By on May 29, 2012

This is number one of hopefully a long series from the inside of a auto repair shop. Say hi to Phil. 

When I spun the engine on the early ‘80’s Honda Accord, the telltale sound of the starter motor wheeling the engine around with no compression-resistance was not what I wanted to hear.

It’s not that I didn’t expect it.

Typically, when it comes to the area of service/maintenance/repair of vehicles, I have to see things in purely mechanical terms. Whatever personality or “soul” might be experienced by operating or admiring the aesthetics of any motorized amalgamation doesn’t translate when it is occupying my repair bay. The law of cause and effect always reigns supreme, there. As one sows, so does one reap. The math never fails to be accurate. One plus one ALWAYS equals TWO! Slough-off on prescribed oil and fluid maintenance and face premature, expensive component repair or replacement. Fail to replace brake pads promptly when the wear indicators start emanating their high-pitched, fingernails-to-the-chalkboard screech, and be prepared to replace a set of rotors along with the replacement pads. Run consistently low tire pressure, and be rewarded with early sidewall failure. The potential scenarios are endless, but they very rarely have a happy ending. No room for miracles, here!

O.K., one more: Wait until the Timing Belt shears off its teeth—due to the usual and customary degradation of its rubber and fiber composition—on most any overhead-cammed engine sporting an ”interference” design, (which, by the way, allows valve-to-piston contact in the event that the crankshaft gets sufficiently out-of-synch with the camshaft, such as when a timing belt fails. Why engineers ever thought it prudent to employ, neigh, even popularize such a design is a topic for a completely separate rant in itself!), and don’t even THINK that a tow to the repair shop and a timing belt replacement is all it will take to make the engine “as good as new”!

So, WHY wouldn’t I have wanted to hear evidence that valve-to-piston damage had occurred. I mean, wouldn’t that have just served the customer right, for being so uninformed, inattentive, out of touch with reality, and/or just too (expletive deleted) cheap to have dealt more proactively with a “predictable” machine? Virtually always, my answer to that question would have to be “YES”.

But there are always exceptions to every rule. Without boring you with the sob-story details, this was one of them. I’d tried to convince her to bring the car in sooner for needed maintenance—including TIMING BELT REPLACEMENT, but she said the following week was the best she could do. Her uncaring, unfeeling machine, of course, didn’t know any better.

Now, I’ve been in the position to advise a number of people whose VEHICULAR circumstances were similar to hers. More than one of them NEVER had the timing belt, or other similarly critical job done, managed to drive their vehicle for another year or more without incident, and sold, traded-in or otherwise conveniently disposed of their terminal-but-still-functional ride without suffering adverse consequences. Knowing those people’s PERSONAL circumstances, though, I certainly wouldn’t have felt pity for them if they had suffered the fate I’d predicted.

Our gal with the Honda and the “ironclad excuse”, on the other hand, was truly a victim of “bad luck”, and my heart went out to her.

I told her—actually, REMINDED her—about the likelihood of facing a costly engine repair. I had been a Honda-only tech for almost ten years previously, and had NEVER seen such a failure that didn’t result in engine damage. I figured she stood better odds of winning the Lottery than getting out of this situation with just a tow and belt replacement. But, as I always did before just arbitrarily removing the cylinder head and setting about making the repairs, I said I’d install a new belt and attempt to start and run the engine. I offered that, since her personal circumstances were so exceptional, maybe the actual mechanical circumstances involving the belt failure in her car might be exceptional, too.

“MECHANICAL CIRCUMSTANCES…” I later thought, pondering what I considered the absurdity of the use of that term. “IT’S GOING TO TAKE A MIRACLE!!”

Would you believe that that engine started and actually ran “AS GOOD AS NEW”?!! Somewhat in disbelief, I pulled the spark plugs and performed a compression test, just to put some numbers next to my initial judgment. PERFECT!

