Timing belt broke at 3,000 miles. Why?

I had my timing belt was replaced 3,000 miles ago. It recently broke and the shop that installed it is refusing to take any responsibility. Neither they, or the Honda dealership could find any reason that this happened. Since they had not found any other reason the shop that did the work said the problem could be: 1. Camshaft 2. Bad gas 3. Bad spark plug 4. Internal failure. Honda has already stated and proven that both camshafts are working perfectly. They said it was impossible for bad gas or a bad spark plug to break a timing belt (the shop’s arguement is that it could cause a skip in timing and that would cause the belt to break. Every other mechanic I have talked to has laughed at this and said that is not possible even remotely but if someone on here knows better please let me know). So now I am trying to pick apart the possibly that it was an “internal failure” that caused the issue. The dealership assured me that it there had been any type of internal failure, like with a piston or a valve or whatever else is going in there, that that would have caused the camshaft to seize or other things to happen that they would have been able to see when they checked the: camshaft pullies, water pump pulley, the idler pulley, the tensioner pulley and the crank shaker pulley. Can some one explain to me, very clearly, how this works exactly and in detail so I can understand? Am I able to definitely say there was so internal failure that caused the issue based on this info? Please explain the mechanics behind it if possible Side question: what is the difference between a camshaft pulley and a camshaft sensor and how do they relate? Furthermore can anyone think of any other reason that a timing belt could have failed due to some sort of mechanical issue (other than the ones Honda has proven to not be it) and not a defect with the part or installation? Can anyone tell me how there could have been an error installation but the car ran perfectly for 3,000 miles (no lights on, not acting weird even a little?) I am preparing to bring the shop to court because I don’t feel like I should be responsible for their error, but I want to make sure I understand every little detail about what’s going on. 2012 Honda Pilot.

It’s a machine.


The timing belt could’ve been defective from the manufacturer. Too many variables to list in an engine with a plethora of moving parts. The camshaft pulley is a pulley mounted to the cam. The cam sensor tells the position of the cam. It’s unfortunate you’ve experienced an event like this but it’s going to be hard to hold the shop liable, imo. Unless they gave you written warranty that covers you for mileage or time period .

If you post pictures of the broken belt perhaps we could offer an opinion of how the belt failed.

The shop never provided the belt. They said it was sort of blown up and a pile of nothing so they just threw it away. When I asked them for it they said they didn’t have it. But then when they finally agreed to look into a warranty they said they could find it in the trash. But ya, it was basiclly just a pile of black dust

Bummer the belt broke but you have an uphill battle to prove the shop did anything wrong. That burden is on you to prove and it lasted 3k miles. They are responsible for their work. Sounds more like a material defect or subsequent problem. Btw belts don’t disintegrate into dust. They snap or shred. That is important evidence to help understand what failed. Forget about speculation. You need physical evidence that can be demonstrated. That means tearing down the engine until you find it or prove material defect of the belt. That will cost real money. Are you prepared for that or just move on?

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that is why I am here because I am hearing different people different things. Honda is telling me that if there had been any type of previous internal failure that we would have seen evidence of that in the things they inspected that i listed like the camshaft and and crankshaft seizing, which were all moving freely and working perfectly. They say there is no chance it could have been an internal failure. If this isn’t true can someone explain why, just so I am not making a fool of myself. I am only pursuing this becauase Honda is telling me there is absolutely no other reason than part or installation error. If people can think of examples of things that could have failed and caused a timing belt to break can they share so I don’t just keep barreling ahead?
Also I guess the timing belt was shredded. When I saw it, it was in a pile on the ground that looked like dust. It seems odd to me that it didn’t even occur to the original shop that part failure could be the culprit, after they had exhausted every other possibility. Anyone have insight on this?

