stef Schrader
3 months ago

This is a bad take, man. I mean, consider this little nugget right here, quoted from your article!: “swapping a transmission, timing chain, and even a head gasket is typically harder than changing a timing belt.”

Meanwhile, the 944’s belt is right up front, and the answer to not knowing when the belts were last done is to just…do the belts. It’s an afternoon job even for a novice wrencher. The full belt AND roller kit for both timing and balance belts is only $235 (from a quick glance at 944online), for Pete’s sake. Even letting someone else bother with mine has been way less than $1,300. The tensioner tools don’t cost much nowadays, either. All in, that’s like, less than a couple sticky tires for that thing. Also, that completely unknown engine lasted for five years of track hoonery before we ever had to crack open the head. After I bought it, we just put new belts, seals and a water pump on the front and sent it.

The fact that Miatas’ belts are even cheaper and easier than my parsh’s shoots even more holes in this take. There’s a bunch of non-interference engines out there where this job is simply NBD.

“How much absolute sendery or abuse can this thing take without having to crack open the engine?” is my standard for reliability, though, and I think it’s a good one.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
3 months ago
Reply to  Stef Schrader

Meanwhile, the 944’s belt is right up front, and the answer to not knowing when the belts were last done is to just…do the belts. It’s an afternoon job even for a novice wrencher.

Great. Now try that in a 924 turbo. Try ANYTHING in a 924 turbo.

Stef Schrader
Stef Schrader
3 months ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

Totally different engine. Note that it didn’t make my very shortlist of reliables mentioned, ha.

VanGuy
VanGuy
3 months ago
Reply to  Stef Schrader

An “afternoon job” for an apartment dweller like myself (or, say, a “restrictive HOA” dweller), and/or someone who just doesn’t like getting their hands dirty, is still a “have to take it to a mechanic or dealership” affair. So that still means this is an expensive regular maintenance item for a significant portion of the population.

Stef Schrader
Stef Schrader
3 months ago
Reply to  VanGuy

Fair, fair. Still, belts at an indie shop came in at WAY less than $1,300 for that car.

The main difference seems to be how well a belt system is designed for serviceability, as many folks have noted here. If it’s designed to be a simple job, it’s not going to cost as much at a shop, either. Also, if you can’t afford the maintenance (or shop rates, if you have to/prefer to rely on shop labor), avoid the depreciation kings. There’s another reason why the Miatas tend to be dirt cheap all around vs. the 944 I’ve got.

Plus, there’s the abuse factor I mentioned, which I think is a better standard than costs of maintenance. How much of an absolute beating will that sucker take? That’s the main reason folks complain about some of the Subaru engines a lot—they’re not that expensive to work on, all things considered, but they do seem to give folks plenty of, ahem, opportunities outside of their service intervals to do just that.

Last edited 3 months ago by Stef Schrader
That Guy with the Sunbird
That Guy with the Sunbird
3 months ago

*looks at driveway that has my wife’s 2016 Mazda CX-5 and my 2016 Mazda6, both with the 2.5 “SkyActiv” 4-cylinder*

*Googles if they have a belt or a chain*

*breathes sigh of relief*

Robot Turds
Robot Turds
3 months ago

My brother had a 1998 Avalon and didn’t know it had a timing belt until I asked. We changed it at 285,000 miles and…. The belt still looked NEW.

Micah Cameron
Micah Cameron
3 months ago
Reply to  Robot Turds

I just want to note that a lot of time, the timing belt service interval takes into account pulleys more than the belt. Timing belts are protected from the elements and can last a very long time. However, idler pulleys, belt tensioners, and any ancillaries driven by the belt like a water pump have bearings that will wear. If one of those pulleys or ancillaries seizes, the timing belt will get destroyed in seconds. Then you’re either stranded with a non-interference engine or stranded and need an engine rebuild with an interference engine.

Again though, I feel the need to point out that DT is so off the mark with the difficulty of a timing belt replacement it’s insane. I’ve done timing belts for transversely mounted Honda V6 Accords and even those were easy to replace. Like, I’d rather change the timing belt in a transverse V6 than the back bank of spark plugs a lot of times. Replaced the timing belt in my parent’s Toyota Sienna – dead easy. Went to replace the spark plugs and literally gave up before I started.

