Short trips still tough on engine

Posted12/2/2012 5:20 AM

Q. I had a fuse replacement done at the dealer where I bought my new 2008 Elantra in October, 2007. I lost remote control, map lights and overhead lights, etc. After they finished putting in a new fuse under the dash, I paid my bill because I was just out of warranty for those problems. I had this repair done on Oct. 16.

After they had my car outside ready to go, they recommended I have the timing belt changed at a cost of $489.95, transmission flush at $169.95 and coolant flush at $139.95.

I keep my car in the garage always when not in use. It is in showroom condition and only has 22,000 miles on it. I have the oil changed every 3,000 miles. My driving speed generally never gets over 40 mph with some 50 mph in most of my driving. I would guess I do 95 percent of our driving within a small radius of Elk Grove Village. Driving over an eight-mile trip is very, very rare.

I told them that I would probably wait for a few months and I may do it then. He said that would be OK.

I was an auto mechanic working in my dad's garage many years ago and obviously things have changed and advanced much since I worked with my dad back in the mid '50s. I would like your opinion on this and I will not mention anything to the dealer. I just want a professional opinion from you. It just sounds a little too early to me am I right in saying that? By the way, I'm 81 years old and feel like I'm 60.

A. Strictly by the book, your vehicle is due for a timing belt, based on time. The manufacturer calls for the belt to be changed at 90,000 miles or 72 months for regular service, and 60,000 miles or 48 months for severe service. Our climate and the type of driving you do falls into the severe service category.

Low speed, around-town driving tends to be harder on a car than higher speed, highway driving. You never really get the car fully warmed up to give the fluids a chance to get good and hot, as well as the catalytic converters, exhaust and the oxygen sensors. This tends to degrade components much faster.

If you can, I recommend you take your car for an extended drive now and then to counteract some of the effect of the short-trip driving.

However, because of the extremely low mileage, I would have a hard time recommending you change the timing belt right now. If you were my client, I would probably put you on more of a custom maintenance schedule.

I would probably change the transmission fluid soon; it is recommended at 30,000 miles. I would look to do the coolant and the timing belt at around 30,000 miles unless the coolant is contaminated or has failed chemically.

I would not, however, want to let the timing belt go beyond the 72-month time period, which would be the fall of next year.

In a nutshell, the dealer is not wrong, but I think your situation needs to be looked at a little differently than most. I hope this is helpful.

• Douglas Automotive is at 312 S. Hager Ave., Barrington, (847) 381-0454, and 123 Virginia Road, Crystal Lake, (815) 356-0440. For information, visit Send questions to

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