Serpentine Belt: Understanding the Role that It Plays in A Vehicle Serpentine Belt: Understanding the Role that It Plays in A Vehicle

Have you ever visited a mechanic or an auto parts store and felt like they were speaking a different language? If you don’t know a lot about cars, that can be a common experience.

So, learning a little bit about some of the most basic parts and functions of your car can help you feel more prepared when you do have to go speak with a professional.

A little bit of information goes a long way toward helping you feel confident when having these conversations.

The serpentine belt is a part that tends to fail in almost every vehicle that has one at some point in its life.

So, chances are you may be faced with having a conversation with a professional about your serpentine belt.

When that happens, you’ll have this basic knowledge to rely on and to help you understand what you might hear from the mechanic.

What Is a Serpentine Belt?

The serpentine belt basically provides power and drives all of the parts listed below that are essential to the working of your automobile.

The ribbed part of the rubber connects with the drivepulleys of each part to give them the power they need to function correctly.

Here is a rundown of some other parts of your vehicle that all work – thanks to the serpentine belt:

  • Alternator – This charges the battery and runs the electrical system of your car.
  • Power steering pump – This enables the power steering fluid to get to the steering gear, enabling you to easily turn the wheel of your car.t
  • Water pump – This moves the engine coolant through the engine and back to the radiator. Without this functioning properly, your car can overheat.
  • Air conditioning compressor – This does what it says; it ensures your car’s air conditioning works to keep you cool inside the car.

Before the existence of the serpentine belt, most cars had several belts that all functioned separately from each other.

Because those belts were thinner and smaller, they often failed faster than the larger, thicker serpentine belts do.

How Do I Know if My Serpentine Belt Doesn’t Work?

One benefit of the serpentine belt versus the old multi-belt systems is that it is easier to tell if something has gone wrong.

When the serpentine belt completely breaks, you know right away based on the symptoms you’ll see below. In the old days when one of the smaller belts broke, you didn’t always know it until the further damage had been done to the engine.

There are a few things you can watch for to determine if your serpentine belt is starting to wear out or go bad.

Keep in mind that with some of these, they could be indicative of another problem.

So, if you notice any of these things, we recommend seeing a professional mechanic as soon as possible.

The mechanic can determine if the problem is related to the serpentine belt or if it’s something else entirely.

1. Air Conditioning or Power Steering Don’t Work

One of the first things that people notice is that their air conditioning stops working.  Then, they realize their power steering went out. Shortly after that, the whole car might quit working as well.

While problems with the air conditioning and power steering can be caused by other things, the serpentine belt failing could be a potential cause. So, get your car to a professional mechanic for a proper diagnosis and repair.

2. Your Car Makes a Squealing Noise

If the serpentine belt is slipping or misaligned, it may result in a high-pitched squealing noise coming from under your hood.

It is very important not to continue driving around for a long period of time once your car begins making that squealing sound.

The squealing is like an early warning system, telling you that a problem is going to happen very soon. We recommend that you take it to a mechanic right away.

3. You See Visible Signs of Wear on the Belt

Just like checking your oil and other fluids, physically examining your serpentine belt on a fairly regular basis is always a good idea.

If your car was built before the year 2000, the belt is likely made of neoprene and it will be easy to see cracks, missing chunks, and other signs of wear.

However, starting in 2000, manufacturers began using a new synthetic rubber that doesn’t show obvious signs of wear and tear.

If you just look quickly at the belt, it might look as if it’s in fine shape because it won’t show the obvious signs of wear that the old neoprene belts did.

So, if you have a vehicle that is newer than the year 2000, you’ll want to examine the grooves – they become wider and deeper over time.

We recommend getting a belt gauge tool that will help you determine whether or not your belt is nearing the end of its life. Belt gauge tools can be found at any auto parts store, or you can get one from the manufacturer of the belt that’s in your vehicle.

How To Automotive” on how to check your serpentine belt for wear.

It gives a very good explanation and demonstration that can help you know what to look for.

If you still don’t feel comfortable checking it yourself, ask the technician the next time you get your oil changed or have other routine maintenance completed.

4. The Engine Overheats

An overheating engine can be catastrophic if you keep driving in that condition.

So, stop the car as soon as it is safe and then work on getting to a mechanic for full diagnostic of the issue and repairs that need to be done.

For more information about what happens when your engine overheats, “check out  this article.”

The Serpentine Belt is a Critical Component of Your Car’s Engine

When you look at a serpentine belt outside of the vehicle engine, it looks like just an ordinary rubber circle.

You might even think it looks like a giant rubber band. But, that belt has a lot of power and influence over the proper functioning of your car.

Think about the impacts of your serpentine belt not working properly:

  • No air conditioning or power steering – it was a lot harder and much more uncomfortable to drive in the days before air conditioning and power steering. Imagine having to really crank on that wheel every time 
  • The water pump wouldn’t do its part of cooling the engine – think about having to stop every few miles to let the car cool off before you can continue on your journey.
  • The alternator won’t work – that means you couldn’t even start your car, let alone make it very far down the road.

So, the next time you have your oil changed or have some routine maintenance done on your car, consider having the mechanic take a look at your serpentine belt.

You should give this extra consideration if your car is nearing the 80,000-mile mark.  That’s about the time these belts can start to give way.

Being proactive and getting your serpentine belt replaced before it completely gives way will save you a lot of headaches.

Remember all those problems we listed above? Your car can’t keep running if the serpentine belt breaks.

So, take a word of advice from us and keep your serpentine belt top of mind when thinking about preventative maintenance and your car.

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