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
2 months ago
Reply to  David Tracy

I’m loving these articles DT! (serious)

J Money
J Money
2 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
2 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
2 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
2 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
2 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
2 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
2 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
2 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
2 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
2 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”?

Hatebobbarker
Hatebobbarker
2 months ago

I think part of the reason it still gets credit for reliability is that when the LC100 was new it cost like $75k so a $1000 service wasn’t a big deal. Gives me a great reason to pick a 200 series over the 100

Username, the Movie
Username, the Movie
2 months ago

David, you make a strong point, one that I will agree with from the perspective of a daily driven vehicle or even something that gets abused regularly. to your point, I will give the example of the Gen 3 GM V8. These regularly see 250K-300k miles with only basic maintenance and often at that point are plucked from junkyards (since the trucks they came in rusted away) and placed into every conceivable vehicle platform and boosted to the moon. I have personally torn many of these apart and marveled at how well they hold up, truly simple, robust and compact.

Now they do lack all the latest and fanciest things for eking out every last HP or mile per gallon, and a timing belt would help there, along with Cylinder deactivation, variable timing, overhead cams etc. (Yes yes, Gen 4 engines do get most of those things, and the Gen 5 does have a DOHC variant),but its still hard to beat the cam-in-block v8 for most things.

I know, real hot take with saying the LS engine good, I get it. Maybe I am jaded from years of DSM ownership and needed the salve of the LS?

Where I do disagree with you is avoiding timing belts all together, as they have their place. Look at any 5,000HP supercharged/turbocharged 555 Cu in V8, they all run timing belts even though they are cam-in-block! The belt cuts valuable weight and allows for precise and quick adjustments to timing. They routinely complete DragWeek, sounds pretty reliable to me…, but the “routine maintenance” on these is basically full rebuilds every few months so I suppose its all in how you define reliability.

MiniDave
MiniDave
2 months ago

A lot has to do with how the device is designed – case in point, back in the 70’s Fiat wanted the t-belt changed on its twin cam motors (like in a 124 Spider) every 25K miles! But it was so easy it took less than an hour to change it, and the belt was $10. More like an alternator belt in terms of cost……
Today’s chain driven cars are not doing all that well either, they use plastic chain guides (looking at all you German engine mfrs) that get brittle and fail, dropping chunks into the chain causing all sorts of mayhem. Looking at YOU especially, VW, Audi, BMW and MINI!
Bottom line, if mfrs designed their cars and engines to be serviced, it wouldn’t be a big deal to change a T-Belt or chain.
And also way back when, we used to change a TON of Toyota 4 cyl timing chains at right around 100K miles. Tons of them……

B B
B B
2 months ago

Reliable and maintenance-intensive are separate categories. I feel like the Toyota engines at hand are certainly reliable. I’ve had two timing belt V6’s from Toyota (2006 Sienna, 2005 Camry) and they -never- had issues, but yeah they required difficult DIY or expensive shop timing belt replacements. And you know what, yes, I would consider Subaru engines reliable if they had a head gasket replacement interval. Comically maintenance intensive sure, but still reliable.

Camp Fire
Camp Fire
2 months ago
Reply to  David Tracy

That word ‘minimal’ is very subjective. A Subaru EJ251 timing belt is very easily changed, either by a hobbiest in his driveway (a Gates-branded timing belt is $29 on rockauto) or by spending a relatively small amount of money at a shop every 105,000 miles. It doesn’t require tearing into the motor. It doesn’t even involve removing the radiator or belt accessories. So I’d argue that such an engine is exempt from your serviceability argument.

Given that a bunch of timing-chain engines will wear out a chain within 210,000 miles, and that most timing chain replacements are quite labor intensive, I think there’s some overlap between these categories.

Personally, at the end of 210,000 miles, I would have had more fun changing (2) Subaru timing belts than (1) typical (inaccessible) timing chain. And that’s assuming you have a reliable timing chain, which isn’t guaranteed!

B B
B B
2 months ago
Reply to  David Tracy

I’d agree, how you interpret reliability vs how others do is the source of the ‘heat’ for this take. People could use the word reliability to mean:
Low maintenance (which timing belt engines aren’t)
Durable (capable of extreme mileage/lifetime with maintenance and repairs)
Robust (ability to tolerate abuse or be repaired afterwards, especially after extreme use and/or neglect that would scrap other engines)
Trustworthy (always gets you A to B with regular maintenance)

I would venture to guess that trustworthy matters most to many people: a $1000 scheduled timing belt change is probably preferable to a $500 breakdown for most people, factoring in possible missed work/stranded away from home during travel/tow and rental costs, etc. That’s just my guess, at this point I want a poll of what Autopian readers think reliability means!