If rotating assemblies ruled out, then tensioner or belt. The tensioner can be inspected. Let’s say it was a defective belt. What are you going to do then? Shop has limited warranty on parts and labor. Are you beyond that? If so, chances are slim to get favorable outcome other than goodwill from them. At this point I’d be bargaining for some sharing of cost. Pay for parts, they kick in labor or something to that effect…

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Then tensioner was also ruled to be fine. The belt was installed 3,000 miles ago and two months ago. Its just hard to accept that I would have to pay to fix this on something that seems obvious has nothing to do with me. I still owe $12,000 on the car and I have just had to put $5000 on my credit card for a new engine because there was no other way to get out of it. Either that or lose $10,000 on a trade in. If anyone was telling me anything other then it is a problem with the belt or install I would just suck it up and deal with it. But everyone is telling me the opposite. The shop owner also did some weird stuff like not telling me when they knew it was the problem, looking at it all weekend secretly, saying they didn’t know what caused it but it was “impossible” that it was a faulty belt and then yelling at me and saying “do you know who I am. You better think before you do this” when I very nicely asked him if we could come up with some solution and suggested it might be a warranty item. When I told him every other mechanic I spoke to told me there is no way it could ever be bad gas he yelled at me and asked if I was calling him a liar. If they had been nice and reasonable I wouldn’t be in this boat and my understanding is that most other shops would have offered a solution without me forcing them but now I feel like people only act like that when something bad is going on

The mechanics who deal with T-belts more than me can step in if I’m off base here, but I’ve never heard of a new timing belt crumbling into a “pile of black dust.” Even very old, far-past-due belts usually don’t disintegrate into powder. Was that description an embellishment or is that what it really looked like?

From a non-mechanical, chain-of-evidence perspective I find it very suspicious that the mechanic didn’t keep the belt. Why would you throw it away? Show the customer. “Here’s the defective belt that broke. It’s not my fault. Feel free to go after the manufacturer.”

Cynically, a good reason to “throw the belt away” is if you never changed the belt in the first place and you don’t want the customer to see the obviously-way-older-than-3000-miles belt.


First off, it there a warranty on the original work? If there is and the shop is denying responsibility, you have a legal case. We aren’t LegalCarTalk, but my advice is to hire a lawyer that specializes in cases like these. You can discuss your legal rights with them.

What you were told by the original mechanic was pretty much BS so he could shift the blame back on you. None of those reasons appear to be the issue. Here’s the gist of the mechanical issue.

The crank pulley turns the timing belt, the tensioners keep it tight, the cam pulley transfers the rotation to the cams, the cam sensor reads the cam position so the ignition will fire correctly AND it compares its reading to the crankshaft position sensor to make sure the timing is correct. If the belt was installed with the wrong timing, the computer would turn on the check engine light. Was the light on? No light, engine running fine… then the belt was properly timed. That’s all I can say for sure.

If the belt or a pulley was damaged during installation that’s on the shop. If the belt was defective, or the tensioner failed, then that’s a failure of the part. Not the shop’s fault but that is where a warranty on the job comes in.


Faulty belt, tensioner, or other associated part that should have been changed along with the belt, or faulty installation are the only things that come to mind. Part of the latter would be failing to replace the belt at all. I think @shadowfax explains that suspicion well and these guys have shown themselves to be very shady, given their BS explanation and making a poorly-veiled threat: “Do you know who I am. You better think before you do this” - are you kidding me??

Personally, I would be having a discussion with my state’s Attorney General regarding fraud.


you paid them to change the belt 2 months ago.
now it breaks and they wont fix it. 59 day warranty expired?
i would have told them button it up and im towing it away.
no way im giving them a dime to fix it. pay another shop
too late.

