What is a cambelt and how do you replace it?

What is a cambelt and how do you replace it?
Have you tried to start your engine and had no luck? Then you might have a serious problem with your vehicle. One of these issues could be related to the cambelt.

Owning a vehicle can come with many challenges, but knowing when your cambelt needs replacing is important. 

This guide gives you all the vital information relating to cambelts.

Car maintenance is a vital part of owning a vehicle, so having this information to hand will save you time and money.

What is a cambelt?

A cambelt is a critical component for an internal combustion engine. It is a long, thin belt made of rubber or synthetic material that is driven by the engine’s crankshaft and connects to the camshaft.

The camshaft controls the opening and closing of the engine’s valves, controlling the air-fuel mixture that enters and is expelled from the engine. Without a cambelt, your engine would not run properly.

As the engine ages, and is driven for more miles, the belt may become stretched, frayed or even snap. This is why it’s important to check the belt regularly for signs of wear and tear.

At your annual MOT, your mechanic will not check your cambelt. However, if you ask your local mechanic to check the cambelt at the annual service then they should inform you of any problems. 

If the belt is worn, it should be replaced to ensure that the engine continues to run properly. Replacement is typically recommended every 60,000 to 90,000 miles, but some vehicle manufacturers may suggest the belt is changed when the vehicle reaches five or six years of age (which means the belt will need to be changed before the mileage limit).

However, this can vary due to the make and model of the vehicle.

A damaged cambelt can lead to further, serious damage to the rest of the vehicle, resulting in costly repairs and potential engine failure.

What is a timing belt?

In short, a timing belt is the same thing as a cambelt.

Cambelt is the common name for the item in the UK – but in other parts of the world it is known as a timing belt.

In some other countries, there may be a slight difference, due to the timing belt being described as a smaller version of a cambelt.

What does a cambelt do?

A cambelt controls the timing of a vehicle’s internal combustion engines between when the valves to the engine cylinders open and close. This controls the follow of air in and out of the engine.

For this to work correctly, the crankshaft and the camshaft most rotate in a synchronised way.

The cambelt is a rubber belt that has teeth which are designed to grip onto the cogs on the crankshaft and camshafts, which keeps them in sync.

Without the cambelt, the engine would not be able to function properly.

Cambelt change

Over time, your cambelt will have general wear and tear – and will need to be replaced. In more serious situations, where it snaps or another issue causes it to break, it can be quite dangerous.

Knowing how and when to change your cambelt is an important part of owning a vehicle.

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*Based on RAC Renewal warranty report 2022 average claims cost.

When should a cambelt be changed?

A broken cambelt can be a serious problem for your vehicle and the engine will not run or start if the belt breaks. That's why it’s vital to be aware of the symptoms of cambelt wear so that you can address the issue as soon as possible.

Common symptoms of a worn cambelt include:

  • Strange noises from the engine – a broken cambelt can cause a rattling or ticking noise from the engine
  • Poor acceleration – a broken cambelt can cause the engine to run poorly, resulting in a lack of power when accelerating
  • Leaking oil – a broken cambelt can cause oil to leak from the engine, leading to a decrease in engine performance
  • Smoke from the tailpipe – a broken cambelt can cause increased levels of smoke to be emitted from the tailpipe
  • Overheating engine – a broken cambelt can cause the engine to overheat, leading to a breakdown
  • Fuel usage – when the cambelt stops working, you will burn fuel a lot quicker
  • Car won’t start – this will be after the belt has snapped, meaning the engine will not turn over

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s important to have your vehicle checked as soon as possible by a qualified mechanic.

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How often should a cambelt be changed?

Although this can vary, the general understanding is that your cambelt will need to be replaced every 60,000 to 90,000 miles.

However, this also be between 40,000 and 120,000 miles.

The important thing to remember is that it is checked every year during your annual service. The mechanic will give you an update on its condition and if it looks like it might need replacing.

To determine the exact replacement schedule for your vehicle, consult your owner’s manual or contact your local mechanic.

If any damage is present, the cambelt should be replaced immediately in order to avoid costly engine damage.

How much is a cambelt change?

Depending on the make, model, and how old the vehicle is, the cost to replace a cambelt can range a lot.

The parts can cost on average between £200 to £600. However, due to the nature of how to fix or replace a cambelt, the labour costs could mean that the end bill could be more than £1000.

Labour costs are also highly variable and depend on the complexity of the job and the time it takes to complete the work. Some garages charge a flat fee for the cambelt change, while others charge an hourly rate.

Regardless of the cost, it’s important to have a cambelt change done at the manufacturer’s recommended interval.

What happens when your cambelt goes?

There are several things you will notice if your cambelt goes. Initially you will notice strange noises from the engine along with a loss of power.

The engine will likely overheat, and you will notice smoke coming from your engine.

Stop the car immediately and either contact a mechanic or your breakdown provider.

Cambelt kit

The cambelt kit, is a collection of parts needed to fix or replace your cambelt or timing belt.

Below is an image of what you can expect, including the belt itself, the wheels where the belt spins round – as well as the tools that keep it all in place.

cambelt kit

Cam chains

A cam chain is very similar to a cambelt, but the main difference being is that the chain is made out of metal.

Similar to a standard push bike gear chain, it operates in the same way, and is an integral part of keeping an engine running smoothly.

They need to be kept very lubricated in order to work properly – and can be equally as expensive to replace if the worst should happen.

Looking after your vehicle is an important part of daily life – and staying on top of its maintenance is something all car owners should be doing regularly.

If you think there is something wrong with your cambelt – or any other part of the vehicle – visit a trusted, local garage who can help get to the bottom of the issue.

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^For 1 nominated vehicle when added to Extra or Complete cover. New customers only. Ends 08/12/23. *New, single vehicle-based cover. £7.95 a month for Basic cover.

^For 1 nominated vehicle when added to Extra or Complete cover. New customers only. Ends 08/12/23. *New, single vehicle-based cover. £7.95 a month for Basic cover.