True or false: Your entire engine could blow if you don't change your timing belt.

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Sep 01, 2001

Dear Tom and Ray:

My wife drives our 1993 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, which has only 60,000 miles of easy driving on it. The car is loaded and is in mint condition. It has the 3.4-liter twin dual-cam V6 engine. Recently, we were advised by our local dealer's service manager to either get rid of the car or have the timing belt replaced, at a cost of about $600. He said if the timing belt breaks, the whole engine could be ruined. The owner's manual suggests a change at 60,000 miles. What should we do? Trade? Repair? Or do nothing? -- Bob

TOM: Repair! The service manager is nuts, Bob. Why would you trade in a cream puff with only 60,000 miles?

RAY: I know: The service manager wants the car for himself.

TOM: You think so?

RAY: Yeah. It's in mint condition. He's hoping Bob will trade it in for a song, and then HE'LL get to drive it for the next 60,000 miles ... or score points by giving it to his mother-in-law. I do this to customers all the time. How do you think I got my 'Dodge Colt Vista with the rust up to the windows?

TOM: Bob, you should absolutely fix the car. The service manager is right when he says that a broken timing belt on this car can ruin the engine. But that's not a reason to spend $25,000 on a new car when, for $600, you could have a perfectly good car in mint condition.

RAY: And you might have to spend another $600 soon -- tires, brakes or who knows what? But who cares? When you add it up, it'll still be cheaper than monthly new-car payments. I guarantee it.

TOM: So, as long as your old car is safe, is serving your needs and you're happy with it, repairing it is almost always cheaper than trading it in. So fix it, Bob.

Get the Car Talk Newsletter

Got a question about your car?

Ask Someone Who Owns One