Blown engine in a 2004 Mazda3

In the middle of my move across the states, the tension pulley seized, causing the belt to snap. I decided to drive the car about 15 miles to the nearest mechanic, who fixed the pulley and belts. 2 days later I was climbing the Rockies when my car shook, flashed the engine oil, battery, and check engine lights. This was followed by a puff of white smoke. I pulled over and was unable to start the car again. Today I brought my car into a Mazda dealer and found out that the engine is fried. Basically, this wonderful car that I bought for 12k last year is going to cost 7500 for a new engine (including labor). My options are limited as I’m stranded in Denver and trying to get to the west coast in a couple days.

Do I have any cheaper options to make the car functional again (as in a less expensive way to replace/rebuild the engine)?

I could ship the car to Portland and let it sit there until I figure things out.

I don’t want to rush into the wrong decision, but I also need to leave Denver soon, and I can’t drop too much more money into this car.

My option now seems to be having the car towed and sold for parts.

Cut my losses and move on.

Any suggestions/hints/advice from those who have more experience with these matters?

Check the price on a U-Haul truck with a tow dolly. That might let you get the car to Portland for a reasonable price, then you can figure things out once you get there.

Your cheapest option would be to find a salvage yard who installs what they sell. They often do this for a nominal labor fee and guarantee the engine or whatever assembly that is being used.

A 7500 dollar engine on a near 7 year old Mazda? No way.
This is a tough (very tough) call to make but if I were in your shoes I’d get on the phone and start hitting some salvage yards up.
If that doesn’t pan out you really have to weigh where you’re at on this car financially, the cost of shipping it home, and any potential repairs costs when you get home.
It could be that it may be time to throw in the towel if the salvage yard angle is not viable.

In the future when a problem like this occurs you MUST stop immediately. Walk if necessary but do not operate a vehicle like this as it turns a dirt cheap fix into an extremely expensive one.
Ideally, the belts and tensioners should be replaced ever so often, no matter if it’s accessory belts/tensioners or timing belt/tensioners.

Thanks to both of you for the advice.
ok4450- Believe me, I have learned my lesson. This is a completely distressing situation to be in and i’m kicking myself the whole way.

Because I was in the middle of moving, I have so many things in the car. it might be just a little more money to have the car shipped to Portland vs boxing and shipping all of my items. Then, of course, I could face a car that’s dead and also continue to deal with this problem.

Also, would replacing the original engine with a used/rebuilt one affect the overall performance of the car? Is that also a risk one runs in a situation like this?

A used engine is always a roll of the dice unless you can hear it run in advance.
However, one simple test can provide an indication of whether the engine should run well or not and that is a compression test.
This test is easy to do and can be done without the engine running and can even be done with the engine/transmission assembly sitting on the floor. It’s just a matter of connecting a battery to the starter motor, removing the spark plugs and running the test.

If the readings are all in the 180 PSI range then it should run fine and just as well as your old engine.
This test does not weed out all potential problems that may exist of course but as to performance you should not notice any dropoff.

After some more reflection on this matter I’m almost leaning toward recommending having the car and contents shipped to Portland if a used engine (installed) can’t be gotten quickly and at a reasonable price. Wild guessing a bit I’d make a stab at 2-3k dollars on a used engine, installed.
At least when you’re at your destination with a broken car you won’t feel as stranded and can devote more time to sorting the problem out and figuring out which is the best route to go.

The issue with a used engine is that you never really know; especially when it’s a hurry up, get it done, and get on the road type of deal. If a problem develops in Idaho you could be left hanging again.

I wished I could be of more help and hope some of this aids you in some way. Good luck and you might consider keeping us posted as to what happens; both in Denver and in Portand.
Speaking for myself, I’ve been in your situation before and I’m sure most or all of the regular posters here have also been up the creek without a paddle.

Exactly what does “the engine is fried” mean?

