What Happens When a Timing Chain Breaks While Driving?

You’re driving along when suddenly your engine sputters and stalls! Could your timing chain be broken?

Don’t panic. We’ll cover what happens when this crucial engine component fails while on the road, the odds of it actually happening, and how to reduce your risk.

broken timing chain

Purpose of a Timing Chain

The timing chain is a critical component of the internal combustion engine. Its function is to keep the camshaft and crankshaft rotating together at the same speed. This enables the valves of the engine to open and close at precisely the right times.

These are the valves responsible for allowing air and fuel to flow into the internal combustion chamber. As you probably know, the engine needs the proper amount of air and fuel mixture for the ignition to be successful. That way, the proper amount of power can be generated to satisfy the demands of the vehicle.

If the timing chain were to break, it will jeopardize the entire internal combustion process. This means you won’t be able to drive your vehicle anymore.

Related: Timing Chain vs Timing Belt Differences

What to Expect If Your Timing Chain Breaks

timing chain

If you want to know what exactly will happen when the timing chain breaks while driving, it depends on whether you have an interference engine or a non-interference engine. Although they are both internal combustion engines, the “interference” word refers to the timing configuration of the engine.

No matter which type of engine you have, a broken timing chain will cause your engine to immediately stop running and turn off.

You’ll have to quickly pull over to the side of the road as you lose momentum. It’s not a situation that allows you to keep driving; your vehicle simply won’t function without a functioning timing chain.

See Also:  Symptoms of a Faulty Timing Belt

Interference Engines

When you have an interference engine, things can get ugly pretty quickly if the timing chain snaps.

The tight clearances between the valves and pistons in these engine types make it possible for the pistons to hit the opened valves if the timing chain fails. This could lead to significant damage, including bent or broken valves, and even damage to the cylinder.

These are very expensive items to repair or replace. You’d probably be better off either purchasing a new engine or possibly trading in your car at a loss for a new one.

Non-Interference Engines

If you have a non-interference engine, the result of a broken timing chain will not be as severe. It will simply cause your engine to turn off but that’s all.

This is because the gap between the pistons and valves is designed to prevent any contact between them, even if the timing is off. If the chain breaks, your engine will stop running, but the damage won’t be as severe.

You’ll most likely just need to replace the broken chain and related hardware to get your car back on the road.

What Are the Chances of a Timing Chain Breaking While Driving?

scared driver

It’s important to know that timing chains are designed to last a long time – often outlasting the car itself! The chance of breakage are quite low. However, that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible for the timing chain to fail and leave you stranded for a bit.

Timing chains, made up of metal links, can stretch or even break due to wear and tear. As your engine gets more mileage, the chance of a timing chain issue occurring increases. But don’t worry too much, as timing chains typically last longer than their counterparts, timing belts.

Regular maintenance is key to keeping your timing chain running as it’s supposed to. Oiling your timing chain according to your car manufacturer’s recommendation is super important so stay on top of regular oil changes. This significantly reduces your chances of a timing chain failure while driving.

However, despite your best efforts, it’s still possible for the timing chain to break unexpectedly. Factors like manufacturing defects, inadequate lubrication, or simply a higher mileage engine can contribute to the potential for a failure.

What Vehicles Have the Highest Risk of Timing Chain Failure?

It’s natural to wonder if your vehicle could be at a higher risk of timing chain failure, especially when you’re taking road trips or making your daily commute. Some vehicles are known to have a higher risk due to faulty components or manufacturing issues.

For instance, various GMC models including the Terrain and Acadia have known issues regarding timing chains with recalls being issued for some years. Another example is the 2.0t TSI engine found in VW and Audi models from 2008-2014. Many owners have experiences problems with the timing chain found in that engine.

It’s a good idea to do an internet search for your vehicle’s year, make, and model to see if timing chain issues exist (example: “2010 BMW M3 timing chain issues”).

Also, be aware of any recalls related to the timing chain in your specific make and model, so you can address the issue before it becomes a problem.

Lowering the Chance of Timing Chain Failure

stretched timing chain

You’re probably wondering how to make sure your timing chain doesn’t fail, right? Well, while there’s no 100% foolproof method to guarantee it never fails, you can definitely take some steps to minimize the risk.

First off, you’ll want to stay on top of your vehicle’s maintenance. Regular oil changes are key, as they help to keep the timing chain well-lubricated and prevent the buildup of harmful debris. Check your owner’s manual for the manufacturer’s recommended oil change interval.

