Which repairs are most urgent?
February 10, 2009 8:27 AM   Subscribe

How soon do I need to get these auto repairs done?

I have a 2001 Honda Civic and a 2003 Honda Odyssey. I take them to a local place that specializes in Hondas and our repair shop has told me that they need some work done. My budget is a little tight right now and I am trying to prioritize this work. Please let me know how urgent these various repairs are:

Civic (65,000 miles)
Replace the Timing Belt ($480 to fix)
Cracked Exhaust Manifold ($998 to fix)

Odyssey (75,000 miles)
Battery ($120)
Windshield Wipers ($40)
Front Brake Rotors ($300)
Front & Side Motor Mount s ($400)

In my mind the brake rotors seem the most obvious and the windshield wipers are not urgent, but I am not sure what would happen if I waited too long for any of these other repairs.
posted by bove to Travel & Transportation (19 answers total)
Replacing the timing belt is a maintenance item. A broken timing belt can in some cases ruin your engine, resulting in an even more costly repair. If you have not had the timing belt replaced on your Civic in the past, it would probably be a good idea to do it now. Honda engines IIRC are interference engines, so they would suffer damage if the timing belt broke.

The cracked exhaust manifold might also be an issue.
posted by roomwithaview at 8:40 AM on February 10, 2009

Civic (65,000 miles)
Replace the Timing Belt ($480 to fix)
- Why? Is it running poorly?
Cracked Exhaust Manifold ($998 to fix)
- That you would hear, but it should only be an annoyance.

Odyssey (75,000 miles)
Battery ($120)
- Somewhat reasonable, but you can easily buy a battery and put it in yourself. It's two bolts.
Windshield Wipers ($40)
- Same thing, wipers are easy to buy and replace yourself for cheaper.
Front Brake Rotors ($300)
- I never expect to leave having brake-work without spending $300. Does it need done, there's no way to say without seeing it, but unless your brake pedal is vibrating and they've been 'turned' before, only you can say.
Front & Side Motor Mount s ($400)
- Why?

My impression is that you're being ripped-off, which is likely your suspicion since you posted this. As long as the vehicles drive without obvious problems, in my opinion you can probably ignore suggested repairs, wait until they're actually needed.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 8:42 AM on February 10, 2009

Best answer: Wipers you can do yourself. Really. Go to Autozone or whatever in your area, they'll have a little book to telly ou what you need.

The timing belt is on a schedule in your owner's manual. I'm pretty lazy about my cars, but I do *not* fuck around with the schedule on my timing belt. If it breaks, the whole motor is toast. They can go a little long, but I wouldn't chance it. The manifold, eh, might not pass emissions depending on your area.

On the odyssey, the battery is, again, something you can do yourself with a 10mm wrench. If you start to have hard starts, and one day it's colder, you may not be able to start the car. Rotors: if the vehicle pulses when you aplly the brakes, that's the rotors. The motor mounts, well, they make for a smoother ride, but they're not HOLY SHIT critical - the rubber that isolates the motor vibrations from the rest of the vehicle wears out.
posted by notsnot at 8:44 AM on February 10, 2009

I would deny that there's rippoffery going on. You asked what needed replaced in the near future, they told you.

(and the timing belt, you won't notice a damn thing right up until it tosses and destroys your motor, if you just let it go.)
posted by notsnot at 8:48 AM on February 10, 2009

My cousin (an auto dealer) told me it's important to get timing belts changed on schedule. I think 65,000 m is about right but check your manual.

A mechanic later told me that if the belt breaks, the little valves that let the gas in and out of the cylinders will go out of sync with the pistons and it will all smash to hell in a few seconds. I am not a mechanic, obviously.
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:50 AM on February 10, 2009

Don't mess around with the timing belt. If it breaks while you're driving you can ruin your engine, for the reason roomwithaview noted. The exhaust manifold might be fixible. Ask your mechanic if they can weld it instead of replacing. My mechanic did this for me, charged me $75.

Battery you can do yourself and save $50 or so, similarly the wipers. Rotors you can check yourself with a set of vernier calipers. Pads should give you some indication they're going bad, although if this is your first set of pads, you're probably due. Motor mounts is an odd one, but certainly possible.

