Does getting oil on my timing belt mean it has to be changed?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Apr 01, 1998

Dear Tom and Ray:

I own a 1991 Honda Accord with 37,000 miles on it. Last week when it was in for
a valve adjustment, it was discovered that the cam shaft oil seal was leaking.
Oil has gotten all over the timing belt. The mechanic suggested that the oil
would rapidly deteriorate the timing belt, and that I should have the timing
belt and oil seal replaced soon to prevent possible further engine damage. I
intend to keep the car for another five years or so. What would you recommend? -
- John

RAY: I'd go right ahead and replace the seal and the belt, John. But it's not an
emergency. I mean, I wouldn't rate it at the same level of urgency as, say,
running out of toilet paper.

TOM: You can do it at your convenience. The belt will not "rapidly deteriorate."
It's designed to work OK even with some oil on it. After all, it's housed in the
presence of all of those oil seals. Over time, it may deteriorate some, but it's
not going to happen in a few hundred miles.

RAY: On the other hand, we recommend changing the timing belt at 60,000 miles
anyway. Plus, you have an oil leak. And if you were to run too low on (or out
of) oil, you could do serious engine damage. Not to mention all those unsightly
blemishes on your garage floor!

TOM: So since you're going to keep the car for another five years, why not fix
it right away and not have to worry about it ever again? There's no advantage to
waiting. And while they're in there, spend an additional 20 bucks and have them
change the crank shaft seal, too.

* * *

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