Spikersaurusrex
Spikersaurusrex
2 months ago

I’m not convinced any car should be on the road at 250K miles if all that’s been done is “basic maintenance” such as tires, brake pads, oil, and filters. I would say that just about all cars will need non-maintenace items well before that point. Suspension wears out. Brake systems wear out. Water pumps wear out. Clutches have to be replaced. Lifetime transmission fluid isn’t really lifetime. Electrical systems develop faults. None of these things are necessarily cheap and easy to deal with, but they all have to be dealt with, even on the most “reliable” cars. An extra (up to) $1,300 every 80K miles isn’t what I would call a ridiculous expense, especially when it keeps your engine running like new and likely includes some of those other parts that are bound to fail regardless of the belt-chain situation.

Also, the argument that four timing belt replacements at $1,300 each is a new engine is… an exaggeration. It might get you a rebuilt engine, but not the labor to install it.

Final thought: a “well designed timing chain engine” may eliminate that expense, but nobody seems to be able to give a good example of such a thing. All of the examples in the comments are of timing chain engines with various modes of failure from various makes.

Clark B
Clark B
2 months ago

Yep, and many of those things you listed out aren’t routine maintenance items. You don’t know when or what random thing could fail in an engine…enough of those, and I would call a car unreliable. I don’t put timing belts under that category, because it’s listed as a maintenance item as part of the vehicle’s service schedule. My definition of reliability includes following the recommended maintenance schedule. Shit that goes wrong unrelated to maintenance items is what I would say makes a car unreliable.

Geoffrey Reuther
Geoffrey Reuther
2 months ago

I have had problems with both chains and belts. My friends have had problems with both chains and belts. The internet is full of stories of people having problems with both chains and belts.

To me it’s not a specific consideration when choosing a car. The overall quality and reliability of a model is, and in general (but not always) is an indicator of how well the timing system will hold up with proper maintenance applied.

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
2 months ago

Of course you avoid the timing belt issue or badly-designed timing chain issue by simply getting a BEV.

Just sayin’…

Unclewolverine
Unclewolverine
2 months ago

At 400k my xj has only has 1 chain put in it, and that was only because I was resealing the timing cover and figured why not.

Lockleaf
Lockleaf
2 months ago

I have read many of these comments, and it really seems like people are arguing that David is right about things like Subaru’s, but without realizing it. Repeatedly people are talking about how timing belts are maintenance, just expensive maintenance. So if we are defining maintenance as “things the manufacturer says to replace at a specific mileage” as these arguments seem to do, then Subaru saying “Replace Head Gaskets” at 90K means those head gaskets are maintenance, thereby making N/A Subaru engines pretty decently reliable. If they said “Replace Turbo every 120K” on top of that, even the WRX motors would be impressively reliable!

Camp Fire
Camp Fire
2 months ago
Reply to  Lockleaf

Depends on how labor intense the maintenance item is. Replacing head gaskets at regular intervals adds a bunch to the cost of keeping a car reliable. And expectations are much higher now than they were years ago. Imagine a modern OEM requiring regular valve grinding like the air-cooled beetles did. That was acceptable then, but wouldn’t be acceptable now. I’d say the same for head gaskets. Simply adding them to the maintenance schedule doesn’t eliminate the fact that most modern cars don’t outlast their factory head gaskets. So Subaru is an outlier here, and not in a good way.

Subaru EJ25 timing belts, on the other hand, require minimal cost & labor to replace, so I don’t have a problem with those being classified as routine maintenance. $30 and a couple hours in the driveway is about as cheap as car maintenance gets.

Lally Singh
Lally Singh
2 months ago

I like this definition of reliability, let’s iterate a bit. Lets say the total expected necessary (not just documented) maintenance cost for a vehicle over 250k miles, as a percentage of vehicle cost. Some vehicles just need an undocumented part replacement every 100k miles, others are cheaper with a full engine replacement to make it to 250k. But if it’s cheap and predictable enough, who cares what’s being replaced?

Mike B
Mike B
2 months ago

I’m 100% with DT on this.

When I first started looking at Toyota vehicles, the t-belt was a big turnoff. I hear SO MUCH about how reliable the 4.7 is, and about the 1-million mile Tundra 4.7, but just like DT, I consider a big scheduled repair (or “service”) the opposite of that.

I’d like to know how much the 1-Million-mile Tundra owner spent on timing belts. Doing the math, a t-belt every 90K (I believe this is the actual interval) would be 11 times, which at the 1.300-dollar price mentioned here would be over 14K.

