Cambelt vs Timing Belt vs Timing Chain: 10 Things You Need to Know

Cambelt vs timing belt vs timing chain: 10 things you need to know in white text within blue box on orange background with close up of rubber belt within engine as background

Every vehicle has a cambelt, also known as the timing belt, or a timing chain. Your car wouldn’t run without it, but it is buried deep within the engine, so many of us don’t know much about it.

Which could prove costly if you end up needing a timing belt replacement.

The last thing you need is a cambelt failure because it can cause serious damage to the rest of your engine. However, you can significantly reduce the risk by following the manufacturer’s replacement guidelines.

By the end of this article, you will understand:

  • What a cambelt/timing belt & timing chain are (including how you can tell the difference)
  • What the cambelt does
  • The average UK timing belt replacement cost
  • The recommended mileage to change your timing belt
  • How to tell when you’re due a timing belt replacement

 

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What is a Cambelt/Timing Belt?

The cambelt is a rubber belt with teeth, with nylon-reinforced cords to provide extra strength. It sits in the front of your engine bay and synchronises the movement between the camshaft and crankshaft.

 

toothy rubber belt with various tensioners on white background

 

The timing belt assembly contains several parts. These are:

  • The belt itself
  • Tensioners and pulleys
  • Drive belts
  • Seals
  • A water pump

 

Over time, the cambelt stretches and becomes less efficient. This means that when a cambelt reaches the end of its life, it can snap violently. If this happens while driving, you can suffer severe engine damage. That’s why looking after your cambelt is so important.

 

What is a Timing Chain?

A timing chain looks like a linked bicycle chain and requires lubricant to work. The teeth grab onto the different wheels and gears to power your engine. Hydraulic tensioners keep it taut, using your engine oil pressure to do so. Your timing chain can have one, two or three chain links. The more links it has, the more teeth and gears it has as well.

It requires less maintenance than a cambelt and is less likely to snap at the end of its life. However, if your oil pressure falls too low, the tensioners will fail and the chain will become slack. This will eventually cause considerable engine damage.

 

close up image of timing chain, linked metal chain attached to car engine

 

Does my car have a cambelt or timing chain?

Many popular UK models feature a timing chain instead of a timing belt. These include:

  • Audi A3 & A4
  • All BMWs since 1993
  • Citroen C1, C3 & DS3
  • Dacia Sandero
  • Ford Fiesta & Focus
  • Honda Jazz & Civic
  • Hyundai i10, i20 & i30
  • Kia Rio, Picanto & Ce’ed
  • Mazda 2, 3 & MX-5
  • All Mercedes
  • All MINIs
  • Nissan Qashqai, Note & Juke
  • Renault Twingo, Clio & Megane
  • Toyota Aygo, Yaris & Prius
  • Vauxhall Corsa, Astra & Zafira

HonestJohn has a much more comprehensive list, and also includes which engines use a timing chain.

 

However, there are easier ways to check this for yourself.

Your vehicle handbook may tell you whether your vehicle uses a cambelt or timing chain. If not, you can follow this simple test. Open the bonnet and inspect your engine. If you can see a plastic cover on the right- or left-hand side of your engine, your car uses a timing belt. If there is no plastic on the side, your car uses a timing chain.

Still can’t tell whether your vehicle has a timing belt or timing chain? Then book a cambelt check with one of our UK garages to get a professional opinion. You’ll also get peace of mind about the quality of your cambelt.

 

Enter your reg number and postcode into our booking tool to instantly compare garages near you

 

What does a Cambelt Do?

The cambelt regulates the combustion process by synchronising your crankshaft and camshaft which, in turn, open and close the cylinder valves. These influence the timing and power of your engine.

Without the cambelt, the engine can’t run. Its main job is to ensure that everything happens in the correct sequence. The cambelt also lets fuel and air into the cylinder valves and keeps the pistons moving up and down at the right time.

If the timing is off, you can suffer thousands of pounds worth of engine damage. If your car suffers cambelt failure, you’re likely to need new valves, pistons and other expensive engine parts.

Without the cambelt, these parts will smash together more than 100 times a minute, causing irreversible damage.

 

How Much Does a Timing Belt Replacement Cost?

The average UK timing belt replacement cost is £350. However, the price can range between £200 and £1,200! Two reasons affect your timing belt cost:

  • The garage you choose. Labour rates vary across the UK and, as this repair takes 3-6 hours, expensive labour costs will significantly increase the price.
  • The make and model of vehicle. A timing belt replacement costs more for a Mercedes or Jaguar than a Ford, VW or Vauxhall.

 

The actual parts don’t cost that much. A timing belt kit costs around £100 and includes everything you need to change the belt. However, you should not attempt the repair unless you’re an experienced mechanic. The cambelt is so important that a botched repair could ruin your car altogether.

