What is a timing belt failure?

My 2006 Volkswagen Polo has done around 65,000 miles and is regularly serviced. While doing a long journey, the emission control warning light illuminated. Shortly afterwards the engine cut out and I managed to make it to a layby. Roadside assistance suspected a faulty coil, but back at the garage they quickly diagnosed a timing issue that has ruined the engine. I know very little about cars, so what does this really mean? They also said scrap value is minimal these days. I’ve gone from having what I thought was a healthy vehicle to suddenly having to rent a car home and kiss my Polo goodbye. They are a large company, so I don’t think they are attempting to swindle me. They are, however, extremely busy due to recent snow conditions so I wonder if that’s why they don’t seem interested in doing anything further to my car. I’m unable to take to my local guy because I’m so far from home, so need to act quickly but don’t really have many options.

Asked on 12 March 2018 by Tim Keeley

Answered by Honest John
The timing belt controls the valve timing and if it has failed, valves will have hit pistons and the engine will probably have self-destructed. I guess it's possible that it tore apart slowly, so firstly the timing went out (explaining the emissions light), then, when it snapped, the engine died completely. On these engines the timing belts, tensioners, waterpumps and alternator belts need replacing every five years or 60,000 miles - whichever comes first if such disasters are to be averted.
Similar questions
I have a 2013 Renault Clio 1.4 and it has done just shy of 60,000 miles. It's already had a cam belt change seven years ago (25,000 miles ago). Will it need another belt change?
I have engine failure on my 2009 3-litre diesel Jaguar XF at 100,000 miles. The car was fine when taken to the dealer who have serviced the car from new. The valves appear to be hitting the pistons and...
I'm looking for a cheap to run car which will be reliable, but over the magic 100,000 mark, as I do plenty of miles and don't want to crucify value. Ideally for about £2500. I do enough miles (12,000 plus)...
Related models
Facelifted Polo. Wide choice of models available.

Ask Honest John

Value my car