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Timing Belt & Water Pump Replacement

The timing belt is a critical component, keeping the engine's pistons and valves in sync. The 1.8t engine uses a rubber belt - Volkswagen recommends replacement intervals of 105,000 miles. However, enough of the belts have snapped in the 65-75k range that the recommended interval can't be blindly trusted. Most of the early breaks occurred on '98-'99 models due to poor belt tensioner design. A new tensioner was introduced for 2000+ models, but it's still too early to tell if service life has increased.

If you're covered under the powertrain warranty, a broken belt just means a headache while the dealership replaces most of the valves (Audiworld has a nice dramatic view of what happens when a timing belt breaks in an interference engine). If you're out of warranty, it's sometimes cheaper to just get a new engine altogether (!).

For myself, it's not something that I want to deal with in case I'm out in the middle of nowhere, so I keep to a 60,000 miles/4 year replacement interval (check out some more subjective intervals here).

It's also a good idea to replace the accessory belts and water pump impeller at the same time - on my '98, the impeller at 61k miles had noticeably rougher and more sluggish rotation than the replacement. On my 2000, however, the impeller was replaced at 72k miles and there was essentially no difference between the old and new impeller. Looks like the new tensioner is having an effect.

Should you replace your own timing belt? If you have some repair experience, the timing belt change is a straightforward (though long) procedure. If this is the first time you're looking at the engine bay...get ready to spend around $600-$800 to have the belt replaced at a dealership, or a bit less at a good VW shop.

There are several writeups for the 1.8t timing belt available, so this guide is a little sparse (also because my notes and photos are two years old and I'm only now getting around to writing up the procedure :). The procedure used here is based off of the ELSA factory repair manual, streamlined (for example, there's really no need to completely remove the radiator).

Audiworld - 1.8t timing belt replacement - Hardt
Audiworld - 1.8t timing belt replacement - AndyTN
ClubB5/PassatWorld - 1.8t timing belt replacement - Rusty
ClubB5/PassatWorld - 1.8t timing belt replacement - DaddyMatt
HermanH's Passat Site - Detailed front bumper removal

One last note - there is quite a bit of disassembly required, which means having lots of bolts and screws laying around. You can save yourself a huge headache by taking the time to organize each set of screws as you remove them and label each with their original location - I used envelopes (lots of them).

Part Information & Sources:

Note - always confirm part numbers by looking at the actual part mounted in the car! Mistakes will happen sometime, somewhere.

Parts:

ECS Tuning: Timing belt kit, $280 This is a complete kit with the timing belt, tensioner, rollers, accessory belts, and water pump impeller.
Coolant - 1 liter The coolant is necessary if you'll be replacing the water pump impeller - the coolant needs to be drained and some of it will likely make its way to the floor instead of the catch container. This is also a good time to switch to another coolant, as I did.

Check out some thoughts on appropriate coolants.

Tools:

  • Torx drivers - T20, T25, T30, T45
  • Sockets - 6mm, 10mm, 13mm, 14mm, 16mm, 19mm, 13/16"
  • Hex (Allen) drivers - 5mm, 6mm, 8mm, 10mm, 14mm
  • Torque wrench(es) - this isn't optional.

Time required: 5-12 hours

Bumper cover and bumper removal:

  1. Prop up the car on ramps or jack stands.
  2. Disconnect the ground connection from the battery (make sure you have your radio code handy first).
  3. Remove the screws holding the front wheel well liner to the bumper cover - there are four torx T20 screws per side. Three are horizontal, one vertical. (illustration)
  4. Climb under the car and remove the noise insulation panel (black plastic belly pan). This is a good time to check for oil leaks - most leaks will drip down to the panel and be easily visible.
  5. While still under the car, find and remove the underside slot head screw securing the bumper cover to the frame (centered on the bumper cover).
  6. Back to the engine bay - remove the three 10mm bolts holding the hood latch mechanism to the frame. Remove the release handle by pulling off its retaining clip. You should then be able to set aside the latch mechanism - I left the release cable attached and just pulled the cable out enough to set the latch near the ecu and battery.
  7. Remove the air intake hose by removing the two philips head screws securing it to the bumper cover and pulling straight up.
  8. Remove the turn signal lenses. They're held in place by a spring, which can be released by pulling on the attached ring behind the lens. Pull each lens forward until you can remove the bulbs by rotating the electrical connector.
  9. With the turn signal lenses removed, you should have exposed two 10mm bolts (one per side) - remove these. (illustration)
  10. Back to the top of the bumper cover. Remove the two rubber bump stops used to cushion the hood when closing (one philips head screw each).
  11. Remove the three torx T25 screws around the hood latch area. (illustration)
  12. You should be able to pull off the bumper cover now without difficulty. Work slowly when pulling it off to make sure you haven't forgotten a screw somewhere.
  13. With the bumper cover removed you'll see the actual metal bumper. It's held in place by two long 13mm bolts - remove these and pull off the bumper. There is some plastic above the bolts that can be pushed to the back or side for full access to the bolts. (illustration)