ProfessorOfUselessFacts
ProfessorOfUselessFacts
3 months ago

As someone who had the timing belt go south in my 92 accord while on the top level of a parking deck (it decided to let go right as I started the car to leave the college campus for the day), I will avoid belts where I can. All my vehicles since have had chains.

The Clutch Rider
The Clutch Rider
3 months ago

i had one snap too in a 92 accord, but there was no damage done to the engine. Replaced it and the engine went for another 30k miles. rust took that car away.

ProfessorOfUselessFacts
ProfessorOfUselessFacts
3 months ago

Mine was at 295k miles at that point, and got flooded at the mechanic a couple days later when Atlanta got that epic flood.

Dudeoutwest
Dudeoutwest
3 months ago

My 1998 Honda VFR with gear driven cams laughs at your belt or chain. It sounds amazing, too.

Carry on. Please.

DadBod
DadBod
3 months ago
Reply to  Dudeoutwest

Dude YES.

Dudeoutwest
Dudeoutwest
3 months ago
Reply to  DadBod

I bought that bike new mostly for its capabilities as a GT bike, but I have to admit that the sounds it makes were a big part of it, too. Gear whine. Small block Chevy lumpiness at idle with a thrilling scream at 12 – 14K rpms have kept that bike in my garage since new. It’ll be in my estate.

Micah Cameron
Micah Cameron
3 months ago

I mean, there are a lot of cars with timing chains that have issues with guides wearing prematurely, chains lengthening due to wear prematurely, tensioner failures, etc. The difference is that timing belts are designed for serviceability. It took me 2 hours to replace the timing belt on a T5 Volvo V7 the first time I did it. Timing chains often require several special tools and are never going to be that quick and easy. In fact, a lot of modern cars put the timing chain on the back of the engine. Guess what has to come out of those vehicles to work on the timing system? The whole damn engine.

Although I’d prefer a reliable timing chain setup, I don’t mind timing belts one bit. They absolutely do not cost thousands of dollars to replace – it is usually only a few hundred for the parts.

I honestly feel that this article was written to be provocative for the sake of clicks, which is disappointing. I thought this website was started to avoid that type of content.

In my opinion, timing belts, timing chains, and timing gears all have advantages and disadvantages, and which system is “better” is very case-dependent. Eric The Car Guy also did a great video a few years ago in which he discusses why he likes timing belts. Eric was an actual dealer mechanic for many years before turning to YouTube and, although I am not disputing that David is a true car guy and a decent DIY-er, Eric is a proper experienced mechanic whose opinion is more educated and valuable.

VanGuy
VanGuy
3 months ago
Reply to  Micah Cameron

“Only a few hundred for the parts”
Okay, but what’s the labor cost?

Not that your argument is without merit…yeah, there’s more than one part of an engine that can go bad and having a timing chain does not automatically equal “good/reliable engine”, but I do think it’s poor design to include such an expensive repair in regular maintenance.

Micah Cameron
Micah Cameron
3 months ago
Reply to  VanGuy

Yes, you are correct. I guess I should have clarified that it’s usually quite easy for a decent DIY-er to replace a timing belt with common hand tools, but timing chain service can require expensive specialist tools and a metric wack ton of disassembly. It also requires the oil and sometimes coolant to be drained, which, depending on where someone lives, can make timing chain service a complete non-starter.

Paying for a timing belt replacement at a shop is therefore typically going to cost much less than working on timing chain components. I’m sure with high labor costs nowadays, something like a Lexus V8 might actually cost above $1,000 including labor for a timing belt replacement, but a regular Honda engine? No freaking way.

Geoffrey Reuther
Geoffrey Reuther
3 months ago
Reply to  VanGuy

“Only a few hundred for the parts”

Okay, but what’s the labor cost?

Last time I had a shop do timing belts it was on a transverse V6, and it cost $780 all in, including tax AND a replacement water pump because they were in there already.

Meanwhile if the chains or guides fail on my Mustang’s 4.0 Cologne V6 (thankfully it has the redesigned guides), the engine will have to be dropped out of the car to service it.

As a side note while I’m mentioning water pumps, some engines with timing chains do NOT have an external water pump. You have to pull the chain cover off to access them. So those motors are going to have to be “opened up” just as frequently as belted engines. (I’m looking at you, GM….)

Dingus
Dingus
3 months ago

I do not understand this opinion. It feels like it was meant to be provocative and little else.

