When to know the right time to replace your timing belt

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Dear Car Talk:

My daughter was given a 1995 Toyota Corolla by a family friend, who inherited it from a late relative. The car has 65,000 miles. My daughter plans to drive the car from our home in California to Indiana for her senior year of college.

My sister had the car checked out and was told it was OK for driving. The mechanic found that the front and rear brakes are both 40%, the serpentine belt needs adjusting and there’s a “very small” power steering leak.

To get a second opinion, I asked my mechanic what he thought. He immediately asked if the timing belt had been changed. No one knows. My mechanic said unless we change the belt, he wouldn’t let his child take the car on a long road trip.

My questions: Is it worth it to change the timing belt on a 1995 car, and would you feel comfortable having your child take a car of this age on a long road trip? -- Patti

Ray Magliozzi
Caption
Ray Magliozzi

RAY: My child is 40 years old and drives a Tesla, Patti. So I don’t think he cares what his mechanic father thinks.

In your case, I think your mechanic has a point. Normally, timing belts need to be replaced at around 90,000 miles. But age is also a factor with rubber products -- like belts and tires. So even though this Corolla is far short of 90,000 miles, the timing belt has been sitting there, drying out and degrading, for as long as 26 years now.

When it breaks, it will prevent the car from running. And if it breaks while she’s on the road, she’ll be at the mercy of whatever shop she can find, and will be stranded for a day, or more.

So even though it’s hundreds of dollars to replace -- you replace the water pump, pulley, seals and tensioner at the same time -- I’d do it. It won’t cost you any more to do now than it will to wire her the money in Bone Gap, Oklahoma, on a rainy Sunday.

Keep in mind that there are lots of things that can go wrong with a car that was built in 1995: fuel pumps, alternators, starters, power steering pumps. And you won’t be able to predict or fix them all for her. If you did, that would be called a 2022 Corolla.

But this is something you know is going to go wrong, so I agree it’s prudent to take care of it early in this case. And have the mechanic do what we do: Write “T-belt” and the date on the underside of the hood, so a future owner will know when it was last changed.

Safety features abound on the Suburu Outback

Dear Car Talk:

I talked to you and your brother years ago on your radio show and ended up taking your advice and selling my ancient VW Squareback for a slightly used 1997 BMW coupe. The BMW made me a very sporty professor.

Well, now I have a husband and large dogs and really need to get out of this coupe, which is slowly turning into dust. My husband is a worrier, and he seems to think until COVID-19 is completely over, we can’t go look at cars -- even though we are vaccinated and we can look at cars outdoors.

Since the man is a worrier, I am thinking that I should leverage his worry into a new or even slightly-used Subaru Outback. How can I convince him that the safety features on that car would make a big difference to our health? -- Linda

RAY: Tell him you’re getting the special Outback Remdesivir edition, Linda.

If your man is worried about safety, he should be running to the Subaru dealership -- wearing an N95 mask, a face guard and a bio-containment level 3 suit -- and thrusting piles of cash at the dealer until they agree to sell you a late model Outback.

Or use one of the late-model used-car delivery services like Shift or Carvana to bring a car of your choice to your driveway.

A new, 2020 or 2019 Outback will protect you in ways that the people who designed your 1997 BMW could never have imagined.

We’re living through a revolution in automotive safety right now. And it’s all being driven by the push for self-driving cars. As engineers work toward cars that can safely drive themselves, they’re creating safety systems that are supplementing human brains and saving lots of lives.

Unlike your BMW, a Subaru with EyeSight (Subaru’s name for its safety package) will watch the road ahead, and if it notices a car has slowed or stopped in your path and determines that you’re not slowing down quickly enough, it’ll alert you, and, if necessary, apply the brakes itself. That’s called precollision warning and automatic emergency braking.

If you’re daydreaming and trying to figure out where to put the semicolon in the title of your next academic paper, and you start to veer out of your lane, the Outback will correct you and nudge you back into your lane. That’s called lane keeping assist.

If someone pulls up into your blind spot on the highway, and you don’t notice them, a light will flash on your side view mirror and warn you not to change lanes. That’s blind spot monitoring.

And if you’re backing out of your driveway, and someone comes down the street out of your view, the car will alert you using rear cross traffic alert.

Best of all, if you’re sitting at a traffic light, reading lame email excuses from students whose papers are late and don’t notice that the light turned green and the cars ahead of you have moved, the car will use the forward collision sensors and beep at you to get moving.

OK, that won’t save your life, but if the guy behind you in a Mayflower moving van lays on his horn, it could cause you to hit the roof and get a welt on your head. So Subaru’s looking out for you.

Add that to the all-wheel-drive system, which will keep you safer in wet and snowy weather, and you can make an airtight case that a late model Outback will meaningfully increase your safety. As long as you survive the dealership. Good luck, Linda.

Got a question about cars? Write to Ray in care of King Features, 628 Virginia Drive, Orlando, FL 32803, or email by visiting the Car Talk website at www.cartalk.com.