Getting the radiator in service position:

  1. Remove the power steering oil cooler in front of the radiator (lower right side), held in place by two 10mm bolts. The outside air temperature sensor is clipped to the cooler line and can be removed as well.
  2. Look to the left of the radiator near the bumper support - you'll see a wiring connector. Disconnect this. (illustration)
  3. Back to the top of the bay - there are two torx T30 screws holding the radiator panel to the frame (one at each end of the panel). Remove these.
  4. Remove the bumper supports. There are a total of seven torx T45 bolts and two 10mm nuts that need to be removed to pull off the supports. Note that one support only has three of the T45 bolts (no idea why). Start by removing the top bolts. Then thread in the long bumper bolts, one per side in the top outermost hole. Now remove the rest of the bolts. (illustration)
  5. Look below the turn signal lens housing area - there are two side torx T30 screws to remove (one per side). The plastic runner here is also clipped to the frame - you should be able to free the runner by pulling on the clips. (illustration)
  6. The radiator panel should be free to move now - try pulling it forward. The panel should slide along the long bumper bolts several inches, giving access to the front of the engine.

Timing belt removal:

  1. Remove the top plastic engine cover.
  2. Remove the coilpacks, each held in place by two 5mm bolts - just pull straight up and flip them upside down.
  3. Remove the spark plugs. With the spark plugs removed, you'll be able to rotate the cam/crankshafts fairly easily.
  4. Remove the cooling fan - it's held in place by four 5mm bolts. You can simply grab the edge of the fan to keep it from moving while you unscrew the bolts.
  5. Get under the car and look to the passenger side - you should see the A/C belt. It's tensioned by a pulley held to the engine by two 6mm bolts. Remove these and the you should be able to remove the tensioner and A/C belt.
  6. Now to remove the long serpentine belt. Make a diagram of how the belt is positioned on each of the pulleys. It's tensioned by a spring tensioner - use an adjustable wrench to lock onto the tensioner's tab and pull the wrench clockwise. This will release the belt tension - you should then be able to slide the belt off completely. (illustration)
  7. Remove the serpentine belt tensioner by removing its three 13mm bolts.
  8. Next is the power steering/water pump belt. Insert a screwdriver or drift through the power steering pulley - this should lock it in place. Remove the three 6mm bolts securing the water pump pulley - you should be able to remove the belt and both halves of the water pump pulley. (illustration 1) (illustration 2)
  9. Next, the timing belt covers. Start with the upper timing belt cover - pull the two hoses running in front of the plastic cover out of their clips. Then unclip and remove the upper cover. (illustration)
  10. To get to the lower cover, you'll need to remove the crankshaft pulley. It's held in place by four 6mm bolts. To keep the pulley from moving, use a second wrench or breaker bar to lock onto the central 16mm bolt. Note - you don't want to actually loosen the center bolt, just use it for leverage. With the four bolts removed you can remove the pulley. Notice the weight of the pulley? Aside from being a pulley, it functions as a vibration dampener to keep down resonances that develop at certain crankshaft rotation speeds.
  11. The lower timing belt cover has no less than four completely different fasteners holding it to the engine. Top of cover: 6mm bolt. Just above crankshaft bolt: 5mm bolt. Left of crankshaft bolt: 10mm bolt. Right side of cover: 10mm nut. Remove these and the lower timing belt cover can be pulled off. (illustration)
  12. Time to get the cam/crankshaft set to TDC. Using a 13/16" socket on the crankshaft, rotate the crankshaft clockwise until the camshaft timing mark lines up with the mark on the valve cover. (illustration)
  13. Once set to TDC, use whiteout to mark an arbitrary part of the timing belt edge to the camshaft and crankshaft sprocket. This is a backup to ensure proper placement of the new timing belt - you'll just need to place the new timing belt next to the old belt and copy over the whiteout mark. When placing the new belt on, these marks should then line up perfectly with the marks made on both sprockets.
  14. Release the belt tension. On the old style tensioner, you'll need to unscrew a 10mm bolt to release the belt tensioner. On the new style, an 8mm hex driver can be inserted into the tensioner pulley to rotate it and release tension.
  15. With tension released, carefully remove the timing belt. Be sure to not move the camshaft or crankshaft sprockets - with the timing belt off, they can be moved out of sync (a bad thing).
  16. When the belt is removed, make a new whiteout mark between the crankshaft sprocket and engine block - this will give you a reference point if the crankshaft is accidentally rotated out of position.
  17. Remove the timing belt tensioner - it's held in place by three bolts. The rightmost bolt holding the idler wheel to the tensioner and engine block is 13mm, the other two are 10mm.
  18. Remove the timing belt tensioner pulley by removing the 14mm bolt. Throw this bolt away. (illustration)