The argument is that it’s expensive and inconvenient to replace a timing belt at regular intervals and that chains do not have the same requirements and expenses. However, it’s been proven again and again by various manufacturers that they will cheap out on the supporting components of a timing chain system, thereby making the chains unreliable which requires even more expensive repairs than a belt replacement. Additionally, having a schedule for belt replacement is something you can plan around. Since chains do not have a maintenance schedule under the misguided belief that they will last the lifetime of the engine, those failures will happen without any warning and one cannot plan for the expense.

The addendum that “well-designed” timing chain systems are better, is a big variable. There are plenty of poorly designed chain-based timing systems out there that have multiple failure points such as bad hydraulic tensioners, bad guides, and even chains that stretch. Poor oil change habits will also cause problems with timing chain systems, so there’s another weak point. While a belt system isn’t perfect, I hardly see it as the horror it’s made out to be here. One could just as easily say that a well-designed belt system is better than a chain because they’re cheaper and easier to replace.

I have a whopping two-sample anecdote, but I think it illustrates my point well. I have a 5.4 triton on which the cam phasers failed, as well as the hydraulic tensioners (likely related). I undertook the repair and it was a miserable job that required the entire timing cover to come off as well as various other components that were in the way. I also had to replace the chain itself since it had stretched. It was one of the most awful repairs I’ve ever had to do. I also own a whiteblock volvo with a timing belt. The job took two hours with simple hand tools, I did not have to lift the car or do anything special. I had to remove the upper cover (snaps on with clips) and the lower cover (four bolts) and I chose to replace two tensioners (one bolt each). This illustrates that chains are not always reliable and that since the system was not designed with regular maintenance in mind, the repair is awful. The much-villified belt system that was made to be serviced was pleasantly easy and cost-effective.

Chartreuse Bison
Chartreuse Bison
3 months ago
Reply to  Dingus

The take isn’t that a timing chain engine is automatically reliable, it’s that a timing belt one never is. A poorly designed engine is a poorly designed engine, regardless of the type.

Micah Cameron
Micah Cameron
3 months ago

But this is like saying that no cars with automatic transmissions are reliable because they need their fluid changed every x miles, or that no engine is reliable because they need regular oil changes. It’s just baffling, especially because David seems to think that replacing a timing belt requires vodoo magic, when in reality they are usually quite easy to service, and it’s a service that can be planned in advance, just like an oil change.

Chartreuse Bison
Chartreuse Bison
3 months ago
Reply to  Micah Cameron

Well it’s hell of a lot more work then a fluid change. Since every engine needs an oil change, it isn’t part of the equation because it’s a constant.

Dingus
Dingus
3 months ago

Fine then, use the example of a water pump instead. They’re supposed to not fail, but most of us know that they do. We could make the claim that a water pump is never reliable and it would be the same argument that is being presented here. The only difference is that there isn’t an alternative to a water pump.

Again, I’m disappointed in this article as it seems to be doing nothing but provoking an argument for viewership. Instead of trying to stir the pot among readers, it seems like a piece on actually changing a belt or chain would be useful. I recall there being a series of achilles heel pieces; it seems like doing one on the Ford 3.5 ecoboosts with water pumps inside of the crank case and how their failures can manifest crank bearing problems would have been more thoughtful and useful. This could have been a very interesting technical piece on how to handle such maintenance rather than the a means to foment the readers.

Baron Usurper
Baron Usurper
3 months ago
Reply to  Micah Cameron

It doesn’t cost $1300 to change fluids and almost anyone *can* do it on their own.

Micah Cameron
Micah Cameron
3 months ago
Reply to  Baron Usurper

This cost argument that “TIMING CHAIN FOR LIFE” bros keep repeating is insane. You all seem to be pulling numbers out of thin air. Most timing belt replacements aren’t going to cost even half of that. Go price out a brake fluid flush, transmission fluid and filter replacement, oil change, power steering flush, and coolant flush for a Honda Accord and then compare it to the cost to get the timing belt replaced. I guarantee the timing belt replacement is going to be cheaper.

I kinda feel like I’m a sucker for commenting. I wonder if the website was short on cash this month, so David decided to write the most provocative, baseless article he could to generate clicks. There is nothing to be learned from reading the article – it serves no purpose and it the antithesis of the kind of content that makes this site great.

