2003 Toyota Corolla - Timing Cover Leak: repair or replace car

I went in today for a factory airbag recall on my 2003 Toyota Corolla (127,000 miles) and was told that my car needs to have a new drive belt put in (they said it’s dry and cracked) and that it is leaking from the front timing cover. Quote was $240 for the drive belt and $1280 for the timing cover leak.

As a professional woman of a certain age (I’m 50), I don’t do auto repairs, and my husband travels for business and doesn’t do auto repairs either. My plan is to take it to an independent Toyota shop (although I do like and trust my dealership) for a second estimate, but I am wondering if I shouldn’t just be looking at a new car at this point, rather than an expensive repair.


$1200 isn’t really expensive as far as repairs go, especially if comparing to the price of buying a new car. Sales tax alone on a new car will be twice as much as the repair on yours.

I’m guessing you could get those items done for far less at an independent garage. Resealing the timing cover would involve removing the belt, so that part of the service would be done for the cost of the belt only, about $60 or so. See what your independent garage says about the leak. Your car should have a lot of life left in it.

??? $1,200 for a timing cover? I’m not understanding what’s leaking, I guess. Gates doesn’t list a timing belt for the 2003 Corolla, so I’m guessing it’s a timing chain. A leak would just require a new gasket, wouldn’t it?

A second opinion sounds in order for sure.

Is there ever any oil dripping on the ground within 6 inches of the passenger side tire? Some shops judge the need for a new seal based on their need for cash.

The $1200+ quoted seems excessive; get another estimate from a good independent garage.

Small leaks are not a problem. most people just keep driving. I have a miniscule leak on the oil pan of my Toyota and the dealer wants to fix it for $450. I don’t even have to add any oil between changes.

Unless you have a significant amount of oil leaking on your garage floor, I would ignore it. The engine won’t run any better with it “fixed”.

If the crankshaft seal is leaking, $1280.00 is a little steep.

They’ll have the drive belt off anyway, so all that needs to be done is remove the crankshaft pulley and replace the crankshaft seal.


Thank you all! This is super helpful. I have never seen oil on my garage floor, or near the passenger side tire, although I will check more diligently in the next few weeks. I just picked up the car from the dealership - the notes say I need a front timing cover reseal because the engine is leaking oil from the front timing cover, as well as a new drive belt. I am okay with the drive belt (at 127,000 I supposed that’s to be expected), but the price for the front timing cover reseal seems way too high. I’m off for a second estimate tomorrow!

What is a “drive belt”?

Good. If the second shop says you need the cover resealed, ask them to show you why. Lots of gaskets leak a little bit of oil, it’s not necessary to replace them. Also start keeping a close eye on your oil level, if you aren’t using much oil (say, less than a quart per 1,000 miles) and you see no leaks on your garage floor, it must not be much of a leak!

Small leaks are a favorite money maker for some shops, especially the quickie oil change shops (to be avoided).


You don’t know what a drive belt is? And you give advice on the board?

A drive belt is one that drives things like the power steering pump, alternator, AC compressor, and in some cases the water pump.


Wanda - there are leaks, and there are seeps. A leak should show up with at least drips on the garage or driveway where you typically park the car overnight. Seeps are really just areas where some oil is on the motor itself and they collect dirt and are visible. If a leak hits a hot engine part such as an exhaust pipe or manifold you can get a “smell” from the burning oil.

Get another opinion and this oil leak really might be no big deal at all.

I was at my local car guy, a customer had the same story, and they told the customer it is not leaking that much, let it go. it was not a massive leak and did not imply any immenent failure of anything. Get a second opinion.

tester: I thought that was the serpentine belt. A drive belt is, by definition, a belt that transfers power from the engine to the wheels, and automobiles do not have those. (except a CVT transmission perhaps, or some motorcycles).

Playing with words, I know, but words are important, it’s all we have to communicate with here.


A drive belt is one that takes engine rotation to operate another component.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a V-belt or a serpentine belt.


Wanda, as many here will tell you, even a $1200 repair isn’t worth plunking down $20 to $40K on a new car. Consider that 2-3 car payments for the entire year.

I had never heard of a “drive belt” either until my mechanic mentioned I would probably need a new one at my next oil change. It wasn’t until I got home and googled it that I found out drive belt = serpentine belt.

Oops no T-Belt on this engine?

OK, the drive belt is the belt that drives the underhood accessories, like the alternator, air cond, etc. Those are now and have always been called accessory drive belts. Well, maybe 35 years ago they were called fan belts, but things have changed a little since then. There are V-drive belts, multi-groove drive belts, serpentine drive belts, double-sided serpentine drive belts, but they’re all drive belts,

@“Honda Blackbird” without knowing what–if anything–is leaking it’s impossible to tell how much it should cost, but the car can’t possibly need a timing belt job. Without knowing if it’s the front crank seal, the timing cover seal/gasket, or possibly something else, we’re all just guessing.

Whatever needs to be resealed at the front of the engine, the drive belt will certainly have to be removed to access it. So the belt should be replaced at no labor charge when the oil leak is addressed.

That car appears to have a timing chain and the crank seal could be replaced somewhat easily.

don’t ya think?

The crank seals are prone to leaking in this engine, especially on the 2003 for some reason. It is replaced just as Tester pointed out, an easy job should not cost anywhere near $1200. The quote for the accessory belt was too high as well, but it is a PITA to get it routed right. The car needs to be on a lift or at least on jackstands to replace the belt. I did both on my daughter 03 Corolla in the driveway in about an hour.