A “miracle”, by definition, is an extraordinary event—sometimes the result of Divine Intervention. To be sure, what I experienced with that Honda was indeed an “extraordinary event”. Were there explainable “mechanical circumstances” that made this “miracle” possible? Well, all of my previous experience told me there just HAD to be, didn’t there? It did however seem that the usual law of cause and effect had been suspended; that one plus one did NOT equal two. One thing was for sure:

It couldn’t have happened to a more deserving customer.

 

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66 Comments on “Memoirs of an Independent Auto Repair Shop Owner: Of Hondas and Miracles...”


  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    I had something similar happen when I was a dumb young kid. I had been raised on Detroit V8s and I thought that all engines had timing chains. What is this devilish tomfoolery you call a “timing belt”? Sounds like the work of Satan himself!

    I did manage to get out of it without anything more than a belt replacement.

    • 0 avatar
      28-cars-later

      I too had a similar what belt do you speak of experience when I was younger. The former Volvo mechanic told me both the Japanese and the Swedes had been using belts instead of chains for a long time, because it was cheaper. I saw it as simply screwing the end user and rewarding the dealer.

      • 0 avatar
        patman

        Belts were supposed to be an improvement over chains – quieter, but more importantly, more accurate valve timing and less stretching over time. Those weren’t big problems for cam-in-block engines where the chains were very short but as overhead-cam engines became popular, the slop and stretch of those long chains became a problem.

        The drawback was belts had to be replaced at regular intervals, and often those intervals had to be revised downward again and again as manufactures discovered that their rubber didn’t last as long in the real world as they would have believed, They also found that customers didn’t not like spending thousands of dollars several times over the normal life of a car to prevent catastrophic engine failure and they were not happy with the car maker when they did fail whether it was through their own neglect or not.

        I guess they finally gave up and chains seem to be the norm now.

      • 0 avatar
        aristurtle

        For a non-interference engine, it’s not that big a deal. The timing belt breaks, the engine doesn’t start, you replace the timing belt and you’re on your way. My father would run his old brick Volvo until the timing belt broke; replacing it was a job that took a couple hours in the driveway, no big deal.

        Now, when interference engines started to become common, then it turned into a disaster waiting to happen.

      • 0 avatar
        turbobrick

        The old Volvo pushrod engines used gears and many of the OHC red-block engines were nonintereference designs. Also, that’s one of the easiest timing belt jobs on the planet, and from what I hear the five cylinders are not bad either for a transverse engine.

      • 0 avatar
        Slow_Joe_Crow

        Volvo pushrod engines had fiber timing gears to reduce noise, which would disintegrate and have to be replaced with steel gears. My hand me down 164 ate its timing gear at around 90,000 miles just outside Vestal NY one night in 1984. Fortunately those engines were a non-interference design so I got off with gears, coolant and a small adventure.
        On related note, my three watercooled VWs all had their timing belts checked regularly ande replaced every 50,000 miles. Our Ford Escort actually solved the timing belt problem by spitting out the rubber damper in the crankshaft pulley every 50k which meant we would replace the timing belt while the accessory drive was apart.

      • 0 avatar
        CRConrad

        @Slow_Joe_Crow: As I heard it back in the day, if/when that “fiber” gear (on the camshaft only; the one on the crankshaft was always steel) “disintegrated”, it was often due to people putting in the wrong kind of oil, inadvertently dissolving the material of the camshaft gear (which always felt more like bakelite to me).

        Though I may of course have misunderstood / be misremembering this.

  • avatar
    mikey

    Hi Phil.Welcome to TTAC. If your first post is any indication of whats to come,….bring it on.

