One important function of our shop is education. I really enjoy talking about these machines we love so much. A common conversation we have pertains to timing belts. Many car and truck engines use timing chains, but today we’ll stick to the belt. The timing belt keeps the air intake and exhaust valves in “time” or sync, with the engine’s pistons. This syncopation enables the engine to breathe, or 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 after some discussion, they report the estimates 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, a belt tensioner, and a roller bearing, or two, or even three in the Subaru application. When paying a hefty bill 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 these items, in our experience, will last another 100,000 miles. This adds another hour or so of labor, but also adds the benefit of refreshing the coolant/antifreeze (it’s drained and filled with fresh stuff after the pump is removed and replaced). There are also 2-3 oil seals which can be changed at this time. All the drive belts (alternator, power steering, air conditioning, 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 isn’t changed, and fails at a later date, the customer will need to pay another four or five hundred dollars in labor for a new water pump and timing belt, as the old belt will likely be soaked with coolant.
It can be very frustrating calling shops and asking for the price of a timing belt, or other repairs. It’s very difficult for any shop to give an accurate estimate without seeing a vehicle. One shop may give the cost of replacing just the belt, while others may give the price of replacing much more, as it’s their standard procedure. I suggest asking more detailed questions about which parts will be replaced, and more importantly, ask about the warranty on the parts and labor. How many miles, and, is it a nationwide warranty? Ask about the technicians working on your vehicle, and find out if they’re ASE Master-certified. When choosing your shop, it’s important for drivers 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 build a relationship with one shop which meets their needs, and follow their recommendations. No shop is perfect, but the right shop will do everything in their power to provide their customers with great car care, and the best possible service experience.