My Dodge is Dead

My Dodge 600 SE, a 1987 car, 2.5 engine, was precious to me. I loved it and tried to take good care of it. It has 176,311 miles on it. On Saturday I was driving it on the freeway, in the rain, and it was doing fine. I was in a hurry to get to a party and going as fast as 65 mph. Suddenly, after I had driven about 20 miles, it seemed to have lost power and would no longer accelerate. I pulled over to the side. I didn’t see any engine/oil lights go on.

I thought maybe I had gotten bad gas, as I had just put in half a tank of gas. Or I thought maybe there was water in the gas tank. It started up and I drove it a bit further, and then it died, and I put on the flasher lights. I was in the slow lane. A car behind me didn’t see I had come to a stop and almost crashed into me, swerving around me to the right. I knew I was in a bad spot, in the rain, so I started it up again and was able to go a little ways, and ended up in a dangerous spot between an off ramp and the slow lane. I could not get it to move after that.

I was on the way to a Flapper Party in full Flapper regalia, with no jacket, just a feather boa. I looked a sight! People would not stop to help. I think they thought I was a transvestite! I was so mad. Finally a nice man pulled over. He said we needed to get it off the freeway, so he pushed it. I may have put it in gear into neutral or drive while he was pushing it, with it off, or I might have tried turning it on and putting it into neutral. I can’t remember which. He got it to the side of the road.

A woman then offered to call the Highway Patrol. The Highway Patrol were too busy to help me, but a policeman came by. I called a tow truck. It was a long wait. After about an hour, a woman driving a Mercedes too fast crashed into the wall of the far freeway lane, parallel to me. She had hydroplaned on the water. Oh, my. She got lots of help, and when MY towtruck arrived, he took her car instead of mine.

Since I had already paid my ticket for the party, I decided to try driving my car there, still thinking maybe it was only water in the gas. It did start up, and I drove it slowly a ways on the side of the freeway, but I got worried it might not be a good idea and came to a stop just as the tow truck was reappearing. When we got it to the shop, my friend showed up and looked under the hood and said the engine appeared to have blown. The cap was missing and all the oil had leaked out. The repairman said the timing belt had shifted and knocked off that cap. It is a non-interference engine, but for some reason it was destroyed.

What could cause a timing belt to shift like that? I have had the timing belt replaced on this car twice. The first time a very experienced shade-tree mechanic did it, maybe 10 years ago. After a couple of weeks, that belt wasn’t working right, so he had re-done it, and I had no problems until maybe 3 years ago, when the timing belt needed replacing again. A mechanic replaced it for me for only $188. I assumed he replaced the tensioner and all parts associated with the timing belt, because he seems very competent and conscientious. But I don’t know that for sure. Could a part have just worn out and caused the belt to shift like that? What is your best guess? I don’t recall hearing any suspicious noises associated with engines blowing. However, a couple of weeks ago I did hear a new noise, kind of like a squeal or a screech or a rattle or a hum that was new. It lasted a few days and went away. That was during in town driving. This was the first time I’ve driven the cars at freeway speeds since I heard that noise. I had forgotten all about it until researching this problem. I had thought this good old car would last forever. I had hoped for at least 200,000 miles. What did I do wrong? All feedback will be appreciated.

The cap was missing and all the oil had leaked out. The repairman said the timing belt had shifted and knocked off that cap. It is a non-interference engine, but for some reason it was destroyed.

It’s hard to imagine how a timing belt knocks an oil-fill cap off, but at any rate it sounds like The End.
This is all a fairly good short story though. If only you could make it into a movie and then buy a new car.

Thanks for the nice compliment! It wasn’t the oil-fill cap that the timing belt knocked off. It’s a metal cap on the end of the engine that covers the end of the overhead cam that was knocked off by the timing belt, causing the oil to spew out. Does that seem any more plausible, or is it still freakish?

By the way, is there another name for the metal cap on the engine’s end that covers the end of the overhead cam? I’ve tried all the terms I can think of in researching this problem, and I can’t come across anyone who has had anything at all similar happen to their car. So maybe people use a different terminology when describing it? I can’t imagine this would happen to me only?!

Are any of your friends mechanically inclined?

If so, tow it to your house, remove the timing cover and verify that the belt broke.

If it is indeed a non-interference engine, it might be worth spending no more than $100 on parts to see if it’ll start.

But it doesn’t sound good, because you lost a lot of oil.

I will also assume that you overheated it when you were driving the car in its “diminished capacity”


You might be able to find a used engine from a junkyard (now called an auto recycler) to install in the old car and keep it going. $1000 to 1,500 to keep it going a few more years might be worth the money and effort.

But I think your best move is to let the old car rest in peace. You got a lot of good years from it and now it is time to find another car to enjoy for many more years to come. If you can afford a new (or newer) car that is the way to go now.

I’d say at 176,000 miles it has served you long and well. To give you a hard time for improper maintenance is just plain inexcusable. You seem to have maintained it far better than most. As suggested earlier, you might find a used engine if this one proves to be toast. I’d suggest getting it away from ANY chain store. Click on MECHANICS FILES at the top of this page to find a good independent shop near you.