I think a big part of that “Toyota reliability” of those days was because one was tearing the front of the engine apart before 100K and replacing all the “while I’m in there” items.

I have the 4.0 in my 4Runner, which I think is a turd, but at least it has a chain.

I have a ’07 2.5T Volvo beater with a timing belt, I had the job done once back in 2014, it was 650. Undoubtedly closer to double that today, and I’m not planning on doing it again. This is also my first/last timing belt car.

Taargus Taargus
Taargus Taargus
2 months ago

Uhhhhh, who’s paying 1300$ for a timing belt replacement? I had one done at a Hyundai DEALERSHIP for 600$ only two years ago. I get some prices have gone up but 1300$ seems awfully pessimistic.

A no-maintenance chain is obviously better than a belt if you know, the chain has a good reputation. Unfortunately a lot of manufacturers have managed to screw this up.

Personally, I appreciate a chain from manufacturers that don’t actively hate their customers (VW), but I also have no issue with a timing belt, because while that’s additional maintenance, it’s at least predictable. And predictability is a pretty important part of reliability.

Dave mid-engine
Dave mid-engine
2 months ago

Doesn’t timing belt accessibility, and therefore labor cost, vary greatly between car models and engines? Glad yours was “only” $600.

Taargus Taargus
Taargus Taargus
2 months ago

I mean sure but if you’re getting a 1300$ quote, you probably need to be shopping around.

I’m not necessarily the timing belt’s #1 fan, but pretending that they are somehow evil is… wrong. And while we’re talking about an expensive maintenance item, at 90k per belt, you’re unlikely to have to do it more than twice over the course of on average maybe 15-20 years? Sure I’d rather have a chain, but only provided that the chain actually lasts longer than an infinite number of timing belts.

D-Dog
D-Dog
2 months ago

I had a timing belt fail while driving at highway speed in a 1990 Dodge Daytona 3.0L V6. Let me tell you – losing power steering, power brakes, and every other function under the hood is DAMN scary when you’re moving at 65 MPH. Timing belt maintenance is no joke.

Shooting Brake
Shooting Brake
2 months ago

Oh and it’s worth mentioning that yeah the ridiculous increases in labor rates the last few years (most often with significantly smaller increases, if any, in wages for technicians) is a big problem that affects this and many other automotive discussions.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
2 months ago

Any reason not to go with a shaft drive instead of belts/chain for D/OHC?

Shooting Brake
Shooting Brake
2 months ago

All right David time for a fight! But admittedly good job pulling out a piping hot take! So this is all a matter of perspective, intended use, when the vehicle is purchased, etc. So my main point is it’s too complex an issue to make a blanket statement that “all timing belts are unreliable”. First off we have to define reliability. You’re defining it as the likely hood of a catastrophic breakdown in relation to total money spent on maintenance or repairs. That’s fair, but others define it as the ability of a vehicle to attain well above average mileage without unscheduled maintenance or repair, which I think is also quite valid. We know that many of the early engines to achieve million miles were Japanese timing belt engines from the 80s and 90s. Seems hard to say those are unreliable. Now it is valid that Toyota have put together timing chain systems on many engines that if maintained with proper oil frequency will also last a million miles, so both can be considered “reliable in this sense”. But this is all theory for most people so we need to get down to reality. The reality is that many many many engines do not have well designed timing chains and tensioners (or proper quality control on production, whose to say which). And as such huge swathes of used cars with timing chains are wise to be avoided entirely (tons of German cars, a lot of domestics, plenty of ransoms from others as well, Japan seems to have the most robust timing chain designs or best suppliers, no surprise there), and that is regardless of how well oil changes are kept up. Any timing chain driven engine is best avoided if the oil hasn’t been changed properly, and many manufacturers are stretching oil change intervals longer than is wise to lower cost of ownership (and cause they don’t care if the chain is stretched at 80-100k since it’s out of powertrain warranty anyway). And replacing a timing chain is gonna be even more expensive than a belt, and riskier, as any pieces or excess metal from the chain and tensioners often clogs oil pumps or damages bearings and shortens engine life further even if the chain and parts are replaced prior to catastrophic failure. So, timing chains make a lot of vehicles unwise purchases unless you can afford to replace the whole system (assuming there are better updated parts available, which might not exist) and chains are even more expensive than belts to replace. However if you have excellent maintenance history and a model free of timing chain problems then a chain can be a great buy. The nice thing about timing belts is that if the belt has been done recently this is often easier to history on (as it is often on a.l sticker in the engine bay) than a full and detailed report of all the timely oil changes (talking about buying higher mileage cars here). So in summary, timing chains are far from being as trouble free as presented here (at least ohc ones, your good ole 4.0s cam in block chains are basically indestructible David) and timing belts have a variety of upsides, such as the cost can be anticipated from the beginning of ownership. But at the end of the day the cost/benefit analysis is complex and is going to vary car by car and purchaser by purchaser, and as such isn’t something you can apply such a blanket statement too as this headline. But if everyone wants to run scared from belts I wouldn’t be mad about cheaper J-series Hondas for me! And it is a great topic for discussion.

