By on March 30, 2018

2007 City Golf, Image: VWMike writes:

Hi Sajeev.

I have a 2007 Volkswagen City Golf with a 2.0-liter and a five-speed manual. It has about 60,000 kilometres (37k miles) and obviously doesn’t get driven very much. My independent mechanic suggested that the timing belt be changed because of the age of the car. He says it is an interference engine and bad things could happen if the belt breaks. I’ve read about others where this has happened, and the cost to fix it. I would like to get your opinion.

Sajeev answers:

Your man is right: why play valve roulette in an interference engine? Easy answer, so remember why timing belts go bad with age (and not mileage).

It’s the material: rubber.

Rubber rots over time; a wear item just like engine oil and items people refuse to change like shocks, headlight bulbs, etc…

Sure, you may not see the cracks, the hardening, the decreased performance as with a set of dry rotted tires. But it happens and the consequences are likely disastrous on a 2.0 VW mill. And a fully depreciated, low-mile City Golf is a good machine for basic transportation.  In my time with the beautiful MK IV Jetta, I quite tolerated that motor’s performance to durability ratio, especially when including the joy of Fahrvergnügen in an affordable vehicle.

If yours isn’t too rusty and the rest of the machine is well maintained, do the timing belt.

[Image: Volkswagen]

Send your queries to [email protected]com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice. 

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44 Comments on “Piston Slap: Playing Valve Roulette in a City Golf?...”


  • avatar
    Syke

    Absolute understatement. Yes, it’s pricey, but you’re probably going to do it once, maybe twice, over your ownership of the car. Why would you want to cheap out? Especially considering how it can backfire on you.

  • avatar
    Nick_515

    It’s not even that expensive, though granted, that depends on one’s finances. My guess would be at the $600 mark or thereabouts at a trusted indie shop. And yes… it will include changing the plastic propeller with an aftermarket metallic one. When I had mine done back in the day, the mechanic was amazed, as about 45% of the area supposed to propel water had simply disappeared.

    • 0 avatar
      chuckrs

      I had 2 Audis with the 1.8T version of this engine. Cost was about $800 including replacing the water pump. Did it 4x as I had the cars for about 330k miles. Cars were reliable(!) but one had the ABS go out and it took the speedometer with it. That’s what your GPS app is for.

      • 0 avatar
        Nick_515

        any of them manual? Thing is, under 50 mph I knew exactly how fast I was going in the Jetta because of the manual. I memorized what gear i needed to be on each street to stay within the realm of the speed limit, and I was set. GPS speedo sounds great! that’s how my wife monitors my speed now :)

      • 0 avatar
        gtem

        The audis would most likely have been longitudinal setups, not quite apples to apples. The VW should be easier as there is no need to put the car into the “service position” with unbolting the front clip. Might just need to remove an engine mount or something.

        • 0 avatar
          Nick_515

          gtem, of course!!! because the vw also had a 1.8t, i forgot the difference in setup.

          • 0 avatar
            chuckrs

            Learn stuff every day. Yes, I drive the remaining Audi by knowing the gear I’m in and the tach – close enough. Its no speed demon and neither am I. Both Audis are longitudinal engine.

  • avatar
    rpn453

    The timing belt on the interference engine of the ’93 MX-6 I sold last year was 16 years and 80k miles old. I pulled off the valve cover and checked the entire length every spring expecting that would be the year to do it, but it always looked fine. Rubber just doesn’t age very quickly here in the cool, dry Canadian prairies. I told the buyer that I had monitored it that way but that it was way over the manufacturer’s recommendation and would probably ruin the engine if it failed.

    Considering the horrible condition of some timing belts and drivebelts I’ve seen that still somehow functioned, it’s hard for me to imagine a belt with absolutely no visible defects failing. I’d certainly change it at the first sign of deterioration. Even the tiniest crack is enough to convince me to change a drivebelt or timing belt.

    Has anyone who regularly inspects their belts had one fail unexpectedly?

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      I had one break about 15 months after the install.

      • 0 avatar
        rpn453

        “I had one break about 15 months after the install.”

        That’s one of the reasons I’d rather just monitor it. There’s a decent chance a new part (particularly the water pump) could be defective, or that an installation error could contribute to catastrophic failure.

        I tend to trust things that are working more than new things, as long as I’m confident I’m still in the lower part of the bathtub curve. There are risks either way.

