2002 Jetta with 110K, to preemptively change the timing belt or not to change the timing belt?

Hi. I drive a car I am extremely reliant on. I don’t have money to buy a new one and I may be a bit over protective of this car. It is in excellent shape, I bought it with 96K and whomever owned it took good care of it. I changed the battery pretty much right away, and the auto parts store guy said it looked like it was the original battery. So I suspect the timing belt is original too, (along with the clutch, which works great BTW). I don’t know anything about cars short of what I have heard on CT, but it seems there is a trend towards having to change the timing belt at 80-90K And I know that a worn out timing belt can have no symptoms and essentially ruin your car if it breaks.

I took my car for the blue plate special, and it has been to the dealer a couple of times for some repairs where they also do the general service and see if they can find something to charge me for and in all cases my car had nothing they would identify and repair. Fluids are good air filters are good etc etc. When I took it to the little shop on the corner I got the same report, and when I picked it up I asked, well how does the timing belt look? And he said. I can’t tell you, you would have to take it apart to find out. So my questions is, as I do not know if the timing belt has been changed by previous owners. should I just go for it and have someone change the timing belt as part of my regular maintenance plan now, or is there some nifty way to find out if it needs changing without having to spend an arm and a leg?

Help? :slight_smile:


At that mileage the timing belt SHOULD have been changed, but if you don’t know, I would change it. Try to get the maintenance history from the previous owner if you can. My neighbor broke a timing belt long before that on her VW Passat and it caused $3000 worth of damage.

So I would play it safe if you intend to keep this car for a while. This job usually costs between $600 and $900. No need to go to the dealer (expensive) for this service if you can find a good independent mechanic who knows Volkswagens.

Unfortunately, there is no way–including visual inspection–to predict when a timing belt will snap, and that is why it is prudent to change them on schedule. “On schedule” for a modern car usually means every 105k miles or 8 years, whichever comes first. However, it is possible that a car of 2002 vintage might call for replacement earlier, at–perhaps–80k miles or 5 years. What does your Owner’s Manual have to say regarding the interval for this maintenance?

Apparently, you bought a car that did not come with maintenance records, and therein lies the problem. Unless you know, through hard copy records, that the timing belt was replaced within the past few years, then you would be very foolish to trust that the previous owner may have replaced it. That might be a gamble that some people are willing to take, but I am not one of those people, and I would advise you to have the job done a.s.a.p. Make sure that your mechanic also replaces the water pump, serpentine belt, and all belt tensioners.

And, the next time that you are in the market for a used car, I suggest that you limit yourself to those that come with full maintenance records that you can compare (at your leisure) to the mfr’s maintenance schedule. Taking that extra step allows you to weed-out cars that have not been maintained properly, and to save yourself the expense of added maintenance and (probably) higher repair costs in the long run.

Dear Karina,
You have got a very good car there. If the timing belt breaks on a modern car, in most cases it means a total engine or at least cylinder head and valve train crash. REPLACE IT TODAY if there is no reliable maintenance history. I ALWAYS replace the belt prematurely to be safe. The cost is little compared to what might happen if it breaks. Beware of another thing: Many modern engines are using the timing belt to power the water pump also. Possible chain of consequences: Pump bearings freeeze, timing belt overloaded, it slips and you can kiss that good engine good-bye… When doing timing belt service, always check pump and rollers.
Good luck with your very nice car. Well maintained it can run forever!

Unless there is written proof a timing belt has been changed you should always assume that it hasn’t. Many car owners discover they have a looming timing belt expense AFTER the car purchase and rather than spend money out of pocket they trade the car off with the expense to be absorbed by the next owner.
That’s really not a good reason to unload a car, but it happens…

Both car and belt were likely manufactured in mid or later 2001 so this means the belt if origjnal is going on 12 years old.
Mileage, age, temperature extremes, possible coolant/oil leaks or vapors, belt tensioner wear, etc, are factors that determine timing belt life.

If you do go ahead and get it changed, I’d price it at several reputable shops before you pull the trigger. A dealer will rake you over the coals and you’ll likely pay too much. A car that’s 11 years old shouldn’t need to be brought to a dealer.

I know of no reliable way to inspect a timing belt for useful life remaining. It might be possible to remove the belt, fold it backwards and look for cracks at the bases of the teeth. When you are that far you might as well install a new belt. Otherwise used up belts visually appear very similar to slightly used belts. A brand new belt will not have minor scuff marks on the back side.

Agreed, it is quite possible at the mileages you state that the previous owner traded the car rather than spend the money for a new belt.

Another possibility is to try to trace the name of the previous owner with help from VW if the original owner was the previous owner. I don’t know if a DMV would help with this. If they would, it would save big dollars for sure.

Question for anyone who sees this: If this work was done at a VW dealer, would there be a computerized record that any VW dealer could access via VIN number? If that was possible, it might be less than astute in some instances to get the work done at an independent mechanic for the sake of record keeping where the previous owner fell short.

At this point, if it’s the original timing belt, then there would be nothing preemptive about changing it, it’s long overdue. But if the belt has been changed, then you would be a fair amount of money for nothing. However the stakes are pretty high, so I would change it.

Hi Everyone.

First off, thank you so much for your time and responses, it was a nice surprise and greatly appreciated. You gave me the information I needed to move ahead and stop having anxiety attacks about my timing belt.

Here is the outcome. The guy that sold me the car used to work at the VW dealership. He sold it for his ex girlfriend at the time (privately) and I figure he may know if the belt had been changed. He said he frankly didn’t remember but he would take a look at it. To my great surprise he exposed the timing belt in just about 60 seconds flat. I guess it wasn’t so hard to get to anyway. He showed me a new belt and how it was supposed to look and it was clear my belt was original and have the 110K on it my car has travelled. It also has a line in it that is a reason for concern.

Meanwhile, he related that in my car, the recommended time of change of the timing belt is 105K! so I feel a little better. He suggested changing the belt, tensioner and spring (? I think) as well as the water pump. He said that if the water pump broke anytime soon it would cost an arm and a leg to replace it because they would have to take the timing belt off again so his experience told him that it made good sense. All the parts he will be using are VW parts except the water pump which is an aftermarket part that supposedly perform better than the VW equivalent and it is cheaper. The quote for all this was $680.00 for parts and labor which I didn’t try to negotiate because I think that sounds and seems fair. He has a professional shop and he was very responsive after I bought the car whenever I had questions and concerns I think this ended up being a good solution. Tomorrow Friday the Jetti is going to the ca’spa.

Thank you

If the timing belt breaks on a modern car, in most cases it means a total engine or at least cylinder head and valve train crash.

I think it’s 50/50 as to cars that are interference or non-interference. And it has nothing to do with being a modern engine. Interference engines have been around for over 40 years.

2002 Jetta with 110K, to preemptively change the timing belt or not to change the timing belt?

Timing belts are always preemptively changed. You don’t want to wait until it breaks to then change it. Especially if it’s an interference engine.