Baby, can I drive my car?
March 2, 2009 7:59 AM   Subscribe

CarFilter: How important are these repairs and should I be worried about going on a long drive without having these repairs done?

My mother sold me her 2001 Honda Civic (for $1!), which to my untrained eye seems to be in pretty good shape. For the past 2 years, because my mother had bought a new car, she did not drive the Civic. Her boyfriend, who lived with her at the time, was pretty much the only driver. In the course of getting all of the paperwork together, my mother found a repair slip from October of 2008 stating that the car needed a new timing belt, drive belt, and water pump. The repair estimate on the slip was for about $600 to have all three of these things taken care of. My mom offered to hold onto the car until she could have these repairs completed (within the month), but I opted to take it early anyway.

My question is whether or not it would be safe to drive a long distance before these repairs are completed. I live in New Haven, CT and I'd like to take a trip to Montreal in two weeks or so (about a 400 mile trip). Is any one of these repairs critical to a long trip, while the others can be put off for a bit longer? I would understand if 400 miles is too long of a trip, but would any longer than average drive be dangerous?

Additional information:

* The car has 129,000 miles on it.
* This is my first car (in fact I won't even be getting my license until next month) so I really know very little about cars (and everything I do know I learned from Car Talk so I may actually be working with a deficit). I would not be the driver if the trip to Montreal happens.
* The only thing I've noticed about the car that may indicate a problem is that sometimes the engine revs louder than what seems normal when accelerating.

I know you are not my mechanic, but any advice/help would be appreciated.
posted by eunoia to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total)
This is one of those situations where it's kind of impossible to give advice without being there. But then, maybe that's because I'm not a mechanic. But to me, those seem to be three things that are unlikely to all be failing at the same time (practically speaking), but might well be in need of changing just to be careful, say at the 100K mile mark, for example.

Do you know any friends with cars who have a trustworthy mechanic? Ask around for a recommendation or two, then go see one. Ask them to give the car a once over, and then ask whether things are needed urgently or whether it's just good practice to replace them every X miles or so.
posted by dnesan at 8:10 AM on March 2, 2009

I'd replace it.

Q/A on Honda timing belt replacement.

Anecdote: I had a timing belt fail in one of my cars and had to rebuild the engine. Cost MUCH more than $600.
posted by syzygy at 8:12 AM on March 2, 2009

Best answer: The timing belt is important. If it breaks, the car stops and you're stranded. The car is already overdue for a timing belt replacement. We have a 2006 Civic and it's supposed to be replaced at 100,000 miles.

Labor on timing belt replacement is typically four hours. You will want to have the water pump replaced at the same time, since the water pump and timing belt have the same lifespan, and the water pump is accessible once they take your car apart to replace the timing belt.

So, it *might* be okay, but the odds are not in your favor. On older cars, the timing belt was replaced every 60,000 miles or so ... now, timing belts last longer but not indefinitely. I would not risk it.
posted by Ostara at 8:13 AM on March 2, 2009

Apparently Honda recommends replacing the timing belt at 110,000 miles, your car is obviously well past that. A timing belt isn't the sort of thing that gradually fails, it works fine until it breaks or slips then your engine eats itself. The water pump replacement is recommended at the same time because most of the engine accessories will need to be removed to replace the timing belt (the timing belt itself usually costs about $25, the water pump another $100) - it's cheaper to only pay for the labor once. I wouldn't be concerned so much with driving the car another 400 miles as much as I'd be worried about being stranded 400 miles from home with a blown engine.
posted by foodgeek at 8:16 AM on March 2, 2009

At 129k, you're definitely overdue for the timing belt. As for the drive belt and water pump...if the drive belt needs replaced, you might as well do the water pump while you're in there.

I agree with dnesan that, if you know a good mechanic, you should have them give the car the once-over as a second opinion.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:17 AM on March 2, 2009

Ostara: If it breaks, the car stops and you're stranded.

If it breaks, you may destroy your engine, at which point being stranded is probably a minor inconvenience.
posted by syzygy at 8:18 AM on March 2, 2009

One more here telling you not to wait on the timing belt. If it goes when you are driving you will end up paying thousands for a new engine.
posted by WickedPissah at 8:20 AM on March 2, 2009

Get it fixed as soon as possible. This isn't a long or short trip issue - if that timing belt breaks 4 miles, or 400 miles from home, the damage to the engine will be catastrophic. And it's well overdue. The water pump should always be done with the timing belt. The drive belt is basically a free labor item since they have to pull it off anyway to do this job.
posted by azpenguin at 8:27 AM on March 2, 2009

As a first time buyer its very important to understand the maintence schedule in your manual. The mechanic recommended these items replaced because the manual states they should be replaced. You should always follow the schedule in your manual. So if the timing chain has to be replaced at 110k and youre at 129k then you should do it ASAP. The engineers who predict the fail rates on these things know their stuff and you shouldnt second guess them to save a little money.

