Reader Question: I recently bought a used 1994 Eagle Talon. Now it won't start. The mechanic said the timing belt broke, and that due to the type of engine the car has, I probably need a new engine because of possible damage from the broken belt. Help! I can't afford a new engine, do I have alternatives?
Dear concerned car owner,
First of all, let's not follow your mechanic in jumping to conclusions. Yes, there could be possible engine damage due to the broken timing belt. Your engine is called an "interference engine," meaning that if the timing belt breaks, the valves can come in contact with the pistons. When this happens, something is going to bend-either the pistons or the valves-and both scenarios are bad news, usually requiring costly engine rebuilding to correct the damage.
Just because this car has an interference engine doesn't mean that internal engine damage is inevitable. The only way to really know if you have engine damage is to replace the timing belt and attempt to start the engine. So that's your first step. Have your mechanic replace the broken timing belt and then assess any possible damage to the engine. If the car starts and runs fine, you're good to go. If the car doesn't start or starts and runs poorly, then more testing should be performed to accurately pinpoint exactly what damage has occurred.
If further testing does indicate internal damage to the engine, then your two options are to either repair your current engine or replace it. If your engine is high-mileage, say over 100,000 miles, then it might be more cost effective in the long run to replace the entire engine with either a new or rebuilt engine. Given the type of car you are driving, and your budget concerns, you might also consider a third option…locating a used engine from a salvage yard.
Many salvage yards will let you start and listen to the engine while it is still in the wrecked vehicle. If this option suits you, I highly recommend that you visit the salvage yard in person, start and listen to the engine, and inspect the car for audible noises in the engine and smoke out of the tail pipe. Also note the mileage on the speedometer of the car. Some salvage yards will also offer an optional warranty that may even cover labor as well as parts if the engine ends up having unexpected problems.
P.S. I heard back from this reader just as I was going to print with this article today. She had her mechanic install the timing belt first (against his recommendation), and the engine ran fine. In this case, doing her homework instead of just taking her mechanic's initial recommendation saved her thousands of dollars.
Austin C Davis
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