The timing belt change takes a great deal of time and effort, but performing it yourself can save you a boatload of money if you have the patience.
The Honda Accord and its brother the Prelude are common cars that require regular timing belt service and replacement. My particular 1991 model requires replacement belts every 90,000 miles, while later models need it less often such as 100,000 to 110,000. There is also an age recommendation for timing belt replacement, and it usually falls at about 6 years after the previous change. A timing belt job is generally (hopefully) not a repair, unless the service schedule has not been followed. It should simply be a regular replacement of parts which wear out over time. The following tips are pulled from my specific experiences in the timing belt change I did on my Accord a week ago.
The parts I purchased for the timing belt change cost about 400 dollars. Service for a timing belt change is quite a job, and a good estimate is that a local service shop at the dealer's will charge you twice or more for the service, meaning that you will end up paying from $800-1,000 for the service and parts. If you have the patience and the time, doing the job yourself will save you a great deal of money (although it will certainly not save you time!). Performing the timing belt service yourself means having the piece of mind to know that every nut and bolt has been torqued to your satisfaction, and any deficient parts or missing pieces can be notated as necessary. Since mechanics are often paid per job, they are not likely to be as attentive as you are.
While it certainly saves a lot of money, there are also negatives to changing the timing belt yourself. This is especially true if you have never performed the service before (which was the case for me). A few specialized tools help out in performing a timing belt service and can certainly save time. Time is the real issue; it took me and my father about 14 hours to complete the service this first time. Experience and practice helps, however, and subsequent attempts are not likely to take as long.
If you are determined to save the money and perform the service yourself, then the first step is to prepare for the change ahead of time and study it in a repair manual. For this service, I purchased a Chilton Repair Manual for the Accord and Prelude vehicles from 1984-1995. The passages have headings for your specific vehicle at the top of each section. It helps a great deal to be aware of the service history of the vehicle. I recently acquired my Accord, and I was not aware that the power steering and alternator belts had been replaced with the previous timing belt change, so I bought them unnecessarily and found the older ones were still in great shape. If you know the history of the vehicle, you should be able to tell what parts are due for replacement.
Since the Accord contains an interference engine, catastrophic damage will occur if the timing belt is not changed according to the schedule, and this should never be compromised upon. The nearby balancer belt is equally important. The water pump, oil seals, power steering and alternator belts, and tensioners should only need to be replaced every two or three timing belt replacements. These parts last longer. What should be replaced every time are the aforementioned timing and balancer belts, the oil pump cover o-ring, dipstick o-ring, timing tension adjusters, radiator fluid if possible, and thermostat. The manual goes into greater detail on these parts.
It is a good idea to get to know the service and parts guys at your local dealer. If you develop a friendly relationship with them while purchasing parts, they will probably offer tips and tell you what you really need to get the service done properly. I spent a lot of hours at the parts desk talking to my local dealer, and he helped a great deal in preparing me for the service. Most parts are probably stocked, but occasionally a tensioner or two may have to be ordered. The parts will typically arrive within a day or two.
In order, the change goes something like this:
(1) Disconnect negative battery terminal. Remove the bottom cowling from underneath the radiator and drain the fluid. Keep it in a container if you plan on reusing it.
(2) Unbolt the cruise control and move it to the side.
(3) Remove the power steering, alternator, and belts. Find somewhere to tuck the power steering line so that you don't lose all your fluid.
(4) Remove the rocker cover and all connected pieces.
(5) Remove the upper and lower timing belt covers. To remove the lower, you will have to disconnect the cruise-control side motor mount and jack the engine down some. This is a good time to check motor mounts; I found that one of mine was a bit cracked.
(6) Remove left front tire. Remove the main drive pulley nut. Good luck! You will need a massive breaker and impact wrench for this and someone to immobilize the flywheel and another to apply the brakes simultaneously. This nut is kept on with about 150-160 pounds of torque and is likely rusted.
(7) Remove the pulley and attending key. Change belts, seals, o-rings, adjusters, tensioners, and water pump. Check condition of all parts carefully.
(8) Replace all attendant covers and pulley with key. Tighten main drive pulley nut with appropriate torque (in manual). Again, keep flywheel immobile.
(9) BEFORE jacking the motor back up and reconnecting the mount, make sure to replace the lower timing belt cover. Otherwise, you will have to go back a few steps in order to get it on. It simply won't fit through the wheelwell otherwise.
(10) Make sure all timing marks are at the right spot, then give it a test run for a few seconds.
(11) Replace all parts, then take it for a test drive.
Some problems my father and I had were as follows: first, we spent some hours tracking down an impact wrench powerful enough to get that massive main drive pulley nut off. Honda has a special tool for it, but it is very expensive. At first, we thought the water pump was manufactured incorrectly, but it turned out that it simply had some extra metal hanging off of it from the casting process that prevented it from seating properly. This had to be filed off. Many water pumps probably have this issue. I already mentioned the lower timing belt, but it bears repeating. Put it back first! You'll be tired and frustrated by this point, and the last thing you want to do is forget it and waste more time.
As you pull old parts off, note their condition and whether they have any unusual or excessive wear. Probably the only part that truly was worn out and due for replacement was the oil pump cover O-ring. This ring is a square-shaped piece of rubber, but heat and time had baked mine until it had the consistency of hard plastic. There was leaking in this area. You may notice that the timing belt has almost no wear (this is how mine was). Don't be frustrated; you are doing the right thing by replacing it on time. There is simply no way to tell when the belt will break, and it isn't worth the risk. When you take the vehicle out for a test drive, it will probably idle differently and drive more sharply for the first few miles. This is normal.
I owe some ending credits to my car, the one that made this learning experience possible. It is a 1991 burgundy 4-door Accord LX, 2.2L 4-cylinder with a 5-speed stick. It currently has 271,000 miles on it, gets between 34 and 36 miles per gallon, and is on its fifth driver (me!). I just performed its 3rd timing belt change, and it still has the original clutch and engine, no rebuilds. The Accord is certainly a reliable car. Good luck on your future vehicle maintenance, and I hope this guide has provided you with some useful information!
Kessler, Will. "Honda Accord/Prelude 1984-95 Repair Manual." 1995. Newbury Park, CA: Haynes North America.