Changing the timing belt every 45k miles (instead of 60k) might save the engine of your '81 Ford Escort.

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Aug 01, 1993

Dear Tom and Ray:

I recently purchased a very used 1981 Ford Escort (stop laughing, it was only $150). I know that they are prone to valve train meltdown. When mine does melt, can I install a later model engine to avoid a recurrence?

TOM: The answer to your question is yes, Dan. But you can avoid putting in a new engine if you just take care of this one.

RAY: 1981 and 1982 Ford Escorts have this "valve train" problem you refer to. When the timing belt breaks, the pistons can come up at the wrong time and smash the valves, which basically turns the top half of the engine into scrap metal. By 1983, Ford got tired of giving away free engines and changed the design. So 1983 and later Escorts don't come with the "automatic valve crusher" as standard equipment.

TOM: If you DO have an '81 or '82 Escort, rather than replace the engine, what you have to do is make sure you change the timing belt every 45,000 miles. Ford recommends 60,000. But since it'll cost you many hundreds of dollars (at least) to repair the engine, it's better to be safe than sorry in this case.

RAY: And since the car you bought is "very used," changing the timing belt is probably the first thing you should do.

TOM: It'll cost you about as much as the car did, but that's a lot less than a new engine, isn't it? And if you change the belt, and drive gently, who knows? You could keep this little Escort on the road for weeks!

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