What Happens When Your Car's Timing Belt Breaks?

Updated on October 19, 2017

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 mechanics, the moment of the timing belt breaking creates all the damage that will occur to the engine. Trying to start it again will not create further damage.

The timing belt is critical for all the internal parts to be in synch. 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.


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    • perrya profile image

      perrya 20 months ago

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

    • profile image

      ToyotaRI 20 months 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 image

      perrya 20 months ago

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

    • profile image

      ToyotaRI 20 months 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 2 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 image

      perrya 6 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 6 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 image

      perrya 6 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 6 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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