Best of Deals Car Reviews Repair Shops Cars A-Z Radio Show

Timing belt ripoff?

I have a 1999 Ford Escort ZX2 with 112,000 miles. I recently took it in to have the serpentine and timing belts replaced. The car was running fine, the belts were just due to be replaced. After having the car all day, the shop called to tell me they had found major problems and wanted me to come in so they could show it to me. This is the description from the bill: “Timing belt cut in two lengthwise, idler gear broken, and VVT cam gear hub locked up.” They also showed me a bracket with a chunk gouged out of it were they said the gear had been rubbing against it. My question is, with these issues would I have noticed a problem with how the car was running? From what they showed me, I find it hard to believe the car was running at all, much less without any noticeable problems. I’ve gotten the car back and don’t notice any difference in how it is running than before I took it in. I’ve used this repair shop for years and have always felt that they were honest and dependable. But could the mechanic have caused all this damage trying to get the belt off and handed me the bill to fix it?

If the timing belts was cut the car wouldn’t have run.

Same with the VVT cam gear locked up…car wouldn’t have run.

Well, the VVT could have been locked up, keeping the Variable Valve Timing from occurring and you might not have noticed anything significant. And I guess it could run with a belt cut lenthwise, running with two narrow belts, in effect. But that ‘idler gear broken’ has me stumped, that would make quite a racket. Was it the timing belt idler pulley (not ‘gear’, actually) or the serpentine belt idler pulley? Did they show it to you? Did they fix everything? How much $$?

While it sounds odd, the fact that they’ve done right by you up till now makes me want to give them the benefit of the doubt. I do not think they could cause this kind of damage just working on your car.

I see now…it was cut around the belt…not through…

I guess if it was then the car still would run…but not sure HOW that could possibly happen.

The VVT cam gear being locked up???

This is always a dilemma for the mechanic – one of many an honest shop has to face sooner or later.

They discover serious problems that had not yet caused driveability problems. How to break the news to the customer? If they ignore the problems, they face responsibility when something soon goes wrong. If they report them the customer is skeptical.

Like texases said, if they have done right by you before, they ought to be given the benefit of the doubt.

I doubt you were ripped off, but the unexpected condition of the motor was a big surprise. Perhaps you might think better of this if you realize that in about 5 or 10 more miles on the road your motor might have suffered a castastrophic failure. That would have meant an multi-thousand dollar job for a replacement motor. Rather than bad luck, this really might have been good luck for you!

Thanks for the input, helps put my mind at ease to give the benefit of the doubt. Just hard to believe that such a major problem would cause so few symptoms.

If they’ve always been honest with you before, I see no reason to suspect wrong doing this time.

While we expect warning signs and noises before a motor failure, the reality is that one second a component works and the next second it breaks and there isn’t any warning. If you were super sensitive you might have heard some “funny” noises. But the item wearing out might have been happening gradually so you got used to the “funny” noises and they then sound normal. In this case, you “dodged a bullet” and be happy about that.

Mechanics can and do make mistakes, but they are usually things like shearing off the heads of bolts, stripped out threads, and not assembling new parts properly. The damage you describe would be hard to pin on mechanic mistakes and/or customer rip off.

The car is 13 years old and the belt/tensioners should have been replaced about 7 years ago.
To me, this sounds like a parts failure which peeled off half the width of the timing belt.
Whether the idler would cause a problem or noise would depend on exactly where it was broken.

The engine can, apparently to the driver, run fine with the damage you describe but it was on very borrowed time. It’s quite likely that the remaining half of that belt was going to give up very soon.