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If this is a 4cyl., check the drive belt tensioner first, there is a TSB for a tensioner rattle that is a common failure . To test , remove the drive belt and start the engine and see if the noise is gone,
Most manuals recommend checking every 50k and replacement at 150k. If it breaks while the engine is running, especially on the road, the repair cost 4 times as much because it will most likely damage the valves and the piston heads. The Haynes and Chiltons repair manuals, both are good and available, can explain replacement and checking methods. I use the timing checks as a guide for checking the Belt/chain. If your timing is bouncing all over the place your belt/chain is probably stretched or the device meant to keep tension on it is not working properly. Some vehicles with Timing belts as opposed to chains have a tensioner built in to maintain the proper tension on the timing belt. That are also a few vehicle that employ this with a timing chain.
Yes those vehicles have timing belts instead of chains. I have yet to see a timing belt that doesnt need to be changed at some point. Maybe the tech meant you didnt need to change them now. Each manufacturer has their own mileage interval, but generally speaking, anywhere between 60,000 and 90,000 miles they are due to be replaced.
You 98 Corolla has a timing chain that it internal and need no normal maintenance. It uses a hydraulic/spring tensioner to keep things tight and as long as its quiet, everything is fine. Your drive belt (not to be confused with a t. belt) is the external belt you see on the passenger side of the engine. It drives you alt, water pump, A/C and power steering. It uses a spring loaded tensioner to keep the belt tight. These can weaken over time and cause a rattle noise and belt slippage.