Reader Question: VW Timing Belt Travails?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!

Spencer asks: I have an extremely well-maintained 2001.5 VW Passat with 175,000 miles and 50,000 miles on the timing belt. Purchased new. The timing belt failed and I’ve lost the engine so I’m interested in a replacement. Any thoughts on this? Avoiding pitfalls?

My reply: Replacing the engine in an otherwise good car can be extremely sound policy because the cost of an engine is almost always much less than the worth of the car. Put another way, you’d probably end up spending considerably more money on an equivalent replacement car than on a replacement engine for the car you have.

Moreover, it’s less risky –  because when you replace the engine, the engine’s all you have to worry about. When you replace the car with an equivalent used car, you have to worry about everything.  Because no two used cars are equivalent – in terms of their treatment by prior owners, mileage and overall condition.

So I amen what you’re planning.

You have basically three options: A new replacement engine from VW, which will be warranted by VW; a remanufactured replacement engine from a reputable company like Jasper, which also be warranted; or a used replacement engine from a salvage yard – which may or may not be warranted but probably not for more 90 days.

The cost will vary considerably. The new engine from VW being the most expensive option, of course. But it will be a brand-new engine from VW. The remanufactured engine should cost less – but will probably serve just as well.

The third option can be a real money-saver, if you know a really good mechanic who can help you pick a good one. Yes, it’ll have miles on it – and won’t be new. But let’s say you find one in good condition from a recently wrecked VW with say 70,000 miles on it that you can get for $800 or so that you mechanic can install in the car for another $500. For $1,300 or so, your car should be all set to provide you with reliable service for another ten years and at least 100,000 miles and that, to me, is money very well-spent!

I’d personally go with a remanufactured Jasper next, if this were my car and I could not find a good used engine.  “Remanufactured” means the internal wear parts have been replaced and all necessary machine work to bring the engine to “as new” mechanical condition has been performed. So long as the remanufacturer is reputable, such an engine ought to be functionally indistinguishable from a new one.

. . .

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  1. 50K on a modern VW timing belt is really low miles for a failure…sorry to hear that. Bought a Beetle TDI with ~78 K on it, original belt…first thing I did was replace it, but it did go 78K without dying…

    Most of the time, I understand they pick a belt for weight and/or noise reasons, though I think the added tensioner pulleys, etc. might just make a belt heavier than a chain!

    I did have a 1982 Plymouth Turismo once…it’s first gen (square tooth) MoPar timing belt died at ~5 years and ~40K miles, though that was pretty much par for the 2.2L course back then, sadly. But, non-interference design, a new belt and it was back on the road.

    I do think any interference designed engine must have something more positive than a timing belt, personally. Gears like a Cummins would be excellent.

  2. I had 200K on a 69 Chevy 350 and the plastic gear on the timing chain went and killed it. It was a Tonawanda engine and the lifters on one side were different from the other side. The cam wasn’t listed in any GM parts book and it had a different crankshaft than a standard 350. Everything in the engine was different and people who knew those engines well said it had to be a rebuilt engine but it was the engine that came in the car when it was new. There was very little wear on the engine.

    The first time I heard about a “timing belt” I cringed and still can’t imagine why they’d use one. Probably every engine with a belt for timing can’t be changed to a gear drive or at least I’ve never seen it. I trust it less than a plastic fender.


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