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How can I tell if timing belt was really replaced?

My 97 civic (106k miles) is at the dealer for a new clutch. I usually only go to the dealer for recall items, but this time I decided to pay the extra. They looked over the entire car to see what else they could charge me for and came back with a huge list including having the timing belt replaced. I paid a PepBoys to do the timing belt less than 3 years ago (~24k miles ago), but I think they only did the timing belt, not the other drive belts or water pump.

After removing the covers, the dealer’s service manager said it looks like the timing belt was never replaced. There was still visible writing (faded and gray, but readable) on the outside, but they said there were lots of small cracks on the inside on the belt in between the teeth and brought over an old (removed) belt to try to show me. The belt in my car looked ok to me, but it’s hard to see much when it’s still in the car.

Can one tell the difference between a belt that has seen 13 years and 106k miles rather than 3 years and 24k? Or any way to tell if the belt is the original (any of that writing refer to manufacturing dates or codes)? If it wasn’t replaced I’d like to offer that PepBoys an opportunity to right the situation before my lawyer sends them a letter, but I think it’s just as likely (or more) that the dealer is trying to scare me into having it replaced again.

The only other possibly relevant piece of information I can think of is that my cruise control has been on the fritz ever since I may or may not have had the timing belt replaced. I can’t say exactly when it became a problem because I only use it on long out of town trips and didn’t make one until many months after the PepBoys visit. It still ‘works’ but the speed may fluctuate +/- about 10mph from what it is set to maintain, especially if there is any cline in the road (even if very gradual). There was an extra cruise control related charge on my bill for the timing belt, so I take this to mean they tweaked a wire or something when they were changing the belt… and therefore really did change the belt(!).

Is that a reasonable inference or is it more likely just coincidence that the cruise control on an older car started acting up and there’s no way to tell how old the belt is and I’m just gonna have to shell out the money again? And no, I didn’t ask for the old belt to be returned to me last time and yes, I know better now. Thanks.

Good reason to ask for parts when they’re replaced. Remember that, I know you mentioned it . . . but remember that. Now you HAVE to get it replaced, since you really don’t know. Rocketman

If the numbers on the belt are legible enough to get all or most them you could contact PB to see if that number matches up with what they sell or if it matches a genuine Honda OEM belt if was never changed previously.

Hairline cracks, even very tiny ones, point to age and dry rot with one exception. That could be if a belt of inferior quality was used; say some of that Chinese junk floating around out there. There was a bit of a to-do a few years ago about Chinese tires and valve stems falling apart and led to recalls on them if I remember correctly.

The cruise problem sounds a bit suspect and I don’t know why there would be an extra charge for this at all unless someone got ham-fisted and messed something up. If that were the case that should be on them; not you.
No idea what the problem here is but most cruise problems are comparatively minor.

And yes, always ask for your old parts back. A reputable shop should not only be willing to do this but should be happy to do so. It removes even a shred of doubt about whether parts were replaced or not.

Thanks, I was hoping for differences between what PepBoys uses and the original since yes, it’s been changed at most once and there is still something you can read on the outside of the belt. PepBoys said it should be a Dayco belt. Any opinion of that brand?

From my online reading, it sounds like for some cars the cruise control needs to be disconnected so that nothing leading to it gets in the way when replacing the belt and I assumed this is what the charge was for. I asked the dealer about the problem (on a separate occasion when I was there for a recall and the service manager was a different guy) and they said it’d be expensive to try to figure out the problem and so I probably didn’t want them to… which was true.

Is PepBoys and the dealer your ONLY option?? I wouldn’t user either of them.

Best to find a good independent mechanic.

Timing belt age and mileage has not been possible for me to judge from viewing 60,000 mile, 5 year old belts from my VW. I change the belt myself and the only evidence that I have seen to indicate use is some minor scuffing on the back side with the labeling partially obliterated. The teeth appear to be like new and flexing the belt reveals no cracks. The idea is to change the belt while it is still good.

If you want to make a legal case of this, it will cost more than a new belt. Rubber materials (elastomers) harden with time and heat, some faster than others, of course. The hardness of the rubber of a used vs new belt could be analyzed but you would also need known reference data to compare. This reference data likely exists in a development test record book in an auto maker’s, a timing belt vendor’s or an elastomer supplier’s R & D facility but you would have a difficult if not impossible task to get your hands on it and the data would be needed for the appropriate brand of belt used. Data that did not come from the final product such as from unprocessed material would be suspect but not entirely useless.

You might want to replace the belt and any ball bearing equipped rotary parts such as a water pump or tensioner pulley that are operated by the belt. A bearing failure will take out the belt and then your engine. If you don’t change your unknown belt, it will forever haunt you while you drive until it fails. Then the real haunting begins.

Is it possible that Pep Boys still has this job on their books? If you kindly expressed your concerns, they might take a look for you. In any case, the pump and tensioner pulley may need changing; might as well do the belt too.

First, I am not a fan of Pep Boys. Having said that, I think it is possible they didn’t change the timing belt, but it is just as possible the dealership is trying to take advantage of you. I wouldn’t waste my time trying to figure out which one is more likely, because in any case, it will be difficult to prove.

Here is my advice. Since the car is already apart, go ahead and have a new belt put on. It shouldn’t cost that much since most of the labor cost has already been incurred. See if you can negotiate a fair deal with the dealership. If you can’t negotiate a fair deal with the dealership, stick with the timing belt you have and replace it when it is due again.

Dayco belts are fine and while I don’t know off the top of my head who produces the belts for Honda they would likely be branded differently even if the Honda OEM belts were made by Dayco. In a nutshell; same company, same belt, different ink stamp.
If your existing belt has a Honda stamp and PB uses Dayco stamped ones then obviously it didn’t get done.

You see this with all car makers. Other than sheet metal and engines (and there are exceptions there too) just about everything else is a subcontract part. From seats to glass to transmissions and even down to the cigarette lighters.

Verdict = the dealer was lying to me. The belt has been replaced and I’ll take it somewhere else for an opinion on if it looks worn at all. I didn’t pay any labor for their assessment (paid plenty for the clutch), so there was no need to reward them with any more work.

A three year old timing belt is going to look like an old belt. It’s always going to look a bit beaten up.

Not necessarily. The first time I had the timing belt changed on my '98 Civic, I inspected the old one after it was removed. It looked brand new to me. This was after three years and 90,000 miles.

I’d like to think it’s more a case of either ignorance or trying to err on the side of safety than outright lying. I always take things with a grain of salt as they say. I sold a house once and the inspector told the buyers the roof needed replacing. It was less than one month old!! For the life of me, I could not understand how he could possibly look at the condition of that brand new roof and say it was in need of replacement. Timing belts are much harder to judge than roofing shingles…