Water pump impeller replacement:

  1. The coolant will need to be drained before the impeller can be removed. Start by opening the coolant tank cap.
  2. Look to the lower right side of the radiator - you'll see a hose connector and a large red flow control screw. Attach a hose to the connector and route it to a clean container. Open the screw and let the coolant drain from the radiator - close the screw.
  3. Now to drain coolant from the engine block. From under the car, look up at the water pump - you'll see a large 19mm bolt at the pump underside. Unscrew this bolt, and have a container below ready to catch draining coolant. If you're careful you should be able to save most of the coolant and refill the system later. Reinstall the bolt once the coolant has drained. Tighten to 22 ft-lbs/30 N-m. (illustration)
  4. Back to the front of the engine - lock the intermediate shaft sprocket with a screwdriver or drift (I'd like to take this moment to say that I love my craftsman screwdriver - I've put it under ridiculous stress and it's still perfectly straight). Use an adjustable wrench to lock onto the central bolt and unscrew it. Pull off the sprocket. This will give access to the water pump impeller bolts. (illustration)
  5. You should be able to access eight of the 10mm bolts holding the impeller to the pump housing. Remove these.
  6. To get to the last bolt (number nine), you'll need to get back under the car and unbolt the bracket near the water pump, held in place by a 13mm bolt. Move the bracket aside and you should be able to access the final 10mm pump bolt. Note that this bracket wasn't on my '98 B5 (probably a change with the ATW engine).
  7. With all eight bolts removed, carefully pry the impeller from the housing - you should be able to pull off both the impeller and gasket.
  8. Clean the pump interior and gasket sealing surfaces.
  9. Install the new impeller and gasket. Tighten the eight bolts to 84 inch-lbs/10 N-m.
  10. Replace the lower bracket if present and tighten the bolt.
  11. Replace the intermediate shaft sprocket, using a screwdriver/drift to lock it in place while you tighten the central bolt. Tighten to 60 ft-lbs/80 N-m.

Timing belt installation:

  1. Look over the front of the engine for signs of oil accumulation - an oil leak dripping around here can be problematic because oil tends to speed rubber's degradation. Give the area a cleaning while you're there.
  2. Install the new timing belt tensioner, idler wheel, and pulley - for now, leave the locking pin in place. If you accidently pull out the pin, you should be able to use a bench vise to get it back in place (ask me how I know :). Tighten the idler wheel bolt (the 13mm) to 18 ft-lb/25 N-m. Tighten the other two tensioner bolts to 84 inch-lbs/10 N-m. Tighten the pulley bolt to 84 inch-lbs/10 N-m.
  3. Set the new timing belt next to the old belt and copy over the marks you made previously.
  4. Check over the camshaft and crankshaft sprockets. Make sure that both are still in alignment - the camshaft with the valve cover mark, and the crankshaft with the mark you made on the engine block.
  5. When you've confirmed that both are exactly where they should be, install the timing belt, matching the marks you made on the belt to the marks made on both sprockets. If you do this right, there shouldn't be any slack on the section of the belt running from the camshaft to the crankshaft (top -> bottom). All of the slack should be on the left side of the sprockets, which the tensioner will correct. The factory manual notes that you may need to turn the crankshaft sprocket back slightly if the alignment isn't perfect at first (counterclockwise).
  6. Look over all of the alignment marks. If everything is in place, and there is little slack in the front run of the belt, go ahead and pull out the tensioner pin. With a new belt, the tensioner probably won't move much at all, but as the belt wears and stretches, the spring loaded tensioner will adjust automatically. (illustration)
  7. Now move the crankshaft through a few rotations and get back to TDC - check over the alignment marks - everything should still be in alignment.
  8. If it looks good (and it should be fine), install the lower timing belt cover. Tighten the top 6mm bolt to 15 ft-lb/20 N-m, and the other bolts and nut to 84 inch-lbs/10 N-m.
  9. Install the crankshaft pulley. The pulley can only be installed in one position due to offset bolt holes. Tighten the four bolts to 84 inch-lbs/10 N-m and then turn each an additional 90°.
  10. Check alignment again. The crankshaft pulley has a mark that should line up to a (hard to see) arrow embossed on the lower timing belt cover when at TDC. (illustration)
  11. Install the upper timing belt cover and reinsert the two hoses back into their clips.
  12. Install the new power steering/water pump belt. Put half of the water pump pulley in place. Slip the new belt in place, and then put the other half of the pulley on. You'll need to rotate the belt and pulleys while you tighten the two halves of the water pump pulley together. When the pulleys are close together, place a screwdriver/drift into the power steering pulley as before and fully tighten the water pump pulley bolts. Tighten to 18 ft-lbs/25 N-m.
  13. Install the serpentine belt tensioner. Tighten bolts to 18 ft-lbs/25 N-m.
  14. Use an adjustable wrench to release the tensioner and install the new serpentine belt - use the diagram you made (if you made one) to route the new belt correctly.
  15. Install the new A/C belt and tensioner. The tension is set by sliding the tensioner along the right side bolt. There are two ways to go about this. The factory method is to use a torque wrench set to 25 ft-lb/34 N-m and attach it to the bolt on the tensioner between the two 6mm bolts. Pull the torque wrench clockwise until you hit the set torque - this sets the tension, and while holding the wrench in place, tighten both 6mm bolts to lock tension in place. Tighten these to 15 ft-lbs/20 N-m. Haynes uses a trial and error method involving hanging weights from the belt - there's really no need.
  16. Reinstall the cooling fan. Tighten to 84 inch-lbs/10 N-m.
  17. Reinstall the spark plugs, coil packs, and engine cover. Tighten the spark plugs to 22 ft-lbs/30 N-m. Tighten the coil pack bolts to 84 inch-lbs/10 N-m.

