Why You Should Replace Your Serpentine Belt Before It Breaks

Why You Should Replace Your Serpentine Belt Before It Breaks

By Mike Ales

Image for postImage of Serpentine Belt

If you are like most people you wear many hats. Supervisor, employee, husband, wife, dad, mom, teacher, grocery-getter, gas-filler-upper, lawn maintenance technician ? the list goes on. The engine in your car wears more than one hat, too. Of course, it provides power to move your car. But it also performs other jobs. For instance, the engine has to generate electricity. It also has to assist with power steering, regulate its own temperature, and keep occupants cool inside when it?s hot outside. To do this, the engine is fitted with a number of accessories, each of which relies on power from the engine to fulfill its mission. Tying them all together is a single ribbon of rubber: the serpentine belt.

What Is a Serpentine Belt?

The serpentine belt is a long, winding, rubber belt that snakes its way (thus, the name) around pulleys connected to each of the engine accessories ? the alternator, power steering pump, air conditioning compressor, and maybe the water pump. Sometimes called a fan belt, alternator belt, or accessory drive belt, the serpentine belt is spun by the engine crankshaft and, in turn, spins, or ?drives?, the accessories. Cars of the past relied on multiple drive belts, but today?s vehicles (usually) count on just one, the serpentine belt.

Most manufacturers recommend regular inspection of the serpentine belt and replacement somewhere between 60k and 90k miles, depending on the make and model of your car, truck, or SUV. The belt should be changed as part of your routine preventative maintenance schedule to avoid failure or breakage while driving.

But what if that one belt does break? What happens to the engine or the accessories? And what if it breaks while you are on the road?

If the serpentine belt breaks

Because the serpentine belt is the only part driving the engine accessories, you can imagine that without it, the accessories will not work. The air conditioning will not operate because the compressor is not pumping. The power steering will fail because its pump is not working either. And the electrical system will die ? well, as soon as the battery dies from lack of power from the alternator. If the water pump is driven by the serpentine belt (it is often driven by the *timing belt), the engine might overheat as well. In short, the vehicle will stop working.

So, what if it breaks while you are driving on the road? Losing air conditioning in the middle of July is inconvenient. Losing your power steering is a bit more serious. When the serpentine belt fails and the steering system no longer has power assist, the steering wheel instantly becomes difficult to turn. There is no warning that the wheel is about to go from easy to hard. That can be a real hazard if you are in the middle of an intersection when it happens. And when the alternator quits working, so does the electrical system. The engine shuts down and power brake assist goes away. So, as long as the serpentine belt breaks while you are in your driveway, you are out of harm?s way. Otherwise, you can be in for some trouble.

Can I tell if my serpentine belt is compromised?

The best way to make sure your serpentine belt is in good shape is to have it inspected regularly as part of a routine maintenance schedule. A technician can inspect the belt for wear and use a special gauge to determine how much life it has left. It should be replaced whenever it is worn beyond the manufacturer?s recommendations, or if it shows signs of glazing or cracking.

There are also symptoms that can alert a driver to a failing belt. A squealing sound, especially when the engine is first started, can be an indication of either a worn or glazed belt, or a pulley that is seizing up and causing the belt to slip. A auto technician will inspect not only the belt, but also the pulleys on each of the driven components, as well as the idler and tensioner pulleys that help to properly route the belt and maintain consistent tension. If any of these parts show signs of damage, wear, or misalignment, they should be replaced.

So, check your maintenance schedule to find out how often the serpentine belt is supposed to be replaced. And have a technician inspect it regularly. Your engine wears many hats, and it cannot take them off. That means you can?t be too careful when it comes to caring for the one component that ties them all together.

(*Just a note: the serpentine belt is not the same as the timing belt, which is responsible for making sure that all of the internal components of the engine are working in concert with one another. By the way, you don?t want that one to break either?)

This article is intended only as a general guidance document and relying on its material is at your sole risk. By using this general guidance document, you agree to defend, indemnify and hold harmless Hogan & Sons Tire and Auto and its affiliates from and against any and all claims, damages, costs and expenses, including attorneys? fees, arising from or related to your use of this guidance document. To the extent fully permissible under applicable law, Hogan & Sons Tire and Auto makes no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, as to the information, content, or materials included in this document. This reservation of rights is intended to be only as broad and inclusive as is permitted by the laws of your State of residence.

Hogan & Sons Tire and Auto | Author: Mike Ales | Copyright April 2018

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