The best thing to do is find an expert garage near you to look after your cambelt.

 

Protect Your Cambelt With Regular Maintenance

The best way to protect your cambelt is through frequent servicing. While it can be difficult to perform a visual check on a cambelt (since it’s so well hidden in the engine), a BookMyGarage service includes a check of the timing belt intervals. If yours is due a change soon, they will advise you. There is no requirement to check the cambelt during an MOT, but mechanics may notice a cambelt fault as part of the inspection.

You should also book an annual cambelt check. This dedicated inspection will check the condition of your timing belt and ensure it is still healthy. You can book a cambelt check on its own, or alongside your regular MOT or service.

 

How to Save Money on Your Cambelt Change

Compare garages near you with BookMyGarage and then book your appointment in just 3 steps!

  1. Enter your reg and postcode and select the services you need
  2. Compare instant prices from garages near you and click ‘Book Now’ with the best deal
  3. Select a date and time for your appointment that suits you and enter some basic contact information. This is so that the garage can keep in touch with you during the appointment.

 

We help you find the best timing belt replacement cost near you, so you always save on your car maintenance. Plus, you have full control over your booking. Filter by reviews, distance, availability or price to find the perfect garage near you. There’s no sign-up, hidden extras or up-front payment either.

Take the hassle out of your car maintenance. Book your next cambelt change through BookMyGarage today.

 

Enter your reg and postcode to compare instant prices on timing belt replacement near you

 

What is the recommended mileage to change the timing belt?

You should book a timing belt replacement every 40,000 – 100,000 miles or every 4-6 years.

Some manufacturers recommend different intervals, so you may need to check your vehicle handbook to find out when yours is due. As always if you notice a problem, you should book an inspection as soon as possible.

 

Timing Belt Warning Signs

Despite the importance of the timing belt, it doesn’t give much warning at the end of its life.

Some timing belt warning signs include:

  • A rattling noise or high-pitched sound when the engine is idling or just after you switch it on
  • Your car will struggle to start, or won’t start at all
  • Car vibrates and overheats a lot
  • Your car is leaking oil
  • A glazed, glossy cambelt underside
  • Cracked or fraying cambelt

If you notice any of these warning signs, you should book a cambelt change immediately.

 

close up of glossy cambelt, shiny rubber belt attached to engine in engine bay
It’s worth checking your cambelt regularly to measure its condition and keep on top of any signs of failure.

 

Timing Chain Warning Signs

While your timing chain needs less direct care than a cambelt, it can still develop problems. These are usually linked to an issue with the oil pressure or oil level.

Common warning signs include:

  • A misfiring engine while driving
  • Metal shavings in the oil
  • Engine rattling while idling

If you notice any of these warning signs, you should stop driving immediately. Contact your recovery provider and have them tow you to a garage for a timing chain inspection.

 

Compare garages near you to find the best timing chain replacement cost in your area

 

How long Does the Timing Chain Last?

A timing chain can last more than 200,000 miles when looked after well.

As it is made of metal, it has much more longevity than a timing belt. While you may never need a timing chain replacement, you should book a check when your car reaches 125,000 miles and invest in regular oil changes to keep it well-lubricated.

 

Book a Water Pump Replacement Alongside a Cambelt Change

A water pump circulates water in your engine, keeping it from overheating.

 

old and new car water pump side by side with engine bay in background during water pump replacement
The old water pump is in the mechanic’s hand and the new water pump resting on the engine.

 

Booking a water pump replacement and cambelt change together saves you time and money. Both components last roughly the same amount of time, are difficult to replace and sit in the same part of the engine. If you replace them separately, you’re effectively doubling down on the cost.

To find the best price on a cambelt and water pump replacement near you, enter your reg number and postcode into BookMyGarage to compare instant prices and book with the best garage in your area.

 

Water Pump Replacement Cost

The average UK cambelt and water pump replacement cost is £383.50, according to Checkatrade.

 

Recap

A cambelt, also called a timing belt, regulates your engine’s timing. It controls combustion and can cause very expensive damage when it fails. A timing belt replacement will usually cost around £350 in the UK, but labour rates and the car you drive can increase/decrease this. You should book a cambelt change every 40,000 – 100,000 miles or 4-6 years or as per the manufacturer recommendations in your vehicle handbook.

 

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Mandy Weston

Mandy is an ex-mechanic, with 22 years’ experience in the motor industry. As an in-house motoring expert, Mandy is the go-to woman for any relevant questions that our customers have; both garages and drivers. From specific problems with your car to general maintenance, Mandy is a reliable source of information and advice. Her passion for motoring is a huge factor to her success and the huge wealth of knowledge that she has. She now uses her remarkable grasp of the industry to write regular content for our readers to help drivers understand their car better, avoid being ripped off by garages and save money on their motoring requirements.