One important function of our shop is education. I really enjoy talking about these machines we love so much. Commonly customers ask questions about timing belts. Some cars and trucks use timing chains, but today we’ll stick to the belt. The timing belt keeps the air intake and exhaust valves in “time” or synch, with the pistons. This syncopation enables the engine to pump air and fuel mixtures as it’s designed to do. Many car owners call and ask about the cost of a timing belt replacement, and the estimates they receive can vary from just a few hundred dollars to over a thousand. The reason is this: many timing belts also turn the engine’s water pump. The belt winds and weaves around the pump, and a roller bearing, or two, or even four in the Subaru application. Now, when paying for three or four hours of labor to change the timing belt, which is meant to last roughly 100,000 miles, it is beneficial for the customer to also change the water pump and the roller bearings and hydraulic belt tensioner, none of which, in our experience, will last another 100,000 miles. This adds another bit of labor, maybe an hour, but also refreshes the cars coolant/antifreeze. There are also 2-3 oil seals which can be changed at this time. All the drive belts (alternator, power steering, etc.) must be removed to access this stuff. If these belts are worn, it benefits the customer to have them changed as well, as there is no additional labor expense. If the water pump fails at a later date, the customer will need to pay another four or five hours of labor for a new water pump and timing belt, as the old belt will likely be soaked with coolant.
When you call for the estimate, which most professional shops won’t give over the phone anymore, and you ask for the price of a timing belt replacement, you’ll likely get the cost of replacing just the belt. Next time I suggest asking more detailed questions about which parts will be replaced, and more importantly about the warranty on the parts and labor. Is it a nationwide warranty? Ask about the technicians working on your vehicle, and find out if they’re ASE Master-certified.
When comparing prices, it’s important for the consumer to understand they’re shopping for a service, not a product. Services are not universal, and differ greatly from one provider to the next. As always, I suggest a car owner develop a relationship with one shop which they trust completely, and simply follow the recommendations of that shop. No shop is perfect, but the right shop will do everything in their power to provide their customers with the best possible service.