Cambelt Change: Everything You Need to Know

Removing engine parts to begin cambelt change
One day, your engine starts making a horrible noise and you break down by the side of the road. When the recovery truck arrives, you get that terrible sinking feeling because an expensive repair bill is on its way. You need a cambelt change. But nothing was wrong with your car – was it?
Well, what if we told you things didn’t have to be that way? What if we showed you how to take care of your cambelt and save yourself the unnecessary stress and hassle of a more expensive repair?
If that’s what you’re crying out for, then you’ve come to the right place! We’ve made the ultimate guide, with everything you need to know about your cambelt right at your fingertips. Most importantly, we include tips and tricks to help prolong its lifespan. Read on to avoid falling victim to the unfortunate scenario we’ve just described…
If it’s not a cambelt problem slowing you down, why not check out our other super helpful articles to diagnose your problem?

Before We Start…

We’ll refer to it as a ‘cambelt’ throughout this article, but it is also known as a ‘timing belt’. These two names are interchangeable, but there is also another type of belt (which we will also cover) called the ‘timing chain’. This works differently to the cambelt – but more on that later.

What is a Cambelt?

The cambelt is a rubber belt with teeth which regulates how the rest of the engine works. It does this by controlling the crankshaft and cylinder valves to ensure combustion happens smoothly and when it needs to.
Without the cambelt, the engine can’t run. It’s as simple as that.
A cambelt
The timing chain works the same way except it looks more like a linked bicycle chain and requires lubricant to work. It’s often fitted in higher displacement engines (engines with more torque and horsepower).
Think of the cambelt as an orchestral conductor. Every part knows their job and knows how to create the music, but they still need someone to keep them in time and in check. Remove the conductor and you get a rather discordant mess – exactly like you get if your cambelt breaks.
It’s just a different kind of music…

When do I Need a Cambelt Change?

You’d expect there to be a fixed date for something so important, right? Well, you couldn’t be more wrong.
There’s no fixed time for a cambelt or timing chain replacement.
Generally, the best recommendation is every 40,000 to 100,000 miles or every 4-6 years. This all depends on your specific make and model of car, so please check your vehicle handbook.
If you’ve recently bought a second-hand car, make sure you know what state the cambelt is in and whether it needs changing soon. If the previous owner can’t tell you, why not book a car service? Our mechanics will always advise you on your cambelt replacement interval. (And it’s always handy to begin your new adventure in a car that’s spic and span, isn’t it?)

How Much Does a Cambelt Change Cost?

Unfortunately, a cambelt change is not cheap. While the part itself isn’t outrageously expensive, you end up paying for a lot of labour. A cambelt replacement can take around half a day to complete.
That’s because the cambelt sits deep within the belly of your engine. It’s inaccessible without removing most of the front of your car which takes time to take out and put back together again.
So, what does that mean for your bank balance? Well, depending on what car you drive, a cambelt change can cost anywhere from £200 – £1,000! Ouch.
bicycle chain, similar to timing chain
The timing chain looks very similar to a bicycle chain

Is There Anything I Can do Myself?

If that makes your eyes water, you’re probably wondering if there’s anything you can do yourself to save time or money.
The short answer is no.
The slightly longer answer is definitely no. As we said earlier, both the cambelt and timing chain aren’t easily reachable, which means it is an incredibly difficult, time consuming fix. And that’s for a professional mechanic.
We don’t recommend attempting to change your cambelt on your own. Bodging a cambelt replacement can cause a lot more expense and stress for you. As it’s so important to the engine, you can easily damage it if you mess up the fix.
And a new engine is far more expensive than a cambelt change.

How Will I Know When I need a Cambelt Change?

Once again, you’d expect some early warning system to avoid catastrophic engine damage. Once again, you’d be disappointed. According to Trevor Eastman of Haynes, “even an expert may not be able to predict a cambelt failure.”
The cambelt is a very shy individual, possibly because it feels so tucked away within the engine. It doesn’t like to make a fuss. It simply does its job until, one day, it snaps. Quite literally.
If you’re lucky, you might get a warning sign just before it breaks. These include:
  • A rattling noise when the engine is idling or just after you switch it on
  • Issues starting the car in the first place
  • A glazed, glossy underside of the cambelt (if you can see it)
  • Cracked or fraying cambelt (again, if you can see it)
If you notice any of these issues, it’s imperative that you book a cambelt replacement as soon as possible. Fortunately, BookMyGarage list over 9,000 garages across the UK who are but a few clicks away. To book your next cambelt change at a trusted, local garage, click here.
A car mid cambelt change

What About a Timing Chain?

Fortunately, the timing chain likes to complain a lot more than its cousin. If it’s coming to the end of its life, you’ll know about it.
Common warning signs include:
  • A misfiring engine while driving
  • Metal shavings in the oil
  • Engine rattling while idling
As with the cambelt, book a timing chain replacement if you notice any of these warning signs.

Can I Extend The Lifespan?

So, a cambelt change is expensive, hard to spot and time consuming. What you need now is a way to prolong its lifespan for as long as possible to save this eye watering expense.
Well, just like we promised, you’re in luck! There are a few simple things you can do to get the most out of your cambelt or timing chain. However, please be aware that they will eventually break just like all components. These solutions will NOT eradicate the need for a cambelt change at some point.

Avoid Extreme Temperature Change

Your engine likes consistency. External factors such as snow, rain and heat can all affect the lifespan of your cambelt. This is because it contracts and expands when the temperature changes. If you have a garage to store it in, consider clearing it out and giving your car the cool, dry place it craves.
store the car in a garage to help the cambelt

Prevent Leaks

Oil and water leaks are never good news but they’re even worse if they leak onto the cambelt. It doesn’t need any sort of lubrication to work, so the presence of liquid warps the rubber and leaves it vulnerable to unnecessary damage. If you notice a leak, don’t just top the tank back up and ignore it. Book an appointment with a local garage to fix the problem before it gets any worse.

Perform Basic Maintenance Regularly

As with everything, regular servicing goes a long way towards prolonging the lifespan. Check the quality of your oil every few months as well as ensuring your tank is well filled. This is particularly important if your car uses a timing chain because a lack of oil or infrequent oil changes can affect its performance. And, as the wrong oil can also damage your engine, always check your vehicle handbook to find exactly what your engine needs.

Use It or Lose It!

The simplest way to get the most out of your cambelt is by driving regularly. Infrequent use can make it brittle and snap more easily. If you don’t use your car very often, either find excuses to go for a drive or consider whether you need one at all. Maybe a bicycle is a better investment for your situation? Cooping your car up in the garage does it much more harm than good.

Going Forwards

Remember to look after your cambelt. It’s very important and deserves all the care you can give it. Here are our three top tips to take away from this article:
  1. Remember to check your handbook (for type of cambelt and date of last change)
  2. Keep track of mileage between changes (so you always know when you might need one)
  3. Book a car service or cambelt check if you’re concerned
Was this article helpful? Got a topic in mind that you want us to cover in the same way? Let us know in the comments!
Mandy Weston

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.