Piston Slap: Playing Valve Roulette in a City Golf?

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
Mike 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 sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.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.

Sajeev Mehta
Sajeev Mehta

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7 of 44 comments
  • Eurylokhos Eurylokhos on Mar 30, 2018

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

  • Dusterdude Dusterdude on Mar 30, 2018

    @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!

  • Baggins Baggins on Mar 30, 2018

    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?

    • See 2 previous
    • Pwrwrench Pwrwrench on Apr 02, 2018

      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.

  • Ultraviolet Thunder Ultraviolet Thunder on Apr 02, 2018

    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.