I believe timing belts are of the devil. I like my cars with good old fashioned timing chains, like God intended. I've always believed this, and my faith was reinforced by personal trials I faced in the early 1990s.
I owned a 1992 Dodge Daytona IROC RT. For those unfamiliar with the line of cars in the pic above, it would be similar to the one on the left. I bought mine used in 1993 and it was fairly low mileage when I got it. The car had a dual overhead cam with a timing belt that was about a mile long. Up to that point I thought I had lived a fairly good life - and had done nothing to deserve the persecution I was about to face.
Shortly after I bought the car, I was in stop-and-go traffic. When I went to go, the engine died. The car was still under warranty so I had it towed to a nearby dealer who quickly diagnosed the problem as a broken timing belt and replaced it. No charge.
A fluke? No.
4,000 miles later, it happened again. I assumed that the dealer had somehow done something wrong while replacing the previous timing belt. The dealer said the problem was a broken timing belt. They repaired it under warranty and said I could come get it. No charge. They did not have any idea why the belt had broken a second time but they did not seem concerned about it. Clearly, they were adherents to the Cult of Timing Belts.
4,000 miles later I was driving north on I-75 in my Daytona and all of a sudden the engine died. I quickly depressed the clutch and looked at the gauges. The tach was at zero and I was coasting at 50 MPH. What the heck: I made sure I was still in 5th gear and let the clutch out to see if I could kick the engine and make it restart. As if it might not be the timing belt.
The engine did not start and the tach did not jump. Rolling along at 40 MPH in 5th gear, the tach reading was zero RPM. I'm sure someone in the readership can tell me where this tach got its reading from but clearly the engine needed to have its timing belt intact to do that. I took it out of gear and coasted to the side of the road. I called the dealer and told them to come get me again. From where I was sitting, I could see the then recently-opened Chrysler World HQ, where an accountant was probably being promoted for having figured out how to save a few bucks by using a timing belt rather than a timing chain on my car.
I rode to the dealership with the tow truck driver and found the service writer who had written me up on both previous visits. I showed him the previous work orders and reminded him that I had been in twice recently with the same complaint. He seemed to understand. We went over to his work station and he printed out a Repair Order: "Towed in. No Crank. No Start."
Again, I am not a mechanic but the car did crank. It wouldn't start but that was because it had a broken timing belt. So, I asked him to write that on the Repair Order. "I did," he lied to me. I suspected his dark master forbade him from writing the words Timing Belt on the repair order.
"I can read. It says, 'No Crank. No Start.'" I wanted him to know I was on to him. "The car will crank."
"Same thing. The mechanic will know what this means." I noticed his pupils were not round, but slits, like a serpent's. Or maybe my memory embellished some facts over the years? It's hard to say. Those were trying times.
"Humor me. Write 'Broken Timing Belt' on the repair order."
The service adviser glared at me; his eye slits narrowed. He picked up the Repair Order and handed it toward me without writing anything more on it.
I refused to take it. "You and I both know it's the timing belt. I am not taking that until you write 'Broken Timing Belt' on it."
He pulled out his pen and scribbled, "Customer thinks it's a broken timing belt," and then handed it to me. Apparently, by blaming the words on me, he was off the hook.
The next day someone from the dealer called to tell me they had replaced the broken timing belt again. No charge. I was now convinced the car had broken timing belts on its previous owner every 4,000 miles and had been traded in because that owner was sick of taking it back to the dealer. Now, I would be dealing with it every 4,000 miles unless I took similar action.
I called the attorney I dealt with at Chrysler and told him what I just told you. Since I bought the car used it did not qualify as a lemon under Michigan law. But, as I pointed out to the attorney, Chrysler was going to spend a fortune replacing that belt every 4,000 miles with how much I drove. We reached an agreement and Chrysler gave me a "coupon" good towards the purchase of any Chrysler product. At the time, I really wanted to buy a Jeep. I found one I liked, negotiated a good deal for my timing-belt-equipped trade and then I whipped out the coupon to help defray the cost and drove off in my new Jeep.
And Yes, the dealer knew the Daytona had the timing belt problem. I told them and it was written on the coupon. Were the next owners told of the problem? I'm sure they were. Ha! Of course they weren't. But that's someone else's problem, right? As for me, every vehicle I have owned since then has had a timing chain, not a belt. And the last one was running strong when I sold it with 241,000 miles. I'll stick with my timing chains. You can go peddle your devil-belts to someone else.
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Steve Lehto is a writer and attorney and has been practicing law for 23 years, almost exclusively in consumer protection and Michigan lemon law. He wrote The Lemon Law Bible and Chrysler's Turbine Car: The Rise and Fall of Detroit's Coolest Creation.
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