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When I check online for when I should change the timing belt, the criteria seems to be no more than 100k kilometers before replacing it. Time also seems important, so even if the car hasn't driven that far, if it is old, say 10 years, you are still recommended to replace it. But could this be a little exaggerated?

I bought a 2002 Honda Accord recently and its timing belt was never replaced; at least wasn't replaced since 2006 when it was at around 70,000 km and now it is at around 170,000 km. I decided to change it today as per recommendation. But when I had a look at the old one, I kind-of regret that I paid around $1000 for it. My father said something similar when he replaced the timing belt for his 2004 Camry a few years ago.

So is the recommendation really accurate? Or is it hugely exaggerated?

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If the engine you are putting the timing belt on is an interference engine, it is definitely NOT exaggerated. The reasoning here is, the timing belt is cheap insurance over breaking the old one, which can cause complete engine destruction (at the worst). You cannot just look at the timing belt and see if it's bad/good. You can possibly look at the print on the back of the belt. If the print is really clear, it may be okay. Really, the only way you could tell is if the belt starts fraying, but usually by then it's too late. I changed out a belt once (on a non-interference engine) where just the teeth on the belt at the crankshaft gear had peeled off. The crank would just sit and spin when you cranked it over and the cam belt stayed still. The belt itself looked okay, until I took it off the engine. Then you could see where the particular teeth on the belt were missing. Point is, you never know how much life there is left in a timing belt until you change it, then you can start counting down to the next change interval. While $100 may take a chunk out of the wallet, paying to replace the engine (or replace the car because it's not worth it to replace the engine) takes a lot bigger chunk out of the wallet.

Bottom line is if you don't know how long a timing belt has been on an engine when you get the car, you cannot go wrong by changing it out with a new one.

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    Absolutely, change the belt just to be sure, too often is small change compared to the damage that can happen. – Solar Mike Aug 19 '17 at 22:00
  • I had the same thing many years ago - teeth stripped off the belt, resulting in catastrophic engine failure. Luckily a friend had a spare cylinder head for the same engine, otherwise it would have been a really expensive fix... – Nick C Aug 21 '17 at 9:48
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    Worth noting that timing belt intervals have increased. My '98 Corolla was meant to be done every 70,000 miles/7 years (and it had been 10 years since it was last changed before me). My Peugeot 3008 says it's every 150,000 miles/10 years before a change. The rubber, apparently, is the same as it was then. But like you say, a £10 belt is a cheaper option compared to a £1,000 engine rebuild if it snaps. And they can even snap before the manufacturer guideline on a rare occasion. – mickburkejnr Aug 21 '17 at 15:03
  • @mickburkejnr - I'd suspect this is due to better materials being used, most likely Kevlar. – Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2 Aug 21 '17 at 18:43
  • Thanks @paulster2 . I understand that I cannot judge by just looking, but the thing is that my car was 'massively' overdue for replacing the timing belt (perhaps it was never changed actually). I mean I am not judging by the look of it only, but by the fact that the belt worked way beyond the criteria for replacing it. – Rafid Aug 22 '17 at 17:43

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