Last edited 3 months ago by Micah Cameron
Chartreuse Bison
Chartreuse Bison
3 months ago
Reply to  Micah Cameron

And a well designed electric power steering system is more reliable than a hydraulic one that needs to be flushed.
Sure “reliable” is a subjective word, but Less maintenance > More maintenance, how is that hard to understand? Whether it’s because something broke, or because the manual told you to is irrelevant.

The Clutch Rider
The Clutch Rider
3 months ago
Reply to  Dingus

well technically the chain lasts the life of the engine, even if it snaps. It just takes the engine away with it.

Man With A Reliable Jeep
Man With A Reliable Jeep
3 months ago

Preach, David. I completely agree. Why build in an Achilles Heel? I was a big fan of Mitsubishis, but their hang up with 60K timing belts hurt me in a deep place.

IRegertNothing, Esq.
IRegertNothing, Esq.
3 months ago

With the high end cars I can see why a timing belt isn’t an issue. You look at a Lexus or a Land Cruiser as something that will come back to the dealership for service every time at the right time… for the first owner. A $1300 timing belt service won’t bother anyone who can afford a near or over 6 figure vehicle. A white collar bigus dickus type can easily lose more than $1300 if a breakdown interrupts their work schedule for a couple of days. For them it is a reliable vehicle because they know when it will need time in the shop.

By the time a big luxury vehicle trickles down to, say, a a rust aficionado who prefers many broken vehicles over a few that work the manufacturer doesn’t really care anymore. They figure that you were willing to put up with whatever it needs as part of the bargain for getting it cheap. I understand how that makes it feel like a hassle to keep running for that owner.

Dumb Shadetree
Dumb Shadetree
3 months ago

The difference is partly whether the maintenance is documented in the manual (yes, being able to plan for it is a big deal). The other part of the difference is what happens when that maintenance is done. With a 2UZ-FE, you’re good for another 90k – 100k miles. With a 2.5 Duratec you’re good until the transmission dies. With a Jeep 3.0 you’re good until you overheat and cook the head. How many heads have you run through?

Yes, I’m very glad that Toyota (along with most of the industry) has moved away from timing belts. They were a PITA, especially in a transverse engine. But Toyota made a reputation for longevity despite the timing belts. I’ve seen old Toyota engines with questionable thermostats peg the temp gauge and keep running without damage. The UZ-series engines commonly run over 500k miles and a handful have done over a million miles without a rebuild. That is why they are considered reliable.

Micah Cameron
Micah Cameron
3 months ago
Reply to  David Tracy

Yes, swapping an engine is much easier than replacing a timing belt </sarcasm>

How about we ask the OP how much a timing belt change costs on a UZ engine, especially if it’s done DIY style, instead of wrongly assuming every timing belt service costs a grand or more?

Dingus
Dingus
3 months ago
Reply to  Micah Cameron

I watched a quick video on timing belt for the 2UZ-FE. It’s BAD. I get the feeling this is where most of the author’s ire is coming from. This is an example of a poorly designed timing belt system. Just looking at the amount of components that block the belt in gave me a headache. In a fever dream, I considered a Guilia Quadrifolgio. I watched the timing belt change for that engine. It seemed to rival the level of effort and time that the 2UZ-FE requires.

This is an example of the extreme bad and where the $1300 number seems to keep coming from. That’s an extreme example, not an average.

Micah Cameron
Micah Cameron
3 months ago
Reply to  Dingus

Got ya; I genuinely appreciate that you did some research on this. You may be 100% correct. I mean, basically every job that could be done on a vehicle has outlier examples where it is way more difficult than it needs to be. I would have expected an automotive journalist to do a little more research before writing such an uninformed opinion, but alas.

When I bought a V70, it was the first car with a timing belt I had owned in about a decade, and I remember being mildly annoyed at the design. Then I actually did the timing belt change and realized that it took less time to change the belt, pulleys, and water pump than it did to change just the water pump on my N52 BMW and it was an easy two hour job because access was great.

Your water pump example above was great for this very reason!

Dumb Shadetree
Dumb Shadetree
3 months ago
Reply to  Micah Cameron

On a UZ engine? Done in a shop, I’m sure it’s expensive. David’s 4-figure number sounds about right. DIY – assuming you get good name parts from Rock Auto – you are in it for $100 if you don’t change the water pump and $200 if you do (and you should, the two jobs are about the same effort).