Radiator panel repositioning and bumper cover installation:

  1. Push the radiator panel back into place, letting it slide along the long bumper bolts.
  2. Once in place, reinstall the side plastic runners to their clips and the two side T30 screws.
  3. Reinstall the bumper supports and remove the long bumper bolts. Tighten the torx T45 bolts to 37 ft-lbs/50 N-m.
  4. Reinstall the two top radiator panel torx T30 bolts.
  5. Reconnect the left radiator side wiring harness.
  6. Reconnect the outside air temperature sensor and power steering cooling line.
  7. Place the bumper back in place with its two long 13mm bolts. Tighten to 15 ft-lbs/20 N-m.
  8. Place the bumper cover back in place.
  9. Reinstall the wheel well screws (four per side), turn signal housing screws (one per side), hood bump stops (two), and screws around the hood latch area (three).
  10. Reinstall the turn signal lights by reinserting the bulbs, sliding the lens into place, and securing it by pulling on the spring connector until it latches onto its mount.
  11. Reinstall the air intake hose.
  12. Bring the hood latch mechanism back into place, making sure the release cable is routed properly. Reconnect the latch release handle, and then install the three 10mm screws.
  13. Reinstall the underside center bumper cover screw.

Coolant refill and final check:

  1. The cooling system will need to be bled to let air out of the system. Locate the black plastic piece covering the coolant hoses running to the heater core (next to the battery). Pull down the plastic sheath to expose the hoses (this plastic piece is a pain to work with, but try to keep it intact). The left side hose has a white mark surrounding a hole in the hose. Unclamp this hose and pull the hose out of the connector until the hole is past the edge of the connector - this will allow air to leave the system while being filled. (illustration)
  2. Pour the drained coolant back into the coolant expansion tank. When the system is full the coolant should being to seek out of the bleed hole. You may need to add additional coolant if some was spilled earlier. (illustration)
  3. Push the hose back onto its connector fully and reclamp the hose. Replace the plastic sheath.
  4. Check over the engine bay, removing any tools in the area. Make sure that you don't have any leftover screws or parts (aside from the parts that have been replaced).
  5. When everything looks good, reconnect the battery ground cable. Hold your breath, and start the car. Be sure to heave a sigh of relief when the engine starts perfectly. :)
  6. With the engine running, look into the front of the engine and check the belts - they should be running smoothly. Also check from below the car.
  7. Set the heater control to max heat and let the engine run for a few minutes, keeping track of the coolant level. After the lower coolant hose becomes hot (thermostat has opened), shut down the engine and add more coolant if needed.
  8. Reinstall the belly pan.

Done! Go out for a drive and treat yourself to something nice (don't forget to include those who put up with your crazy mechanic ambitions).