Timing belt--age?

“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”)”

Unfortunately, what you stated is the “dumbed down” version that our “dumbed down” media printed in the aftermath of that incident, and as a result, that is what much of America thinks is accurate. In my Torts class, we studied the actual facts of the case, and there was quite a bit more involved than McDonald’s PR people would like you to believe. And, I say that as someone who owns a significant number of shares of McDonald’s stock.

Let me know if you want accurate information on the case. If you knew the actual facts of the case, I can pretty much guarantee that you would have filed suit also.

VDC, thanks for the further clarification! I’m not really interested in the details, and spend a lot of time at Macdonalds all over the world. My main hangups are with eating/drinking & driving, which most people, including myself, don’t do well together. I like to sit down, have my Big Mac and read the paper.

I would love to hear the salient details of this case. I’ve always had the feeling there could be another side to the story. I spilled just-served, to-go coffee in the same part of anatomy once and got nothing more than a hot temper and an involuntary screaming fit. She got 3rd degree burns, I understand. It had to have been piping, bubbling, boiling cofee. A $10,000 setlement wouldn’t have been a deterrent to one of the biggest companies in the world.

Yes, please post how the self spilling of hot coffee into the lap of a person drinking the coffee could be developed into an irresponsible action by the seller of the coffee. Hot coffee has historically been something that you don’t want to spill into your own lap or you might be burned. Enlighten me please!

According to The Wall Street Journal (which is not exactly a bastion of liberalism), McDonald’s callousness was the real issue in this case and even jurors who originally thought the case was just “a tempest in a coffee pot” were overwhelmed by the evidence against the corporation.

Aside from the fact that the plaintiff in this case was a passenger, and that the car was stationary when the coffee spilled on her lap as she opened it in order to put cream into it (In other words, she was not “eating and driving”), see this list of facts that the media failed to report:

For years, McDonald’s had known they had a problem with the way they make their coffee - that their coffee was served much hotter (at least 20 degrees hotter) than at other restaurants.

McDonald’s knew its coffee sometimes caused serious injuries - more than 700 incidents of scalding coffee burns in the preceding decade had been settled by the Corporation.

The woman involved in this infamous case suffered very serious injuries - third degree burns on her groin, thighs and buttocks that required skin grafts and a seven-day hospital stay.

The woman, an 81-year old former department store clerk who had never before filed suit against anyone, said she wouldn’t have brought the lawsuit against McDonald’s had the Corporation not dismissed her request for compensation for medical bills. (If I recall correctly, she actually sought something like $10,000. for her medical expenses.)

A McDonald’s quality assurance manager testified in the case that the Corporation was aware of the risk of serving dangerously hot coffee and had no plans to either turn down the heat or to post warnings about the possibility of severe burns, even though most customers weren’t aware that it was possible to be severely burned by McDonald’s coffee.

After careful deliberation, the jury found McDonald’s was liable because the facts were overwhelmingly against the company. When it came to the punitive damages, the jury found that McDonald’s had engaged in willful, reckless, malicious, or wanton conduct, and rendered a punitive damage award of 2.7 million dollars. (The equivalent of just two days of coffee sales, McDonalds Corporation generates revenues in excess of 1.3 million dollars daily from the sale of its coffee, selling 1 billion cups each year.)

On appeal, a judge lowered the award to $480,000, a fact not widely publicized in the media. And, of course, if McDonald’s had merely paid the woman’s medical bills in the first place, they wouldn’t even have had to pay this reduced amount of money to her!

A report in Liability Week, September 29, 1997, indicated that Kathleen Gilliam, 73, suffered first degree burns when a cup of coffee spilled onto her lap. Reports at that time also indicated that McDonald’s consistently keeps its coffee at 185 degrees, still approximately 20 degrees hotter than at other restaurants. Third degree burns occur at this temperature in just two to seven seconds, requiring skin grafting, debridement and whirlpool treatments that cost tens of thousands of dollars and result in permanent disfigurement, extreme pain and disability to the victims for many months, and in some cases, years.

Incidentally, as to why McDonald’s coffee used to be brewed with extremely high temperature water is that this is a way of extracting more flavor from the grounds without using more coffee. In other words, a cost-saving measure. Of course, the coffee tastes pretty lousy that way. Note that the coffee that McDonald’s now serves is actually a much higher quality brew than they used to serve, it now tastes very good, and it is not brewed with the ultra-high temperature water of yesteryear.