Last edited 2 months ago by Shooting Brake
Tristan Hixon
Tristan Hixon
2 months ago
Reply to  Shooting Brake

The reason you cited for manufacturer OCI change is frankly BS, as evidenced by the massive numbers of individuals who have posted used oil analyses from independent labs to look for wear materials, friction modifier breakdown, dilution, and acidification. If anything, manufacturer OCIs are still somewhat conservative when using modern synthetic oils – and you do use synthetic, right? It’s what absolutely every modern car calls for, and all…

Spectre6000
Spectre6000
2 months ago

PREACH!

Any automotive technology that exists for superficial reasons (NVH, packaging, etc.) is guaranteed to make things worse.

Now continue that thought process forward to V6es. They exist solely for packaging. To make things cheaper. Take the worst possibly balanced configuration (trip) and duct tape two of them together. Garbage squared! That assumes it’s not a V8 with two cylinders lopped off. The engine just fights itself, and all the energy that should be going to moving the wheels is trying to tear itself apart. Oh, “but balance shafts!” you say? Sure. Add a bunch of rotating mass, friction, complication, etc. as a bandaid over your garbage cylinder configuration. That’ll make it better! It’s still going to fight itself, and you’re still suffering significant energy losses, just now with lower… NVH. I have never experienced a V6 that made as much power as it should or delivered it well, etc. Always a compromise to be avoided.

Hot take seen and raised, no doubt.

Last edited 2 months ago by Spectre6000
Bjorn A. Payne Diaz
Bjorn A. Payne Diaz
2 months ago
Reply to  Spectre6000

It is high time for some mechanical function to over rule form. I’m tired of all the gadgets that take away from the core functionality and just want a simple car.

Jatkat
Jatkat
2 months ago

I agree with David on this one. I’ve even had issues with my chain based vehicles, but would still take it over a belt. My 2001 Vitara/Tracker tensioners started to get weak at around 180,000 miles, and warned me for another 20 thousand that it was time to change them (clacking on cold starts). The morning after my new timing set arrived the car blew a head gasket. I slapped a new motor in after realizing it was cheaper than getting machine work done and have been cruising happily since.

Jared Johnson
Jared Johnson
2 months ago

Love the hot take! Meanwhile I’m here driving an older BMW where the reliable timing chain will definitely eat a guide within another year or two. The car as a whole is reliable… as long as you replace rod bearings, replace parts in the VANOS, and change the entire cooling system out periodically. But if you do that it should get an easy 250k miles before any engine work lol

CTSVmkeLS6
CTSVmkeLS6
2 months ago
Reply to  Jared Johnson

That was super funny. You had me laughing here at the office, very witty!! Hahah

CTSVmkeLS6
CTSVmkeLS6
2 months ago

A little provocative – but I totally get your point. It’s the “well designed“ engine with a timing chain is going to be more reliable. Which, of course, excludes many that have known guide failures, etc. etc. like some of those BMW and Audi V8 engines compared to any GM LS style engine from 1997 to current.

Grey alien in a beige sedan
Grey alien in a beige sedan
2 months ago

The 1ZZ-FE truly IS unkillable. Change my mind. It has a chain.

Dogisbadob
Dogisbadob
2 months ago

I’ll give it a pass if it’s non-interference and easy.

For example, the Geo Metro’s timing belt is non-interference and supposedly only takes an hour to do.

But yes, I agree. Timing belts suck.

Unclewolverine
Unclewolverine
2 months ago
Reply to  Dogisbadob

I did mine on the side of the road. I already had the timing cover off because it was broke, I think it took me 15 minutes. I miss my metro.

World24
World24
2 months ago

If timing belts make a car unreliable, so don’t the head gaskets on those constantly leaking 4 liters that everyone says is “bulletproof”. A car shouldn’t leak, a car shouldn’t need constant water pump and alternator replacements either but, you know.
Somehow, they’re considered to be similar to oil changes.

Sklooner
Sklooner
2 months ago

Yeah my T5 Volvos need a belt around 120000 the T6 has chains and is at 310000 and not a bit of noise, at least the belts are easy to change and you can change the waterpump every second change

Andrew Wyman
Andrew Wyman
2 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.

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