        I think timing belt intervals try to accommodate the worst-case scenario. I don’t doubt that some may have significant deterioration within a few years of city driving with a lot of idling in a very hot, smoggy (high ozone) climate. Extreme cold starts might even contribute, as Honda’s recommendations have suggested. But this car was garage-kept so it rarely spent an afternoon baking in the summer heat, may have never experienced a -40C morning cold start, and probably had the A/C in use no more than 30 days a year.

        Correction on my previous information: the belt was only about 14 years old.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      Apparently TDI VWs and some of the 1.8Ts had a habit of snapping before the 60k interval back in the day, many were changing them every 40k miles IIRC.

    • 0 avatar
      Felix Hoenikker

      After much badgering from my local Honda dealer, I finally replaced the timing belt on our Odyssey at 117K miles and 15 years vs the recommended 105K miles or 7 years. I did the work myself to save $900 out of the $1000 quoted by the dealer and $950 quoted by an indie shop.
      Upon removing the belt, I was happy to find that it looked almost as good as the replacement Gates timing belt – no cracking or tears and was just as pliable. I probably could have run that engine to 200k miles without much chance of breaking the belt.
      As usual, YMMV

  • avatar
    albert

    How can this even be a question? No discussion.
    On a car this old with the original timing belt the risk is way to high.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    I changed the timing belt on my 2007 Legacy wagon last year despite it being almost 35k miles from mileage due. 10 years should be about your limit if you aren’t hitting the mileage.

    One thing I recommend doing at the same time is changing the radiator. You’ve got to drain it anyway, and removing it might give you some extra clearance. I didn’t do mine at the time and the plastic top tank ended up cracking a few months later and I had to do it unexpectedly. It’d save you the cost of coolant if nothing else.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      I dunno that seems a bit excessive in terms of adding cost to the job. A radiator is not something like a water pump where it’s buried and access requires removal of the t-belt. It’s a pretty low-labor higher-part cost kind of a job. Adding in a $350+ OE radiator just to save on $25 of coolant seems dubious at best IMO, either that or cheaping out and installing a lower quality aftermarket $150 rad to replace a (potentially) perfectly good OE radiator.

  • avatar
    pwrwrench

    Yes get the timing belt replaced.
    The repair cost is about 1/4 of what it would be to fix the motor if the belt fails. And that’s assuming just bent valves. Sometimes in the piston/valve collisions more stuff gets broken; pistons and connecting rods or holes in the block.
    Unless things got changed since I worked on those motors, VW used the same belt for the 16V motor as the original 8V. In the 1990s there were belt failures in as little as 30K miles and less than 5 years.
    Someone that I knew at the time worked at a VW dealer. He told me that VW had ‘unofficially’ put the belt replacement interval for the 16V motor at 36K miles. The belt was probably improved due to the short lifespan.
    And yes, get the water/coolant pump replaced. Most shops will do this. The water pump will usually last through 1 1/2 timing belts.

    • 0 avatar
      Nick_515

      OP’s replacement interval should officially be 60k miles, if it’s indeed the 8v two liter. but as Sajeev correctly notes, you go by years in this case. same as you do with tires in lightly used cars.

  • avatar
    Waterview

    Not the time to cheap out. In fact, while he’s in there replacing the timing belt, tell them to replace every other belt and hose. Get the water pump while you’re there. By doing the hoses, you’ll get a new thermostat and coolant. Worst case, you spend $1,000. If you decide to sell the car, you’ve got receipts that show its been maintained properly and you’ll get your money.

    • 0 avatar
      JuniperBug

      If an occasionally-driven cheap old economy car isn’t the time to cheap out, then when is?

      I don’t know anything about the old 2.slow’s longevity regarding hoses and belts, but unless there’s a tendency for anything to fail, I wouldn’t lose any sleep about leaving rubber in there that still looks good.

      My ’99 Miata with 80k miles is on belts and hoses that are at least a decade old, probably older, and I don’t worry about tracking the car or taking it 500 miles from home. It isn’t 1986 anymore; these things have gotten to be pretty durable.

  • avatar
    dejal1

    No. You are a risk taker. You are someone who marches to the beat of a different drummer. Rules, schedules? That’s for proles!!!!

    Let the lemmings pay money for nothing. You can have the satisfaction that you have saved money.

    Until the belt breaks and due to the age of the car and it’s worth relative to fixing the engine, it’s cheaper to dump it for pennies to a junk yard.

