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What to fix with $600?

I’ve got a 1997 Honda CRV with a few maintenance needs and I’m wondering if I can get some advice/input as to which would be best to fix first? I need trailing arm bushings, brakes, alignment adjustment, air conditioning service (I live in the South but there’s a breeze most days, or I just don’t go out after 9 am) and of course the wonderful timing belt/water pump combo. My husband says the timing belt can wait but it’s been more than 100k miles since the last replacement. I’ve got $600 I can commit to it right now.

It really depends on how bad each item is:
trailing arm bushings - what’s wrong? noise or handling problems?
brakes - how bad? this would be at the top of my list if you need them
alignment adjustment - why do you think you need this?
air conditioning service - have you had someone try to fill your system?
timing belt/water pump combo - If you plan to keep it, you need to do it soon

$600 will cover the timing belt and water pump, that needs to be done ASAP.

I’d say timing belt, since if it goes, you will need an engine (new, re-manufactured, rebuilt, used, whatever) - far outside your $600 limit.

However, if the brakes go, you’ll need a whole new car. Depending on what happens when they go, maybe more.

Timing belt/water pump,
everything else, except A/C,
then A/C.

A/C is really a comfort item. Even down here in Texas where it hit 105 today, I could survive without A/C, but not without the others. It won’t be comfortable, to be sure, but livable.


To me it’s a toss-up between the timing belt and the brakes. The brakes are a safety item, and if they’re worn out they should be replaced.

The timing belt is critical if you want to keep the car, and 100K miles is enough to warrant a new belt.

The timing belt will eat up all your money. The brakes shouldn’t. Maybe do the brakes then hurry and save enough for the timing belt.

Don’t do alignment until AFTER the trailing arm bushings are replaced.

What is your future outlook for this vehicle?

If you are considering moving on now is the time. You are looking at $2000+ of work at a minimum.

As hubby says the timing belt can wait, but if you wait a bit too long and it snaps you can kiss your CRV goodbye. If you do the brakes for $600, how long will it be before you have another $600 to spend? If it is longer than 6 months I’d either park the CRV for a while, or do the timing belt and go as gentle on the brakes as you can. Killing the brakes means new rotors but that’s cheaper than a new engine.

timing belt and water pump
air conditioner
then sell it

Thanks, all, for your advice - The trailing arm bushings, I was told by a mechanic, are broken…I’m still saving money a few dollars at a time, so it could be we tackle the brakes DIY style, then perhaps use an A/C charging kit (again, hub’s idea) and put the remainder toward more savings for the timing belt. It’s a short-distance vehicle for now and I don’t use it every day, but it’ll have to make a trip halfway across the country come December. I won’t be looking at a new car for another year at the least, so I know a timing belt change has to happen before we move.

Be very careful about adding gas to the a/c. I live in rural Mexico, and several years a neighbor kid added gas to his a/c. He guessed, and suddenly it didn’t work at all. My guess is he overdid it, and it blew a hole in the condenser. When I googled for this work, it recommends pumping out all the gas, and weighing the amount you put in, to avoid damage.

The trailing arms and alignment are going to eat up your tires.

Then you will still need a timing belt and water pump job.

As long as the brakes work, you mention doing them yourselves. Is that an option? you can save yourselves a couple hundred dollars doing them yourselves. Do them when they start grinding. (although I replace mine early just my personal choice)

I have known very few people who can accurately monitor and repair AC systems. If you can do it, go for it. BUT. if is easy to kill the compressor or condenser.

If you break your timing belt your engine will be toast and not worth the replacement cost.

Do you like gambling? I would do the alignment, trailing arms, then save like crazy for the timing belt water pump job. But realize that putting a dime in it, and having the timing belt break is throwing away money.

Find out whether your car has an interference engine or non interference engine. If it’s an interference engine if the timing belt breaks the pistons will hit the valves causing extensive engine damage possibly doing more damage than the car is worth. If it’s a non interference engine there will be no engine damage and in that case I’d do the trailing arm bushings and alignment which shouldn’t cost $600, then I’d save the remainder of the money needed to do the timing belt next. A/C is nice, but it’s not a necessity to keep the car running or for safety. My daily driver doesn’t have a/c and I don’t really miss it much until the temperature gets into the mid 90’s and up. I’m not familiar with Honda engines so I don’t know whether you have an interference engine or non interference engine. My daily driver has a non interference engine and I change the timing belt every 100K miles, but I’ve had two timing belts break between intervals so you’re currently riding on borrowed time.

I forgot to specifically say it, but your engine IS an ‘interference’ engine. This means that IF your timing belt breaks you WILL have engine damage. Sometimes it is not SO bad. But most times it means a total top end overhaul ( probably more than the car is worth)

The saying an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure comes to mind.