@Shadowfax - Thanks! Cynically I agree with you! But I am also here trying to sort of argue the case of the shop for them so that I don’t get too stuck on the fact that I am absolutely right (but I am pretty sure I am haha).
So basically what happened is I was driving my car, it suddenly lost power, I coasted a bit to the side of the road, sat there for a 30 seconds in shock (didn’t turn the key off), not having any idea what the issue was, I turned my car off and tried to turn it back on again. Didn’t work. Did a bunch of stuff trying to find a tow, tried one more time to start the car. I had to towed to the shop that did the original work because they are my local shop. Was thinking it was a fuel pump or some other thing. When I arrived at the shop upon their opening time on Monday morning there was a pile of black stuff under my car and the mechanic said “look at all this stuff that came out of there you must have tried to start it a million times” and I said no only twice and he basiclly rolled his eyes at me. I have no idea that was the timing belt then but I think it was now. They told me then they had looked at the car all weekend and could not figure out the solution but it could be camshaft sensor (they were trying to say that came on and caused the issue instantly. The light had never been on before. Also I now know that is obviously caused by the timing belt breaking so a little mad they were trying to tell me the opposite. Honda assures me that if there was an issue with the camshaft sensor the light would have been on before), bad gas (said gas smelled acidic) or a spark plug (said smelt burnt).
I called my husband and told them everything they said it could be. He called back and they told him everything they thought it could be, but it was definitely not anything they did, so he asked them to pull it out so we could get a second opinion. Brought it to Honda dealership. They looked at it and didn’t find any cause. I assumed the timing belt had been included with the car, didn’t specially ask until the next day and found out it haven’t. Called the original shop and asked if I could have the timing belt back. He said they didn’t have it anymore and they had thrown it away because it was junk (yes it was pieces but it seems like it should have occurred to them to keep it), we then proceeded into the convo I meantioned when I told him honda’s Findings, that we needed to find a solution and he yelled at me and then hung up on me. His assistant called me back a half hour later and said that they would pursue the warranty but needed all the parts that were in the kit. I said I would get the old parts from Honda but they never gave me the timing belt. She said it was in the trash and they would have to dig it out. I asked why they didn’t offer that when I asked for it and she said something like it’s at the bottom of the trash. Oh also talked to Honda and they said that a timing belt could get shredded, I am assuming it’s because I tried to start the car a couple times? Seems like everything I have done here has been the opposite of the right thing to do, but I had no idea that it was the timing belt and definitely didn’t realize I would be having to go through all this with the shop!

@Mustangman is there any other possible reason a belt would fail because of an error in installation not related to the timing being off or a faulty tensioner/all the other parts that were checked? I asked Honda to specifically tell me in what state the car arrives from the shop and they said “all of the side timing covers were removed, the side motor mount was unbolted and the timing belt was missing” anything weird here? Anything to that they would have left undone as to not show they messed up?
Also, if a parts warranty how often to timing belts, materials used, etc. fail because of defect? Is this a thing? Do you think if I called a belt manufacturer and asked them for statistics they would give me more info? I **think the assistant told me it was a Gates belt and kit which I read exceeding even dealship standards but I am not sure about this.
I just don’t want to seem like a fool pursuing this if there is something I am not understanding and I am actually in the wrong here. I suspect I am going to bring it to small claims court and try my luck as it seems like the opinions are really split! It just stinks because this is a really small town and the shop owner has already yelled at me and sort of threatened me just for asking him investigate solutions like a warranty. I think he is trying to intimidate me and it honestly kind of working

You mentioned taking them to court. As such, this isn’t science. It’s law. You’re not a scientist trying to prove herself wrong in order to do good research.

Your job is to prove yourself right, not argue their case for them. Let your lawyer speculate as to what defenses they might throw up and your counters to those things.

For what it’s worth I agree that the spark plug stuff is BS. And when a mechanic starts BSing me as explanation for why his work didn’t hold up, I immediately get very suspicious.

What hasn’t been mentioned that I’ve seen yet is that timing belts aren’t made out of solid rubber. They have steel bands inside the rubber. Reducing them to a pile of black powder, or even breaking them in more than one or, maybe, two pieces is something that’s very hard to do. One way to do it is to put lots of strain on them when they’re very very old. A new belt can snap at 3,000 miles, but then a meteor can fall to Earth and hit you in the head. That doesn’t mean either scenario is likely.

The fact that the mechanic is trying to keep you from seeing the belt indicates that he’s trying to hide something. As already mentioned, if I had to guess, he’s hiding the fact that he never did the work in the first place. Timing belt replacement intervals are set very pessimistically. Timing belts will often last twice their replacement interval. The interval is set low because some belts don’t last that long, and broken belts can cause catastrophic engine damage.

If I were placing a bet, I’d say the mechanic placed a bet that your belt would last at least long enough to make it plausible that a properly-replaced belt would have snapped, and charged you for work he never performed. But you had one of the low-shelf-life belts and it broke long before it should have. Now he’s trying to cover his fraud up.

Bottom line, you need to stop talking to him unless it’s in writing (because right now it’s your word against his for the inane and threatening things he’s saying, and putting them in writing would help you immensely).

