Wimpy Timing Belts by Design

We have lots of timing belt discussions involving timing belts and surprised, shocked, upset, and distraught car owners.

The timing belt change intervals range generally from 60,000 miles to 120,000 miles.

A person paying for this service usually spends several hundred dollars per change and can need as many as 3 in less than 200,000 miles.

A person not paying for the service can spend several thousand dollars in damage or “total” their car by neglecting a timing belt change.


Why make a car with such a short change interval as 60,000 miles ?

Why buy a car with such a short change interval as 60,000 miles ?

Why buy a car with a timing belt ?

Should cars come with disclaimers that alert consumers that the vehicle they are about to buy has a timing belt and that it requires expensive replacement at “x” intervals (A dashboard placard, perhaps) ?

Should cars have a Flashing Timing Belt Warning Light That turns on at the interval mileage ? Flashing “Check Engine Lights” already mean that driving can result in damage.

Should all manufacturers figure out a way to engineer all engines with timing belts to be “free wheeling” (non-interference) design?

. . . or is this just one more case for Caveat Emptor ?


Timing belts became popular because they are inexpensive, light weight, and quiet. I’ve noticed recently that some manufacturers who used timing belts are now going back to chains. A good move, IMHO.

The short (60K) interval is to protect the manufacturer and the vehicle owner from disaster.

Most people have no idea what they’re buying when they buy. The maintenance schedule that comes with the car is the warning, but then again, most people don’t read the manual or the maintenance schedule.

I have two cars with timing belts now. Next time I buy a car the presence of a timing belt will be a huge red flag, and potentially a deal breaker.

Not all engines are damaged by broken timing belts. Some just stop running. Problems can be avoided simply by replacing the belt before it breaks.

This is not rocket science.

As usual, CSA poses some good questions.

Regarding, “Why buy a car with such a short change interval as 60,000 miles?”, I think that the answer is fairly obvious. I believe that so few people actually research anything other than prices and colors prior to car purchase that they are totally unaware that their car has a timing belt, no less one that has such a short service life.

As to, “Why make a car with such a short change interval as 60,000 miles?”, I believe that the answer is most likely a case of lazy, inadequate, cost-cutting engineering. Since it is certainly possible to design engines with a much longer timing belt change interval, the companies with the 60k interval apparently just don’t want to devote the engineering resources (money) necessary for a longer interval on their engines.

I do believe that the idea of a flashing, odometer-driven warning light is an excellent idea, even though a certain percentage of car owners would still ignore it, just as they ignore CELs. Let’s not forget all of the questions over the past few years where the OP has not revealed the presence of a glowing CEL until we have collectively teased the information out of him. And, then, he might nonchalantly mention that the CEL has been lit up for (pick one) 1 year, 3 years, 7 years, or–the winner–the woman who told us that her Suzuki’s CEL had been lit up for 16 years, and who now was curious about what her problem might be.

And, of course, let’s not forget that a warning light would need to be driven by elapsed time, as well as by odometer mileage.

As for me, I have only owned two cars with timing belts–a '92 Accord, and a '97 Outback. After spending money for timing belt changes on both of those cars, I opted for a car with a timing chain for my next purchase (an '02 Outback with the 6-cylinder engine), and when I replace that car shortly, I will again buy a car with a timing chain.

Should cars come with a posted notice that a timing belt change will be necessary at a later date/odometer mileage? Sure.
Is that ever going to happen? Not bloody likely!

Car makers all seem to want to portray their products as being as “maintenance-free” as possible, going to the extent that many have now dropped vital procedures such as valve-lash adjustment and trans fluid changes from their maintenance schedule. In light of those omissions, I really doubt that there will ever be any effort to make car owners more aware of the necessity of timely timing belt replacement.

So–Yes, to a great extent this is a case of Caveat Emptor.
Timing belts are avoidable, and I have decided to avoid them.

McP, Then You Think A 60,000 Mile Interval Car’s T-Belt Will Go Just As Long As A 120,000 Mile Car’s T-Belt ? It’s Just A Precautionary Measure Or Way To Generate More Service Business ?


VDC D, Thanks For The Compliment, Your Response And For The Laugh (16 Year Urgency). I Have Been Buying Chain Only Cars For Many Years, Also.


Personally, I think people who scoff at changing a timing belt every 90,000 miles or every 105,000 miles have unrealistic expectations. When you think about what it costs to maintain a car, the timing belt isn’t usually the most expensive component. If you pay $20 per oil change, and change it every 5,000 miles, it costs you about $400/100,000 miles. I had my timing belt changed at 90,000 miles by a Honda dealership in downtown Ft. Lauderdale for about $350. When I had it done at 180,000 miles and included the water pump, it came to less than $550. That makes my total timing belt cost right now (190,000 miles) less than $.005 per mile. If you can’t afford to spend 1/2 a cent per mile to maintain your car, you can’t afford to own a car.

If I had a car with a 60K interval I wouldn’t gamble, but there are people who routinely go 150K or more without replacing their belts.

Lucky, I call them.

Whitey is correct. Replacing the timing belt is routine maintenance, just like replacing worn out brake pads or tires. It’s not the big deal people make of it.

Truthfully, the only recently-built cars that I recall with a 60k timing belt change interval were Chevy Aveos and certain VWs. Ironically, both makes have had reports of timing belts snapping prior to that early 60k mark.

