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

Changing my timing belt and water pump

I’m thinking of purchasing a replacement water pump, and timing belt for my 1999 honda civic, and attempting the replacement my self. I’m going to put the front end on jacks on a flat garage floor, I’ve got a weekend, but have never done this intensive a replacement before. Any suggestions for preparations, or other parts that I should invest in before making the attempt

If I recall correctly, a special tool or two is necessary for this job on a Honda. I would suggest that you check with your auto parts store before you begin this task, rather than finding out midway through the job that you are having a problem.

Also, if you don’t have a Haynes manual for this car, you really should have one in front of you while you are working, simply because of the problems that you will create if the belt is “off” by a notch or two when you finish the installation.

The first obstacle you’re going to run into is removal of the crankshaft bolt. A good impact gun can usually remove them. But if you don’t have impact gun you might need this tool http://www.denlorstools.com/home/dt1/page_6807/honda_and_acura_timing_belt_helpful_tips.html

Tester

This is not a job for a novice mechanic. If you are either more experienced or have someone helping you who has done this job before by all means proceed.

If not, perhaps you should pass on it. In addition to special pullers you’ll have to be sure all the cams and crankshaft are lined up to assure proper timing. If you don’t get this correct not only will the car not run, but you could damage valves and pistons meaning a lot more bucks to make it right than you saved by doing the job yourself.

I’m pretty handy but I’d never do this one myself even with the Haynes manual. This is not like changing a thermostat.

First of all, you’ll want to invest in a couple of jackstands. Jacks are OK for changing tires but you do not want to be under a car supported only by jacks.

Second, as several people have pointed out, Honda crankshaft bolts require more torque than most cars. Even if you get the thing off somehow, you’ll run into trouble putting it back on. You’ll want that tool Tester mentioned I think.

Third, Hondas have interference engines. You possibly will not get a second chance if you screw up the timing belt positioning. At least not if you screw it up badly.

Fourth, I can’t speak for Hondas, but on many cars it is not entirely clear what marks on the crankshaft/camshaft are the timing marks that you are supposed to line up. You might want to manually line things up and draw or take pictures of everything that has to be lined up BEFORE you take the old timing belt off.

Some cars require you to remove a motor mount to do a timing belt. Our Camry is like that. You might want to check on that, and have a plan to support the motor
while the mount is out before you discover the issue at 0930 Sunday morning.

Other than that, it’s not that big a deal. If you are confident that you can get the crankshaft bolt off and on, and that you can properly line everything up, the rest is probably just removing and reinserting a bunch of awkwardly placed bolts.

Does your Civic have balancer shafts, like the Accords? If so you need to replace the belt that drives them, too.

I’ve replaced four timing belts myself (VW Quantum, Pontiac LeMans, Geo Prizm, and Subaru Legacy), but when I read through the procedure for my '97 Accord I decided to pay an independent mechanic who specializes in Honda vehicles to replace it for me.

Not only do you have to line up the crankshaft and camshaft(s) correctly, the balance shafts also have to be timed. It was a little more than I felt comfortable doing, but I suppose if you have the time, the tools, and a good shop manual you can do it.

If the Civic doesn’t have balance shafts it would make things much simpler.

And I hope you meant jack stands, and not jacks.

I agree. Find a good independent mechanic who will do this job for less than $500.

Oh yeah. If you are planning to immobilize the engine so you can loosen/tighten the crankshaft bolt without turning the engine over, you might want to look into how you are going to slip a screwdriver into the flywheel to lock the engine. Our Mazda Protege has a handy access port for that. Our Camry doesn’t seem to. The longest part of the job turned out to be dealing with rusted exhaust bolts that had to be removed in order to get a cover plate off of the flywheel.

If you do the job yourself one thing you should do is this; and sadly, many mechanics don’t even do it.

After the belt, pump, etc. is replaced and before the covers are reinstalled do NOT crank the engine over.
Always rotate the engine over by hand with a socket/ratchet at least 3 or 4 revolutions and bring the timing marks back to where they should be.

This verifies that everything is correct. It’s cheap insurance and prevents finding out the hard way that engine damage can be caused by something as simple as the starter motor cranking the engine over when a timing mark is not correct.

I would also recommend cleaning the threads of various bolts directly related to the belt and using a thread locker such as Loc Tite to make sure they don’t come loose.

You absolutely need an experienced mechanic, who has done this job before, to assist you; other wise, you WILL bend the valves.

I think through all these replies, and the pict of the tools I would need, I think perhaps this might be a job to pass along.