Ask the Expert: Is a cambelt change necessary on my low-mileage car?

The rubber used in such drivebelts perishes and starts to crack over time
The rubber used in such drivebelts perishes and starts to crack over time - Alamy

Dear Alex,

I bought my Ford Fiesta 1.25 new in 2015. It has only done 23,000 miles, with a full main dealer service history. It’s unlikely to do 2,000 miles per year as I now have an OAP bus pass. During a recent service, the dealer recommended replacing the cambelt at a cost of £800, saying it should be done every eight years or 100,000 miles. Bearing in mind the low mileage and the car’s low value, is that necessary?


Dear ES,

Definitely. The rubber used in such drivebelts perishes and starts to crack over time, not only with use – that’s also why it’s recommended you replace your tyres after a certain amount of time, even if they have plenty of tread.

As the cambelt is hidden away on the end of the engine, it is an easy thing to overlook, but I can’t stress enough, as regular readers will know: it’s crucial to replace the cambelt on time, even if your mileage is low.

That’s because the cambelt is effectively what holds your engine together, matching the movement of the valves in the cylinder head (the top part of the engine) with the block (the bottom part) – hence its other name, the timing belt.

If the belt snaps while the engine is running, the movement of those parts will fall out of synchronisation, resulting in pistons hitting (and bending) valves – and landing you with a bill that’s an order of magnitude greater than that of a belt change.

Having said that, £800 seems like a lot of money for the job. The 1.25-litre Fiesta doesn’t have a “wet” timing belt (which runs through the engine oil to keep it lubricated and is therefore more complicated to change), so I’m surprised the Ford dealer quoted that much.

For that money they’re probably changing the water pump at the same time, which is recommended because the pump is located behind the belt and the belt’s tensioner is bolted through it. If it were to seize or start leaking soon after changing the belt, you’d have to do the whole thing again.

Were you to use an independent garage, you’d be looking at closer to £400 to change a timing belt and water pump on that engine – that’s what I would do.

For new and used buying guides, tips and expert advice, visit our Advice section, or sign up to our newsletter here

To talk all things motoring with the Telegraph Cars team, join the Telegraph Motoring Club Facebook group here

A-Z Car Finder