Another thing to keep an eye on is abnormal engine noise. If you start hearing a rattling or clanging sound coming from your engine, it could be a sign of a failing timing chain. Don’t ignore this! Get your vehicle to a qualified mechanic as soon as possible to have it checked out. Early detection can prevent further damage to your engine.

Finally, be aware of any symptoms related to a bad timing chain.

If you haven’t been staying on top of oil changes or experience any of these symptoms, it’s best not to take any chances. Have a professional look at your car to determine if the timing chain, tensioner, or any related components need attention.

Mark Stevens


  1. I have an opel corsa d (2015 corsa essentia), the timing chain guide broke while I was driving

  2. I bought a Peugeot 3008, it was on a 2019 and had done 48000 miles, I drove the 15 mile journey to worn in the morning and the car was fine, after a 13 hour shift I got in the car to drive home and it would start. This was only 51 days after I bought the car. From day one I have been asking for a refund but the garage is refusing and coming up with ever rule in the book not to return the money. The dealer has had my car 3 weeks now and failed to fix it, after stripping the engine down. Under the consumer right act they have one change to fix the car and if its not successful by law them have to give me a full refund, now they are saying whey were only stripping to engine down to diagnose the fault not to fix it. I have found out from the warranty company that there findings were that the timing chain had snapped and the camshaft had also snapped. So now they are saying that Peugeot are saying this is a common fault and they are going to fix the car. When the car broke down it hadn’t moved for over thirteen hours and the faults on the dashboard were, radar fault, automatic breaking systems fault and Electric hand break fault. my question to any professional mechanics out there is. Can a timing chain break and a camshaft snap while the car as been stationary for 13 hours ?

    1. Could the timing chain have snapped when you tried to start the car? What happened when you turned the key?

  3. My 2010 hyandi Sonta gurcled and died on the road , has 173,000 miles but was running great , had to get it towed to the house . How can i tell if its the timming chain ,and how much will it cost to fix it ?

    1. If you are able to restart the car at all, it is not a broken timing chain.

      Before you try to start the car, make sure the engine turns over easily by hand. Impossible to say how much it will cost to fix the car without knowing what the problem is.

  4. I have a 2003 Toyota Highlander 2.4L I4, I just went through the process of premature head gasket failure. New water pump, timing chain, heads remilled, helicoils, the whole nine yards. My engine light is still on, idling slightly rough and throwing code p0301 for cylinder 1 misfire. All spark plugs replaced, new fuel injector, ignition coil was in good shape. I’m worried that the timing chain either was not reset properly or the tensioner is going bad. Checked my dipstick today and did not notice any metal shavings nor was I notified of any. Shop tested everything from leak down, smoke test, compression test, etc, everything came back clear. Car still runs well, just the slight idle vibration and CEL. Maybe a couple blown fuses? I’m not sure. Thanks

    1. This is a very good question, thank you for providing all of that detail. I assume there is no chance that the p0301 code is old? Do you have any pictures from when the engine was disassembled? I am wondering if cylinder 1 looks different than the others in any way.

      Have you tried swapping spark plugs, injectors, and ignition coils around to see if the code follows any particular part? If a different cylinder starts misfiring after you switch your spark plugs or injectors, that would narrow the problem down very quickly.

  5. Hi Sean,
    I was just told the chain timing belt on my 2010 Nissan Murano with 149,000 miles that the chain is stretched and perhaps all the chains need replacing the car you would never know a problem with it except my engine light came on they’re asking for about 2000 $3000 to have the engine taken out and the chain belt replaced as well as the others;

    In your opinion what do you think I should do should I trade it in it just ran fine all the way back to my place from the auto mechanic 30 mile
    Drive: No rattling no nothing you would never know it however I’m concerned it could break down at any time and just thought I’d ask your opinion: I have always replace the oil religiously and taking care of my Marano: thx Anne

    1. What code was stored, and why did they think the chain was stretched? Did they do any tear down of the engine during the diagnosis? If it drives fine for now it’s ultimately your call what you want to do with it. I’d be surprised if you’re having timing chain issues without any symptoms, though.

  6. So is a F-150 Ecoboost engine a interference or noninterference engine? Will any oil blowout of the side of the engine when the timing chain breaks?