I’m sorry to be a doubting-Thomas, but a puff of white smoke followed by an ability to turn the engine over with the starter does not to me sound like a “fried” engine. With those symotoms Id expect something like a toasted alternator or ignition component. I, for one, would like to hear what’s actually wrong with it.

Welcome to Colorado. Why don’t you stay a while. :wink:
Less rain here than in Portland, too.

Anyway, there are quite a few places here in Denver than can get you a replacement motor, and install it for you. Quick search on Google can get you the name of a few, and should also show you any reviews for the same company.

Usually all the shops will offer a warranty on the work for a period of time, though you honestly only care about the distance between here and Portland. There is the matter on how are you going to make a claim on their warranty if you break down again in Grand Junction?

My guess as to what happened to your car is that when the belt broke, and you continued to drive for another 15 miles (really bad idea, by the way), is that since the water pump was no longer being turned by the engine, you overheated the engine, and warped the cylinder head.

When you got to my neck of the woods (Denver), you started taxing the motor while trying to climb the Rockies, and the warped cylinder head caused the head gasket to leak, and you probably killed a cylinder or two.

Depending on the damage, you might just need a cylinder head repair to get you going again, but who really knows. If it was a head gasket issue, its possible that coolant mixed with oil, completely killing the motor.

Just make some phone calls and internet searches, and get your car a replacement engine.
Its that, or get yourself a replacement car.


I think that on the Mazda3 the water pump is driven by the accessory belt, not the timing belt.
The car shucked the belt when the tensioner went south and the OP drove it 15 miles with no water pump; with severe overheating of course.

The belt/tensioner was replaced and everything was fine until the weakened from overheating head gasket decided to let go, which is likely the white smoke cloud.
There could have been some hydrolocking involved also.

If the mechanic who replaced the belt/tensioner did not advise the OP of a potential and very severe engine problem looming due to the tensioner failure then I fault them some too. They should have made the OP aware of a looming catastrophe at that time rather than replace the tensioner/belt and send them down the road with a wave if that is what happened.

$7500 is ridiculous to get this car on the road again. I would take the car elsewhere and have a used engine installed in it. You can probably do this for 2 grand or less, including labor. If you can’t swing that right now, I would go ahead and find a way to get this car home where you can deal with it at your convenience. If you’re moving, I would look into a U-Haul truck and tow dolly to take the car home. Even if you don’t need that much room to haul your stuff, it will probably be cheaper to go this route than having a courier transport your car for you.

Check for an engine in Colorado. The salvage yards listed may or may not install their engines. You want to find one that will, or ask them for recommendations as to who will do it for a reasonable price. They will know. This is your cheapest way out, but it won’t be cheap. I see various engine configurations at nearly $2000. $500 is a fair price for installation. I usually give $300 to $400, but I’m not a “tourist” in Denver. I can tell you a $400 clutch in Cortez CO cost $700 in 2001. The only other viable option is towing it to Portland with a rented truck and tow dollie. The problem with that is you will STILL have to find a used engine and deal with the mess you’ve caused once you are there.

Thanks to everyone for your insight and suggestions.
What i was specifically told about the engine (after the Mazda dealership ran their diagnostics) was that the #3 cylinder was at 75 psi (ave. is 130-135) and the #4 cylinder was at 105 psi. In the mechanic’s words he said "The top of the engine is bad too."
The first shop that I took the car to warned me about compromising the engine, but only after they had done the pulley and belt repairs.
I have decided to have the car shipped to Portland with an auto transport service. It’s my hope to find a used engine and a competent mechanic.
Mistakes happen, some are just more expensive than others. On the positive side, I now know more than i could ever hope to know about how to treat your car should a problem arise.
The kicker is that the tensioner pulley was starting to weaken before i left for my move across country. I could hear a slight rattling upon starting the car cold and knew it was coming from the pulley bolt. It went undiagnosed at the Mazda dealership near my home in CT and I didn’t insist on having it replaced. I take the blame for overheating the engine, but, damn, that really pisses me off that the Mazda mechanics couldn’t see a possible problem.