  • avatar
    Quentin

    My brother had a similar situation this winter. He called me saying that the engine just died in his 2.5RS. I asked him if the revs shot up before it died and he confirmed that they did. I asked him how many miles: 126,000. Uh oh. Having done the same thing in my 1993 Impreza over a decade prior, I knew it was a timing belt. I was under the impression the ej25 wasn’t an interference engine like my ej18 wasn’t interference. A tow bill later and he was at the local non-dealer Subaru shop who swore up and down that he had no compression. Knowing that the engine was shot, we towed it back to my parents’ house where our neighbor had a garage. The neighbor said it looked like no one had even pulled the plugs or anything so he changed the belt. Behold, she fired right up. I think the saving grace was that he was at a very low engine speed and the ej25 being a 4 cylinder boxer, there are “dead” positions where the cams will end up when they lose timing where all the valves are closed on that bank. The valves naturally want to be closed and the 2 cyl/bank easily accommodated that. I’ve seen some V6 engines that have the same situation.

    But yeah, I’m very happy to have 2 cars that both have timing chains.

  • avatar
    Vance Torino

    Sounds like being a Dentist! Oh, don’t floss, you skipped your cleanings, put off getting that filling…

    OMG! What do you mean I need a root canal?

  • avatar
    Ex Radio Operator

    I learned the hard way (is there any other?) about interference engines on a Nissan Sentra. Go ahead and buy a full set of valves. Don’t believe your eyes when they tell you 1/2 the valves are still good. The roll test just isn’t good enough. At least on the second head removal everything went twice as fast because of BTDT. The best thing I took away from the experience was the Father and son bonding of working on it together and doing a job, that was in the end, accomplished. That thing ran well until he wrecked it a couple of years later.

  • avatar
    mitchw

    Over here at the other end of town, I am embarrassed to say that I changed my Miata timing belt before the 120K recommended mileage. Even though the engine is non-interference, the tech said the existing belt was deteriorating and might leave me stranded. I guess you mechanics get all kinds; Howdy, Phil.

  • avatar
    ciddyguy

    Nice article and nice to see fresh blood here.

    Sounds to me she got lucky and the belt broke on the down stroke. It happened to my parents with an ’85 Honda Accord SE-I.

    Except we weren’t aware of how near the end the belt was since we’d bought the car used in ’87, this being I think ’89 or ’90. This was back when the cars still had 60K mile belts too. Don’t know if the replacement belt was 60 or 90K as it was at or close to the time that Honda went to 90K mile belts.

    And yes, it happened on the down stroke and miracle of miracles, none of the pistons hit any valves as the car simply shut down, on the side of the highway going to Mt Rainier.

    They replaced that car in 1991 with a brand new ’91 Accord EX sedan.

    My first Honda was an ’83 Civic 1500DX hatchback with 5spd, I had the belt replaced shortly after I got it as its belt hadn’t been replaced by the guy I bought it from and it was due since it, too, had the 60K mile belt, the replacement belt was a 90K mile unit as Honda had just switched to the newer longer lasting timing belts in 1992, which was when I bought the Civic.

    I also had the belt replaced in my ’88 Honda Accord in 2004 I think it was, not knowing when it was done as no evidence to say when it was done, this was a precautionary measure and of course, they replace the water pump while there.

    But I agree, waiting and not replacing the affected part(s) while the damage is minimal is really the best way, waiting until it’s too late can cost WAY more (usually).

    Fortunately, my current car, an ’03 Mazda Protege5 is non interference so even IF the belt breaks, it’s just that, a broken belt and a car on the side of the road, needing a tow to have done but usually nothing else.

    However, cars DO have a way of breaking down at the least opportune moment as I can attest in January of this year when the idle air controller valve decided to go on the fritz, causing the throttle to clamp down whenever I hit 2000rpm, making driving a 92 Ford Ranger with a 5spd manual very difficult. I got it going and with other issues like a leaking timing cover, a small leak in the radiator, the thermostat leaking, copious oil leaks (to the tune of 2 Qts every 2 weeks), a loose bearing or bushing, a loose U-joint and a car with nearly 237K miles had me replacing said truck MUCH sooner than planned, hence the 9 Y.O. Mazda I drive now with 113K+ miles in primo shape.

  • avatar
    ciddyguy

    BTW, saw a video on YouTube on how to change out the timing belt on the Mazda Protege, a little involved in that since the car is transverse mounted, FWD.

