Piston Slap: Belts, Chains and Fahrvergngen

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta

Steve writes:

Hi Sajeev, I own a 2005 VW Passat with V6 that has 92000 miles on the odo. VW says I should replace the timing belt ASAP. I let my last Passat (2001.5 V6) go until 120K and my local dealer’s shop lectured me on the danger of letting it go for so long. How much am I tempting fate by waiting until I get to 120K this time? Is a timing belt change too complicated for a decent independent mechanic to tackle? Your sage advice would be most appreciated.

There are a number of people on the VW forums that are posting that VW issued some kind of revised maintenance schedule for TB’s? I bought mine used (from a VW dealer) so I may not be on the mailing list. As usual, the opinions run the gamut. I will be very interested in the comments on this issue. And, I will check with my mechanic (authorized VW repair shop, non-dealer) on Monday to see what he says.

Sajeev answers:

Let’s rant for a moment: WTF is up with a mainstream sedan running a timing belt in the current millennia? Most (perhaps all) of the Japanese carmakers stepped up to timing chains for long term cost savings, after (the chain lovers) in Detroit did their “100k between tune ups” shtick in the 1990s.

Wait, scratch that: according to Edmunds, your Passat needs a new timing belt at 105,000 miles. So get ready for a big bill, 5k miles after everyone else gets new spark plugs. Fahrvergnügen!

Now, about getting chastised: nobody wants to get stranded by a broken belt. Murphy’s Law says it’ll fail when you’re in the middle of nowhere. Far worse, Google searching says you have an interference engine, so neglecting the belt results in a game of Valve Roulette: which one stays down and gets Piston Slapped?

Yes, you deserved that lecture from the dealer. Now redeem yourself by finding an independent, non-franchise mechanic who uses Internet repair databases and runs a clean shop. Let them change the belt (with a VW-sourced replacement) and save a little cheddar in the process. And do whatever else the owner’s manual suggests too: you only dig into the motor every 105k, so save the labor costs by doing multiple things at one time.

[Send your queries to mehta@ttac.com]

Sajeev Mehta
Sajeev Mehta

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  • Rpn453 Rpn453 on Sep 16, 2009
    TireGuy : And this from a people who are willing to do an oil change every 3.000 miles as recommended by their american OEMs where in Germany the recommendation since over 10 years is that every 15.000 km is way sufficient!? I like how you switched to metric mid-sentence to make the number look bigger! Most manufacturers now recommend 5k miles even for severe service. That's on $2/quart oil. What oil meeting VW, BMW, or Mercedes specs can you buy for that price? You could buy GC, M1 0W-40, Amsoil, etc. and run it for long intervals in an American or Japanese car if you desired, but that would probably cost more anyway.
  • Sammy Hagar Sammy Hagar on Sep 16, 2009
    And this from a people who are willing to do an oil change every 3.000 miles as recommended by their american OEMs where in Germany the recommendation since over 10 years is that every 15.000 km is way sufficient!? In any case: a metal chain wears out as well, is noise, needs to be lubricated. A timing belt is basically maintenance free, and has many advantages. First, kudos to rpn453 for pointing out the bait & switch on the miles to kilometers move. As for the reality of that, does any American manufacturer recommend 3K mile OCI's under "normal" conditions anymore? I doubt it...most new cars are scheduled at 5K miles (that's 8K kilometers!) for "severe" service or they'll have an OLM. I had the misfortune of owning a recent GM product and, using the OLM, my OCI's have been between 7-8K miles (on normal dino, no $$$ Mobil1 or Castrol Edge or German Castrol, etc.). As for timing chains wearing out and being noisy and "lubricated" (???), that's crap. A car will be scrapped and melted down before a typical timing belt will go. Noisy? This isn't 1960...you're not going to notice a Corolla banging away at a stop light. And lubrication? It's called motor oil and whether you have a timing belt or chain, you'll need it.
  • Wjtinfwb Funny. When EV's were bursting onto the scene; Tesla's, Volt's, Leaf's pure EV was all the rage and Hybrids were derided because they still used a gas engine to make them, ahem; usable. Even Volt's were later derided when it was revealed that the Volt's gas engine was actually connected to the wheels, not just a generator. Now, Hybrids are warmly welcomed into the Electric fraternity by virtue of being "electrified". If a change in definition is what it takes, I'm all for it. Hybrid's make so much sense in most American's usage patterns and if needed you can drive one cross-country essentially non-stop. Glad to see Hybrid's getting the love.
  • 3-On-The-Tree We also had a 1973 IH Scout that we rebuilt the engine in and it had dual glass packs, real loud. I miss those days.
  • 3-On-The-Tree Jeff thanks. Back in 1990 we had a 1964 Dodge D100 with a slant six with a 3 on the tree. I taught myself how to drive a standard in that truck. It was my one of many journeys into Mopar land. Had a 1973 Plymouth duster with a slant six and a 1974 Dodge Dart Custom with 318 V8. Great cars and easy to work on.
  • Akear What is GM good at?You led Mary............................................What a disgrace!
  • Randy in rocklin I have a 87 bot new with 200k miles and 3 head gasket jobs and bot another 87 turbo 5 speed with 70k miles and new head gaskets. They cost around 4k to do these days.