You might be able to find a used engine from a junkyard (now called an auto recycler)

We have Junkyards AND Auto recyclers here in New England. The difference is…the Auto Recyclers I’ve been to…that when a junk car comes in…they strip it all the good parts off the car…and then put them in their warehouse. What’s left gets crushed and sold to the scrap yard. The only cars/trucks sitting in the yard are waiting to be stripped. Their part prices are sometimes higher since they’ve already removed the part for you.

Thank you for all your supportive comments. You’ve helped me feel much better. I wish I hadn’t driven it in its diminished capacity. I should clarify that the timing belt did not break-- it just slipped, bumping into the engine hard enough to knock off the end of the engine overhead cam cap which was on the far side of the engine.
So do you mean when I drove the car that short distance after waiting so long for the tow truck, that is probably how I did the car in? It wouldn’t have been ruined had I not done that? So sad. It was my fault.

But I guess it would do no good to complain to Geico. The towing company told me they have to remove a wrecked car first, according to the law, that it takes precedence over a mere breakdown. If what they told me is correct?

Is it true that the people behind the counters at Firestone often don’t really know too much about cars?

For a major problem, I’d choose not to use a chain shop like a Firestone store. The motor might still be salvageable, but I agree the Firestone counter guy isn’t that much of an expert. Find a good independent shop that regularly tears apart engines and if you want to spend some more $$$ have the car towed there for them to evaluate. If it isn’t an interference engine then the internal damage should be minimal.

Stay away from national chains for repairs. None of them employ real mechanics unless they do state inspections and then that guy usually only does state inspections,
If the nice Vietnamese mechanic did the job for $188 I don’t see how he could have replaced the tensioner and water pump. Next time, ask exactly is going to be replaced when you have work done.
A week tensioner could have lead to this failure, or the balance shafts seizing could have done it.
I wouldn’t trust Firestone to evaluate anything.
I think you did a great job getting this car to this many years and miles. I had an 87 Caravelle that was the Plymouth equivalent of your Dodge and loved it. It didn’t last as long as yours though.

Thank you, guys! I appreciate your input. I heard from a Dodge person in another forum. He calls what I called an engine overhead cam end cap a plug. He wrote this: There is a plug on the right side of the motor where the cam is. This sounds like the one you are talking about. A belt moving is not going to cause this. But if the cam moved it would. The pulley is mounted to cam. I would pull the valve cover and take a look at the cam/head. Sounds like the head is worn letting the cam move.

My note: If it is a worn cam head, is that fixable, or would I still need a new engine? And is there a way I could have prevented the cam head from wearing? Would the worn cam head have caused the timing belt to shift, or is the shifting timing belt just a coincidence?

A timing belt on a non-interference engine skipping a few teeth would definitely cause your symptoms, but even if it did knock the cam seal off (which I have a hard time envisioning) oil would not come spewing out in volume. It would come out, and make a mess, but the oil there is not pressurized, it’s simply flowing toward the return channels. And your friend probably looked at the mess, checked the dipstick, and logically assemed the oil was all gone, but the oil level can go below the dipstick level on many cars and still have enough to allow the pump to pick it up and push it through the engine.

I urge you not to assume the engine is blown. It’s very possible that with a new belt, tensioner, cam seal, oil in the pan, and a steam cleaning you could be up and running again. I urge you to take this to a reputable shp and have it evaluated.

And ignore the kid at the Firestone place. He’s just trying to act like he actually knows something.

By the way, the root cause of the whole problem was probably a worn out tensioner. For the prices you’ve been paying for timin gbelt changes, they have definitely not been changing the tensioner.

Wow! Thanks for the great info! This gives me hope! I have a 1999 Ford Festiva on the way, 90,000 miles, for only $1,000.00, but how I would love to get this Dodge 600 SE fixed!

I can’t blame you.

The Dodge 600SE is probably a much nicer ride than the Festiva

The Firestone man said the shaft cracked in two. I assume he means the camshaft, so I doubt The Dodge is fixable, after all? Is there anything else his comment could mean, that is fixable? Of course, maybe he is mistaken?

If the shaft is broken, and he does mean the camshaft, it is repairable. But I’d be extremely reluctant to start spending the kind of money it would cost on an engine that age and mileage. Definitely have the engine’s compression and condition assessed before agreeing to that level of repair.

With a broken camshaft, a slipped timing belt, and a blown out cam seal, it’s probably impossible to determine which came first. Depending on where and how it’s broken, the camshaft when it broke could have blown out the seal and the oil spilling on the timing belt could have caused it to slip (jump a few cogs).

Not to sound rude but never fall in love with anything that can’t love you back. You got nearly 180,000 miles from a K-car. This incident is a sign the time has come to move on to a newer vehicle. I wouldn’t waste 5 seconds of my time fretting over this car. Take it to a scrap metal yard, get a few hundred bucks and move on with your automotive life.