    You have to support the right side of the motor behind the right front wheel with a floor jack and a piece of wood, like a shot piece of scrap 4×6 and use that to hold the motor while you undo the right side motor mount that’s on the wheel well skirt. Jack up the car, place jack stands and remove the right front wheel to access the crank shaft pulley.

    Then it’s remove serpentine belt, remove the valve cover, then the upper timing belt cover, then the crankshaft pulley, then the lower belt cover and then you can replace both the timing belt and the water pump while at it. When replacing the belt, ensure you have the timing marks on both camshafts and the crankshaft in their correct positions. Slip the belt on, add the tensioners and then reverse the assembly procedures. If done right, the car should fire right up and run just fine.

    Mazda’s belts are good for 105K miles but they do recommend you check it at 60K as precautionary.

  • avatar
    richardsheil

    “Sounds to me she got lucky and the belt broke on the down stroke. It happened to my parents with an ’85 Honda Accord SE-I.”

    You do realise that on engines with more than one cylinder when one piston is on the downstroke others are on the upstroke?

  • avatar
    OldandSlow

    Ah, the long gone days of single overhead cams. If you were lucky, the timing belt would strip a couple of teeth on the belt and move in position just enough to make the engine run poorly.

    The one thing I have to say about a 4 cylinder Honda of this era – The car was definitely designed to facilitate the replacement of the timing belt. At least this was true of a late 1980’s Accord.

    The most interesting timing belt set up is on a Subaru 2.5 with dual overhead cams – which means 4 cams total. Man that’s long belt.

  • avatar
    blowfish

    One heavy duty mech told me that my 85 civic was not Interference type, but in fact ins Interference type.
    Got me stranded 1/2 between Prince george BC & Quesnel.
    It turned out I had 10 out of the 12 valves were bent.

  • avatar
    "scarey"

    Welcome, Phil ! Getting to look inside of a repair shop sounds like just what the doctor ordered for a bunch of dedicated car loonies like us. I am looking forward to it.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    My first car with a belt was an 84 Accord. When the belt failed, I had a gypsy mechanic replace it in the parking lot where it died. Ran fine. You sure those had an interference motor?

    Also, LESS CAPS please.

    • 0 avatar
      Phil Coconis

      Yeah Russ,

      ’80’s were interference, ’84’s weren’t (as were the ’83 Preludes). They both had a CVCC design, but most of the earlier (and later) CVCC’s were intereference. Consult a manual, and you won’t go wrong.

  • avatar
    Kevin Jaeger

    Though it’s not as common, a timing chain can break, too. I had one break on a BMW E30, though it was twenty years old at the time.

    I also had a timing belt break on a Passat even though it had been replaced at the dealer and within its maintenance interval. Sometimes stuff just breaks.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      I’ve seen a number of “jumped timing chains” during my lifetime, and even experienced a couple on my cars, a 1968 Ford 289 and a 1968 Mercury 390, both well under 100K miles. Not a fun job to do but it can be done in the drive-way.

      Timing chains can be just as cantankerous as timing belts but the redeeming factor is always the “interference” vs the “non-interference” engine.

      Every Civic I know of with a broken timing belt, destroyed valves and pistons. No “non-interference” engine ever had any damage.

      And the factory guidelines for replacing timing belts do not always work either since engines used for high speed commutes often show wear long before they need to be replaced. One timing belt I know of failed at less than 60K.

  • avatar
    joeveto3

    Great stuff Phil! Keep it coming.

    The only timing belts I’ve ever changed have been on Miata’s, and they are easy. I’m sure any transverse engine would be a lot more difficult.

    And yes, I too miss single overhead cam engines and their relative simplicity.

  • avatar
    CompWizrd

    Sadly, her next car will die from a dead timing belt.

    “My mechanic lied to me and said i had to replace the belt or i’d kill the engine… and when the engine stopped they just replaced the belt and it was good as new! Mechanics all lie, you don’t need to replace the belts, it’ll run just fine after!”

