Thoughts and advice on the care and feeding of fine automobiles from Machine Aficionado and bestselling author John Elder Robison, owner of JE Robison Service in Springfield, Massachusetts

We are independent restoration, repair, sales and service for Audi, BMW, Bentley, Jaguar, Land Rover, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and Rolls-Royce automobiles.

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If you have a later model Audi, and you’re closing in on 100,000 miles you might be wondering why that timing belt change you’re looking at is so expensive, and what it involves.

The maintenance schedule simply says “replace timing belt at 105,000 miles” for most models.  They don’t really list any other parts, or talk about what’s involved.  There are two ways you can approach that work.

The first method is to slide the front bumper forward for access, take the covers off the front of the motor, and slip a new timing belt into place.  You might change a roller or two, and swap the serpentine belts, but the rest of the car remains untouched.

That’s the easiest job to do.  A skilled tech can bang the work out in a day.  But is that the best job for you as an owner?

If you plan to trade the car next month, it may seem like the way to go.  But if you plan on keeping your Audi another 100,000 miles, or you plan to pass it on to a kid or friend or anyone you care about, a different approach is probably called for.

At Robison Service, we do a lot of work for enthusiasts – people who ask a lot of their cars and really care about and for them.  Over time we’ve learned that the best repairs are the ones that last.  Often that means doing more work, not less, when tackling a big job.  Anytime we do a big job, we ask ourselves, “What else is going to give trouble soon,” and we address those items while the car is apart and it’s easy.  After all, it’s always smarter to spend two hundred dollars today, if it saves six hundred dollars next year. 

If you simply slap a timing belt onto a 100,000-mile Audi you can be assured that the job will not last another 100,000 miles.  More than likely, you will be doing the work over again, with additional repairs, within three years.  Why?  Because the timing belt is just one piece of a complex system, and the other pieces of the system can and will fail too, even though they are not on the maintenance schedule.

For example, the water pump is driven by the timing belt.  Most Audi water pumps make it to 100k miles.  I’ve never seen one last 200k.  The water pump is behind the timing belt, so its replacement calls for doing the timing belt all over again.  Installing a water pump during the timing belt job will cost a few hundred dollars, in most cases.  Replacing it two years later (and doing the timing belt and other work over again)  may well cost fifteen hundred more dollars, when everything is tallied up.

The timing belt is guided and tensioned by a number of rollers and springs, all of which wear out.  Those parts won’t last till 200k either, and if they fail, the timing belt can come off, leading to thousands of dollars in preventable engine damage.

All cars leak oil and coolant when they get old.  Audis are no exception.  The thing is, you can fix many of those leaks easily when the engine is apart.  A few extra hours may get rid of those annoying drips.

And drips can be more than an annoyance.  When oil or coolant leaks onto the exhaust, it’s a fire hazard.  When oil gets hot in summer, it makes an acrid stink that can be drawn inside the car when the AC is running.  Those are a few of the good reasons to fix your leaks while the motor is open.

What about everything else under the hood?  I believe a good technician should look the whole engine bay over carefully when doing any big job.  Who knows what’s about to fail?  There may be cracked hoses, leaking AC lines, or even a corroded and failing battery.  The time we open the hood for work may well be the only time anyone looks at those things until they fail.

As much as people hate to spend money, it’s easier and cheaper to change a battery when your car is already in the shop than it will be when it dies, in an empty parking lot, some cold winter night.  That idea exemplifies the difference in our philosophy.  We believe in identifying what may go wrong tomorrow, and fixing it while we do today's repair.  Other people believe is doing just what the schedule says, and no more.  There's a place for both ways of thinking; I believe our philosophy is more suited to long term ownership.

We apply this same preventative care approach to every car we service.  Sometimes it can surprise people.  They go to the Shop A and hear about two problems.  They come to us and we show them ten more things.  That doesn't make the first guy wrong - it just means we have a different approach and I like to think we are more through.

Robison Service is a four-star Bosch Car Service center.  We service Audi, BMW, Jaguar, Mercedes, Land Rover, Porsche, and Rolls Royce-Bentley automobiles.   We’re located right off exit 4 of I-291 in Springfield, Massachusetts.  Visit us online, or stop by the shop.  We're here from 8-5 Monday through Friday.   Phone us at 413-785-1665 


Ian said...

My wife's VW Golf's water pump siezed at about 90,000km. When it went, it stopped the timing belt leading to the destruction of the upper half of the engine. I think we spent close to $5,000 fixing all the damage.

John Elder Robison said...

That's vey unfortunate and a good reason to be proactive when it comes to preventative maintenance. The water pump in the photos is the same setup as on your wife's Golf so you can see how that would happen.

tbesiak said...

I never mention the timing belt as recommended by the manufacturers (100,000-120.000mil). Audi timing belt at about 60,000 miles so I exchange for security. Timing belt replacement is not expensive, but the break is very expensive.

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