How Long Can You Drive Without a Timing Belt?

how long can you drive without a timing belt

Today’s post is going to be really helpful for anyone with a car, whether it’s gasoline or diesel. If your serpentine belt has come off, you might be wondering: how long can you drive without a timing belt? We’re going to cover that in today’s post, and we’ll also explain why you should avoid doing this at all costs. In some situations, it could seriously damage your engine, and in others, it might even lead to an accident. We’ll look into all of that today.

How Long Can You Drive Without a Timing Belt?

So, how long you can drive without a timing belt is determined by the size of your battery, how fully charged it was, to begin with, and the number of electrical systems in use, including headlights, the radio, and the heater. However, driving without a belt is not something we recommend. In modern vehicles, you might see a warning message showing a “charging malfunction” or “low battery voltage.” These notifications mean that the charging system isn’t working properly. The car will advise you to pull over safely and not to continue driving until the issue has been resolved.

Now, some of the newer cars are a bit better prepared for situations like if a belt comes off. They can still run safely for a little while longer, but it’s best not to push your luck and just drive for a few seconds to find a safe spot to stop. However, for most vehicles, if the serpentine belt breaks, you are looking at a few important components here. We have the crankshaft pulley that moves the belt, then there’s the AC compressor, the alternator up, and the tensioner pulley.

What Happens if You Drive with a Broken Timing Belt?

If your car doesn’t have a water pump driven by the belt, say it’s electric, may not really be a problem. But if its water pump is belt-driven, and that belt comes off, you could quickly end up overheating the engine in just a few seconds or minutes. This can damage head gaskets, the heads, and engine blocks, as everything is made of aluminum these days. Repairing this could cost you thousands of dollars.

Secondly, your car battery could stop charging because the alternator isn’t working at that moment. Your voltage could drop so low that the engine shuts down, and gradually, all our systems might start shutting down one after another. Sometimes, the car might suddenly stop working altogether, and you could end up losing your engine.

Following this, you may find the brakes hard to use because, even if there’s an electrical water vacuum pump for the brake booster, it might not function due to insufficient power. You could face a total loss of brakes, loss of engine power, and the engine might shut off, along with losing power steering. This situation could lead to a serious accident.

How to Tell if You Have a Faulty Timing Belt

I’m going to show you how to figure out if your car really needs a new timing belt. Unfortunately, replacing a timing belt is quite expensive, so it’s something you don’t want to rush into unless necessary. However, you also don’t want to risk destroying your engine. Let’s take a Kia Sportage, for example. If its timing belt snaps, it’s an interference engine, meaning the pistons will collide with the valves, causing damage. If the car is like 10 years old and has about 82,000 miles on it, it’s definitely time for a change. The timing belt is located inside, where it’s very hot. Over time, the heat damages the belt since it’s made of rubber, and causes some cracks. Generally, you want to replace it every 10 years, or maybe every 5 or 6 years. These belts have mileage recommendations, but age matters too. Even if this car had only 30,000 miles, I’d recommend changing the belt. A cracked rubber belt can break, and cause the pistons to hit the valves and damage the engine.

Consider an old ’94 Toyota Celica. It comes with a non-interference engine. Therefore, if the timing belt snaps, it won’t cause any internal damage; you’ll just end up stuck. So, if you are looking to save some money, you could wait until the belt breaks without worrying about harming your engine. On the other hand, if you have a newer engine, like the variable valve timing engine, it doesn’t use a timing belt at all but a metal chain. With regular oil and filter changes, that chain can last indefinitely. Unfortunately, I’ve encountered mechanics who tried to charge for timing belt replacements on cars that have a timing chain. Now, they bill for work that wasn’t necessary. So, you need to know whether your car has a timing belt or a timing chain before getting any service done.

You first need to remove all the fan belts and the drive belt to access the timing belt. Loosen the bolts that secure them, slide them off, and then remove the belts. Next, disconnect the motor mount to clear the way. After that, you’ll need to remove the water pump pulley which obstructs access to the timing belt cover. Once the cover is off, you’ll see the timing belt. Then, move to the wheel well and remove the nut that secures the crankshaft pulley. You might have to wiggle it vigorously back and forth to get it off, though sometimes a puller is necessary. I’ve managed to do it by hand. It’s helpful to mark the pulley with white paint to ensure proper alignment during reassembly. Next, remove the idler pulley to loosen the belt enough to take it off. After placing the new belt, tighten the idler pulley securely and see that the marks you make align correctly.

Next, attach all the plastic pieces of the timing cover and screw the crankshaft pulley back into place. After that, secure the water pump pulley. Then, it’s time to fit the fan belts. You should buy new ones because, if you are going to replace the timing belt, it makes sense to replace the drive belts too. You don’t want to worry about any of them for quite a while. After that, reattach the motor mounts, fire up the engine, and see if it runs.


So, we have talked about how long you can drive without a timing belt—to stop immediately or only a few seconds or minutes to a safe place where you can park the car. Get it fixed before continuing the journey. Also, we have talked about how you can tell if your car needs a new timing belt and how you can replace it on your own. If necessary, replace this component to prevent engine damage.

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