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    I’ve posted this before, but have to repeat here. I had a 93 Mitsu Plymouth Colt with the 1.8L 16 valve engine. The service schedule called for the timing belt replacement at 60K. Since, IMHO I deliver very low stress to the engine based on past expericnem, I decided to double the replacement to 120K. At 12 years and 117K it was still going strong when hammer head son crashed it. No injures, but the car was totaled due to its low book value. This was close enough to my goal of a doubling of the replacement interval that I declared vistory and went home.
    On the other hand, I know people who shoud change timing belts every year due to their overlg exuberant driving habits.

    • 0 avatar
      benders

      So in your view, it’s only pushing the engine hard that will cause a timing belt to break? Nothing about the damage from heat, ozone degradation, and cyclic loading on the belt will ever cause it to fail?

      Manufacturers recommend replacement intervals that will ensure very, very few belts will fail in service. Sure, most will run past that interval but you’re testing the odds at that point.

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        benders, that is an interesting premise since all the timing belts I know of that broke on Civics were driven daily by highspeed commuters on Hwy 70 and Hwy 54 to and from the various government facilities. Not exactly racers and drifters who ran their engines wide open.

        One of those timing belts broke with less than 60K on it in a three-year old engine, not enough time for “damage from heat, ozone degradation, and cyclic loading on the belt”. Maybe a supplier cutting corners? That has happened before in North America.

        Although I like rubber timing belts more than sprocket&chain, the rubber ones do need replacement more often. They are also much more quiet than a timing chain and don’t need to be submerged in oil for lubrication.

        I helped a buddy of mine change the timing belt on his 1989 Camry V6, and it was a pain in the @ss! Had it been done by a shop, it would have cost him beaucoup bucks! Checking or changing timing belts is not always an easy thing to do.

      • 0 avatar
        Educator(of teachers)Dan

        @highdesertcat, I love ya man but if you can actually hear the difference between a timing belt and a timing chain than you should be able to practice medice without a stetoscope or line up the tumblers in a safe by ear.

        I’ve heard the “timing belts are quieter” argument for years but unless you’re talking about an ultra premium luxury sedan that is a BS argument that manufacturers use as an excuse to cheap out. I noticed when Hyundai started moving toward a 100,000 mi warranty they started replacing the timing belts on their engines with chains.

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        Dan, I should have been more specific. Thanks for calling me on it.

        This is clearly an example where one word, “worn”, can make all the difference in getting the message across.

        Worn metal sprocket&chains, even when submerged in adequate oil, can be more readily heard than worn rubber timing belts. They’re noisy, like a dry bicycle chain and the timing chain cover usually amplifies the noise, even with nylon sprockets carrying the chain.

        I have known shops that did not replace the nylon sprockets, only the sagging chain, and did fine, but I would not advise that. This was usually after the chain had jumped a tooth or two and the vehicle would no longer start or run. Sometimes a shop would replace a single nylon sprocket that had a broken tooth, but leave the rest intact. I could go either way on that depending on mileage.

        I have always replaced both sprockets and chain on the V8’s I repaired, including my own. Where I helped others replace their rubber timing belts the owner did not always choose to replace the tensioner pulley. This was usually done if the owner was planning to sell or trade the car shortly afterwards.

        My point was, a potential buyer can more easily hear a worn sprocket&chain timing system if they know what to listen for, than they can a worn rubber timing belt which is virtually noiseless, even when worn to a frazzle.

        It is to a seller’s advantage to show a potential buyer that the rubber timing belt was replaced at a recommended interval even if the seller did the work himself.

  • avatar
    Gannet

    Great first post, and I love this sort of “insider” story.

    Just one problem: you only told half the story. Just *why* was she such a deserving customer?

    Timing belts. Even dumber than plastic cam gears.

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    Part of the reason I bought the xB1 was BECAUSE TIMING CHAIN.

  • avatar
    slow kills

    This article shows the merit of the 800 word limit.

