What should I do if I don't know when my timing belt was last changed?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | May 01, 2000

Dear Tom and Ray:

You've often mentioned that timing belts should be replaced before they break, because on some cars, engine damage can be severe. I own a 1986 Honda Accord LXi. Due to a divorce, I've lost some of my service records, and I don't know how long ago the timing belt was replaced. Do you know if this is one of the engines that would be damaged if the belt breaks while I'm driving? Thanks. -- Jeff

RAY: Well, I've heard of nasty divorces before, but this is the first time I've ever heard of one spouse getting the service records. "He gets the Honda, she gets the house, the kids and the service records."

TOM: Oh, they go for everything. Trust me.

RAY: Unfortunately, your car IS what we affectionately refer to in the shop as a "motor wrecker."

TOM: The technical term is "interference engine," because the valves open so far into the cylinders (they "interfere" in the piston space) that if the valve timing isn't
perfect, the valves can be struck by a piston.

RAY: The "interference" design actually increases the engine's efficiency, because the wider the valves open, the more "stuff" you can get in and out of the cylinders. But
when the timing belt breaks on an interference engine, the pistons and valves can collide, and then it's "bye-bye valves."

TOM: By the way, most Hondas and Nissans use interference engines. Some other cars do, too, so check with your dealer about your specific year and model.

RAY: Since you have an interference engine, Jeff, unless you can verify that the belt was changed within the past 60,000 miles, you'd be wise to go ahead and change it
now. And the easiest way to find the date of the last timing-belt change is to call your ex-wife and ask her to look it up for you.

TOM: If you'd rather sit on a hot fork than do that (hey, I've been there), you can try asking the garage where you take the car for service. It's possible that it will have
a record of when you last changed the belt.

RAY: But better safe than sorry here, Jeff. This is probably not the time to be adding a car payment to the monthly bills for alimony, child support and hair plugs. Good

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