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What is a Serpentine Belt?

What is a Serpentine Belt
Learn how important your car’s serpentine belt is and what to know when it’s time to replace it.

serpentine belt is a long, rubberized strap that uses the energy from your vehicle’s engine to power its electrical systems.

Your serpentine belt is located under the hood in the front of the engine compartment. As its name implies, it snakes around various pulleys and rotating cams. This grooved belt harnesses the motor’s energy, efficiently providing power to the several necessary components. These include the alternator (battery charger), air conditioning, and power steering.

Older automobiles required separate belts for each motorized device in their engine. Changing the various belts was very labor-intensive and inefficient. Modern vehicles are now able to save energy, fuel, and aggravation by using a single serpentine belt.

However, the advantage of this design also houses a potential problem for drivers. The serpentine belt is so integral to your car’s functionality that if the belt breaks, within minutes the engine can overheat, the battery may die, and the ventilation and power steering systems begin to fail.

To prevent this from happening, you should have your serpentine belt inspected twice per year. These belts typically last 60,000-100,000 miles.

Replacing a Serpentine Belt

Usually, you’ll get plenty of warning before your belt fails. There is a very specific squealing sound that means your belt is wearing down. Misaligned pulleys and a partially seized tensioner can also make noise as well. Replace the belt when the edges become torn and frayed or the grooves appear worn and shallow. Typically a belt will not suddenly snap but it may slip off of a pulley if it becomes too worn. If your serpentine belt shows signs of wear, check with your local Blain’s Farm & Fleet automotive technicians for a replacement.

Installing a new serpentine belt is easier said than done. First, the old belt must be removed. Then, the new belt must be carefully slipped on over the pulleys following the routing diagram that can be found under your vehicle’s hood or in the owner’s manual. Once you have snaked the belt over all but one pulley, you must hold the tensioner slack as you thread the last pulley. You may need an extra pair of hands to hold the tensioner back while you slip the belt over the final pulley. With the new belt in place, you can start your car’s engine. Let it idle for a moment. Check the tensioner arm to see if the belt has the proper tension. If the mark cast into the tensioner body falls between the high and low marks, then the belt has been installed correctly. With the proper tools, a trained technician can perform this service in under an hour on most vehicles.

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