  • avatar
    jeffzekas

    Hey Phil, I am one of those owners who DOES do the proactive maintenance… only to get screwed by a lazy, incompetent mechanic. In my case, i DID replace my Subie timing belt at the recommended 105,000 miles… Little did I know, Mark (no longer my mechanic OR my friend) replaced the belt, but NOT the idler pulley… So, guess what happened? About 30,000 miles later, the idler pulley fragged itself… luckily, my wife stopped the car, before any major damage was done… Mark’s excuse: “I didn’t know.” A mechanic with 30 years experience DOESN’T KNOW that you replace the idler pulley and water pump at the same time as the timing belt?!! Whatever…

    • 0 avatar
      jbeale53

      Someone (a mechanic) needs to chime in on this – I’ve been a gearhead for most of my life, and this is the first time I’ve ever heard that the idler pulley should be replaced along with the timing belt. The serpentines and the water pump, yes, but never the idler.

      *edit* – do you mean the serpentine belt idler pulley, or an idler pulley for the timing belt? If it’s for the timing belt, then actually, I may need to recant my statement, that would probably make sense to swap it out while you’re in there. *

      • 0 avatar
        Ubermensch

        An idler pulley for the serpentine belt really wouldn’t cause any engine damage so I assume he is talking about the timing idler pulley.

      • 0 avatar
        Crabspirits

        YES. Of all the timing belt failures I’ve seen as a tech, 1 out of 3 have been due to a failed tensioner bearing. I put a new one on every time.

        You can consider any roller or ball bearing under the hood to have a more limited lifespan than a lot of other components. It’s really hot under there and these things can spin quite fast. For example, alternators usually fail because of the bearings, not the actual gizmo.

        The mandatory replacement of the water pump on the other hand is engine/brand specific. Some GM’s only last 30k miles, while others will seem to last for the life of the vehicle.

      • 0 avatar
        Crabspirits

        Lets not go overboard on the timing belt hate. Timing chains and guides fail all the time too. The repair is usually much more involved and more expensive. That’s IF your valves haven’t been ruined by a complete failure. Examples that pop in my head are the Jag AJ V8, Many Saturns, and Nissan KA24.

        Timing gears are FAR more reliable (unless they are plastic ones on an Iron Duke). But their mass usually restricts them to diesels and other applications where response isn’t a priority.

      • 0 avatar
        azmtbkr81

        @Crabspirits

        That’s a very good point, the timing chain guide on my 2007 Xterra had to be replaced twice prior to the end of the warranty. I got rid of that pig as quickly as I could after the second one went.

    • 0 avatar
      kayoteq

      My impression on the Subie pulley tensioner and pump (and the occasional seal)
      is that the failure rate was so near the timing belts interval that you may as well do that bit
      while its apart. This from Subaru fans used to high miles who want to help their poor motor not eat itself before the next 100k.

      Fortunately most everything I’ve got is non-interference. Only got to the slipping stage,
      Usually need a gasket by that point so belts get replaced at the same time.

      While researching your own vehicles quirks take here that its like the news, nobody’s posting on how their starter bushing is reliable.. but you can figure out what ‘extras’ to include either for your mechanic or you.. and tell them, don’t leave it in the trunk. They aren’t psychic and sense the presence of extra new parts..

  • avatar
    VLS_GUY

    Phil,

    Did the customer with no apparent head damage come back regularly for service on this car? In my experience when a timing belt breaks on an interference engine you always end up with some form of damage to some of the head components even if the is running normally after timing belt replacement. After a few thousand miles these miraculous examples of no head damage usually come back with dropped valves or bad lifters due to damage that can’t be seen unless the head is pulled. These dropped valves frequently score the cylinder walls meaning you are looking for a new engine; an expensive lesson that not all damage is immediately apparent after a timing belt failure.

  • avatar
    Ben

    Welcome and great first article.

    I hope that this series will contain plenty of tales of repairs that have perplexed you and the usual fascinating stories that you acquire as a result of with dealing with the general public.

  • avatar
    burgersandbeer

    Great idea for a new series! Looking forward to future installments.

