What Happens When Timing Belt Breaks While Driving?: A Newbie’s Guide

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what happens when timing belt breaks

What happens when the timing belt breaks? If you are asking yourself the same question, you are in the right place.

The timing belt or timing chain is a crucial part of an engine that ensures its smooth working. Although it can last up to 100k miles, there are chances of sudden breakage.

And in such a scenario, you need professional assistance as soon as possible. Leaving a broken timing belt unattended can lead to critical consequences.

You can not stop a timing belt from breaking. However, with proper knowledge & guidance, you can learn to acknowledge the signs of trouble before they worsen.

Today, we will talk about the timing belt, its importance, different ways to recognize a degrading belt, and what to do if it breaks.

So, let us get started and cover all the technical & non-technical aspects of a timing belt.

What Is A Timing Belt?

A timing belt is an essential component that ensures you enjoy a smooth working environment for your engine.

There are two main shafts in your engine, the Camshaft & the Crankshaft. The timing belt works to connect these two shafts and make them turn together at the right time.

The main aim is to make sure that the crankshaft and camshaft work in perfect synchronization. 

It is crucial because a right-working timing belt means all the other parts of your engine, like pistons & valves, are also working in perfect sync.

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In Layman’s Terms, a timing belt ensures all the engine parts move together in perfect synchronization and at the right time to give you a smooth engine experience.

Why Is A Timing Belt Important?

A timing belt is crucial because it controls the timing of the movements of the engine components like pistons & valves.

For smooth engine operation, it is necessary for each part to move, open, & close at the right time during the revolution.

If the parts do not do it, they are more likely to slam into each other. This will then lead to a complete breakdown of your engine.

So, you see how the timing belt plays a crucial role in protecting your engine and maintaining its smooth working.

Interference V/S Non-Interference Engine

If you are thinking about what happens when a timing belt breaks in a non-interference engine, we have a better way to help you understand.

Automobiles come with either interference or non-interference engines. And the timing belt is part of both types but has different effects in case it gets damaged.

The severity of a broken timing belt depends on the type of engine it is connected. To help you understand better, we have listed the consequences of the damaged timing belt with both engines separately.

A. Interference Engine

As stated, the timing belt works by synchronizing the working of the crankshaft and camshaft. 

In the interference engine, if the timing belt fails, the camshaft will not turn & the valves will not open. The pistons will rise like usual into the cylinder. However, they will collide with the closed valves.

This collision can damage the cam heads, pistons, & valves and eventually damage your entire engine.

B. Non-Interference Engine

In the non-interference engine, the design is slightly different. The pistons never enter the valve, even during regular operation. 

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So, if your timing belt gets broken in the non-interference engine, the level of damage will be less.

However, less damage does not mean your engine will work fine. Although the severity of deterioration is less, it is still big enough to interrupt your engine functioning.

7 Signs Your Timing Belt Is Failing While Driving

It can be tricky, even for an experienced person, to tell if their timing belt is failing. 

The timing belt is sealed & placed within its own particular space in your car. It makes it extremely hard for you to check it on your own.

The only way you can get the proper inspection of your timing belt is with the help of an experienced mechanic. But people mostly make their way to the mechanic after the damage is already done.

To assure you are not among such people who are too late to save their engines from getting damaged, we bring you some clever tips.

In this section, we have listed the top seven signs that will tell you about your failing timing belt and save you from asking when the timing belt breaks what happens.

1. The Engine Does Not Start

There are several reasons why your engine might not start, and one of them is a bad timing belt. You can diagnose your engine & if you can not find any visible issue, it is probably the belt.

Furthermore, if your timing belt breaks while driving, you will notice the engine will not start & the car won’t even turn over.

To sum it up, your car will give no response to your action if the timing belt is broken.

2. Squealing Sounds

If you find your engine making squealing sounds, it is better to have a mechanic look at it.

The issue is connected to the timing belt if you hear the sound frequently but at different times, like acceleration, braking, and idling.

A squealing sound is the warning and ignoring it will leave you with a greater expense.

3. Engine Misfires

Another common sign of a failing timing belt is engine misfires or rough running.

A worn-out timing belt will affect the operating timings of your engine, which will cause frequent misfires.

This is because the timing belt is responsible for keeping the pistons in place & control their action. But with a worn-out or loose belt, the pistons move erratically.

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Engine misfires are a sign of immense trouble & should be handled quickly, as they can lead to severe engine damage.

4. Continuous Ticking or Clicking In the Engine

The continuous ticking or clicking sound in the engine is another sign of wearing out the timing belt.

As the timing belt is attached to the camshaft & puller system of your engine, it will create noises if it can not hold the system properly.

In addition, the ticking sound can also be an indication of a low oil level. You still require to fix it on priority because the low oil level affects the timing belt.

5. Oil Leaks From the Front Of the Motor

If you come across oil leaking from the front of the motor that is around the engine, then it is a sign the timing belt is not doing its task properly.

The oil leak also occurs if the gasket between the engine block and timing covers is cracked. It can lead to engine overheating & other damages.

So, have the belt replaced before anything else gets broken.

