When to Know the Right Time to Replace Your Timing Belt

Dear Car Talk:

My daughter was given a 1995 Toyota Corolla by a family friend, who inherited it from a late relative. The car has 65,000 miles. My daughter plans to drive the car from our home in California to Indiana for her senior year of college.

My sister had the car checked out and was told it was OK for driving. The mechanic found that the front and rear brakes are both 40%, the serpentine belt needs adjusting and there's a "very small" power steering leak.

To get a second opinion, I asked my mechanic what he thought. He immediately asked if the timing belt had been changed. No one knows. My mechanic said unless we change the belt, he wouldn't let his child take the car on a long road trip.

My questions: Is it worth it to change the timing belt on a 1995 car, and would you feel comfortable having your child take a car of this age on a long road trip? -- Patti

My child is 40 years old and drives a Tesla, Patti. So I don't think he cares what his mechanic father thinks.

In your case, I think your mechanic has a point. Normally, timing belts need to be replaced at around 90,000 miles. But age is also a factor with rubber products -- like belts and tires. So even though this Corolla is far short of 90,000 miles, the timing belt has been sitting there, drying out and degrading, for as long as 26 years now.

When it breaks, it will prevent the car from running. And if it breaks while she's on the road, she'll be at the mercy of whatever shop she can find, and will be stranded for a day, or more. So even though it's hundreds of dollars to replace -- you replace the water pump, pulley, seals and tensioner at the same time -- I'd do it. It won't cost you any more to do now than it will to wire her the money in Bone Gap, Oklahoma, on a rainy Sunday.

Keep in mind that there are lots of things that can go wrong with a car that was built in 1995: fuel pumps, alternators, starters, power steering pumps. And you won't be able to predict or fix them all for her. If you did, that would be called a 2022 Corolla. But this is something you know is going to go wrong, so I agree it's prudent to take care of it early in this case. And have the mechanic do what we do: Write "T-belt" and the date on the underside of the hood, so a future owner will know when it was last changed.

Todays Car-o-Scope

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A good week to remember that he or she who parks under telephone lines pays more at the car wash.
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