  • avatar
    CRConrad

    Hello, Phil, and welcome!

    Just one thing: Neigh is what horses do; the word you want is “nay”. HTH!

  • avatar
    Zykotec

    Only once have I bought a car that I didn’t know had a timing belt that was within it’s service life. Mainly because it was a cheap old banger, and the previous two owners had no history on it :P.
    Only once has one of my cars broken a timing belt.
    The odds that I’m talking about the one and same car is off course 120%…

  • avatar
    cstoc

    To my knowledge, the first use of a rubber timing belt was in the Pontiac OHC inline 6, around 1964 or so. I don’t know if it was an interference design.

    Timing chains can go bad, too. In the late 1960’s – early 1970’s, Chevy V8’s (and others) used a “silent timing gear”, basically a timing gear with nylon teeth that wore out very quickly. My dad replaced the gear and chain on his 1971 Biscayne with 350 at around 40k miles. The replacement gear was all metal and was still fine when he sold the car over 200k miles later.

    • 0 avatar
      The Wedding DJ

      That happened to my stepdad’s ’75 Chevy pickup, but with a twist: There was so much slack in the timing chain that it wore a hole in the front cover, and we lost all our oil. One. Hundred. Miles. From. Home. I don’t know if engines destined for trucks had the nylon-coated gears, but this engine was from a ’72 Impala.

      The timing belt in the ’85 Dodge 600 I once owned broke at 40 mph, which of course stopped me dead in my tracks. When I cranked the starter, I knew what had happened. Not a big deal; the 2.2 is a non-interference engine, so I had it towed home and did it myself. That K-car was the simplest vehicle I ever worked on, even moreso that my slant-6 Volare. Absolutely nothing intimidated me on that car, and I’m just an amateur who learned everything the hard way. I know we can’t go back to cars like that, which is both good and bad.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    Wanna hear something funny? I had our 1990 Plymouth Acclaim in the shop one day for a blower fan replacement. I got a call from my wife – the 1984 Chrysler E-class had simply stopped dead at an intersection nearby. Timing belt! Had the car towed to the same shop.

    I left work early and got a ride and wifey and I were sitting in the waiting room together, waiting for at least one car to be completed. The Acclaim was finished first, so I sent her home, as the kids at the time were already home from school. I made it home much later. I believe this was in 1993.

    Thank goodness those 2.2Ls were non-interference engines! Since we bought the Acclaim new, I had everything changed every 60K miles.

  • avatar
    icemilkcoffee

    Alright! a mechanic on call!

    Slightly off topic: what is your take on the supposed quality slide of Honda since the early 2000’s? Do you think there is any truth to the notion that the 92-95 generation of Civics was the most reliable cars Honda ever made?

  • avatar
    Crosley

    I’m convinced there’s some sort of “Illuminati” type conspiracy with respect to timing belts, interference engines and dealerships.

    I’m not an engineer, but having an interference engine with a head closer to the pistons gives you, what, like 3% more efficiency over the same engine in a “non-interference” design? I think 99.9% of consumers would give up whatever fractional gain for the added insurance, especially when you’re talking about used car buyers.

    Dealerships and shops of course LOVE them. They can scare the hell out of unwitting consumers with 50k mile “deluxe” timing belt changes that probably average over a thousand dollars.

    • 0 avatar
      bikegoesbaa

      Care to guess how much OEMs care about the preferences of used buyers?

      A 3% improvement in engine efficiency is huge. A whole bunch of very smart people have spend their careers pursuing gains much smaller than that.

      I expect your average new buyer knows nothing about timing belts, or much of anything related to the magic that happens under their hood. They probably also don’t care to know the specifics of what maintenance will be required ~5 years down the road, when they very well may no longer own the car.

      However, they do know their rated fuel economy, and will probably have friends and co-workers ask them about it.

      This being the case, I don’t blame manufacturers for opting for interference designs at the cost of occasional catastrophic failures that are solidly out of warranty and easy enough to blame on operator error.

