Valve Clearance Adjustments: Necessary Service or Dealership Scam?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Oct 09, 2014

Dear Tom and Ray:

My 2006 Honda Element has 108,000 miles on it. The dealer recommends a valve clearance adjustment at this time. Is this a service you would recommend, or is it not necessary? Please explain.

-- John

TOM: It's absolutely necessary on this car. Essential, you might even say.

RAY: For some reason, these Honda Elements and Honda CR-Vs all get the worst case of valve-seat recession we've ever seen.

TOM: Worse than the Great Valve Seat Recession of 2008?

RAY: Worse! And we don't see this on other makes of cars. So even repair shops don't always know how important this is for Hondas, especially CR-Vs and Elements.

TOM: The simplest explanation is that because of certain design factors in these engines (which are otherwise very good), the valves slowly go out of adjustment over time.

RAY: If you adjust them before they get too far out of adjustment, it's no big deal. It costs you something like $175, including the new valve cover gasket. And you'll probably have to do it only once in the life of the car.

TOM: But if you wait too long, the valves will get out of adjustment to the point where they won't fully close. That's when the trouble starts. Then the engine starts losing compression and power.

RAY: You might not notice it for a while, because it happens slowly and doesn't make any unusual noises (whereas other types of cars do make noise when their valves need adjusting). But if you drive the car like that, with the valves misadjusted, eventually one of the valves or valve seats will get burned out, and then you're in real trouble.

TOM: At that point, you're looking at a $2,500 valve job that you could have avoided with a simple $175 adjustment.

RAY: You know how the grim-faced surgeons shuffle into the hospital waiting room on TV to give the family the bad news? Well, that's what we look like when we have to tell a CR-V owner he's won himself a valve job.

TOM: Except we usually start laughing, which is probably why we flunked out of medical school.

RAY: Anyway, John, Honda has two recommendations for when you should adjust the valves on Elements and CR-Vs, and we disagree with both of them. On older, pre-2006 models, they recommend a valve adjustment at 110,000 miles. And for newer ones, they recommend just listening for noise and adjusting when necessary. But they don't make noise!

TOM: In fact, as the valves get farther out of adjustment, they often get quieter! So our recommendation is to just do it at 90,000 miles.

RAY: So if any Honda Elements or CR-Vs come in our shop anywhere near the 90,000-mile mark, we recommend to customers that they get the valves adjusted. And we'd strongly recommend the same thing to you.


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