5 Incorrect Timing Belt Installation Symptoms to Look For! 

Incorrectly installed timing belts are most noticeable by an unusual noise from your engine and a check engine light. Other than that, you may experience a loss of engine power, engine stalling, misfiring, excessive smoke coming from the exhaust, and high fuel consumption. In some cases, your engine may not start at all.

Knowing the incorrect timing belt installation symptoms is crucial for maintaining your car’s engine. All of the symptoms have been discussed in detail in the upcoming sections. 

How Do You Install a Timing Belt Incorrectly?

You can get your timing belt installation wrong in two ways. Either the camshaft alignment is wrong or the belt tension is incorrect.

In both of these cases, the symptoms are the same, more or less. But the severity of the consequences of an improperly installed timing belt depends on the margin of error. 

That means the amount of damage will depend on the degree to which the camshaft alignment or the timing belt tension is off.

Timing Belt diagram

      Source: GMB

What Are The Incorrect Timing Belt Installation Symptoms?

There are quite a few symptoms to look out for if you suspect your timing belt is incorrectly installed. Some of them are less severe than others, which depends on the type of engine and the margin of error.

Check Engine Light On

When your timing belt is not properly installed, your engine will not be able to work properly. That will obviously be detected by the engine control unit ECU, and it will turn on the “Check Engine” light.

A check engine light is the most obvious sign of engine trouble, but it does not pinpoint whether the timing belt is the culprit.

Engine Making Unusual Noises

If the timing belt is not installed correctly, it will cause problems with the engine’s timing. For this reason, the valves in your engine will not open or close at the correct time, making an unusual noise.

This happens with both misalignment and improper tension. The only difference is that in cases of misalignment, the sound comes from inside the engine. For improper tension, the timing belt is what makes the squeaking sounds.

This is the first sign that will appear if you have not installed your timing belt properly. But there are other problems that will cause an unusual noise in the engine. For example- worn-out piston rings or valves, a faulty fuel pump or alternator, a loose exhaust pipe, a low engine oil level, etc. 

Loss of Engine Power

If the timing belt is installed with an improper camshaft timing alignment, the synchronization of the valve movement in relation to the piston will be adversely affected.

The same thing will happen when the belt tension is incorrect. If the belt is too loose, it may slip, and the valve timing will not be accurate. 

For that reason, the air entering through the intake valve will be more or less than usual. But the fuel injector will spray the same amount of fuel as it’s supposed to, leading to an improper air-fuel ratio.

Along with that, the exhaust valves will not be able to clear the combustion gas at the proper time. All of these errors will add up to a significant or complete loss of power (1).

Engine Stalling or Not Starting At All 

Along with a loss of power, you may experience engine stalling or not starting if the timing belt is incorrectly installed. 

An improper air-fuel ratio results in incomplete combustion, which causes the engine to stall or not start. If there is not enough oxygen present to fully burn the fuel, the engine may not generate enough power to keep running. This can cause the engine to stall, especially when the vehicle is in motion.

In some cases, the engine may not start at all if there is not enough oxygen present to initiate the combustion process.

Engine Knocking or Overheating

A poor air-fuel mixture can cause some engine knocking or overheating. Here is how-

When the air-fuel ratio is too lean, there won’t be enough fuel in the mixture to consume all of the oxygen. Some of the oxygen in the mixture will go unused. As a result,  pre-ignition will occur.

This puts the engine under a lot of thermal stress and causes it to overheat, which is followed by a knocking or pinging noise. (2)

Rough Idling

With the exhaust and intake valves not opening or closing at the correct time, it will disrupt the engine’s operation. This causes rough idling, which will also cause the engine to vibrate.

In case, you break the timing belt while driving, these will be the consequences.


The symptoms of an incorrectly installed timing belt include an illuminated check engine light, reduced engine power, engine stalling or not starting, knocking or overheating, and rough idling. 
How Do You Install a Timing Belt Incorrectly Infographic

What Happens If You Drive With An Incorrectly Installed-Timing Belt?

If you drive with a bad timing belt, you may face the following issues:

Increased Fuel Consumption

As we’ve already discussed, an incorrectly installed timing belt can reduce the engine performance. In other words, to generate the same amount of power, the engine requires more fuel than usual, leading to higher fuel consumption.

More or Visible Smoke Coming From the Exhaust Pipe

Because the timing belt was installed incorrectly, the air-fuel quality will be compromised. This will lead to increased fuel consumption and, ultimately, increased emissions.  

