Keeping important components of the motor working in sync, your car’s cambelt – also known as a timing belt – regulates your engine’s timing.

Every vehicle has a cambelt, though certain vehicles will have a timing chain instead. As this part is located deep within the engine, chances are you don’t know much about it – even though this part could end up being costly to replace if not treated with care.

Read on and learn what makes a timing belt different from a timing chain, what these parts do, and when you should have them replaced.


What Is a Cambelt?

Made of rubber or polyurethane, a cambelt – or a timing belt - is a belt with teeth. For extra strength, the belt is made with nylon-reinforced cords.

The main components of the timing belt assembly are:

  • The belt
  • The tensioners and pulleys
  • The drive belts
  • The seals
  • The water pump

The cambelt will stretch over time and become less efficient. If not properly taken care of, the material the belt is made from can dry out and snap violently, which can cause serious damage to the engine.

Located in the front of your engine bay, the cambelt controls the timing of the engine’s internal combustion components. With teeth designed to keep the camshaft and crankshaft in time, the timing belt can control the opening and closing sequence of the valves and cylinders.


toothy rubber belt with various tensioners on white background  


Without a functioning cambelt, the engine can’t run, so it is worth taking care of this crucial component. If your car’s cambelt fails, then you may need to replace the valves, pistons or any number of other expensive engine parts.


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What Is a Timing Chain?

Unlike cambelts, a timing chain will usually be made from metal links. Your timing chain can have 1 to 3 chain links, with more links meaning more teeth and gears. Timing chains are lubricated by engine oil, and are generally longer than timing belts.


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

Resembling a linked bicycle chain, the teeth on the timing chain will grab onto the different wheels and gears which power your engine. Hydraulic tensioners keep it taut, using engine oil pressure to do so.

A timing chain similarly synchronises the rotation of the camshaft and crankshaft. 


Is There a Difference Between Timing Chains and Timing Belts?

The biggest difference between timing chains and timing belts is the material which they are made from. Timing chains are generally more durable than belts as they are made from a stronger material, and can last the life of the car.

However, if oil pressure levels are too low, this can cause the tensioners to fail which can cause the timing chain to become slack. This can lead to serious engine problems which can be costly to repair, so it pays to monitor your oil pressure levels.


Does My Car Have a Cambelt or a Timing Chain?

You can refer to your vehicle’s handbook to find out whether or not your engine has a timing belt or a 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, where you can find out which engines use a timing chain.

Alternatively, you can open the bonnet of your car and inspect the engine to find out. Check to see if there is a plastic cover on the right or left side of your engine, as this will indicate that your car uses a timing belt. If no plastic is visible on the side, then your car uses a timing chain.

You can book in for a cambelt check with a professional UK garage if you would like to know which your vehicle uses, or for added peace of mind about the health of your cambelt.


When Should a Cambelt Be Changed?

Whilst there is no set interval, you should have your cambelt replaced roughly between 40,000 and 100,000 miles. For lower mileage cars, the timing belt should be replaced every 4 to 6 years - you can refer to your vehicle handbook to find out what your manufacturer recommends.

Be sure to book an inspection if you are at all concerned about the health of your car’s cambelt.


When Should a Timing Chain Be Changed?

A timing chain can last for more than 200,000 miles with proper care. You may never even need a timing chain replacement, but you should book a check when your car reaches 125,000 miles. Be sure to invest in regular oil changes to keep it well-lubricated.


Is My Cambelt Failing?

Cambelts generally do not give much indication that they are about to fail, but you should keep an ear out for a rubbing sound coming from the belt cover area.

If you hear this, switch off your engine and have your vehicle looked at by a professional garage as soon as possible.

Other warning signs can include:

Be sure to book a cambelt change at the earliest opportunity if you notice any of these warning signs.


Is My Timing Belt Failing?

Issues with the timing belt usually relate to the oil pressure or oil levels. Other warning signs include:

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

You should stop driving the vehicle and contact your recovery provider to tow you to a garage for a timing chain inspection if you notice any of these warning signs.


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How Much Does a Timing Belt Replacement Cost?

In the UK, a timing belt replacement can cost approximately £350. However, this will vary depending on labour rates and the type of vehicle you drive.

As this repair takes between 3 and 6 hours to complete, expensive labour costs can significantly increase the price, as could the make and model. A timing belt replacement could cost up to £1,200, with replacements costing more for a Mercedes than a Ford, for instance.


close up of glossy cambelt, shiny rubber belt attached to engine in engine bay

Have your cambelt checked regularly to measure its condition and keep on top of any signs of failure.

Whilst the actual parts don’t cost that much – a timing belt kit costs around £100 – the repair should only be attempted by an experienced mechanic.

A botched repair could ruin your car and end up costing you more in the long-run, so it is always best to leave these jobs to the experts.


How Much Does a Water Pump Replacement Cost?

Located in the engine bay, the water pump is designed to pump water and coolant around the cooling system to prevent the engine from overheating. A water pump replacement can cost between £100 and £700.

Booking a water pump replacement and cambelt change together can actually save you time and money.

Both parts are located in the same part of the engine and take roughly the same length of time to replace, so it makes sense to have them replaced together.


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.


If you would like to find the best price on a cambelt and water pump replacement near you, simply enter your reg number and postcode into BookMyGarage to compare instant prices.

Book with the garage that suits you best and find a great deal on a cambelt replacement today.


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