Car Repair?
December 8, 2003 7:50 PM   Subscribe

Ok mefi gear heads, riddle me this: how can you tell if a timing belt has been replaced?

Earlier this year I bought myself a used car, a 1997 toyota celica to be exact. I got it from a guy who took very good care of it, but didn't know squat about car repairs, he just made sure it got its regular service intervals, etc. Problem is, when I got the car it had about 71k miles on it, and I asked if it had gotten a new timing belt at its 60k servicing, and he didn't know.

Now, the car runs great and I have no complaints about it, but I wonder about that timing belt. Is there anyway to check if it's been replaced by examining it? Well, any cost efficient way? I am assuming that letting it go until its next scheduled replacement is probably not a good idea, would it be worth it to pay someone to check for me?
posted by Hackworth to Travel & Transportation (8 answers total)
Why not have the guy call his repair shop and see if they have the 60k maintenance record on file? Most dealers have pretty good data warehouses of these things.
posted by PrinceValium at 7:56 PM on December 8, 2003

Response by poster: hmm, not a bad idea if he hadn't moved back to india already.
posted by Hackworth at 8:11 PM on December 8, 2003

I'm pretty sure this car has an overhead cam engine...

Belt Checks
If a visual inspection of an OHC timing belt shows the belt is glazed, has missing or damaged teeth, cracks or fraying, the belt must be replaced. Don’t delay because there’s no way to know when the belt might fail.

A timing belt also may have to be replaced if it is making objectionable noise. Check pulley alignment and belt tension first. Also, if the belt shows sign of physical wear, check the condition of the pulleys. There should be no nicks, rough spots or other damage that could chew up the belt. If a pulley is worn or damaged, it must also be replaced.

If a timing belt has snapped, the engine won’t run because the camshaft won’t rotate when the crankshaft turns. Consequently, you won’t find any compression or vacuum. If the engine has a cam position sensor, a cam-driven distributor or an ignition pickup that triggers off the cam drive, you also won’t find any spark - which can make diagnosing a no-start confusing until you realize what’s going on.

A quick way to confirm a broken timing belt on an OHC engine with a cam-driven distributor is to remove the distributor cap and see if the rotor moves when the crankshaft is turned by hand. If there is no distributor, remove the oil filler cap or a valve cover and watch for cam or valve movement when the crankshaft is turned. You also can remove the timing belt cover and check the belt

posted by anathema at 8:13 PM on December 8, 2003

I'd pay a mechanic an hour of labor to find out. Often, they replace the water pump at the same time, so there may telltale clues such as new hoses, or a water pump that is a later rev part than stock. Also, a diligent mechanic would have put a service sticker of the cam end cover. Replacing the timing belt on a car costs anywhere from $400 to $1500 depending on how much they have to disassemble. I'd hate to see you either waste money, or suck a few valves into the tops of your pistons.
posted by machaus at 9:09 PM on December 8, 2003

Hackworth - In terms of timing belts or chains, there are two types of cars. "Interference", or not. With the "Interference" ones, if the belt or chain breaks, the valves smack into the cylinders and cause tremendous damage - and even an accident as the car grinds to a rapid halt.

I don't recall what a '97 Celica is (interference, I'd guess) but you should find out. If not, you have some slack room. If it is, you should replace the belt and anything else - especially the belt tensioner bearing but also anything else that's easy to replace in the process (water pump, etc. as machaus suggests. It's far cheaper to do it that way, in the long run).
posted by troutfishing at 10:08 PM on December 8, 2003

Even after you pay a mechanic to change your timing belt, they might not have done it. That happened to me on my '89 Probe. A ticking noise in the engine about a year after my big maintenance turned out to be a frayed timing belt, and the mechanic who replaced it said it definitely hadn't been replaced when I'd been told it had.
posted by kindall at 10:25 PM on December 8, 2003

Response by poster: Good info. Since it now also has a small oil leak too, I guess I should take it in to get everything checked out at once. Thanks.
posted by Hackworth at 10:42 PM on December 8, 2003

Hackworth - Not to make you too worried about your car - you probably could also ignore if for about 20,000 miles with only a slight risk, due to the built-in safety an ex-mechanic, that is what I'd do - determine the parameters and then push them to the limit. Oil leak? - just add oil (until the actual repair - then, change the oil seals)

Kindall is right about the dubious "human factor" - You might need a US State Dept. Psyops manual to deal with that one - or have your mother (if you have a living mother) call the mechanic to express how very concerned she is (this will work like a charm in many cases but backfire horribly in many others) about the repair, which she is paying for from her prescription drug savings account.

Or else - videotape the procedure.

Or call the "Cartalk" guys. They'll be even more infuriating than I am, but I respect their opinions as mechanics. Hint - invent some juicy marital problem and you will get through.

p.s. - I used to run my own bizzare repair/restoration shop. Heh heh.
posted by troutfishing at 11:48 PM on December 8, 2003

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