Notes from West London

Bad Timing Belt

The postman always rings twice.

Over the last 18 months or so I have posted occasional reports about the state of our car, which was due to turn 15 later this year. There was a 13-week stretch waiting for parts in the summer of 2021. We had a loan car with its new car smell while we were waiting for a new coil to be fitted. In November 2021 the car passed its MOT without even a service, just £10 to fit a new bulb. After a year in which the only spending on the car was for the usual annual bills (road tax, insurance, AA breakdown membership, parking permit) I took the car for a full service and MOT in November 2022.

The wear and tear on the brakes had been flagged up in 2020 but they had not worn as much as we feared. I think that Hypermiling helped to prolong the life of the braking system but I should point out that I am not a qualified Peugeot mechanic. The car would pass the MOT with the brakes in their current condition but within 3-6 months the pads would definitely need replacing. We decided to spend several hundred pounds on that, and other recommended work. Along with the service and the MOT we spent just over a thousand quid. I figured we had got away without spending much the previous year and this was an acceptable price to pay for another year’s worth of driving. And I didn’t want to buy a new car.

Within three weeks of passing its MOT the car broke down in the middle lane on one of West London’s busiest roads on a Saturday morning. My wife was taking my daughter to play football for a change (it’s usually athletics events on a Saturday). But all of their plans were scuppered by being stuck for 45 minutes, unable to get out of the car, with tailbacks building up behind them and drivers helpfully hooting them as they passed on the inside and outside lanes. Yes, my wife and daughter were aware that they had broken down.

I had the novel experience of hearing the aftermath of the breakdown in real time. My daughter called me on speakerphone and for the next hour I could hear my wife’s call to the AA, the forwarded call to the police, updates from the patrol car and (rather muffled) the assessment of the AA driver. He reckoned the timing belt had snapped, probably mucked up the engine, might as well haul it away for scrap.

With the police escort following behind, the AA man towed the car to our usual Peugeot garage. It has been there ever since, and we have once again been provided with loan cars for free until we know (literally) what the damage is.

In November I did not know what a timing belt was, how much it cost to replace, and how much damage it could do if it snapped while you were blithely going about your business. It costs around £300 to replace. The damage it can cause to the engine could render your car worthless, unless you’re prepared to put a whole new engine into a 14 year old vehicle. Some family friends told us that that a snapped timing belt was what did for their car many years ago, en route from North London to Yorkshire. Their roadside recovery service towed it away for scrap and they never saw it again.

At no point in my lengthy discussions with the service department at Peugeot did anyone suggest replacing the timing belt. I now know (from my own research) that they should be replaced when the mileage on the car is somewhere between 50,000 and 80,000 miles. Our car had done 70,000 miles with (as far as I know) its original belt in place. If I had been offered the choice of £300-worth of extra work to replace the timing belt, or ignoring the issue and risking a completely knackered engine on some future, unspecified journey, I would have spent the extra £300.

The prognosis for our hitherto mostly reliable car is not good, and we will probably have to buy a new one. Bad Timing Belt.


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