Dear Tom and Ray:
My wonderful boyfriend has recently discovered that he enjoys working on our vehicles, and it has become his new money-saving hobby. He has always changed the oil (though a lot of it always ended up on the driveway), and he recently moved on to brakes. But now he's determined to up the ante and replace the timing belt on my 1990 Toyota Camry. He has the Chilton manual, so he feels confident. I am just a bit nervous myself. Should I be? What do you think are his chances for success, and how long should I plan to be taking the bus? -- Charmaine
RAY: The time to get nervous would've been when he worked on your brakes, Charmaine. I mean, if he screws up the timing belt, the engine stops running. But if he screws up the brakes, then he's sending you an unmistakable message about the future of the relationship.
TOM: Actually, it's a big step from brakes to a timing belt. The main obstacle can be the crankshaft pulley. That pulley needs to be removed in order to change the belt. And sometimes, removing it ain't easy.
RAY: We have a special puller we use for the job.
TOM: Yeah, his name's Bruno. He weighs 350 pounds.
RAY: No, a puller is a tool that maximizes the pulling force. But even that doesn't work sometimes, and we have to use the oxyacetylene torch to heat up the pulley and expand it until we can pull it off.
TOM: And the older the car is, the more likely the crankshaft pulley is frozen on there.
RAY: So he can try it, Charmaine. If he gets the pulley off, the rest of the job on a four-cylinder Camry is quite manageable.
TOM: And if he can't get the pulley off, then he can just have the car towed to his local garage, fess up and let them finish the job.
RAY: Of course, it might take him a week or so to admit defeat, screw up the courage to confess, and have the car towed. So if I were you, Charmaine, I'd pick up at least a one-month bus pass.