When you buy a car its always best to verify everything has been done on schedule and to catch up to schedule if they have not. Especially stuff like fuel filter, transmission fluid, spark plugs, PCV, belts, and air filter. Considering you are getting this car for free you should be happy to invest $600 to keep it running for a couple more years. A small investment right now could mean the difference between a honda that makes it to 160+k miles and a honda thats getting towed to the junk-yard in a week. You should be able to get 20-30k more miles out of this car if its been maintained and those are mostly highway miles. Good luck!
posted by damn dirty ape at 9:01 AM on March 2, 2009

According to this page from a timing belt manufacturer:
Timing belt-equipped car engines can be classified as either free-running or interference, depending on what occurs if piston/valve synchronization is lost due to a failed timing belt. As illustrated below, an interference engine usually sustains damage if synchronization is lost. This could result in very expensive engine repairs.
Your 2001 Honda has an interference engine, which means you really want to replace that timing belt before it breaks. Their belt replacement guide suggests replacement every 110,000 miles. It also mentions that the water pump is driven by the timing belt.

I'd fix it and consider it part of the price of the car. $601 is still a bargain for a reliable car.
posted by MegoSteve at 9:08 AM on March 2, 2009

If your mom is offering to fix the car within a month, and you aren't getting your license for a month....seems like a no brainer. Let her fix the car, and when you get your license the car will be good to go! Good luck, and be careful!!
posted by snoelle at 9:18 AM on March 2, 2009

If I could get all of that work done on MY car for $600, I'd jump on it!

Any of those three items failing could leave you both stranded and facing a repair bill 10x higher than the cost of fixing it now.
posted by MonsieurBon at 10:25 AM on March 2, 2009

I asked a similar question a while back. My car has fewer miles than yours, but I got very similar advice. Anyway, my shop will replace the timing belt and water pump for about $400. I am not sure how much the drive belt should add.
posted by bove at 10:47 AM on March 2, 2009

You need to replace the belt anyway, there is no benifit in waiting till after the trip and lots of negatives (breaking down far from home, etc). Unless you are intending on just driving the car til the belt breaks and destroys the engine anyway.
posted by 445supermag at 11:48 AM on March 2, 2009

I say go ahead and fix it. I had a water pump break (in a 2003 Toyota Camry), and because of that the timing belt seized up. Timing belt seizing up = car no go. Bad news for a road trip. And nthing that its the labor involved to access the timing belt and water pump that makes those repairs so expensive, so you might as well get them replaced at the same time if they both need it.
posted by aka burlap at 1:31 PM on March 2, 2009

One possibility that's worth looking at: Any prospect that the timing belt has been replaced? Not uncommon for people to put a little sticker in the engine compartment, somewhere easily seen, that notes the date and mileage when the belt was replaced. Any chance your mom took the car to one shop for repairs, be it the dealer or an independent shop? It's worth checking.

If there is any doubt or total doubt, as you've probably figgered by now, yah, it needs doing ASAP. I'm not super-paranoid about these sorts of things, but I'd do everything possible to get it done before the trip or rent a car.

Too, most engines are designed so that when mechanics do the timing belt, they take apart enough that there is effectively zero labor involved in replacing the water pump, a cheap part that can cause real problems if it dies. Drive belt's cheap, too, the part and the labor, and again, can be a real PITA if it dies. Paying $600 for all that ain't bad.

With the other things, dunno what your finances are like, but the big thing going forward is keeping the oil fresh. If you have no sense of when other things--transmission fluid, radiator fluid, fuel filter, etc.--were done, there are worse choices than establishing the baseline by getting it all done in the reasonably near future, though I assume the oil isn't thick, gritty, feeling more like gritty tar than slippery oil. (That assumes you know how to check oil, but it's beyond easy if you've never done it; gotta be info/pics on the Net.)

Any guess of if/when the oil was last changed? A lot of shops put stickers on the upper left corner of the windshield, the side of the door where it meets the car body. When in doubt, change it and, again, assuming your finances aren't dire, it'd only add about $25-$30 to the timing belt, etc. work.

If you're in a position to the other things beyond belts, pump and oil in one fell swoop, there is convenience for the car being in the shop once and conceivable--especially in this day and age--that you can negotiate a package deal.
posted by ambient2 at 10:13 PM on March 2, 2009

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