Chances are that if you’re not particularly into cars that you haven’t heard of a timing belt.
We won’t bore you by explaining exactly what it actually does. Put simply, the timing belt (or cambelt) is a rubber belt which connects the crankshaft to the camshaft, harnessing the rotation of the crankshaft to turn the camshaft and, in turn, actuate the engine’s valvetrain.
At this point, you’re probably wondering why you should care. But what if we told you that if this rubber belt breaks or slips, it’ll completely destroy your engine and, in all likelihood, write the car off?
Luckily, not all modern cars have a timing belt (some have a chain instead), but if one is fitted it’ll need to be replaced every five or six years or every 60,000-80,000 miles to minimise the risk of it breaking. Some car makers suggest replacement after a much longer distance or time, but in some cases, belts have snapped before they’re scheduled to be renewed, destroying the engine in the process. The problem is that a garage will often charge £400-600 to replace a timing belt because of the time it takes, but the parts cost is often only £25 or so.
So when you’re quoted several hundred pounds to replace a timing belt, you’re not necessarily being ripped off – although you must shop around to make sure you’re getting a good deal. It’s also worth noting that some engines are designed in such a way that if the timing belt snaps it doesn’t wreck the engine. But regardless of this, a broken cambelt will mean you’ll have to be trailered or towed home.
So when you buy that second-hand car, ask when the timing belt was last replaced and look in the service records for evidence that the work has been done. You can’t really check visually that the work has been done (although a mechanic probably could), which is why if you’re unsure as to whether or not the belt has been replaced in the last five or six years, it can be worth replacing it anyway.
Yes, it’s a lot of money, but if the cambelt goes it’s game over for your wheels.