Timing Belt Failure – Common Timing Belt Failure And Warning Signs

Engine Timing Belt - What Can Happen If You Neglect It
Engine Timing Belt - What Can Happen If You Neglect It

Timing belt failure can cause catastrophic engine damage.

Therefore, it is vital to keep the timing belt in good operating condition.

So, timing belt failure has always been a topic no one wants to talk about.

But, As the repair bills added up and the word spread; most drivers are more aware of the consequences of timing belt failure.

So, while replacing your timing belt does sound a little daunting; it definitely is a proactive way of saving yourself time and money down the road.

So, What Can Happen If You Have A Timing Belt Failure

When talking about timing belts it’s also important to know about interference engines.

An interference engine is one where the pistons and valves share space in the cylinder; but not at the same time. The benefit of this type of engine is efficiency; however if the belt or chain breaks in an interference engine the valves and pistons will collide.

Cylinder Head Dropped Valve With Combustion Chamber Damage
Cylinder Head Dropped Valve With Combustion Chamber Damage

The pistons generally hit the valves which will bend or snap them; or else the valves will punch a hole in the top of the pistons. The repair bill could easily run into the thousands.

But, If the belt breaks in a non-interference engine they won’t collide; as they do not ever share the same space.

Because it can be hard to do a visual inspection; there are other signs to be aware of indicating that your timing belt may be about to fail.

Common Timing Belt Failure And Warning Signs:

  • Ticking noise coming from the engine
  • Engine won’t turn over
  • Engine misfires
  • Oil leaking from in front of the engine

In some engines a timing belt can also drive additional components such as a water pump; balance shaft, intermediate shaft, injection pump and an oil pump. A balance shaft, an intermediate shaft and an injection pump must also be synchronised with a crankshaft.

Also, To work properly a timing belt needs to be under a certain amount of tension. Some older cars have an adjustable timing belt tensioner that must be re-adjusted if the timing belt gets loose.

Newer cars have an automatic timing belt tensioner that doesn’t need any adjustment. If the timing belt gets loose, it may skip a tooth and the proper timing will be lost.

Visual Inspection

Accessing the timing belt usually involves, removing several of the external accessories.

Excessive Timing Belt Wear
Excessive Timing Belt Wear

Here are some visual clues that your timing belt is in trouble:

  • Teeth worn down
  • Some teeth sheared off
  • Teeth hollowed out
  • Edges of belt worn
  • The Back of the timing belt cracked
  • Belt soaked with oil
  • Timing Belt broken

Like any drive belt in any Industry, belts do wear when used regularly. A Timing Belt will rarely just snap or break in half. It will normally stretch over time with use; and that leads us to the number one reason for a Timing Belt failure, “Incorrect Tension”.

Incorrect Timing Belt Tension
Incorrect Timing Belt Tension

This incorrect tension can lead to other problems like excessive tooth wear; tooth shear and belt noise just to name a few. The correct timing belt tension is just as important when installing a new belt as well.

Other Causes Of Timing Belt Failure:

  • Foreign Body in Drive
  • Belt crimped due to improper handling
  • Seizure of driven component
  • Worn Pulleys
  • High and Low Temperature
  • Oil Leaks
  • Belt Misalignment

As listed above, pulley and tension issues are some of the main causes for Timing Belt failure; so why not replace these parts at the same time as the belt. You can find an extensive wire rope pulley catalogue and range of products suitable for automotive servicing from the Carl Stahl Sava Industries website.

Consequently, Timing Belt Kits are the perfect solution as they have all these accessory parts included.

Timing Belt Kits May Include Idler Pulleys, Tensioners, Belts, Seals And More
Timing Belt Kits May Include Idler Pulleys, Tensioners, Belts, Seals And More

Such as, Idler Pulleys, Tensioners, Belts, Seals and other items; so you can replace the complete timing drive and not have to worry about having issues in the future prematurely.


So, the timing belt is responsible for turning your engine’s camshaft and crankshaft in sync. As a result, it is subject to incredible exertion and typically needs to be replaced within 60,000 – 100,000 miles; depending on the manufacturer’s recommendation.

Needs To Be Replaced Within 60,000 - 100,000 Miles
Needs To Be Replaced Within 60,000 – 100,000 Miles

Check your owner’s manual for exact mileage recommendations on your specific vehicle. There are only a few warning indicators that can help you diagnose a weak or loose timing belt; but there are no obvious clues to indicate a worn belt that may be close to snapping.

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