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Timing to get a new Car?

I just got word that the timing belt is starting to go on my 2003 Volkswagen Passat. The dealer says this is going to set me back about a grand ($1,022) but I am wondering if would be better off to cut my loss and try and trade it in? Here is my situation:

Car -

Bought Cert. Used

Owned since 2005

85K Miles

Good Condition

No Other Issues


Car is paid off

I can afford to upgrade a little but like not having a car payment

My question is: Is right now the right time for a timing belt or the right time for a new car? I figure that I can still get something for trading my car and an extra 10K ($250 a month) for upgrading to a newer certified pre-owned with a warranty may be cheaper than trying to keep up with the maintenance as this car begins to age.

What do you think? Bite the bullet and buy a belt or buckle down and buy something better.

Thanks in advance for your help!


Good question.

VW can be troublesome, however you won’t be spending $3000/year($250 car payment x 12) repairing/maintaining it over the next 5 years. I think you’ll spend 1/2 to 2/3 of that. One thing you need to find if you want to go the keep route is a good VW independent. The prices including timing belt will be anywhere from 30-50% less.

Get some other prices on the job from good independent mechanics who are knowledgeable of VW’s. It should be considerably less than $1,200.

A new timing belt is maintenance, once done you are good for another 90K miles. If you feel you are ready for a new car then shop around. Your VW will require more repairs and up keep over the next 4 years than you’ve had the past 4 years, but still it should be much less than monthly payments on a new car.

The dealer won’t tell you the true car maker’s recommended time change intervals for the timing belt. (S)he will always shorten it because…it’s good for business.
To find the car maker’s recommended intervals, go to the repair manual, or the scheduled maintenance booklet for the car.

There is no crystal ball to decide if you need to find a reputable mechanic to do it for less, and accept upcoming repairs or buy new. Think of all the possible repairs and maintenance over the next 5 years, and contrast that to the payment for a new car. Factor in how happy you are in this car. I think for me if I was happy with the car I would call it routine maintenance and roll on, If you have had a history of repairs and looking at soon to deal with problems I would go new.

Keep the VW if you like it. This is just a maintenance item. Once it’s done, you won’t have to do it again for a long, long time. If the car has been defect-free and you take care of it, it ought to remain that way.

Keep in mind that whoever buys the car (dealer or private owner) is likely to have some idea about the needed maintenance and if it has not been done, they will take that into consideration when they are making or considering a deal.

If you could tell when a timing belt was “starting to go” they wouldn’t have mileage intervals for changing them.Gates website says your timing belt should be changed at 60,000 miles and you have an interference engine. This means if the belt brakes the pistons hit the valves and your engine is pretty much junk. If your owners manual indicates more miles before changing go with it but the longest interval I have seen is 195,000 miles.Only you can tell if you have new car fever, but the car you own is almost always cheaper than buying another one.

Since the car is in good condition with no other issues, you should keep it, unless you really don’t like driving it any more or you need more reliability to be comfortable. From a financial perspective, the cost of fixing whatever breaks in the near future will very likely be less than the car payments you mention, although of course there are no guarantees. You seem to be thinking that you’ll save the $1,022 by trading it in now, but you’re forgetting that the buyer will take into account that they need to replace the timing belt soon.

I’m a little concerned with the “starting to go” comment. On the cars I’m familiar with, there’s no way to inspect the belt and see that it’s starting to go. You simply replace it according to the schedule in the owner’s manual. If the dealer is really claiming this, you might want to be a little suspicious. Regardless, what does your owner’s manual say about when to replace the belt?

Actually the VW 1.8T (typical Passat motor) has a poor design tensioner that resulted in early timing belt failures. 70k is recommended interval with updated parts instead of 105k recommended by VW.

Here’s what Gates, the belt maker, ( says about timing belt change intervals: [i]“When the automaker doesn’t make a specific recommendation, Gates suggests changing the timing belt at 60,000 miles.”[i]
Did you notice that first clause of the sentence?

Unless the car is well maintained and in near perfect condition otherwise, I would venture that it is entire possible to encounter $3000 per year in repairs and replacements on a 2003 Passat!!

I have met many driver of these vehicles, including my neighbor, who saw them become moneypits after 100,000 miles.