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Ray Magliozzi

Dear Car Talk: The last time I replaced a water pump was because it leaked. That was 1979, in a 1973 Mercury Capri. My high-school boyfriend did the work in my parents' garage while I helped. I have never replaced a timing chain (or belt), and several of my cars have hit 100,000 miles. So why does the Honda dealer want to replace the timing chain and water pump on my 2010 Honda Element at 120,000 miles when there is nothing wrong with this vehicle? He wants $585! That is good money that I could spend on an upgraded mountain bike that belongs inside my Element when the seats are folded up. Do I need this, or is it an unnecessary bit of dealer-recommended maintenance? — Beverly

It's hard to tell just from what you say here, Beverly.

The timing chain in your Element is supposed to last the life of the vehicle. So it's not something the dealer would change as part of any regular maintenance — unless he had a large boat payment due.

But sometimes the timing chain doesn't last the life of the car. The chain can get loose over time and make noise. If it gets loose enough, it can jump and cause the crankshaft and camshafts to get out of sync, and that'll set off your check engine light. Was your check engine light on?

Or maybe the dealer noticed that the timing chain has some play in it -- which he can hear — or he noticed the chain's tensioner making noise. If you didn't change your oil as often as you were supposed to, that could cause the chain to loosen up or the tensioner to fail prematurely.

But since you're dubious, I think you should get a second opinion. First, clarify the diagnosis with your dealer. Ask him to tell you what he saw or heard that makes him think the chain needs to be replaced. Then go to mechanicsfiles.com and put in your ZIP code. You'll get a list of mechanics in your area that have been personally recommended by other people who read our column and listen to our radio show. You even can look for someone on that list who specializes in Hondas. And have a mechanic you trust look at your car, and see if his conclusion is the same.

And ask him if you need a water pump, too. On Hondas with timing belts, we always change the water pump when we change the timing belt, because the timing belt drives the water pump. So once you've removed the timing belt, you've already paid for the water pump replacement labor. It'd be malpractice not to do it then, since the water pump is as old as the timing belt.

On your car, the timing chain doesn't drive the water pump, but there is some duplication of labor. So with 120,000 miles on the water pump, too, it probably makes sense to change it.

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If the second mechanic gives you the same diagnosis, then you should apologize to the dealer for doubting his honesty. Tell him you feel bad, and that he was absolutely right. But then have it fixed by whichever guy is cheaper. Good luck, Beverly.

Which is cheaper, buying or leasing? Should you keep a car forever or dump it after three years, before trouble starts? Find out in Click and Clack's pamphlet "Should I Buy, Lease, or Steal My Next Car?" Send $4.75 (check or money order) to Car Talk/Next Car, 628 Virginia Drive, Orlando, FL 32803.

Got a question about cars? Write to Car Talk write to Ray in care of King Features, 628 Virginia Drive, Orlando, FL 32803, or email by visiting the Car Talk website at www.cartalk.com.

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