I'd get a second opinion. The Mechanic Files at Cartalk.com are one place to look, also Angie's List (paysite) should have some recs.
posted by electroboy at 8:54 AM on February 10, 2009

I was going to say that wiper blades should cost a lot less than that, but a quick online search suggests that wiper blades for the Odyssey can cost from $12/side to well over $20/side; if the blades are of good quality, that price isn't necessarily outrageous. That's a safety item, though -- not something to delay once they start streaking and smearing.

With the timing belt, why are they suggesting replacement now? Isn't the suggested replacement interval from Honda (in your owner's manual) something like 90,000 or more? If so, and there is no clear sign of an imminent failure, I think waiting would be the sensible choice. (Also, it's normal to replace the water pump at the same time as the timing belt, which is a good precaution but does add cost to that repair.) A broken timing belt is a BAD THING on those Honda engines, so don't exceed the suggested replacement interval or ignore warning signs.

You can delay on the battery up to the point where the car starts stranding you and you have to carry jumper cables all the time. When the battery fails, the car won't start. Preemptive replacement is a good idea, but you can often eke out another month or two by carefully cleaning the battery terminals and connections.

Brakes are a safety item, and if they are truthful that the brakes need replacing, then ignoring that would seem a poor idea. But have you asked them directly "how urgent are these problems? I can't do them all right now, which need to be done immediately?" That's a normal question for a mechanic, and any good mechanic should be able to prioritize the work.
posted by Forktine at 8:58 AM on February 10, 2009

Best answer: Have you considered a getting a second opinion? Unless you take your Odyssey off road, for example, the motor mounts shouldn't be broken this soon. A pothole can do it too, among other things, so it's possible. A broken motor mount can cause all sorts of problems with shifting and accelerating (because the engine bounces around in the engine compartment when you step on the gas) so it is usually a) pretty noticeable and b) needs to be fixed before it causes more damage. As for the other repairs, the timing belt can destroy the engine on some cars when it fails; these are called "interference engines" and according to this web site the 2001 Civic has this type of design. So you are making a several thousand dollar gamble if you wait. The exhaust manifold might be able to be put off, but you will probably not be able to pass an emissions test with it cracked. Also, it the leak is near the air inlet for the passenger compartment you could be poisoning yourself with carbon monoxide while you drive. Obviously the brakes are important, but don't discount the windshield wipers; if you can't see it isn't safe. The good news here is that you can get a set of new wipers at an auto parts store for less than half what the mechanic is charging you and if you are not particularly mechanical many stores will even put them on (it is about a 2 minute job once you know how the attachment works). The same goes for the battery; it is easy to replace and you should be able to find one on sale for less than $120. If you are not having problems now you can probably wait to replace it, just be aware that a dead battery can leave you stranded, but is not as much of a safety issue as some of the others. Once again, you might want to shop around and see if you can get a better price, or convince your mechanic to give you a break if you are getting a lot of expensive work done at once.
posted by TedW at 9:00 AM on February 10, 2009

To clarify, my opinion comes from driving in Ontario and Quebec where cars don't last long due to salt on the roads and rough climate, and recommended maintenance is often a waste of money. I'm in British Columbia at the moment and am seeing cars on the road I haven't seen in 10-20 years.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 9:01 AM on February 10, 2009

Seconding that you should replace the battery and wipers yourself--both are very easy to do, even for the untrained. Windshield wipers even come with illustrated step-by-step instructions.

I would also check out some other shops for the timing belt--$480 strikes me as a lot to pay for that repair, though it's been a few years since I've had to have it done myself. It is true that if the timing belt breaks while you're driving the car, you stand a chance of ruining your entire engine (though it's not a sure thing by any means), and even if it doesn't do any serious damage, your car won't start until the belt is replaced. It's worth finding out why they told you the belt should be replaced. If they're just sticking to the recommended maintenance schedule, you can probably put it off a little while (but do get it done!). However, if they inspected the belt and found that it was dried, cracked, or damaged in some way, that should be a high priority repair.
posted by tomatofruit at 9:03 AM on February 10, 2009

Additionally, on checking the same timing belt web site I linked above, I see that the suggested replacement interval for a 2001 Civic is 110,000 miles, so you should be fine waiting (double check your owners manual to be sure). 50-70 thousand miles is typical of a lot of cars, though. It does make me wonder if your mechanic is being a little aggressive with his recommendations, though.
posted by TedW at 9:06 AM on February 10, 2009

Response by poster: I am not really worried that they are lying to me. First, the place I take my cars has suggested these issues, but they don't pressure me to fix them or tell me stories of doom. They have said that we should consider doing this stuff. I will say that they do generally recommend doing work slightly sooner than the recommended maintenance schedule, but they are jerks about it.

