Timing belt--age?

Suppose you have a low mileage car. How old should it be before you change the timing belt just because of years?

Around 6 years IMHO but that can vary too. Some years ago friends of mine bought a 4 year old Honda CIvic with 59k miles on it and the belt broke 2 weeks after the purchase, leading to some expensive engine repairs.

What ever maintenance schedule prescribes. Its always mileage or age whichever FIRST.

Check your owner’s manual. Replace the belt at the miles or age specified in the manual.

I have a low-mileage car on which I replaced the timing belt at seven years, even though the mileage was only 55k.

Time matters.

The answer to your question can be found in your glove compartment. Open it up, take out the Owner’s Manual/Maintenance Schedule, and read exactly what the vehicle manufacturer specifies.

While you are at it, take a look at all of the other maintenance procedures that have an elapsed-time specification, as well as a mileage specification. You could be late with other maintenance procedures as well.

Most car manufacturers recommend 60,000 miles or 6 years. Having said that, a Honda news magazine came around the other day, and one happy Civic owner had gone 160,000 miles without even changing the timing belt. I’m surprises Honda would publish such irresponsable behavior. If I drove low miles like you, I would go 6 years on a new timing belt, or 60,000 miles whichever came first.

If you interviewed 100 car owners in a supermarket parking lot I have a feeling that only 30% or so would even know that their car has a timing belt.

OK, extreme conditions affect the life as well. Extreme heat gradually destroys the rubber; in the Middle East one contractor replaces ALL BELTS every 2 years for safety reasons; you don’t want to be stranded in the middle of nowhere. Similarly, extreme cold, such as the Alaska North Slope makes the belt very brittle; most breaks there occur on startup from very cold. More frequent replacement is in order as well.

“If you interviewed 100 car owners in a supermarket parking lot I have a feeling that only 30% or so would even know that their car has a timing belt.”

You would be lucky if 30% had the slightest idea what a timing belt is, what it does, and what happens if it breaks. Also, 50% probably don’t know if they have a 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, or 12 cylinder engine (I know engineers (non-automotive) who didn’t know there was any such thing as a 5 cylinder engine).

Craig, thanks for the comment. Since most of us grew up with timing chains, which needed vey little attention, few parents and older car owners could tell their kids this was an extremely critical item, and one of the most neglected.

I also recall many years ago I worked for an outboard motor and lawnmower manufacturer. I had to handle service problems and warranty claims which the dealers could not. The irate owners, when asked if it was a 2 or 4 cyle engine (we made several types) would normally say “3”, meaning the horspower of their lawnmower.

I am really baffled by today’s kids in-depth knowledge of computers, and their abysmal ingnorance of what goes on under the hood of their cars.
In terms of investment the radiator alone costs about as much as a PC.

“You would be lucky if 30% had the slightest idea what a timing belt is, what it does, and what happens if it breaks. Also, 50% probably don’t know if they have a 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, or 12 cylinder engine.”

Hell, at least 25% of the people posting questions on this board don’t even know how to spell the make and/or model of the car that they are driving! You know–a Toyato Camary, or Subara Impesa, or a Buick LaSabra, and so on.

There have even been people posting questions who stated that they did not know the exact model year of the car that they are driving. If someone is not observant enough to notice the nameplate on their car, or if they are not bright enough to realize that their vehicle registration notes the model year, it is not hard to believe that there are many people who don’t know about the existence of a timing belt on their car!

After all, someone might have to read the Owner’s Manual/Maintenance Schedule that is sitting in his/her glove compartment in order to learn of the necessity of replacing a timing belt. Do you really expect them to reach aaaallll the way over to the glove box and open it up?


A friend of mine (who is an engineer) was telling me a story about her sister. Apparently, the sister told her she had just gotten a new car and my friend asked what kind. Her sister said, “blue.” She claims this is a true story.