The first time I did that job was the first time I’d ever changed a timing belt and it took me a day and a half over the weekend. The second time I was done in a day. I highly recommend having a folding table in the shop to organize all the parts you’re going to take out. I don’t deny that it’s a PITA.

I’m very glad the industry has moved away from timing belts. I still don’t think a timing belt by itself makes an engine unreliable. While I think the Jeep 4.0 I6 is a very reliable motor, David routinely does work to them that is in the same realm of difficulty as a UZ timing job and probably more expensive – I’m thinking of the times he’s sent heads to the machine shop to be milled flat.

Micah Cameron
Micah Cameron
3 months ago
Reply to  Dumb Shadetree

Thank you for the real-world context. Labor costs are definitely a variable that, confusingly, David seems to have forgotten about. Many of us are DIYers so spending $200 on a timing belt change is a far cry from the four-figures he keeps touting.

I also think it’s interesting that you bring up the Jeep 4.0 that he loves so much. I tend to view that engine as a bit overrated – compared to the I6’s that Mercedes was producing at the time, it made way less power but was much less efficient. I think a lot of people conflate tolerance for abuse with reliability. I’d consider the Mercedes M104 to be overall more reliable than the Jeep 4.0, but it absolutely did not have as high of a tolerance for abuse. I don’t care as much about how much abuse an engine can tolerate since I keep my cars really well maintained. For other people, being able to handle overheating and neglected maintenance might be more important.

Dumb Shadetree
Dumb Shadetree
3 months ago
Reply to  Micah Cameron

I think a lot of people conflate tolerance for abuse with reliability.

I like the way you phrase this and definitely agree that you’re onto something. Tolerating overheating and neglect seems like it has a lot to do with Toyota’s reputation (ignoring for a minute the original timing belt conversation – obviously an interference engine with a timing belt will only tolerate neglect for so long).

American Locomotive
American Locomotive
3 months ago
Reply to  David Tracy

This is such a shitty take, and you know it. A Jeep 4.0 by 500k miles will have been through about 3 crank sensors, 2 alternators, 7 valve cover gaskets, handfull of water pumps, 2 cracked exhaust manifolds and probably at least 1 cylinder head – especially if it’s a late model.

If you paid a shop to do all that work, you’d be well into a 2nd engine replacement, maybe even a 3rd.

And the worst part, those above would be unplanned failures that wildly inconvience you. Toyota UZ timing belt systems essentially do not fail within the specified service interval. They are super conservative, and generally speaking out to 120k miles is fine.

That gives you a huge window to plan your service – literally 7-8 years. It’s on your own time.

It’s also cute that you’re using shop labor costs, and not the DIY cost of $250 and some of your time. I’ve done plenty of UZ timing belts. I’d much rather do a UZ timing belt than replace a cracked exhaust manifold on a Jeep 4.0 and deal with endless exhaust bolts that break off.

Saul Goodman
Saul Goodman
3 months ago

We will never break the chain

But maybe the belt.

Pneumatic Tool
Pneumatic Tool
3 months ago

I’m also with David on this one. I tend to run vehicles for a long time, and belt/chain is always a consideration when I purchase. Apart from a chain that let go in the 302 of my ’76 Bronco back in the late 80’s, the only issue I ever had with one was in a 4.7 H.O. in my son’s Grand Cherokee (worn guides). That was about a $1,200 repair all in for a complete replacement, but I’d consider it an outlier in my experience with chains.

I know the argument that many of the vehicles that these belts reside in are very reliable otherwise, and there’s truth to it. There’s also truth to how the scheduled replacement of these belts is the key to keeping that reliabilty going (or else). I just can’t get over the fact that purchasing a car that has one – especially a used vehicle – is buying a ticket to a pretty major repair either immediately or somewhere down the road.

Evan Shealy
Evan Shealy
3 months ago

It doesn’t have to be a hard job. The pontiac Ohc 6 had a timing belt and the belt was just behind the belt cover. Yes the harmonic damper had to be removed, but that isn’t really that hard.
Point is, timing belts aren’t a problem. Packaging is the issue. It is like changing O2 sensors. They degrade before failure and should be changed every 100,000 miles or so. On the surface not a bad job but the packaging makes it nearly impossible to do in some cars.

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