A non-interference engine is one that has enough camshaft lift to open the valve and allow the charge of air and fuel into the combustion chamber but does not open so far into the chamber that a broken timing chain or belt would cause the valve and moving piston to collide when the camshaft stops. Interference refers to the relationship between the valves and pistons. A non-interference engine with a single camshaft has no interference between pistons and valves.
The design of an interference engine allows the valves to open more than they do in a non-interference engine, which gives an interference engine a greater air/fuel charge and engine performance than a non-interference engine. In an interference engine, when a timing chain or belt breaks, the piston and valve collide and cause major engine damage, due to the engine design. Such damage does not occur when a timing belt breaks in a single-camshaft non-interference engine.
As of 2016, some automakers manufacture vehicles with dual camshafts and non-interference engines. Due to the dual camshaft design, if a timing belt breaks in some vehicles, when the two camshafts stop, they cause interference between the two valves, even though there is no interference between pistons and valves. Owners of vehicles with both non-interference and interference engines should follow their vehicle manufacturers' recommended schedules for changing timing belts as a preventive maintenance to avoid engine damage.