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5 Signs You Need A Serpentine Belt Replacement

The serpentine belt (also known as a drive belt or fan belt) is an important part of your vehicle’s engine. It powers multiple peripheral processes in the engine compartment, including the alternator, power steering, air conditioning compressor, and in some vehicles, the water pump too. 

The serpentine belt will eventually wear out with use, developing visible cracks. 

A faulty serpentine can lead to catastrophic engine failure. So, it’s best to watch out for potential symptoms of a bad serpentine belt and get periodic inspections.

Here are five critical signs: 

1. Visible Cracks On The Belt

Serpentine belts are made of high-quality reinforced rubber. However, the rubber begins to stretch and peel off over time, leading to noticeable cracks or frays on the belt. 

In some cases, a defective belt tensioner could also cause the belt to slip off the pulleys, damaging the serpentine belt.

To avoid possible belt failure, have regular inspections performed on your vehicle, and follow essential car care tips. 

2. Squealing Or Whining Sounds From The Engine

Serpentine belt issues could cause friction between the belt and the engine’s components, producing a squealing engine noise or whining sound.

You might notice engine noise when you turn on your air conditioner or steer your vehicle due to a loose belt.

In this case, the serpentine belt may require realignment or the tensioning readjusted. However, if the serpentine belt is severely damaged, it’ll need replacing.

3. Your Engine Loses Power

A snapped or loose belt prevents the alternator from charging the battery. Eventually, the energy used by the spark plugs will drain out the car battery, causing your engine to lose power.

As a result, you could have trouble starting your vehicle, or the dashboard check battery light illuminates. Electricals like the air conditioner or headlights also won’t work. 

You’ll have to schedule a repair at an auto repair shop in this situation.

4. Malfunctioning Power Steering

The power steering makes it easier to steer your vehicle. If your serpentine belt breaks, the sudden loss of power to the power steering pump can make maneuvering your vehicle harder.

Keep in mind that power steering failure could also be due to improper steering fluid levels or a damaged power steering pump. 

So, if you’re having trouble with the power steering, it’s best to get an overall car maintenance service for your vehicle. 

5. Overheated Engine

A fully functioning belt activates the water pump, circulating coolant around the motor and radiator, maintaining optimal engine temperature. 

However, a bad serpentine belt could prevent the water pump from pumping coolant through the cooling system, resulting in an overheated engine. There may even be steam or vapor from under the hood in extreme situations.

Operating a vehicle with an overheated engine for too long could severely harm the engine processes. So, if any of these symptoms occur, schedule a repair at an auto service shop.

How Much Does A Serpentine Belt Replacement Cost?

The serpentine belt replacement service is fairly inexpensive, ranging from $75 to $190, depending on your vehicle model and location. 

Here’s what you need to account for: 

  • The estimated cost for new parts is roughly $25-$70
  • The approximate labor costs range from $50–$120

How Critical Is A Serpentine Belt Replacement?

A fully functional belt is essential to keep varying processes in your engine running smoothly. If your vehicle’s serpentine belt has visible frays or cracks, it could cause the belt to slip off the pulleys, disrupting the engine processes. 

This, in turn, could lead to issues with the air conditioning system and power steering and may eventually bring your vehicle to a complete standstill. 

If the serpentine belt issues are left undiagnosed, it could lead to serious engine and safety issues, especially if it happens when you’re driving. 

5 Serpentine Belt Replacement FAQs

Here are the answers to some commonly asked questions related to a serpentine belt replacement service:  

1. What’s The Difference Between A Serpentine Belt And A Belt Tensioner? 

The serpentine belt is a single continuous belt that activates key components in the engine compartment. It does so with the help of a pulley and a belt tensioner. 

In some vehicles, the belts are manually tensioned and need to be adjusted from time to time. However, some vehicles feature a self-tensioning mechanism that needs to be checked for wear and tear at specific maintenance intervals. 

On the other hand, the belt tensioner maintains the right balance between flexibility and tension, ensuring a properly tensioned belt that doesn’t squeal, slip off, or run hot.

2. What’s The Difference Between A Serpentine Belt And A Timing Belt?

While these two components sound similar, here’s how they differ: 

  • Location: The serpentine belt or drive belt is located on the outer part of the engine, whereas the timing belt is located inside the engine. The timing belt is always covered, preventing any interference. 
  • Design: The timing belt features horizontal grooves designed to fit the cogwheels of the camshaft and the crankshaft. On the other hand, the serpentine belt comprises multiple v-shaped grooves. 
  • Functions: While the serpentine belt connects the engine crankshaft with the rest of the engine’s accessories, the timing belt keeps the crankshaft and camshaft in sync. 

3. What’s The Lifespan Of A Serpentine Belt? 

Serpentine belts are built to last between 60,000 to 100,000 miles depending on driving habits, climate, etc. 

Therefore, it’s recommended to carry out regular inspections and follow essential car care tips to maintain a long belt life.

4. What Causes The Serpentine Belt To Go Bad?

Here are some common causes of a possible belt failure: 

  • Improper belt tension: A properly tensioned belt keeps the peripheral processes within the engine running efficiently. If the drive belt is too loose, it could slip, resulting in excess heat from friction. On the other hand, if the belt is too tight, it could add stress to the bearings, leading to engine failure.  
  • Misaligned pulley: If your pulleys are misaligned, your serpentine belt won’t move correctly, causing premature damage. 
  • Mishandled belts: When executing a serpentine belt replacement, never twist, bend, or force the belt onto the pulley. If the serpentine belt has been mishandled, it could result in premature failure.
  • Environmental factors: Exposure to extreme temperatures can cause the belt to expand and contract, resulting in improper belt tension and premature damage. The serpentine belt could also go bad if contaminated with grease, engine oil, dust, and lubricants.

5. How To Replace A Serpentine Belt?

Replacing a serpentine belt is pretty simple if you have the right tools and technical know-how. 

However, if uncertain, it’s best to get a certified technician to handle your serpentine belt maintenance. 

Here’s what you need to do to replace a worn-out or damaged serpentine belt: 

  1. Start by taking a few snapshots of the belt, noting how it winds around the different pulleys.  
  2. Then, place a long-handled ratchet or breaker bar into the square-shaped ½ inch or ⅜ inch drive opening. Now, snap the socket on the hex-shaped nut and remove the old belt. 
  3. Next, take a straight edge tool and ensure every pulley is aligned appropriately. Then, give the idler pulley and the tensioner pulley a good spin, ensuring it moves freely without any unusual noises (if the pulleys fail, it could stop the power steering pump and the water pump in the cooling system.)
  4. Now, brush off the dirt and grime around each pulley and the surrounding areas, ensuring that there are no oil leaks.
  5. Once cleaned, use a belt replacement tool and route the new belt around the pulley.
  6. Load the belt and wrap it around the crankshaft pulley and any other grooved pulley by rotating the tensioner arm. 
  7. At this stage, you should make sure the new serpentine belt follows the original path given in the manufacturer’s belt diagram.  
  8. Now, slide the belt onto a non-grooved pulley and slowly release the tensioner. 
  9. Finally, start your engine and let it run for a few minutes, and make sure you have a fully functioning belt.

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