Certainly that Aveo could be the poster child for cars that were poorly/inadequately engineered, as it is a small car with low power output, coupled with unimpressive gas mileage and mediocre handling. Throw it all together, and it wound up as CR’s lowest-rated passenger car–so it shouldn’t be surprising that their timing belt technology was…not good.

However, IIRC, the Aveo now comes with a timing chain, so even the stingiest car maker can later see the light and re-engineer their engines. I guess that it just comes down to their corporate priorities.

If you’re like me…one who keeps their vehicles 300k+ miles…then a timing belt can be a cheaper option. In 300k miles I’ll need 3 belt changes…Total cost…about $2000. Now with a chain…I’ve NEVER owned a vehicle past 250k miles that didn’t need a timing chain replaced…Try to keep a timing chain cost under $2000.

Then there’s the factor that a timing belt is a LOT easier to change…that any decent back-yard mechanic can do it in an afternoon. If you do it yourself…the cost of replacing a belt drops drastically. Many good back-yard mechanics won’t attempt a timing chain…LOT more involved…many vehicles you have to drop the oil pan…and the job gets messy.

Lastly…if a timing belt breaks on a non-interference engine…no big deal…just replace belt and be on your way…But with a timing chain…I’ve seen the belt break and punch a hole in timing chain cover…and bind up and break the water-pump.

For a interference engine…yup of the belt breaks… you can spend THOUSANDS to get it fix…but with a chain…it doesn’t have to break…just slip a couple of teeth…and BOOM…new valves…

For interference engines I like to have a belt. Just replace the belt every 100k miles.

I will admit, when we talk about premium minivans, like the Odyssey and the Sienna, the cost of the timing belt job goes up. Just getting to the timing belt on one of these vehicles is a massive undertaking. However, when you consider these are high-priced vehicles, with quality on par with many luxury vehicles, high maintenance costs should come as no surprise. It takes a special kind of person to buy a $35,000 minivan and then scoff at an $800 bill for all new belts and a new water pump every 105,000 miles. Again, if you can’t afford $0.008 per mile to drive a $35,000 vehicle, buy $15,000 vehicle instead so you can afford to maintain the vehicle properly.

Should all manufacturers figure out a way to engineer all engines with timing belts to be “free wheeling” (non-interference) design?

Compression ratio. Having a non-interference engine means the valves are farther away from the piston at TDC and that lowers compression ratio. Free wheeling or not depends on how much power the vehicle needs to have, not what it is going to cost you when the timing belt breaks.

  • Wimpy by design -

See a post today ‘durable bumpers’.

Another one ; I’ve been an automotive parts man for 35 years. I’ve never sold so many REAR brakes until they put disc on the rear of pickups.

“Should cars come with disclaimers that alert consumers that the vehicle they are about to buy has a timing belt and that it requires expensive replacement at “x” intervals (A dashboard placard, perhaps) ?”


But then, nobody would buy these cars and rubber timing belts would be GONE in a year…

They exist because it’s cheaper to build engines that way…Cars that use them have a price/profit advantage over cars that do not…

I replaced the timing chain and cam gear on a 318 Dodge P/U in a supermarket parking lot in Nogales AZ. It took me 4 hours and $65…Truck had 170K miles when it “jumped time”. Crown Vics in taxi service routinely go 350K miles without replacing the well-designed timing chain. A broken timing chain on a Ford “Modular” V8 (4.6-5.4L) is almost unheard of…My '91 Toyota P/U R-22 at 240K miles still runs great on its original chain…

My feeling is that many of the manufactures that use belts think that they have the customer so strongly tied to their car for other reasons, that the belt type issue is or can be ignored

Going from memory, my Acura will need a timing belt at 105,000 miles or seven years. I really don’t mind, since I won’t have the car long enough to do this more than once. In the meantime, I’ve been able to enjoy the higher power (from the higher compression ratio) and the ever-so-slightly quieter engine.

You can’t really compare the full cost of a timing belt replacement, because you end up with a new water pump and new belts as a side effect, which gives some peace of mind about those failing.

On the other hand, I would stay away from a car with a 60,000-mile interval (if there are still such cars around), as that’s just too often.

Never said they ALL were a pain…Many are. Last chain I replaced was on a 1974 Chevy Luv…Try doing that in 4 hours…

. Remove oil pan bolts.
. Loosen engine mounts.
. Raise engine.
. Remove pan.
. Remove lower timing chain cover.
. Remove upper timing chain cover.
. Remove upper timing chain.
. Remove lower timing chain.
. Replace chain guides.

…Now put new chain on and new gaskets…and put everything back on in the reverse order you removed them in.

For me …even a bigger issue…is NOT if it’s a belt or chain…but if it’s a interference engine or non-interference. And unfortunately for me…the vehicles I want to buy all seem to be interference engines. I wish they weren’t…

My 91 Corolla and 94 Prizm came with 60K interval owner’s manual recommendations on timing belts. I paid and had them changed at the mileages indicated. I couldn’t help but feel “taken” because Subarus and others go 100K before needed a change. Also noticed that older Hyundai Elantras had a 60K interval also.

I am still undecided if no/no go point in a car purchase is the existence of a timing belt. In my cases so far, that has been the single largest expense in the cars I have owned, so I just let it go and get it done. I don’t really view it as an “extra” expense.

Belts are used for one reason only and it’s the same reason that drives everything with car manufacturing; money. It’s cheaper to produce a belt setup as compared to a chain.

I don’t think disclaimers or a dashboard reminder would work. Many people would ignore that just like they do oil pressure lights, temperature gauges, CELs, etc.
Break out the black electrical tape… :slight_smile: