Timing bet changes: not so simple anymore.

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Nov 01, 1991

Dear Tom and Ray:

I own a 1989 Suzuki Swift GA that has 60,000 miles. I am concerned about the timing belt. The dealership service department says I should replace it now. Should I? If it breaks, will it damage the engine?

RAY: There used to be a clear cut answer to this question, Don. We used to tell everybody to change their timing belts at 60,000 miles. But it isn't that simple anymore.

TOM: The reason we made that recommendation is that most timing belts lasted only about 60,000. Moreover, some cars suffered serious engine damage when the belt broke. But things are starting to change.

RAY: First of all, fewer and fewer cars are at risk of valve damage when the belt breaks. Certain Hondas, Nissans, and early Ford Escorts are notable exceptions, but most newer cars have solved this problem. If you have one of these cars (check with your dealer), you should definitely change the belt at 60,000 simply to prevent possible extensive engine damage. But for almost everyone else, including you, Don, it's more a question of whether you're the kind of person who minds getting stuck. Because when the belt breaks, the engine will stop, and you'll have to have the car towed.

TOM: To further complicate things, Suzuki now claims that their timing belts are designed to last the life of the engine. Will they? Who knows. The fact that your service manager is recommending a change at 60,000 may indicate that he's skeptical (or it may indicate that he's trying to get rid of his overstock of Suzuki timing belts because no one needs them anymore).

RAY: So it's up to you, Don. If you want peace of mind, you can have the belt changed for $150-$200. At the very least, you should have it re-tensioned every 30,000 miles. But in the interests of science, we hope you won't change the belt. We need to collect some data on the longevity of these so called "lifetime" belts. Just keep driving and write and tell us as soon as it breaks.

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