Also, like was mentioned above, I can hear the crack in the exhaust manifold when I drive. I believe my manual suggests replacing the timing belt at around 75K miles in "extreme" conditions (I live in super-hot Tucson AZ). The rotors are also pretty obvious when we drive for the reasons mentioned above. I am really asking so I know what needs to be done NOW and what I can wait on. (As you can see, if I do everything it is pretty expensive)

I have also called around about prices a bit. I will probably try one or two other places, but when we called the dealership, their prices were nearly identical for the various issues.

Right now it seems the consensus is Brakes & Timing Belt first. Possibly wait a while on the Exhaust manifold and still unsure about the motor mounts. (And do the wipers and batteries myself).
posted by bove at 9:16 AM on February 10, 2009

On an old Honda Accord, my cracked manifold at some point turned into a partially collapsed exhaust manifold, which caused real performance degradation. I noticed the problem going uphill -- the car really lost power.

I've heard the same thing roomwithaview has, that Hondas are interference engines. If this is the case, then a broken belt means that the valves aren't closing when they should, and the pistons will hit the open ones and could do damage to the valves, the valve sleeves, and the head. If this is not the case, then when the belt breaks then you have to worry about getting to the side of the road with no power and finding a tow.

I'm most surprised by the motor mounts going, and I am not sure what would cause this.
posted by Killick at 9:36 AM on February 10, 2009

Nthing the thoughts about timing belt as per owner's manual. A California perspective, but $480 for the belt sounds pretty good--though it is a lot simpler with some cars than with others and I have no knowledge of your engine.

Is there a smog test in AZ? If so, the manifold could cause problems.

If you can feel that the rotors are warped, yah, they probably should go fairly soon. I have driven a car with warped rotors for a couple-three months, could feel the shuddering, didn't replace them because the car was near its grave and had no braking problems. It's been said, and makes sense, that warped rotors, among other things, can chew up the pads.

Dunno the parts/labor breakdown on the rotors, but if you haven't done this, probably worth checking reputable online sources. I've been struck by differences in local prices for car parts. (Shouldn't be much labor time/costs on the rotors; they're pretty easy to access and remove and replace.)

Yeah, pretty much anyone can do wipers/a battery themselves or if they are reluctant, it should be easy to find a friend who can help and it ain't a big favor to ask. Battery price seems high; I've learned the hard way that cheap batteries can be a false saving, but having consulted Consumer Reports, I found a battery they liked a lot for something like $62 (and it was a big battery for a car with a big engine).

If you know the battery's getting old (sticker on it with the date related via little "year" and "month" holes punched out or a receipt for the last one), can afford it, it's worth changing it a bit early rather than a bit late. There's very little loss in terms of money, a percentage of costs, in being a year early. Once you know the age of the current one or replace it, if it's supposed to last for 48 months, it's worth replacing it around 42 months (said someone who learned that lesson via dead batteries, the headaches.)

I've always found good-quality wipers at places like Target, at prices a lot better than other places.

In general, it seems worth asking/looking around for other shops with good reputations. I've been extremely happy with guys I've found who have little shops, charge dramatically less than other places.

Oh, say hello for me to the fabulous desert museum out Tucson way.
posted by ambient2 at 9:48 AM on February 10, 2009

Best answer: I'm seconding a second opinion, from a small garage or independent mechanic. This list doesn't pass the smell test.

1) Timing Belt - only if scheduled, or past schedule, in the owner's guide. If so, do it. It will grenade the engine if it goes... but I would be suspect of any claims that it's about to break before the scheduled maintenance listed in the owner's manual.

2) Cracked manifold - This is only an issue when it comes time to check emissions during your inspection. If you don't notice a drop in power, or the sound of an exhaust leak (a loud "put-put-put-put" from under the hood at idle), I wouldn't worry too much.

3) Battery - Unless you're having trouble starting the car in the morning, you don't need to do this right away. If you are having problems, go to Sears, get a DieHard, and put it in yourself. (The DieHard Gold is the same as the regular DieHard in terms of reliability and performance, in my experience. I've never had a problem with any of them.)