In other words, they have learned to make better coffee and no longer see the need to use ultra-high temperature water. And, their newly improved coffee business is one of the factors that caused McDonald’s stock to be one of the best in returns over the past couple of years. This sort of proves that doing the right thing in the first place is better for all concerned.

Hot coffee is not something that would normally produce severe burns. But, if you jack up the temperature of that coffee by 20 degrees, as McDonald’s did, it is certainly capable of producing severe burns.

See my post above for the actual facts of the case.

Yeah, that’s part of the issue. Most coffee is served at around 140 degrees (roughly like a hot water tank turned up very high). That place was putting it out at around 200.

I recommend you check the owners manual. That should have both a mileage timeframe and an yearly age timeframe. If it does not, ask your local dealer repair shop for accurate replacement information. I just had my belt changed on my honda civic, by the dealer. the recommended change period was 105K miles. I overshot that by 15K miles. This was a risk I took. I began to notice performance changes after about 95K. If you know the history of the car, with a timing belt you may be able to detect when the belt is wearing out. I could tell because the car did not have the same amount of pickup it used to have. It would idle rough. Also, all belts were original since new. So the drive belts were the same age. They were also starting to make wear noises around 110K miles. These noises were not loud and some people may not notice or pay attention to them. This was another indicator that all the belts were wearing out. With the Civic, a great thing is that when they replace the timing belt, they also replace all the drive belts with new ones and also replace the water pump. My local Dealer in southern Texas quoted me less than $500 for all the work. The actual work came in less than the estimate. A northern U.S. Honda dealer quoted close to $1000 for the same work. After the repair, I noticed the car ran much smoother at idle and acceleration was very smooth and no rough engine run. The dealer mentioned that some customers have gone over 180K miles on their honda timing belt before replacement, but he does not recommend this at all and said the customer was very lucky the engine lasted that long without a major engine repair. WIth all original belts, replaced at the same time, I always check the drive belts and consider them an indicator to overall belt condition. This is not a guarantee and I recommend the mechanic tell you the condition of your belt or follow the Manufacturers recommended replacement period. Always ask the dealer what maintanence is coming due in the next 5K to 10K miles to prepare you for upcoming repairs both major and minor.

I trust that my lengthy explanation has clarified the actual facts of the case. McDonald’s transformed their coffee into a hazardous product by choosing to serve it at a dangerously high temperature. When a company chooses to sell a hazardous product, they put themselves at risk, as well as the public.

After the repair, I noticed the car ran much smoother at idle and acceleration was very smooth and no rough engine run.

It’s very possible that your belt was so worn that it had skipped a tooth or two on the pulley(s) and your valve timing vs. crank position was off. A few more skips and you’d have been in trouble if it was an interference-type design.

I have an '02 Subaru Forester with 90k miles on it. This is right where the manufacturer recommends replacement of the timing belt. I’m a college student, therefore poor! I make quite a bit during the summer, so my question is: Would it be permissible to hold off for another few thousand miles and get this done this coming summer? Or is it absolutely imperative that I get it done now? I have taken excellent care of my car otherwise.

And what’s truly unfortunate is that an (apparently) legitimate case of a defective product (excessively hot coffee) gets buried in all the noise of idiots suing innocent manufacturers for injuries caused by their own stupidity (e.g., using a lawnmower as a hedge trimmer, running a race with a refrigerator strapped to your back) or someone else’s fault (someone without deep pockets, such as the drunk driver who hit the phone booth you were in). Thus, we get “tort reform” that penalizes people who were legitimately hurt by defective products, all because of get-rich-quick shysters suing everyone in sight.

It’s unlikely that the belt will break within the next 2 or 3 thousand miles, but there are no guarantees that it won’t. It’s probably OK to let it slide, so long as you don’t put more than a “few” thousand miles on it. Just make sure that you don’t forget to have it done as soon as you can afford to (mark it on your calendar). The belt isn’t designed to break at 90k, but it isn’t designed to go 120k or 150k either.

When I was in high school, college and grad school I earned my keep turning wrenches whenever I could. I once worked at a truck stop just off the interstate in the midwest and saw some really wild stuff coming off the highway. Some folks just don’t know enough, some just don’t care. My bottom line is that I love to see a well designed machine perform as it should and realize that machines need maintenance, replacement parts, and careful use. I’m also a cheapskate and can’t see buying a brake rotor just because I was too cheap to change the pads . . . or re-do the engine just because I was too cheap to change the oil . . . or crash the car because I was too cheap to change the wiper blades. It’s now even more important to me because I have a family and I don’t want to risk our safety. Rocketman

Very true!

