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When should you change your cambelt?

If your cambelt bites the dust, you could face a hefty repair cost. Here's when and how you get it changed.

Mechanic changing a timing belt on a car


Not all of us are mechanics in our spare time. So, the prospect of a crucial part of our motor breaking might fill you with equal parts dread and confusion.

But while your cambelt is a vital bit of kit, it could be easily sorted by a professional. Here’s how you find out when yours needs changing.

What is a cambelt?

The cambelt, or timing belt, is one of the most crucial bits of kit in the engine.

It’s a rubber belt with teeth that synchronises the rotation of the crankshaft and the camshaft.


What does a cambelt do?

A timing belt regulates the way your engine works.

It controls the opening and closing of the valves to the cylinders in time to ensure correct combustion in the engine.

Like most bits of kit, it'll eventually wear out. If it cracks, tears or snaps, it can cause a lot of expensive engine damage. With older cars, this could mean they won’t be worth repairing.

In a worst-case scenario, if it fails while you’re driving it could lead to the engine seizing up, and a failure of the brakes and steering.

And engine failure caused by wear and tear isn’t usually covered by your car insurance policy.

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How often should you change the cambelt?

There’s no one-size-fits-all rule when it comes to how frequently you should change your cambelt, as a lot depends on your car.

Most manufacturers suggest either a time or a mileage-based change, depending on which comes first.

There’s a lot of variation between both manufacturers and engines when it comes to this. It ranges from 40,000 to 100,000 miles, and from four to six years.

Your car’s handbook should specify the frequency. And a decent garage should let you know if a timing belt change is due when your get your car serviced.

But you should treat your manufacturer’s recommendations as the absolute maximum, though. Cambelt failure could cause serious mechanical damage. So don’t tempt fate by waiting until you’re just about to hit the recommended limit to change your cambelt.

It’s not unusual for a car to have more than one cambelt change during its lifetime.


Is my cambelt checked when you have an MOT?

No, it’s not part of an MOT test. That’s another reason why you should automatically change it no later than the time recommended by the manufacturer

And there’s no dashboard warning light to alert you of an imminent cambelt problem, either.


How much does it cost to change a cambelt?

The average cost for a cambelt change, according to WhoCanFixMyCar, is around £250-300.

Replacing it could take several hours’ work, which involves taking apart the engine block and putting it back together.

So it's worth comparing garages to find a quote that suits your wallet.


How can I tell if my cambelt needs changing?

There’s usually no sign that it’s reached the end of the road as it’s deeply embedded in the engine. It could be hard to spot the signs of cambelt failure.

If you're lucky, you might hear a rattling or slapping noise prior to the cambelt going. But in some cases even an expert might not be able to predict a timing belt failure.

And unlike new brakes or other replacement parts, might may not notice any difference in the way your car drives ahead of it failing.

That’s why it’s crucial you have it replaced in good time and don’t assume you’ll get a heads-up before it gives up the ghost.