Q: I have a 2009 Hyundai Elantra. The dealership insists I need to replace the timing belt because I have owned it six years. They say it should be replaced every six years or 60,000 miles. I only have 11,600 miles on the car. Should the timing belt be replaced now or are they trying to scam me? Is there a way to tell when it needs to be replaced other than by time?
A: Here are Hyundai's recommendations — replace timing belt at 90,000 miles or 72 months. Under severe service, replace every 60,000 miles or 48 months. If you are the original owner, your Hyundai has a 10-year/100,000-mile drivetrain warranty. Although it's unlikely due to the exceptionally low mileage, a timing belt failure on this interference engine could cause major damage. If you have not followed the carmaker's maintenance recommendations, warranty coverage could be in question.
Q: We bought a used 2002 Honda Civic XL with about 40,000 miles on it. I notice in the owner's manual that the timing belt should normally be replaced at 110,000 miles or every seven years. The car is now about 15 years old. Is it possible to determine if the timing belt has been replaced? Or is it something I shouldn't be too concerned about? It is a fairly sizable expense if it's not necessary. It runs fine but I don't want a catastrophic breakdown as I have heard can occur with some cars.
A: It's certainly possible that the timing belt was replaced at the 84-month recommended interval. But I suspect with the extraordinarily low mileage that it's still the original timing belt. Unless you can find a receipt for replacement the only way to know the condition of the timing belt is a visual inspection, which requires removing the ignition coils, throttle cable clamps and harness and the cylinder head cover. If there's evidence of oil or fluid contamination on the belt or if there is any physical damage such as cracks or damaged teeth, replace the belt. Considering that the car's trade-in value is in the $2,000 range, its resale value perhaps at $3,000 and the estimated $300-$450 to replace the timing belt, it's your call.
The engine in your Civic is an "interference" engine, meaning there can be physical contact between pistons and valves should the timing belt break. If your plan is to keep the vehicle for a number of years, consider replacement as preventive maintenance. If it's a disposable car, dispose of it if/when the timing belt fails.
Q: I am the original owner of a 1998 Toyota Land Cruiser that is approaching 270,000 miles, where its third timing belt change is recommended. I've changed the oil and oil filter every 4,000 miles and completed all of the manufacturer's recommended maintenance at the recommended intervals. Does this vehicle have an interference engine? It is a 4.7-liter V-8. I've done my own internet searches and find conflicting information. I've taken the vehicle to a very trustworthy independent mechanic for many years and he is finding similarly conflicting information from his more professional data sources.
A: The 4.7-liter V8 in your Land Cruiser (as well as the Lexus LX 470) is definitely an interference engine. As I mentioned above, this means that a timing belt failure can lead to series internal engine damage.
At more than four hours of labor plus parts, replacement is not inexpensive. From my perspective, if you believe the vehicle will last you several more years, I'd replace the belt. If not, see above.
Q: If I drive less than 3,000 miles in a year, should I change oil at 3,000 miles or should I do an oil change at least once a year?
A: For vehicles driven 3,000-5,000 miles per year, I change oil and filter once a year, generally at the end of the major driving season. For vehicles driven less than 500 miles per year, I change oil and filter every 2-3 years.
Paul Brand is the author of "How to Repair Your Car" and "How to Repair Your Truck and SUV," published by Motorbooks.