And, in the case of the McDonald’s plaintiff, the media simply reprinted the dumbed down non-facts given out by McDonald’s PR people as if they were factual, and the public lapped it up and internalized it. The media has simply become a means of airing press releases, and the accuracy of this information rarely seems to be verified by the media. If you can find one person in a thousand who really understands the realities of the McDonald’s coffee case, I would be very surprised.

As you said, legitimate cases like this are trivialized in the name of Tort Reform.

I think that it really depends on how much of a gambler you are by nature. If the timing belt holds out for a few thousand miles, then you are fine. But, if it breaks, the ultimate cost will likely be over $2,000., due to the cost of tearing down the engine in order to replace a valve or two, and possibly a piston or two, plus, of course, the cost of the timing belt, tensioner, and water pump.

As one of the members of this board has said, your engine will run very nicely–right up until the milisecond after the belt snaps. So, in case you are thinking that you will have advance warning of impending failure, that is not the case.

Are you a gambler by nature?

A lot of times the belt doesn’t actually break but the cogs wear down so the crank sprocket teeth slip on the cogs. This often happens during cranking since that’s when more force is required to overcome inertia of the non-moving valve train. Cranking RPM is low- 3-400 RPM, I think, maybe not enough to damage an interference engine…

I can provide some information from a materials standpoint from just a little experience in an engineering environment and from changing my own belt several times on different cars.

A timing belt does not wear out, it heat ages out. The elastomeric (rubber) material that timing belts are made from is probably neoprene or a nitrile type material, both of which will harden over time and elevated temperature. This hardening process does not occur at normal room temperature or else proceeds so slowly that it is not detectable over several years. The trick is to change the belt before it hardens to the point where teeth begin shearing off or cracking occurs etc. 60,000 or 90,000 miles or 7 years is intended to cover the time that the belt will be at an elevated temperature with a freeway driver and also an urban driver who does fewer miles at lower speeds, yet may expose the belt to an elevated temperature for a time similar to the freeway driver. There are few elastomers that are resistant to heat induced hardening, silicone rubber and polyacrylic rubber being two. These apparently are not suitable for timing belts for reasons that I don’t know, possibly wear resistance or adherance to fiberglass or Kevlar cord resistance, just guesses.

In addition, the mileage and time limits are intended to cover the whole country, from the hot south to the cooler north. To provide longer limits for the cooler north would require some knowledge of where the vehicle really spent its time and the risk of error with different mileages and times is too complicated. It would be safe to assume that the timing belt compartment external to the engine metal would run a bit cooler in a winter environment even though engine thermostats were the same. Also, an engine will warm faster in the south and cool more slowly there too, increasing the heat soak time for the belt.

If a car was run mostly in the north including during winter, it could be safe to extend the changing interval but how much with no failure data available to would only be a guess.

It could also be possible to judge the condition of a belt if a suitable way to measure the hardness both new and used were available. The thin construction and geometry of a belt and that it has reinforcement does not lend itself to accurate hardness measurement with a Shore Durometer A meter. A possiblity is to fasten a thicker sample of the elastomer suitable for measurement inside the belt compartment but it would need to be reliably checked and that might not happen.

My hope is that these belts will not be used by engine designers when more consumers become educated after they get hit with the belt replacement charges that do not apply to chain driven camshafts, wreck an engine or are stranded by the side of the road.

I bought an 8 year old Camry with 19,00 miles on it. I don’t plan on replacing the timing belt until 80,000 miles or it breaks.
I will only have to deal with a little inconvenience if it breaks while I am driving it. It won’t do any damage to the engine. If I replace it now, I would never know if it would have lasted 80,000 miles.

“I will only have to deal with a little inconvenience if it breaks while I am driving it.”

If it breaks while you are in the left lane of an expressway doing 70 mph with trucks all around you, it may be more than “a little inconvenience” as you attempt to get to the shoulder of the road with no power. Or if you were on your way to the airport to catch an overseas flight…or, if you were in a remote area, at night, in bad weather…or…any number of scenarios where a sudden breakdown could be more than a little bit of inconvenience.

Clearly you can do as you wish with car maintenance, but vehicles don’t necessarily break down at a convenient time or in the best location. I don’t like to be inconvenienced if it can be avoided, and spending a few hundred $$ is well worth being able to avoid some inconvenience–at least in my opinion.