6. Exhaust Issues

If you begin to notice more smoke & fumes coming out of your car’s exhaust than usual, it could be related to your timing belt.

A worn-out timing belt puts more pressure on the engine than required. And as a result, the car will dismiss more smoke than it usually should.

7. REVs Start Acting Up

If you notice your revolution per minute (RPMs) have started to act strange, it is showcasing an issue with your timing belt.

Whether your timing belt is broken or worn out, it will have an immensely negative effect on the RPM meter of your car.

What Happens When Timing Belt Breaks While Driving?

Whether your timing belt breaks down or wears out, you should take immediate measures to protect your engine from further degrading.

If you find any sign of a degrading or broken timing belt, you need to take your vehicle to a professional auto repair shop.

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There is no alternative for a degraded timing belt other than getting replaced.

The timing belt is placed in the extreme inner of your engine. It makes regular manual checks impossible. So, it is better to have it inspected regularly by a professional.

Also, experts recommend replacing your timing belt between 60,000 to 100,000 miles. Go through your car’s owner’s manual to get this information about your ride.

It is much cheaper to replace a worn-out timing belt than the broken one. The reason is that a broken timing belt causes more damage to the engine, costing you more than you anticipated.

What Other Parts Need To Be Checked/Replaced With The Timing Belt?

The timing belt is an integral part of your engine that connects various other parts & ensures their synchronized working.

So, if you end up with a broken belt, it is not the only issue you will have on your hands. A broken timing belt comes with other parts that will need inspection & sometimes replacement.

Here we have mentioned all the other parts that get highly affected by the working condition of the timing belt.

These parts should be inspected thoroughly and replaced if your timing belt broke while driving slowly or fast.

A. Drive Belts

If you end up with a busted timing belt, check your drive belts too. If they are old or cracked, have them replaced.

These are cheap and will not cost any extra labor charge.

B. Oil Seals

Over time the oil seals placed behind the crank and camshaft gears tend to leak oil. So, while replacing your timing belt, look at those seals too.

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If you find oil around the region, replace them. It is necessary because any contact with oil can damage the new timing belt before time.

C. Water Pump

A water pump is another crucial part that you should inspect when replacing your timing belt. The pump will leak water through its weep hole if it malfunctions.

Sometimes it is not water but antifreeze or other deposits coming out of the hole.

So, if you see any sign of leaking, have it replaced with the timing belt. It will save you time, hassle, & money.

D. Timing Belt Tensioner

The timing belt tensioner is a tiny part of your engine, which can get faulty sometimes. Like other parts, it can wear out.

It can interrupt the smooth rotation of the belt. Thus, have your mechanic take a look at this small part too.

Lastly, if you find any of these parts not functioning well or damaged, have them replaced. However, if they are working well, do not touch them.

FAQs Related Timing Belt Broke While Driving Slow

What is the cost of timing belt replacement?

The cost to replace a timing belt varies from model to model. It averagely costs around $200 to $750. However, the cost can be more than this, depending on the severity of your damage.

Is it possible to drive with a broken timing belt?

NO. No vehicle can run with a broken timing belt. As soon as that belt snaps, it damages your engine. Thus, if you were driving when the incident happened, you need roadside assistance and tow your vehicle to the nearby auto repair workshop.

Can a broken timing belt damage my engine?

YES. The timing belt is a part that works on keeping different engine parts in perfect sync & work motion. So, if it breaks, it can cause some serious damage. 

On the one hand, the breaking of the timing belt leads to the vigorous spinning of the crankshaft & the total shutdown of the camshaft.

While on the other, the pistons will continue to ride & fall in cylinders and end up striking the closed valves.

This process will damage the valves, pistons & cylinders. All the events happen so quickly that there is nothing you can do to stop it.

When should I replace my timing belt?

Experts suggest replacing your timing belt as soon as your vehicle hits 60,000 miles. However, this number can vary based on the make & model of your ride.

Refer to your owner’s manual for your manufacturer’s recommendation.

Which is more costly- Replacing a working belt or a broken one?

In any scenario, replacing a worn-out timing belt will always be cheaper than the broken one. This is because a broken timing belt ends up damaging its neighboring parts, which sometimes also need replacement.

Thus, to save yourself from the extreme expense, maintain a better maintenance system and replace the belt as suggested by your manufacturer.


The timing belt might seem like a small part of your engine, but it controls its entire functioning. To avoid wondering what happens when the timing belt breaks, make yourself familiar with it.

We hope this newbie’s guide was helpful for you to learn about the timing belt and its crucial relationship with your engine.

Henry William

Henry William is an automotive enthusiast and experienced blogger with a passion for all things related to automobiles. With a deep knowledge of the industry and a keen eye for detail, Henry provides insightful and engaging content for automotive enthusiasts and casual readers alike. From car reviews and industry news to practical tips and advice, his articles cover a wide range of topics to cater to every reader's interest. With years of experience in the automotive field, Henry brings a unique perspective and a wealth of information to his writing. Whether you're a car aficionado or simply looking for reliable information, Henry's expertise and engaging writing style will keep you coming back for more.

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