Is My Timing Belt Too Old?

courtesy of Bob, The Auto Answer Man

Hi Bob,
I am the owner of a 1998 Toyota Camry, which we bought new. The car has in all ways been well maintained. I have just taken it in for an oil change and was told that a car of this age should have the timing belt replaced. The car only has 16,000 miles on it. Should the timing belt be replaced because of its age? We are planning on keeping it for a long time.

Usually timing belts are replaced based on mileage not age. However, I can see their point of view. You see, everything ages (just sitting on a shelf, a belt can age). The rubber can lose its flexible qualities. However, with only 16,000 miles, I would doubt that your particular car would be in need of a change. You see, it is recommended to have it changed because if it was to break while driving, there is a possibility of serious internal engine damage. Pistons could slap into valves and cause a mess. There is also the risk of having someone change the belt, and the car does not run the same. I have heard this time and time again. If the cam and the crank are not perfectly timed, even if one sprocket is off by only one tooth, it could cause the engine to be out of time and not run as it did before. Most mechanics will shrug this off and state something about the age of the car or higher internal cylinder pressures or the like. In my opinion, it is all bull. The belt itself is relatively inexpensive, but there is a lot of labor involved to get to it. If the mechanic admits he did something wrong, 80% of the bill he will have to eat when he corrects the situation. If you plan on getting it done, please go to a reputable shop or the dealer (not an oil change place). Also, I recommend shopping the job first. Since the car is still operating, you (and the fact that it seems to be a secondary means of transportation considering the low mileage) have a perfect opportunity to find out what different shops in your area charge for that work.
Good Luck!
Drive Safely!
Bob, The Auto Answer Man

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