Some folks believe that car engineers figure in the “dumb owner” concept and over engineer their products. I believe otherwise and err on the side of preventive maintenance. So if you’re worried about it and the possibility of a belt breaking will cause major damage . . change it early and forget about it. Personally I feel that the possibility of causing thousands of $$ of damage when coupled with the possibility of this belt breaking on a busy freeway or some dark night with me or a family member driving it outweighs taking the belt to it’s recommended maximum. Rocketman

Smart thinking Rocketman; you are practicing risk-based maintenance. I once went on a long holiday trip not knowing my fan belt was going to pack it in. The guys who changed my oil had given it a clean sheet. It broke just coming off the Mackinaw Bridge from the Michigan Northern Peninsula on a scorching hot August weekend. It took the whole afternoon to get the right belt and have it installed. To keep peace in the familily we now exhaustively prepare our cars for long trips.

We had a gentleman some years ago who purchased a brand new Subaru and the engine blew up (non-repairable due to the severity) after 25k miles due to him never once changing the oil since new or even checking the oil level.

He actually went as far as siccing an attorney on us and claimed it was our fault “because we never told him he had to change the oil”. Moron.

If had a few conversations like that:
“Wow, you should check out so-and-so’s car, it’s really cool and it goes fast!”
“Which car is it?”
“I don’t know, but it was red!”

These were typically the kind of people that you could distract by saying, “look, a bright shiny thing!” :slight_smile:

Yup, it’s cheap insurance. I just had a fan belt (v-type) break on my car 1500 miles from home. Fortunately, it is a double belt design so I just drove the rest of the way with one belt (I do have spares in the car, but I didn’t feel like installing it in the cold unless I had to). I have decided I will just replace all my belts every fall (I drive about 40K miles per year), it’s only about $50 in parts and I can do it in less than an hour. My experience is that one can break just about any time over about 50K miles, so why mess around?

Depends on the make and model of the car. As others have said, check your owners manual.

What you REALLY want to do is to call your local dealership and ask them if your car has an “Interference engine.” Hondas, Nissans, and Mazdas generally do, but there are others. An interference engine is one where if the timing belt breaks, then the clearance between the tops of the pistons (when all the way up in the cylinder) and the valves (When extended all the way down in the cylinder) is not sufficient and the engine will very expensively eat itself up as the pistons and valves try to occupy the same space.

A “freewheeling” or non-interference engine will just spin if the belt breaks, leaving you stranded but not completely hosed.

If you have an interference engine, change the timing belt every 5 years (or less depending on manufacturer specs in the owners manual) regardless of mileage AND consider doing it ASAP if you aren’t sure how the car was driven before. If you live in alaska or somewhere else extreme, consider every 3-4 years.

If you have a freewheeling engine, change it according to manufacturer specs, and have AAA or another plan in case you get stranded on the side of the road.

"What you REALLY want to do is to call your local dealership and ask them if your car has an “Interference engine.”

While that is a good idea, I would not trust the expertise of most service writers. Many of them are so UNknowledgeable about the cars that they service that I would not trust what one of them says regarding this important topic.

Sounds like the woman who sued Macdonalds after she spilled hot coffee on her thighs at the drivethrough (“I didn’t know it was hot or would tip”). I have a folding sunshield to keep the heat off my dash and steering wheel. It says “remove before driving off”. Ralph Nader never envisaged that consumer protection would be a 2 edged sword and wuold be abused by a large segment of the population, while adding huge sums of money for "idiot-proofing " products. Most Americans don’t realize that if Jimmy Carter had been re-elected, we would have had rubber-bladed lawnmowers which can’t cut off your feet, but wear incredibly fast. Unfortunately, Consumer Reports, an otherise excellent consumer magazine, supports such nonsense, instead of crusading to make Americans responsible for their own behavior and the consequences thereof.

Heck, I didn’t read my owner’s manual until just recently and I’ve had the car for 2-1/2 years!

Back in the very early '80s I wanted to put up a steel shed, so I invited two pals from work to come help. I at the time was a Sr. Quality Engineer, and the other two were a Sr. Manufacturing Methods Engineer and a Sr. Mechanical Design Engineer. We were three guys who spent our lives around the critical importance of manufacturing methods and proceedures. The first thing we did when we opened the crates was throw he assembly instructions off to the side. We then opened three beers and proceeded. By early evening, we were taking everything we had done apart in preparation to begin to follow the instructions. We had fun, but human nature is to not bother to read the directions…or the owner’s manual!