  7. I have a 1999 Infinity G20. The timing chain broke and the mechanic says it needs a new engine. Does this car have an interference engine?

    1. Assuming this is an interference engine (I think it is), you can expect bent valves which will require head work at a minimum. There is a small chance the timing chain could fail and you get very lucky, where the pistons and valves don’t contact each other. It can happen, but it’s rare.

  8. My 2013 Volkswagen Polo broke down when I tried to start the engine after being parked for an hour. I changed the camshaft sensor and the spark plugs but still won’t start. Got a mechanic to come and have a look at it he said the timing chain broke which caused a valve to break as well. Now one of my friends is saying that usually when this happens the steering wheel shouldn’t be moving either(which in my case it still is) so that might not be the cause to why my car broke down. Do you think this might not be the cause? Battery and oil all good.

  9. It looks like the timing chain on my 2013 Kia Sorento broke. The car just stopped and wouldn’t start. Slight smell like something burned. Battery & oil all good. Took to a local mechanic and he inspected it (not a deep dive) but said it looks like the timing chain. Said he saw what looks like small metal pieces in the oil. I believe the 2013 Kia Sorento SX V6 is a interference engine. I’m wondering if it’s worth taking it to another mechanic to do a deep dive to confirm it’s the timing chain?

    1. It’s up to you if you want to take it to another mechanic for a second opinion. If your timing chain broke and it’s an interference engine, you’re looking at an expensive repair. Cars are misdiagnosed all the time by not looking closely enough at the problem. A deeper dive will cost more but it’s worth it to know exactly what the problem is.

  10. Had the top timing chain on bmw 118 go when at a red light …. but it’s the dreaded N47 engine any idea if replaced the car would run again?

    1. That one is an interference engine, right? If so, there is a very strong possibility that other components were damaged when the timing chain let go.

      The car could probably run again, but it depends on how much effort (and money) you want to put into it, and the extent of the damage.

  11. My timing chain went on my 2014 beetle while the mechanics were working on it they found that my camshaft had too much give and should also be replaced. Total estimate is $3400 give or take. Car was purchased CPO and I still have 14 payments left. Should I repair car or roll the remaining balance into something new with a warranty? Concerned that I put this $ into repairing the top half of the motor and then end up getting hit with a $2000 bill to repair the bottom half six months down the road. Is this a rational concern or should I feel ok that the top is the issue and I’m good to go from here?

    1. That is completely up to you. Without having seen the car, knowing much about your situation, or knowing the mechanic’s assessment, it’s very difficult for me to give advice on this situation.

      Sometimes it’s better to stick with the problems you know, rather than rolling the dice on a different used vehicle.

      On the other hand, your mechanic needs to be really honest with you about the current state of the vehicle. If he or she foresees many problems in the near future, it may be best to cut your losses and find a different vehicle in better condition.

    1. If your engine is a non interference engine, all you likely have to do is replace the timing belt.

      If your engine is an interference engine, there is a chance that you had valve on valve contact, or valve to piston contact. This could cause some pretty expensive damage, unless you got really lucky and the timing belt broke in a position where there was no contact. In this case, you can try replacing the timing belt and see what happens. If your engine doesn’t fire after the timing belt replacement, a leak down test may help you determine what went wrong, as it will show you where air is rushing through when the combustion chamber should be sealed (on the compression stroke).

  12. I just had a timing chain replaced how fast can I go on the freeway and how many mile do I have to have on it

  13. This information has been very helpful. The details are so understanable, I feel like I could repair my own vehicle.Well at least I can explain to the repair shop what’s happening to my car. Keep up the good work!!

    1. 2005 altima while driving just died,wont jump,nothing electric works,new battery and stuck in park

      1. I’d check the connections around the battery and alternator. Make sure everything is nice and snug and that there’s no corrosion.

    2. Hi. This recently happened to me on my 18 Audi RS3. I was at a red light and when it turned green I stepped on the gas pedal and the car turned off on me. Because I was in the middle of the road I placed it on neutral and a few people helped me push it to the side of the road, then had it towed to a shop and I was just informed the timing chain broke. Waiting to hear on if anything else was damaged, and praying it was just that since I was not driving on one road. I believe the RS3 engine is am interference engine? Do you think there’s a chance the damage could be minor, given I had just pressed the gas pedal when it happened and my car went on EPC mode? Thank you!

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