What Happens When Your Car's Timing Belt Breaks?

Updated on January 19, 2019
perrya profile image

Perrya is a major car enthusiast and loves sharing his extensive vehicular knowledge with his readers.

Will a Broken Timing Belt Destroy My Engine?

It depends. Some cars, like Subaru, have non-interference engines, which means that if the timing belt breaks while you are driving, there is no damage to the internal parts of the engine. Other cars do not have this sort of engine and damage results.

According to most mechanics, all the damage that will occur does so at the moment of the timing belt breaking. Trying to start it again will not create further damage.

The timing belt is critical for all the internal parts to be in sync. If the timing is off, you will surely know it by how the engine runs.

Most timing belts need to changed between 80-100K. The cost to do it varies, but always expect several hundred. The parts themselves are maybe $50, but doing it yourself is possible only if you know what you are doing; it only takes one bad move.

A timing belt (2001 Accord).
A timing belt (2001 Accord). | Source

When It Happened to Me

When the timing belt breaks, it can be a harrowing event, depending ofn when it occurs and what is around. When my timing belt broke while on the highway at 60 mph, it was just an instant loss of power but no warnings, no noise, no warning lights on the dash. This was in a 2006 VW TDI.

I lost it going uphill and I was in the middle lane; I tried to not to panic as I glided to the far right, nearly having two accidents because of other drivers. Once pulled over, I found I was in a precarious spot and my rear was still protruding out into the road. It was drivers in other cars racing up that made me evacuate the car fearing a rear ender. There was a near miss when a van swerved and fought to regain control. Having the emergency light flashers on did not seem to improve the situation.

My guess was that a fuel pump was out, which is why it wouldn't start and why I lost power—so I thought. Fuel pumps also go out with no warning or noise!

That was not the end of it. Even though I had AAA premium towing, it took them one hour to get there (seven miles from San Francisco). Upon arrival, the driver told us that he could only take two of the four passengers! This was because of seat belts and liability. Well, how about telling us 60 minutes ago so arrangements could be made? I mean, after all, our home was 70 miles away! I might have as well been in the middle of nowhere.

In my case, the $40 belt part broke, left me stranded, caused a chain reaction of issues, and will cost me at minimum $2000 for damage like bent valves. If the damage is more serious, we are talking about a rebuilt engine: around $3400 minus labor.

The worst part for everyone is that there is absolutely no warning, no sound. The only guide is your mileage since the last time it was changed. Some belts actually can go to 110K, others fail at 25K.Go figure.

They say there is a first time for everything. This is my first time ever. I hope it is my last.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Questions & Answers

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      • profile image

        Jay 

        3 months ago

        I have a 2000 Doge avenger my timing belt could it be fixed without getting a new engine

      • perrya profile imageAUTHOR

        perrya 

        5 months ago

        Fixing is way cheaper unless you want a new one.

      • profile image

        Lisa Brown 

        5 months ago

        I have a 2005 Kia Sorento, timing belt broke... should I get it fixed or just go ahead and buy a used car?

      • perrya profile imageAUTHOR

        perrya 

        5 months ago

        I would always check to be sure.

      • perrya profile imageAUTHOR

        perrya 

        5 months ago

        I would always check to be sure

      • profile image

        jhingo1 

        5 months ago

        FYI: From 1996 and older is non-interference engines, 1997 onwards is close interference engines

      • profile image

        SELVAM 

        14 months ago

        My Tata Nano car no pickup in Frist start up to 2 - 3kms than normal

        But often misfire every time

      • perrya profile imageAUTHOR

        perrya 

        2 years ago

        Most Japanese engines are non-interference, many diesel engines are interference, like my VW.

      • profile image

        ToyotaRI 

        2 years ago

        Thanks. I understand. I find some interesting content in your site. I hope someone in your team have worked with this car. I am not sure, how to reach them.

        Who is the right person in your team able to share some insight?

        Do you mind, forwarding this to him/her?

        Thanks for sharing.

      • perrya profile imageAUTHOR

        perrya 

        2 years ago

        Sorry, not familiar with that car, my guess is non-interference.

      • profile image

        ToyotaRI 

        2 years ago

        I am looking for documented evidence that says Toyota 1999 Camry 5S-FE is a non-interference engine. It will not bent valves, when timing disruption occur. I find this info in various postings/forum, but not in any published documentation. Where can I find it?

        Will a leak down test shows false positive, when timing belt slip of spindle on above 5S-FE? If yes, why?

        Thanks for sharing.

      • profile image

        Mayank 

        3 years ago

        Even am surprised... given how important this belt is, why isnt there any sensor? It leads to serious engine damage which means it will cost a ton of money of to get it repaired and still the functioning will not be that good.

        I had similar problem and have learnt it now. The service company did not check it and am aghast by their slackness and irresponsible behavior on this aspect.

      • perrya profile imageAUTHOR

        perrya 

        7 years ago

        well, it happened to me at 6 pm, AAA got there from SF at 7:45, the tow reached home at 9:30, then, I had to pick up the others still stranded because the tow truck could not take 4, drive back down to Sausalito in another car. Finally, it ended at 11pm.

      • teaches12345 profile image

        Dianna Mendez 

        7 years ago

        You certainly had a costly experience, but glad to hear that you avoided the traffic collisions. There is no warning for this on the dashboard but sometimes you can hear a slight high pitched whirring sound if it is about to go out. If you have a good mechanic they will watch the wear and tear on parts like this for you. I agree with your statement that a sensor light would be a really good feature. No one wants to be stranded on a road.

      • perrya profile imageAUTHOR

        perrya 

        7 years ago

        Wow, that is worse! So, far, the damage is minimal, but that could change. I wish they would create a belt sensor to light up if the belt is worn thin.

      • RecruitmentTips profile image

        RecruitmentTips 

        7 years ago from Melbourne

        Your very lucky they didn't have to rebuild your engine. Same thing happened to me only 2 days after it was changed. It turned out that the apprentice put it on the wrong way. I'm still amazed that I was able to drive it for 2 days?

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