    AutoTrader.ca is showing a lot of $3 to 7K cars with much more kms than yours. So, your car may be worth more than that. An engine replacement or MAJOR engine work would drastically eat into your cars worth. I’d replace it. I’d do it and the belt wouldn’t be an issue for many years.

  • avatar
    ttacgreg

    My 90 Plymouth Laser Turbo is a rubber belt interference motor. It is recommended not to exceed ten years on a belt, so I replaced it recently. The old belt was actually in great condition after 14 years, I assume due to low miles on it.
    It is annoying that Mitsubishi made a near $1000 procedure a regular maintenance item. It is also annoying that this is an interference motor despite having a 7.8 : 1 compression ratio.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Can anyone tell me why the poor combination of belts and interference valve design is a thing? GM, despite being GM, was somehow able to avoid this nearly forever, but yet all these other mfgs cannot?

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      Pursuit of higher efficiency and power per displacement combined with lower NVH before modern chain gear-train metallurgy and design had improved. Then again take a look at GM’s 2.4 and 3.6L timing chain stretching fiasco, all of a sudden a belt that is designed to be replaced sounds pretty good!

      • 0 avatar
        turbo_awd

        That, plus the VAG cars that had timing chains then had issues with timing chain guides made of plastic, so you more or less had to do the same labor anyway..

    • 0 avatar
      Ophelia

      Timing belt designs are fantastic. With every service, you get a new belt, new idler pulleys, new tensioner and a water pump. Wow! Ready for the next long haul.

      Timing chains aren’t invincible. High mileage or lack of regular oil change will lead you to new chains, new tensioner, possibly new sprockets, new guides if they’ve been sawed through or broke. If you’re really unfortunate, then the chain might have sawed through the crankcase or timing cover. Metal! Metal everywhere!

      The modern jalopy has a fierce timing chain rattle to go with exhaust leak rumble.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      Timing chain on American engine:

      remanufactured.com/images/4.3%20marine%20longblock%20w-bal%20shaft%20and%206%20bolt%20timing%20cover.jpg

      ________________________________________________________

      Timing chain on German engine:

      i.ytimg.com/vi/4J03Upu-8Qs/maxresdefault.jpg

      • 0 avatar
        gtem

        Well as we’ve seen with GM’s recent fiascoes on their DOHC chain driven motors as well as Ford’s never ending issues with cam phasers on Mod-V8s and now Coyotes and EcoBoosts, “American” isn’t always OHV, and even then isn’t necessarily worry free. Plenty of worn out fiber/plastic timing gear stories. Chevy’s 2.2L OHV have a reputation for needing the chain replaced by 100k, albeit it’s quite easy in the longitudinal (S10) application.

  • avatar
    JuniperBug

    The picture used in the article is of a Mk5 Golf, not the Mk4 City Golf.

    On my own ’04 Concorde, I’m at 150k miles on the original timing belt. Originally I was all set to replace it, but my dad’s mechanic (who serviced the car before I owned it) recommended against it. According to him, these cars go to the crusher at 200k miles still on the original belt.

    Given that the car is getting close to terminal without spending unreasonable sums on other parts of it, I decided that the engine spectacularly failing might actually be the best possible ending for this thing. So far I’ve been driving it for 2.5 years and granted only about 6k miles and it’s still trucking along.

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    After much badgering from my local Honda dealer, I finally replaced the timing belt on our Odyssey at 117K miles and 15 years vs the recommended 105K miles or 7 years. I did the work myself to save $900 out of the $1000 quoted by the dealer and $950 quoted by an indie shop.
    Upon removing the belt, I was happy to find that it looked almost as good as the replacement Gates timing belt – no cracking or tears and was just as pliable. I probably could have run that engine to 200k miles without much chance of breaking the belt.
    As usual, YMMV

    • 0 avatar
      ToddAtlasF1

      I know of two Honda V6s where the timing belts broke because the A/C compressors failed and weren’t replaced for years. Eventually, the pulleys from the compressors broke off and found their ways into the timing belts. Those are the only two Honda V6s I’ve replaced for broken timing belts, and I run an all-makes shop that services hundreds of Hondas. It’s just too bad they’ve got the cylinder deactivation idiot tax killing all the newer ones.

  • avatar
    Whatnext

    If Mike drives so little, why even bother to keep a car? Assuming he’s in Canada (City Golf) most cities have car share programs now.