That’s why you may notice smoke coming from the exhaust pipes.

Engine Damage

The incorrect installation of the timing belt will result in an engine that cannot synchronize the rotations of the crankshaft and camshaft. As a result, the engine will malfunction.

When the timing belt fails on a non-interference engine, there will be no further damage. That’s because there is a gap between the piston and the valve. Therefore, when the belt goes out, the piston will not collide with the valve. 

It is important to note, however, that there is no gap between the pistons and valves in an interference engine. Due to this, any significant difference in their movement timing can cause the pistons and valves to collide.

In other words, if the timing belt is not correctly installed on an interference engine, the engine will suffer severe damage. 


Driving with an improperly installed timing belt will make your engine consume more fuel. You will also see smoke coming from the exhaust. If you have an interference engine, it might get damaged irreparably.

How Long Can You Drive With An Incorrectly Installed Timing Belt?

It may be possible to drive around with an improperly installed timing belt. But the engine will make loud noises, have excess smoke coming out of it, have reduced power, or overheat.

Also, an engine with an incorrectly installed timing belt may not even start, depending on how far off the mark it is. If you somehow get it to start, it may stop at any time, which again is dependent on the error margin. Once that happens, you probably won’t be able to start it again. 

Also, driving with an improperly installed timing belt for a prolonged period of time can damage or tear the timing belt. 


You may be able to drive for a while if the installation mistake is not too bad. But your engine will have reduced power, and fuel efficiency. But you really should not drive in such conditions because it might cause more engine damage. 

How To Properly Install Timing Belt?

Before you jump to conclusions about your timing belt misinstallation, you should check it to make sure. Timing belts are checked in the following manner.

You will need a socket wrench, a tension gauge, and a ratchet to check the timing belt.

Before you check up on your timing belt, make sure the negative cable on your battery is disconnected. Then follow these steps-

  1. Take Out the Serpentine Belt 
  2. Uncover The Timing Belt
  3. Check the Alignment
  4. Check The Timing Belt Tension 
  5. Test the Timing Belt
  6. Reassemble the Parts

For your convenience, here is a detailed video on how to properly install your timing belt.

Can You Reinstall A Timing Belt?

Yes, you can reinstall a timing belt; in fact, you will have to reinstall the belt if it’s not properly installed. Also, to ensure the engine’s longevity, you must replace the timing belt at the manufacturer’s recommended interval. Before installation, make sure you know whether your vehicle does have a timing belt or chain; here’s about Honda CRV. 

What Is The Probable Cost of Replacing A Timing Belt?

A timing belt replacement typically costs between $300 and $500 for an average-sized car. For High end cars like SUVs, and trucks, the replacement would likely cost more due to their big engines. 

As well as this, labor costs are likely to be between $250 and $450, depending on your location. 


What Is The Timing Belt Lifespan?

A good quality timing belt will last between 60,000 and 100,000 miles. The exact time will depend on the make and model of your car. It would be best to check the manufacturer’s guidelines to know how long your timing belt will last.

Does The Timing Belt Affect Acceleration?

Your car’s acceleration can be affected by the timing belt. It synchronizes the pistons and valves’ movements. The timing belt’s wear and tear can have an effect on this process as well as on engine performance. You’ll notice that your car has difficulty switching gears or accelerating in this case.

Do I Need To Change The Water Pump With A Timing Belt?

Yes, it is recommended that you replace your water pump with a timing belt. Water pumps are typically driven by timing belts. So it makes sense to replace the pumps when the belts wear out. Also, whenever the timing belt is replaced, the idler pulleys and the tensioner should also be replaced. 


Incorrect timing belt installation symptoms include engine noise, misfires, stalling,  reduced power, and more. If you experience any of these symptoms, check your timing belt to avoid further damage to your engine. 

If that is beyond your skill level, have your vehicle checked by a mechanic as soon as possible to avoid further damage and costly repairs.

Written By

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Aaron Byrne

Hi, Aaron Byrne here. I'm an expert automotive mechanic with 10 years of experience. I work on engine parts especially timing belts for their repair, maintenance, and replacement.

Fact Checked And Mechanically Reviewed By


Talha Atta

Talha Atta, a Mechanical Engineer and experienced technical content writer and editor at Autoglobes.com with a passion for the automotive industry.