4) Wipers - Change your wipers early and often, for safety's sake, but don't pay the mechanic to do this. Go to NAPA. They'll put them on =for you=, no charge. Go to WalMart - save three or four bucks over NAPA, and figure out how to put them on yourself. Pretty easy to do.

5) Brake rotors - Do you notice a wobble or a shudder when you brake? Does the brake pedal pulse when you roll to a stop? No? You don't need brake rotors. These are big, heavy chunks of steel with no moving parts - not much can go wrong with them. If something is wrong with them, you'll really notice it, so get them changed.

6) Motor mounts - These can wait, unless the van shakes and vibrates like an old cropduster at idle. Does the car still seem pretty smooth? Wait another 100k miles or so.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:04 AM on February 10, 2009

With the timing belt did they quote you a price to do the water pump at the same time? It's normal to do both because it's expensive to get at them and most of the work is already done in order to put in a timing belt - so it will save you money in the long run. Hondas used to have a 90,000 mile recommended interval for replacing timing belts but at some point in the last 10 or so years it shifted to a 65K timeframe - check your manual but if they say it's time you need to do it.

Sears will put in a battery at no charge and it's worth having them do it because if the terminals aren't properly cleaned you can end up with a discharged battery. When our less than 6 months old Diehard died (when it was 30 below a few weeks ago) they replaced it at no charge.

Is the dealer telling you that they can re-turn the rotors or that they need to be replaced. In my experience postponing needed brake repairs leads to more expensive, more extensive brake rapairs.
posted by leslies at 10:29 AM on February 10, 2009

Response by poster: Yes, they recommended to do the water pump at the same time. I think the price they quoted was for both.

We did talk to a brake place and they mentioned re-turning the rotors, but I also agree that replacing them seems to be the better choice. (And yes, there is a brake pedal pulse when we roll to a stop and there is a little shudder when we brake).

In my manual it does say replace the timing belt at 110,000 miles even in extreme conditions (same as TedW's link above). So I will probably wait a little while on that too.

So, I am probably going to wait on the exhaust manifold. I don't notice any real loss in power, and the engine is only slightly louder. We do have emissions tests each year here, so if I fail my next one, I know I will need to get it fixed.

Thanks for all the advice and tips. We will do the brakes, battery, and wipers right now, and I will wait a little on the timing belt and exhaust manifold, and we will wait and see if the motor mounts cause any problems.
posted by bove at 11:39 AM on February 10, 2009

in case it gives you a little peace of mind, i just replaced the timing belt on my 2002 civic, and i was at 120K miles. so, unless the shop has some other reason to suggest you replace it, trust your owner's manual and wait on that one.
posted by jermsplan at 12:35 PM on February 10, 2009

1. Brakes. Get the rotors turned, if they're not worn past the safe point. Rotor wear is a measurable thing; wobbling and pulsing is not the test, as someone else stated. The rotors have a wear tolerance, and if they get any thinner they risk failing. Check the pads and replace if they're worn down too. Honestly, though, you could do the entire brake job yourself in an hour for the cost of parts. It is extremely easy. You just need a jack, a few wrenches, and maybe a screwdriver. The drink, that is, for after, when you realize you saved yourself $200. Also, make sure to bed the brakes properly. Take it out to an empty road and brake hard from 60 to 20 six times in a row and then let the brakes cool while driving for a few minutes. Most repair places do not do this for you, I've found.

2. Timing belt. Price seems reasonable, as there is a bit of labor involved. The factors for determining if it should be replaced are not only milage but also age. It is a rubber belt, which can crack.

(3. Motor mounts. If they are broken in two, replace here at priority three on my list. If it's just the rubber bushings, move to priority five.)

4. Battery. Go to Autozone and get a Duralast that fits the car. I found one to replace my $250 battery for $40. A battery is a simple device and there's no advantage to paying more for the same thing.

5. Wipers. Get refills. $10.

6. Manifold. Take it somewhere and have it patched. Or buy the patch stuff and DIY. This is highly labor intensive to replace, which is why it's a grand.

Tip on the rotors: make sure the wheels are being torqued properly, rather than just put on with an air wrench at max torque. This can warp rotors. Your dealer should be able to tell you the proper torque.
posted by luckypozzo at 5:48 PM on February 10, 2009

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