      • 0 avatar
        Toad

        Bikegoesbaa, you are being way too rational for the internets!

        We may have to amend the perfect internet car to a diesel manual transmission station wagon with a non-interference engine and no timing belt. Sold used directly from the factory.

      • 0 avatar
        Crosley

        That was my point, that consumers are in the dark, and if they knew how little was gained, most would prefer a non-interference design. I know I would. And yes, I do think OEM/dealers care about used car buyers with all the
        “certified” used cars they promote.

        When I was speculating a”3% gain”, that would mean 3% greater hp, so for something like a Honda, we’re talking around 5hp. No, that’s not a lot, the outside temperature that day would likely have a greater effect.

        I’d love to know some hard numbers from an actual engineer, but the fact that consumers are ignorant of something technical doesn’t automatically mean they deserve to get shafted.

        I genuinely believe Honda dealerships would throw a fit if Honda decided to only build non-interference engines.

  • avatar
    Zarba

    See my avatar?

    That’s my 1995 Alfa 164Q. Notorious for eating timing belts (poor design…who’d a thunk it?),and an interference engine.

    Eats a few teeth, jumps timing, and $6,500 vacuumed out of my wallet and into my mechanic’s boat payments.

    His words: “There are 2 kinds of 24-valve Alfas…those that have jumped timing and those that will. Every One.”

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    This is great way to start off your career at TTAC Phil, I’m very eager to hear about you interference vs. non-interference rant.

  • avatar
    wstarvingteacher

    Good article. Lost my 2002 Saturn Vue to a broken (or skipped) timing chain. Wish it had happened a lot earlier. It was the final straw.

    Sold the Honda powered 2007 Vue when I realized there was a $1200 timing belt service due soon.

    Hope I didn’t jump from the frying pan into the fire. Bought a Nissan cube and do not know whether it’s an interference engine or not. Also don’t know if it’s supposed to be changed at some periodicity. I think I will find out. It just irritates me no end that I cannot take a cover off and change the chain myself. The broken chain on the vue was in the middle of the engine according to the mechanic. That’s ok. You had to pull the bellhousing to get to the clutch slave cylinder. I became acutely aware that my Saturn was an Opel.

    There is one born every minute and I was one of them.

    • 0 avatar
      ciddyguy

      At Wstarvingteacher,

      I did a quick search and your Nissan Cube should be in good hands, for the most part.

      The motor, the MR18DE that’s in your Cube (and Versa) uses a timing chain, instead of a belt and has dual overhead cams and has variable valve timing too along with direct injection.

      A quick further Googling reveals this motor may WELL be interference as I found a PDF on how to do engine repairs for this motor, both the 1.6 and 1.8L versions.

      They say, never to rotate either the crankshaft, nor the camshafts as they can cause INTERFERENCE. So there is your likely answer.

      This motor uses a smaller water pump chain that then turns the water pump and thus the larger timing chain itself as they both fit onto the water pump sprocket.

      Hope this helps. It looks like the procedures for replacing the chains is about as difficult as replacing timing belts on most transverse motors due to it being on the front of the motor, rather than on the rear as you discovered on your Opel sourced Vue.

      • 0 avatar
        wstarvingteacher

        I sure appreciate the research you just did. I think I am going to have it checked out when I get to about 100k. Also think I will change oil more often on the cube. I think a big culprit on the vue was my daughter who I loaned it to for 5 months. She needed it right then so I let it go to her w/o changing the oil. It came back 5 months later, same oil and two quarts low. I am sure that polished off the chain.

        The nissan trucks I had went an easy 200k unless they overheated. The reliability built into them is one reason I went with the cube. That and that Mama loved the wierd look.

  • avatar
    WildcatMatt

    “Why engineers ever thought it prudent to employ, neigh, even popularize such a design is a topic for a completely separate rant in itself!”

    Minor quibble, but I think you mean ‘nay’ unless you’re claiming that Mr. Ed was an early pitchman for interference engines.

    Thanks for a nice article!


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