Of timing belts, time, and distance



Dear Cartalk Community,

Two questions for you experts:

1) I have a 1993 Honda Accord. The owner’s manual says to change the timing belt every 90k miles or 72 months. It was last changed at 83k and now we’re at 127k, but it’s been 8 years since it was changed. Should we change it simply because of the passage of time (2 years overdue), or can we wait since the low mileage our eco-family has put on the car is about half of Honda’s recommendation? And yes, gurus o’ the water pump, we will replace it when we replace the timing belt!

2) Our other, even less-used car, is a 1987 Civic. It’s been driven about once every 4-6 weeks for the last two years, and almost not at all during the year before that, with no maintenance save one or two oil changes. In order to maintain it and make it mechanically happy, what should our next trip to the repair shop entail? And do we need to go to a dealership, or can a foreign-car garage do the work as well?

Many Thanks, hondauser in missoula


Timing belts are made of a material that deteriorates with age. I would defintely replace the one on the 1993 Accord, but I would leave the water pump in place.

As far as your Civic is concerned, since you don’t mention the mileage, I can’t say what exactly it might need. If it is not due for a timing belt, I would just change the oil and filter, and check the transmission fluid if it is still pink and does not smell burnt in any way. Test the coolant twice a year, and make sure the tires have enough pressure. This car should have 0W30 synthetic oil, and an oil & filter change once a year. I assume you live in Montana. Without significant corrosion, this car might last another 20 years.



Thanks. The Civic has about 115k on it, so before we stopped driving it almost completely, it was due for a major trip to the shop. Before that, it was well cared-for, although its life in harsh environments (near an ocean, then swampland before coming to Montana) stripped most of the finish off the paint.


  1. Yup, you’re overdue. Living on borrowed time.

  2. Check your owner’s manual. Do everything that’s recommended to have been done by this time. Many things have “mileage OR years” due dates. And put some gasoline stabilizer in the tank. Old gas goes bad without it.

Now take both to a reputable independent shop for a thorough checkup. There are other things that can go bad due to time, and it’s a good idea to get it checked annually. Seals in brake cylinders can start leaking just from age, for example, and you do not want to find this out the hard way. Do not go to the dealer. They see an old car coming and they fire up their cash registers!


There’s a reason why the owner’s manual lists miles AND months. Belts deteriorate over time, with or without use. If the belt fails the cost to repair the engine will be outrageous. I suggest you replace the belt.

I paid to have the belt on my '96 Accord replace at only 60K miles because the time limit had expired. Honda engines are “interference” engines. If the timing belt fails, the pistons and valve will collide, at very high speed. The result is not pretty. Expensive, but not pretty.


Click on the “Search” icon above and use the words “timing belt”. Look at the 2-12-08 thread for some speculation on your question.

  1. They don’t list the 6 year limit for no reason. Get it changed
  2. You should increase the oil change interval to once a year at least. Check your owners manual and note the time interval limits. No reason to go to a dealer.


If you are willing to follow half the advice in the manual, you should be willing to follow the other half, right?


To address your last question, these days foreign cars and domestic cars are not significantly different mechanically and most mechanics see foreign and domestic cars at a pretty even rate. Most places that call themselves foreign car specialists either work on REALLY weird European cars or have simply been in business long enough that they once specialized in foreign cars. Of course, keep in mind that in the 70’s and 80’s you needed a foreign car specialist because they often had fuel injection, or were front-wheel drive or had overhead cam engines with timing belts. Nowadays, these are very common features on domestic models.

However, I happen to be a fellow Missoulian, and I would strongly recommend just such a shop. The Import Palace on West Broadway-- they do good work and are pretty reasonable. Plus, in supporting them, you are supporting their project to build a football-shaped car on a VW Beetle floorpan.


Have you considered selling car #2. Yes I know you will not get much for it, but what are you paying for insurance, taxes and maintenance? I would guess you could rent a car for all the use you are getting out of it.

BTW tyres also have age limits.  I suspect the tyres on car #2 are suspect as well. I would not want to drive it on the highway.


I have had these break and friends have had them to break so many times I can tell you it is not worth stretching the interval between replacement. It is an easy maintenance item to forget, and all belts will eventually break.


The belts are rubber and wear out AND deteriorate . . age and use. Don’t push the limit. I’d much rather have it changed on a sunny day when the driver is safe than some dark and rainy night in the hinterlands. The almost certain damage you will do if it snaps will lunch the motor and cause you to junk either car, not to mention the safety issue of the car being disabled and you or your family member being put at risk. Rocketman