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I am about to buy a car from a private seller. I've already given him the deposit (not a great amount, £100).

The car is a 2004 Ford Focus 2.0 Ghia. It has a FSH but I think the next service would be the one that includes a new cambelt.

Should this put me off buying the car? For example, how expensive will it be to get the cambelt changed? And what are the odds of the cambelt breaking within the next 1-2 years (or 10-20k)?

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having had a cambelt snap - my only advice would be get the cambelts changed regardless - peace of mind for £100-200 is a good price to pay. –  Mauro Dec 7 '11 at 9:09
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I wouldn't be too bothered by the fact that it'll need a new cambelt at the next service, but I might use this for additional leverage when negotiating.

As to what the odds of failure are, do you feel lucky? I'm pretty sure the Focus has an interference engine so if the belt breaks, the pistons will attempt to occupy the same space as the valves, with expensive consequences. Like "potential for a new head and possibly pistons" type expensive.

I'd just get the belt changed as per service schedule.

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I always check RepairPal for estimates on repairs, but that's not going to do you any good since it sound's like you're in the UK. There might be a similar site for your location, but I didn't find it with a quick search.

I would expect the timing belt to go about 5 miles after the mileage listed in the service schedule for inspection / replacement. Find out whether you've got an interference engine or not. If not, you can maybe let it slide a bit at the risk of stranding yourself, but if it is, absolutely do not delay.

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I'd never used repairpal before, but I just tried it for some things and the results seem bogus. The labor rates might be correct, but for parts, I was getting numbers where the low end of the range is roughly twice the actual cost of the part and the high end was almost 10 times actual. –  R.. Jun 18 '13 at 18:31
    
@R I'm sure estimating part pricing is a black art. Depends on whether it's OEM, aftermarket, whether you're getting it through a wholesale or retail source, what the markup is, etc. Generally if you're paying a shop to repair your vehicle, you're going to pay more for parts than you would if you acquired the parts yourself. –  Mark Johnson Jun 18 '13 at 21:52
    
As an example, I looked up replacing an axle for my 92 Civic. In reality, a cheap one is under $50 and an expensive one runs around $60-80. Repairpal was quoting something like $160-440 for parts. Spending more than $300 total (including labor) for a shop to replace an axle in this car would be insane. I ran a few other repairs for other vehicles and was getting the feeling that all the prices coming out were crazy. –  R.. Jun 18 '13 at 22:43
    
@R What would be the cost for a new axle from the parts department at a Honda Dealer? Have you had a shop quote you what they would charge for an axle replacement on your vehicle? It's usually cheaper to do it yourself if you're able, but Repair Pal is trying to estimate what a shop might charge you. My experience with their quotes has been that they're actually low vs most shops. –  Mark Johnson Jun 19 '13 at 20:19
    
A shop just quoted a friend $270 or less ($110 parts + up to 2 hours labor) for replacing an axle on a much newer but similar vehicle (2002 Hyundai Elantra). So I stand by my claim that paying more than $300 to have it done on my vehicle would be over-paying. –  R.. Jun 19 '13 at 21:00
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