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What Happens When Your Car's Timing Belt Breaks?


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.

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.


perrya (author) on August 12, 2020:

When the belt was replaced, did the mechanic notice ANY damage to the the engine compression readings??? I suspect there might be some engine damage impacting compression or damage to valves. A compression test would show this. Go to BMW.

Piffy on August 12, 2020:

I have a 2012 bmw and timing belt broke while driving. The mechanic fixed the timing belt but now my car is losing power and barely wants to go pass 60mph with gas petal pushed all the way to the floor can you tell me what may also happened

perrya (author) on April 20, 2020:

I know all too well!

hardlymoving from Memphis, TN on April 19, 2020:

If the engine is interference and the belt broke at a low rpm ... and you didn't attempt to start the engine ... then there's a distinct possibility that the valves have not been damage. But in most cases, you're screwed.

perrya (author) on April 05, 2020:

It can cause damage to the upper part of the engine, but you should check with toyota

abdu on April 05, 2020:

What effect does a broken

timing belt when driving toyota 3l taxi. Does it

destroy the engine?

perrya (author) on April 03, 2020:

Whatever car make you have, you should have a mechanic look to see if there is engine damage to the valves etc.

perrya (author) on April 02, 2020:

You need to check to see if your engine has a interference or non-interference engine. On VWs, engine damage occurs if the belt breaks while driving

Francis tembo on April 02, 2020:

my timing belt broke when driving I checked the timing belt was gone. And two camshaft s were a play so asking about the valve setting between the camshaft and valve

perrya (author) on March 03, 2020:

Diana- if true, it sounds like you had some damage to the upper block of the engine, I would find out what is causing the knock, maybe a piston if not a rod. This will be an expensive fix whatever is the cause.

Diana on March 03, 2020:

My timing belt broke on my 2002 nissan xterra after the mechanic replaced it he said i have an interference engine and its making a knocking noisr but not a rod knocking. So what dors that mean?

perrya (author) on February 03, 2020:

With VW diesels, a busted timing belt will cause serious damage to the upper part of the engine like mine did. A timing belt should last at least 50K miles, so maybe the belt just came off. Still, damage could occur.

Meko on February 02, 2020:

I've replaced the timing belt last year around September then suddenly by friday while i was driving my car decided to stop without warning when they diagnose it they said that it timing belt so is it possible that it can be serious damage Golf5 gti

perrya (author) on January 13, 2020:

You would need to search for this using non-inference engines in kia in the search field of google

Bob on January 13, 2020:

What effect does a broken timing belt on a Kia. Does it destroy the engine?

perrya (author) on January 06, 2020:

The car will not start unless a new timing belt is installed

ikram on January 06, 2020:

Hi I have Toyota diesel corolla 1994 yesterday suddenly when I was at low speed the car engine shut down and then I tried to start the. Car but in vain then I checked and found the broken timing belt .by the way no bad noises I heard then I left the car there . plz tell me that my car will be able to start with changing that belt or not . thanks in advance .

perrya (author) on January 04, 2020:

If there is no engine damage, replace the belt. A mechanic will be able to tell you. Most cars, just replace the belt.

OAKLEY34 on January 04, 2020:

I have a 2004 Holden equipe sedan and the timing belt has snapped try to replace or is my car a write off? Thanks mate

Pat on December 09, 2019:

I have a 2004 Mitsubishi outlander my daughter was driving and the car just lost everything it would still crank over just wouldn't start after hooking up a code reader it gave a code for the crank shaft sensor but after the machanic opened it up he said the timing belt broke and caused lots of damage is it normal for the codes to read something like this

Jay on June 03, 2019:

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

perrya (author) on April 17, 2019:

Fixing is way cheaper unless you want a new one.

Lisa Brown on April 16, 2019:

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

perrya (author) on April 12, 2019:

I would always check to be sure.

perrya (author) on April 12, 2019:

I would always check to be sure

jhingo1 on April 11, 2019:

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

SELVAM on July 11, 2018:

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

But often misfire every time

perrya (author) on October 25, 2016:

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

ToyotaRI on October 24, 2016:

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 (author) on October 24, 2016:

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

ToyotaRI on October 24, 2016:

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.

Mayank on February 05, 2016:

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 (author) on March 24, 2012:

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.

Dianna Mendez on March 24, 2012:

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 (author) on March 24, 2012:

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 from Melbourne on March 24, 2012:

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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