Another route to go if you don’t want to pay a lawyer would be to see if one of your local TV stations has a consumer advocate. Businesses will often capitulate and make you whole just to make the cameras go away. And if that doesn’t work, you can still take him to court.


Leaving a tool INside the timing cover comes to mind but proving that is impossible at this stage.

Perfectly normal considering the original shop was investigating what happened.

Very, very small numbers. Far less than 1%, I’d guess so it is not a thing.

No, likely they would not. It is not in their best interest to share this with you. You will get a blanket statement like “Gates strives to provide the best quality parts that meet or exceed the manufacturer’s specifications.”

Again I ask, what was the warranty on the original work? You seem to refuse to answer this. This is a case of either because you don’t know or don’t want us to know and comment. Which is it? This is a question the judge will ask you so be prepared to answer it. If the car was still under the shop’s repair warranty, likely this is a slam-dunk, you win as long as the shop can’t prove you did something to cause this. Make sure your defense comes from the Honda dealer as you have no technical credibility in court - not an insult, just true.

I didnt read every single post here but I’ll play the real cynic here and question whether they actually did even replace the belt and then the belt just happen to break due to original mileage ?


@vipergg Honda said the water pump looked new so even though I would also like to be cynical I think the chances are very likely that they did replace the belt.

@Mustangman sorry! Not refusing to answer, just forgot and couldn’t find the receipt because I didn’t have my car for a week. Found it and What I have read on the reciept continues to just be another disappointment. So there is no info about a warranty but it does specifically say “ *blank will not reimburse for parts or labor that is supplied by another auto repair shop. If the customer has any issues with this repair they agree to bring the vehicle back to *blank to repair the vehicle. The customer understands that no monies will be given if a repair is done by another shop. The customer also understands that when another shop replaces any part we replaced that will void all warrianties.”
So obviously, this sucks. However, I did bring the car back to the original mechanic and they deemed it was not their issue. We asked them again if they didn’t think it was a bit weird the timing belt broke so soon and they said they didn’t do anything wrong and then gave us a bunch of BS excuses. I asked them again the next day what we would do to solve this issue because Honda is saying it had to be a faulty part or installation and they still did not offer to fix the problem and only later did they reconsider and they did agree to pursue the warranty even though the car was not with them at that time. I am a self employed dog walker and I need my car to transport dogs everyday. I could not find a car to rent that would not be damaged by the dogs or a van that was small enough to negotiate my clients driveways (think rural mountain town). I was losing money hand over fist without this car because I could not work and they hadn’t even offered a solution so I needed to fix it ASAP. Anyway, not sure if this clause totally releases them of responsibility given all this info.
Additionally they later claimed they did not have enough time to look at the car, but apparently they did have the time to go over everything that could have failed that they knew of as they said they could not find the cause and were stumped. They also had the additional time to smell the gas, check the spark plus and here’s the kicker! They knew there was a loss of compression in a at least one cylinder so they had time to do a compression test (which means they either put a timing belt on it or did a drip down test right?) Seems like they had plenty of time!
They are trying to back track on how much they looked at it. When I first met then at the shop first thing Monday morning they said they had looked at it all weekend and couldn’t figure it out. Then when I reminded them they said that they said no they hadn’t I must have misunderstood (I didn’t) but they did know on Friday the timing belt was broken. I reminded them that I had called on Friday at 4:52 to see what was happening (I had asked them to call the second they knew something. Car arrived at 2:30 and they said they were close to finishing up another job and would look at it then) at 4:52 they said they didn’t know what was wrong and had just started checking the fluid but were about to leave at 5 so wouldn’t know that weekend. When I talked to the owner Tuesday he said they knew the timing belt was broken on Friday and when I said they had told me they didn’t know 8 mins before closing he said someone must have stayed late. He also said his employee called him on Friday to look at it over the weekend since he couldn’t figure it out and the owner had stopped by over the weekend to look at it. Either way, plenty of time.
Also, If they left a tool behind the cover, I assume I would have heard something over the last two months? Is there any tool in there I would not have heard? Could Any of the bolts that held covers backed out slowly and caused this issue?