What Is a Serpentine Belt? – What You Need to Know

A serpentine belt is a vital part of your car’s engine. It is responsible for transferring power from the crankshaft to various parts of your car such as the alternator, power steering pump, air conditioning compressor, and water pump.

Without a properly functioning serpentine belt, your car will not run smoothly and may even break down. In this article, we will discuss what a serpentine belt really is. And what does a serpentine belt do? Where is the serpentine belt, and how long does your serpentine belt last?

What Does A Serpentine Belt Do?

A serpentine belt delivers power to your alternator, power steering pump, and air conditioning compressor. In some cases, it also supplies power to your water pump. In most cases, it features a serpentine belt tensioner that ensures your serpentine belt is at the optimum tension to move power around your engine blow efficiently.

What Is a Serpentine Belt? A serpentine belt is a long, winding rubber single belt that runs around several pulleys, as opposed to multiple belts that are used to drive each accessory individually.

The serpentine belt is connected to the crankshaft pulley, which is driven by the engine. From there, the belt runs around other pulleys that are connected to various accessories, such as the alternator, power steering pump, and air conditioning compressor. This allows the engine to power all of these accessories at the same time, rather than having multiple belts that need to be installed and maintained.

The serpentine belt is designed to be efficient and durable, and it typically lasts for several years. However, over time, the belt can wear out, become loose, or even break. A worn or damaged serpentine belt can cause the engine to lose power, or cause the accessories to fail.

To ensure that the serpentine belt is running at the correct tension, most vehicles have a serpentine belt tensioner. This is a spring-loaded arm that applies pressure to the belt, keeping it tight as it runs around the pulleys. The tensioner also helps to keep the belt in proper alignment, which can help to prolong its life of the belt.

It’s worth mentioning that in some cases, the serpentine belt also supplies power to the water pump which is responsible for circulating the coolant through the engine and the radiator. This is why a serpentine belt failure is a problem for the accessories and the engine’s cooling system.

Serpentine Belt Diagram

The purpose of a serpentine belt diagram is to provide a visual representation of the belt’s routing for reference during installation, maintenance, or replacement of the belt. It can also be useful for identifying which pulley or component a squealing or slipping belt may be associated with.

Serpentine Belt Diagram

It’s important to consult the owner’s manual or a repair manual for your specific make and model for the correct serpentine belt routing diagram, as routing can vary between different vehicles.

How long does a serpentine belt last?

On average, a serpentine belt can last between 60,000 to 100,000 miles or 5 to 7 years, according to West Brook Toyota. However, if the belt is exposed to extreme heat, cold, or chemicals, it may need to be replaced sooner.

The lifespan of a serpentine belt can vary depending on several factors such as the make and model of the vehicle, the quality of the belt, and the driving conditions.

It is recommended to check the condition of the serpentine belt at regular intervals, such as during routine vehicle maintenance, and to replace it if it appears to be worn or damaged.

However, some belts are manually tensioned and may need to be adjusted. Others have a self-tensioning mechanism that can experience wear over time and may need to be serviced. One thing to remember: in most cases, if the belt breaks, the vehicle will stop running.

Symptoms of a Bad Serpentine Belt

You should become familiar with the following six symptoms that may show signs that your serpentine belt is beginning to fail and may need replacement:

Additionally, if you do a visual inspection of the serpentine belt when the car is turned off, you can look for these signs of wear:

  • Cracks, splits or fraying
  • Signs of glazing on the belt’s sides
  • Separating layers or missing chunks of grooves when you twist the belt

If you see any oil or coolant saturation on the belt, that this means it’s definitely time to replace the belt and fix those leaks.

What Happens to A Car When the Serpentine Belt Breaks?

If your serpentine belt wears out, is damaged, dirty, or breaks, engine accessories will not be able to rotate at the correct speed, resulting in reduced electrical system performance.

This can result in a sudden loss of power assistance to the steering system, causing the steering wheel to suddenly become very difficult to turn. A broken serpentine belt can prevent the water pump from circulating coolant through the cooling system, causing the engine to overheat.

And it can cause the alternator to stop producing power to run the vehicle’s electrical/electronic systems and recharge the battery – the headlights dim, the radio doesn’t work and the battery dies.

How Much Does It Cost to Replace a Serpentine Belt?

The cost of the serpentine belt itself could be around $50 and the cost of labor could be around $150. As a result, a serpentine belt cost for replacement could range from $70 to $200 depending on your exact model and where you get it replaced.

However, for luxury or high-end vehicles, the cost can be significantly higher. For example, the cost for a serpentine belt replacement on a luxury vehicle can range from $200 to $600.

It’s also important to note that the serpentine belt is not a standalone part and it may require other components to be replaced as well, such as the idler pulley or the tensioner, which can add to the overall cost.

It’s always recommended to check with a certified mechanic or dealership for a specific quote, as prices can vary depending on location, vehicle make and model, the year of the car, and the labor rate of the mechanic.

Should I Replace the Belt Myself?

Whether or not to replace a serpentine belt yourself depends on your level of mechanical experience and the tools you have available.

If you are comfortable working on vehicles and have access to the necessary tools, replacing a serpentine belt can be a relatively simple task. However, it’s important to have a good understanding of the process and the proper tools, such as a serpentine belt tool, to ensure that the job is done correctly.

If you are not comfortable working on vehicles, it’s best to have a professional mechanic replace the belt for you. This will ensure that the job is done correctly and will also prevent any potential damage to other components of your vehicle.

It’s also important to note that in some vehicles, the serpentine belt is difficult to access and requires special tools or knowledge to be replaced. It’s always best to check the vehicle’s repair manual or consult a professional mechanic before attempting to replace the serpentine belt on your own.