Should I replace my timing belt like my mechanic suggests?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Dec 01, 1989

Dear Tom and Ray:

I have an 1986 Ford Escort. It has close to 54,000 miles, and I've been warned that the timing belt should be changed even though there's nothing wrong with it. At $250+, I want to know what good it does to change it before it breaks. If it breaks, does the car just stop, of can the engine be destroyed somehow?

RAY: Because of a poor design, 1981 and 1982 Escorts suffered serious engine damage when their timing belts broke. By the end of the '82 model year, however, Ford decided it had given away enough free engines, and fixed the design.

TOM: So '83 and newer Escorts (like yours) will simply coast to a dead stop by the side of the road when the timing belt breaks. Does that make you feel any better, Carol?

RAY: Your mechanic is suggesting that you replace it now because timing belts last an average of about 60,000 miles. Unless you have a real yen for adventure, you'd be better off fixing it at your convenience rather than getting stuck somewhere and adding a towing fee and a few nights at Motel 3 to the $250 bill.

TOM: One other important thing to consider is that the timing belt in your Escort runs the water pump. Many timing belts are broken because the water pumps sieze. So it's wise to replace the water pump at the same time you change the timing belt (in fact, that's probably included in the $250 estimate you got).

RAY: If you decide to be a cheapskate, Carol, and ignore our advice, here's hoping that your timing belt breaks near a good Italian restaurant.

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