CarTalk.com Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

2004 Chevy Aveo - Broken timing belt

The timing belt on my 2004 Chevy Aveo broke last week. I have it at a mechanic who got a new timing belt on to check the compression of the engine. Bad news: no compression. So far they haven’t taken the head off to inspect the inside. They gave me a quote of about $1500 to repair. This includes timing belt/water pump, cylinder head gasket removal and replacement, cylinder head check, some misc labor, lube, oil, and filter…

However, another mechanic is suggesting that I replace the engine instead with a used or refurbished engine with less miles. He says that it doesn’t make much sense to put new parts on the top end of the engine. The engine itself has about 153k miles on it.

Who is right?

If your current engine does not knock or burn oil then I would say do the repair on the existing cylinder head.

The unknown part is the “check cylinder head” bit. With no compression the intake valves are probably bent and this will require new valves along with a complete valve job, resurfacing of the head if needed, and so on. Hopefully that 1500 includes that.

I might add a few other things. With a used engine you have no idea what you’re getting even if it does have low miles. That used engine may have never seen a single oil change or may have been badly overheated at some point in time.

Lastly, I flat do not get why a mechanic has to replace a belt to check for damage in a situation like this.
Damage can be determined without replacing anything.
Just curious, but are they charging you for a timing belt job up to this point?

A Chevy Aveo with 153K on it? I’d walk away.

Tester

@ok4450: The engine had no issues before the timing belt broke. Oil was fine. They didn’t charge me for a whole timing belt job. They got one on there so they could crank the engine for the compression test. They haven’t pulled the engine apart to check the heads yet. Up to now, I owe for what they’ve done so far.

@tester: By “walk away”, do you mean you wouldn’t bother fixing it at all?

Yes.

Use the money you would have spent on the Aveo towards the purchase of another vehicle. You’re putting more money into a vehicle than what the vehicle is worth. And with that many miles, and we’re not talking Toyota or Honda, but this is a Deawoo vehicle made for GM. This vehicle was built for GM for cheap and is disposed of.

Tester

@tester: thanks for clarifying. I’m actually buying the car still from my work. It’s in my name and on my insurance, but I still owe about $2500 (out of $2600) on it. They just started selling it to me about a month ago. Unfortunately, this means my cost on the car is the $2500 plus cost of buying something else, or that plus the cost of any repairs. I’ll start checking Craigslist to see what I can find. Sucks! Thanks again for your comments.

If you know the history of this car and it has been quiet, smooth, and reliable I vote for fixing it. You don’t know what you’re getting with a used engine, and $1500 isn’t much money these days when it comes to buying a car–you couldn’t get another car for $1500. Just be sure your shop is familiar with engine work and has done this kind of service before.

@ok4450, surely you remember fixing cars for money? Sure you can pull the valve cover and check valve lash, compression and leakdown, but on this engine you can hang a belt and spin the engine in less time than you can pull the valve cover and do a proper inspect. What to do? Hang a belt and take a chance or spend time testing? I think this is especially true on V6 and V8 engines that require upper intake removal to access spark plugs and valve covers.

My point about the charge for installing a timing belt so they could check compression is a waste of time and money. They should be able to determine if there’s a problem inside of 10 minutes without replacing anything.
The head does not have to be removed to determine if it’s damaged or not.

I took at a look at eBay and a few other sites. It appears that an low miles engine can be found comparatively cheap compared to engines on other makes so that is something that could be considered anyway; especially since you’re on the hook for the car. One of them shows to be a 26k miles engine for about 400 dollars with 225 shipping on it.
With some footwork and patience you might find one locally for the same price and save the shipping charge if you go this route.

For 400 dollars and miles that low, I would take a shot on something like that assuming you decide to keep the car and repair it.
I might add that if you go with another engine the new belt should be installed on the replacement motor. Best of luck anyway.

Just curious ok4450, how can you determine valve damage or no in less than 10 minutes?

Remove spark plug from Number One cylinder, rotate camshaft until valves are closed, and apply compressed air to that cylinder. If it hisses back out the intake the intake valves are bent.
Another method is to pop the valve cover off and check for excessive lash on the intakes as the intake valve heads are larger than the exhaust and they’re generally the ones to make contact with the piston tops. The bent valves will of course not allow the valve to fully seat which in turn increases the lash.

I’m just saying that I’ve never in my life felt a need to install a belt just to find out bad news and it makes me kind of cringe to read tales on here all of the time about someone owing a 4 or 500 dollar tab for a belt replacement only to be told, sorry your engine is junk.

I also don’t buy that the engine is junk in most cases due to valve/piston contact. Usually the pistons get nicked up a bit and a few minutes spent with a Dremel removing sharp edges on those nicks will usually make things right.
Granted, there’s always the possibility of a cracked piston or damaged rod bearing due to a broken belt but I’ve never run across one yet that repair of the heads and piston nick repairs did not make right.

Tester does have a good point about walking away from this car. It’s just that being an '04 and still owing 2500 on it makes it a much more difficult decision because that 2500 along with what the shop is charging now will apparently be rolled over into another car. Another car might be even worse.

@ok4450, I agree completely about a broken belt not being the death knell for all engines. Kias tend to demolish engines when the t-belt breaks, but I’ve replaced or repaired many a cylinder head and had the engine live a long healthy life.

I perfectly understand how to do a leakdown or valve lash inspection. I don’t think it’s possible to pull the timing cover or valve cover (to move the cam) and test all 4 in less than 10 min. Whaddya do on something like a Chrysler where the intake has to come off to pull spark plugs? On a Honda where the v/c has to come off anyway to get the timing cover off it’s great to check valve lash, but on some of the Chrys or Mits V-6 engines out there, you’re looking at over an hour just to pull the intake and get to the spark plugs, not even pull the valve covers. I’d say half the time I can have a belt on far enough to hear it run in less time than I can do a complete leakdown test.

I’d say to fix the car because he still owes money on it. And we don’t know what the shop has charged for the diag, could be he’s just into it clock time, which on this car should be less than an hour.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I don’t have a problem with throwing a belt on it if the belt is easy to do and assuming there’s no failed water pump or belt tensioner, etc.

I do not remove all plugs or check all cylinders nor do I perform a leakdown or compression test as I feel those are basically unnecessary.
My method is to just check one cylinder or maybe two by applying compressed air. If there’s a fault with even one cylinder it’s all got to come apart anyway if a repair is going to be performed so testing every cylinder is just a waste of time.
If by some fluke the belt broke while the engine was at idle and the engine slammed to a halt before rotating through every cylinder and this left a few cylinders unscathed I would check more than one cylinder if the first one I tested showed there was no problem.
Usually at elevated RPMs there’s enough momentum in the crankshaft to take them all out.

My feeling about running up even a moderate tab to determine bad news is simply that doing this is not the way to go. Many people have posted on this forum seeking advice on situations like this after discovering they owe a shop 3, 4, 500, or even 800 bucks plus only to be told they have a damaged engine.
In some cases they’ve been told after a belt broke on an interference fit engine there’s no way of knowing if damage exists at all other than physically removing the cylinder head, or heads as the case may be.

Personally, I wouldn’t even invest in fixing the head(s). In similar situation I just bought a junkyard head for a couple hundred, did some basic checks and slapped it on. Drove for years afterward at a fraction of the cost for a rebuilt head let alone replacing the entire engine.

One bit of advice, if you do go the used motor route. Make sure you have the water pump and tbelt changed before the motor goes in. Start fresh with this new motor.

Thanks for all the responses. I appreciate it!