How to Check a Car’s Cambelt & See If It Needs Changing

The cambelt, or timing belt as it’s also known, is a crucial part of any vehicle. It plays a massive part in effortlessly making your engine work in the complex way that it does, and it’s really important that you keep it in check if you want the best for your car in the long run. Whether you’re buying a used car and looking at how to check the condition of the cambelt, or you’re simply maintaining your own, it’s always a smart thing to do.

How a Cambelt/Timing Belt Works

In essence, the cambelt is essentially the piece of rubber connecting the top and bottom areas of your engine. More specifically, that is the camshaft, valves and crankshaft. It keeps them all working in harmony to keep your engine operating as it should.

To do this, the belt has a series of ridges on one side, which move with the shafts they are attached to via teeth on the side of each. As the shafts spin in line with the belt timing, everything keeps perfectly in sync and keeps your engine running perfectly.

Why Timing Belts Need to Be Changed

Over time, timing belts, or cambelts, become worn. They’re made of a rubber-like material, and they are not designed to last a lifetime. Every 4-6 years, or 40,000 – 60,000 miles, the belt needs changing in order to remain functional. If that’s not the case, it’s quite easy to run into a number of issues, all of which can be seriously bad news.

As the cambelt becomes worn, usually one of two things happens. Firstly, the belt can become less rigid, and therefore have less tension and less grip on the teeth of the shafts it is connected to. Long story short; that means that the belt will not be able to keep the two in sync as it slips, and that’s the first problem. The second issue is that the belt, in fact, snaps altogether, of course, that has the same effect on your engine, but much more dramatically, as there is no belt in place at all.

In any of these cases where the timing belt on your vehicle becomes ineffective, there is a very similar result. That result is that your engine becomes seriously damaged. Following that, there are thousands of pounds worth of damage left to the vehicle. For many used cars, that is usually just about enough reason for a write-off. That’s because as the belt fails, the valves and pistons of the engine come into contact with each other where they normally shouldn’t resulting in massive debilitation, warping and overall damage to complex essential moving parts, usually which can’t be fixed and need a new engine.

Signs to Look for When Checking a Cambelt or Timing Belt

When it comes to checking the cambelt or timing belt of a vehicle, there are a few very important areas to keep in mind at all times. These are all prime warning signs of imminent damage. If any of them are even slightly present, seek professional advice or change your cambelt immediately.

Shiny

Check for shiny rubber on the cambelt. This is a very common sign of stressed rubber that is likely on its way to snapping in the not too distant future.

Cracks

Cracks in any rubber are a bad sign. They tend to occur more from age and disintegration rather than wear and tear, but for whatever reason they’re present, they mean that the rubber is not in good health and can easily break.

Peeling

Peeling is just like cracking when it comes to rubber. It means that the material is compromised and is losing its integrity, usually pretty quickly.

Loose

When the belt is spinning, i.e., when the engine is on, there should be a reasonable amount of tension present in the movement. If there is any sagging or slipping, it’s time to take urgent action.

Teeth Health

Lastly, always check the health of the teeth/ridges surrounding the belt. As the belt moves so frequently, over time, the teeth on the belt gradually wear down and wear down until there is next to nothing left. When this means that they don’t work well with the teeth of the shafts, slipping occurs.

The Key Takeaways

All in all, the timing belt is an integral part of any engine. It has to be maintained if there is any hope of a healthy car in the long term. The golden rule is always around 5 years or 50,000 miles, but each and every model of car on the road is different. Always consult your vehicle manual for more information, and always remember to check a vehicle’s history too if you are unsure as to when it may have last been changed.

It’s always a good question to ask the seller of the car you are buying if you aren’t sure as to how old the cambelt is. Age is just as important as mileage with cambelts. They both can result in an engine replacement in a worst-case scenario.

If you are ever unsure about the health of a cambelt, it’s always best to ask a professional. Speak with a professional vehicle inspector before you buy the car for a full breakdown of the vehicle’s precise health and condition. If you already own the car, take it to a garage or supplier of parts like Halfords for them to carry out the check.

Whatever you do, don’t leave it to chance.