    • 0 avatar
      Maymar

      Extrapolating that Mike’s driving about 450km a month, that might put him around the break even point of using car share – I’m assuming city driving at an average 30km/hour, so about 15 hours per month. I believe Car2Go’s base rate is around $15 an hour, so $225/month for car share versus maybe $150/month for gas and insurance (maintenance and other expenses will obviously eat into some of that difference). Of course, very, very rough math, and the other side of that is some of that driving may be done out of convenience of having a car, and without that, Mike might avail himself of other transport options instead of car share.

      The other option might also be that Mike is in one of a city’s older suburbs where transit is absolutely awful, car sharing is pretty much nonexistent, and walking/cycling is only for the poor and DUI’s.

  • avatar
    Eurylokhos

    To me this falls in the same category as tugging on Superman’s cape or spitting into the wind.

  • avatar
    dusterdude

    @juniperbug. My dad gave me his 2000 Concorde LXi in November. It has original timing belt ! Spoke to my mechanic , and he gave the same advice… I’m not worried about changing timing belt as car is only worth $2k tops, due to its age…mileage is low though, only had 30k miles!

  • avatar
    baggins

    I am facing a similar situation.

    My question to the B&B

    – what factors tend to lead to more rapid wear of the belt / a higher probability of belt breaking

    So far I have heard / read
    – extreme cold starts
    – extreme heat – operating in 100+ degrees regularly
    – oil leaking into area of belt

    Any others?

    • 0 avatar
      nlinesk8s

      Some engines just seem to be hard on belts. The vW 1.8t is one that was a good idea to change at 60k. Gotta wonder if belt width was under specified

      • 0 avatar
        rpn453

        Yeah, check vehicle-specific forums to see if failures are common. From my personal browsing, in general it seems like just as many people, if not more, have had failures due to improper installation or defective parts than from age. But every belt will fail eventually if left long enough beyond the recommended interval, and some do tend to fail soon enough after that even the recommended interval is somewhat risky.

        I had a ’98 Pathfinder that was nearing the timing belt mileage limit; something like 110k miles. I have a look at the drivebelts any time I pop the hood but I hadn’t even thought of inspecting timing belts back then. I checked the forums and the only reported failure was somebody who had neglected it to 250k miles. I sold it the next spring and told the buyer he should get it done soon. He did, as I found out when I saw him at a hockey rink the next winter.

        Years later, my buddy neglected the one in his XTerra (same engine) until about 150k miles and it probably would have failed shortly after. It was in horrible condition. Some of the teeth were almost completely gone. He got lucky.

        The previous generation Pathfinder used square-tooth belts that didn’t tend to last anywhere near as long.

        Some vehicles have easy access to see the belt. Usually it’s just the valve cover, which is simple enough. You can use a ratchet to rotate an accessory pulley in the engine’s rotating direction to view the full length.

        When my buddy bought his ’05 Legacy GT with around 100k miles a few years ago, one of the first things we did was check the timing belt to see if it had ever been changed. All it took was the removal of four small bolts to get a plastic cover off. It had some very deep cracks. It should have been changed long before that. He had it done very shortly after.

        I wish all vehicles with timing belts had an inspection cover like that. I’d have a look every spring and fall during my routine maintenance and tire changes.

    • 0 avatar
      pwrwrench

      Getting coolant on the belt. Many engines have the water pump where it will leak on the belt leading to quick belt failure.
      Also, as some have mentioned, the type of driving. If there is a lot of stop and go, idling, slow traffic the belt will not get as many miles as a car that’s out of the road doing 60-80mph. The belt wears due to engine rotations.
      BTW most timing belt failures that I’ve seen the belt is not broken. The belt teeth are gone at some point. Usually where the belt goes around the crankshaft sprocket. Then it will not turn the cam(s).
      Sometimes a customer wanted to see the old belt that was replaced before failure. They thought it looked okay so I would get out the calipers and show them how the teeth were 1/2 to 2/3 the width of a new belt.

  • avatar
    Ultraviolet Thunder

    I had a timing belt break on my 1997 Ford Escort – considered myself lucky getting 90k out of that one. With the recommendation of the mechanic, I had the water pump replaced then as well.

    So as not to repeat the same mistake, I voluntarily had the timing belt and water pump replaced at the next 80k without incident. This is the new schedule for this vehicle as it continues to perform like a new car with Honduh-like quality (at a cost of $10k new).

    I can’t think of a car I’d buy to replace this one – it is a manual – I love it – get over 45mpgs on the highway with it, and its paid for. It looks and drives like a new car. Even after considering finance charges on the vehicle, I don’t think I’ve spent over $16k on it in the past 21 years.

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