Can you drive a car with a bad timing chain?

A timing chain is a vital part of the mechanical functionality of your car’s engine. It keeps the crankshaft and camshaft rotating together at an equal speed. This allows the engine valves to close and open at the same time.

The purpose of these valves is to allow air and fuel into the internal combustion chamber. Therefore, a timing chain works to ensure the correct ratio of fuel and air mixture for proper ignition of the engine to run the vehicle.

The timing chain usually requires replacement between 60,000 and 150 000 miles unless there is an issue. This range can be higher, depending on the car. Some car manufacturers of older models said in the past that it was not required to change the chain.

Problems with the timing chain are common, particularly in high mileage vehicles; hence if you are driving an older car or one with many miles, it is best to check the condition of the chain and for any symptoms of it failing or going bad.

Here is an exclusive look at everything you need to know about driving a car with a bad timing chain, including the symptoms of a failing timing chain.

So, Can You Drive A Car With A Bad Timing Chain?

If the timing chain has broken, the answer is no! You cannot drive a car with a bad timing chain. Efficient and proper engine operation depends highly on the functionality of a timing chain.

If your timing chain breaks, the car will not run at all and might leave you stranded at the roadside. Regardless of your vehicle’s engine type, a bad timing chain will make the engine stop running immediately and turn off.

Regardless of your vehicle’s engine type, a broken timing chain causes your engine to stop immediately, so you will have to pull over quickly if it happens when you are driving.

If you have an interference engine, the timing chain prevents the valve and the piston stroke from coming together.

If it breaks, the valve and the piston will crash, causing damage to the cylinder, and camshaft which is very expensive to repair. For a non-interference engine, a broken timing chain will not cause severe damage. It will just power off the engine. This is why you should maintain your timing chain regularly.

Most Common Symptoms of a Failing Timing Chain

Because the timing chain can go bad and require to be replaced, it is essential to look out for symptoms of a failing chain to have it repaired before it breaks. Some of the most common symptoms of a failing chain include;

1. The engine misfires

An engine misfires when the engine cylinders don’t fire properly. This occurs because of a pause in air balance inside the combustion chamber of the cylinders. The timing chain stretches over time which will cause the chain to skip a gear on the crankshaft or cam.

This might cause a pause in the fuel-to-fuel balance in the combustion chamber of these cylinders. It will produce a loud bang, and the vehicle might jerk on and off. If this happens, it is likely that the timing chain is overstretched and will need to be replaced soon.

You should hence be happy if the engine misfires as it is a good alert of the problem. Otherwise, if the timing chain breaks, it can cause severe engine damage.

2. Presence of metal in the oil changing pan

When changing your vehicle’s oil, you should look at the old oil in the pan and check for small bits of metal. As the timing belt ages, it starts disintegrating slowly. This might produce small metal bits that you will get in your old oil.

3. Rattling sounds when warming up the car

Strange sounds from your engine are always a sign of a problem. If you hear some rattling noise when warming up the engine, this means that there is something loose in your engine.

However, you are most likely to hear a rattling when the timing belt is about to break or come off. Chain clatter or rattle will be noted, particularly at low engine speeds. 

4. Check Engine light comes on.

Anytime there is an issue with your vehicle’s engine, the check engine light comes on. The light displays a number corresponding to the problem affecting the engine.

A failing timing chain can be one issue that makes the check engine light illuminate or cause other problems that will trigger the check engine light. Your mechanic will be able to establish the issue depending on the code. 

5. Failed engine

Sometimes, a timing chain will suddenly break. When the chain breaks loose, it can hit and damage other components in the car’s engine. The valves and pistons might contact each other damaging the pistons.

The engine will stop running, and your vehicle will need to be towed. If the timing chain breaks when your car is in the parking lot, you won’t be able to start the engine.

Can You Drive With These Failing Timing Chain Symptoms?

If you notice some signs of a failing timing chain, such as an illuminating engine light, a rattling engine noise, a misfiring engine, or metal bits in the old oil, you can still drive the vehicle.

But this is not recommendable because you will risk further damage to the engine components if the failing timing chain breaks.

However, if the timing chain breaks when driving, you can’t drive it further. The engine will stop, and you will have to two the vehicle to the mechanic.

How Long Can You Drive With A Failing Timing Chain?

As stated earlier, you can still drive your car even with a failing timing chain as long as it has not broken yet. However, how long you can keep driving the vehicle will depend on how lucky you are.

Some cars might take longer for the chain to fail, while others can take a shorter time. Keep in mind that the longer you keep going, the more you are pushing the likelihood of complete failure, which might result in severe engine damage, especially in the case of interference engines.


A timing chain is a vital part of the engine, and without it, your vehicle is useless. If the timing chain fails or breaks while driving, your vehicle’s engine is likely to suffer severe damage.

Therefore, the best way of preventing potential damage to your engine is to take your car to the mechanic for timing chain replacement if you notice any of the failing symptoms reviewed above.

By staying alert and proactive, you can save thousands of dollars for repair and significantly extend your engine life.

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