What You Need to Know about Your Serpentine Belt

We all have those days when we have a bunch of errands that we may need to run all around Cloudcroft, Alamogordo, and the Tularosa Basin to complete.

  1. picking up the kids from school or the movies
  2. getting gas
  3. stopping at the ATM
  4. shopping for groceries 

You could make 3 or 4 individual trips to accomplish all of your errands, but that would be a waste of time and money – totally inefficient. Instead, you organize a single trip and do things in the most expeditious manner possible, saving you both time and money.

Errand Map

For example, first, you head off to the ATM so you have the cash to pay for the gas and groceries. Then, so you don’t run out of gas on your way to the grocery store, you get some gas. Next, you stop at the supermarket for your groceries. You closely monitor your money to stay on budget, and your time so as to ensure you’ll be able to pick up the kids without having your groceries spoil. You shop, pay, load your car and finally proceed to pick up the kids on the way home. This is a much better use of your time.

How Organization Relates to Your Serpentine Belt

You may wonder what this has to do with your vehicle. Well, not so long ago, each of your engine’s accessories, like the alternator and air conditioner, were powered by separate belts. A vehicle might have 3 or 4 belts. Just like completing our 3 or 4 errands individually, it’s not a great example of efficiency.

Vehicle engineers came up with a more efficient organization of engine parts and began to equip vehicles with a single belt, called a serpentine belt, to run all the accessories. You might recognize it. It’s called the serpentine belt because it snakes around the front of your engine efficiently connecting the accessories – working similarly to organizing your errands.

The Serpentine Belt

Examples of Serpentine Belt Integrations

Alamogordo drivers should be aware that there’s a special, spring-loaded pulley attached to the engine called the tensioner pulley and sometimes an extra pulley call the idler pulley. Their job is to make sure there is constant tension on the serpentine belt, to apply pressure on the belt and keep it tight so that it doesn’t slip.

This pulley is mounted to the engine block with a spring-loaded arm. The vehicle engine crankshaft provides the power to turn the serpentine belt. The belt may provide the power for the power steering pump, which makes it easier to steer your vehicle. Next comes the alternator which generates electricity to run the vehicle’s electrical system and charge the battery. On to the air conditioning compressor. This helps make cold air to keep you comfortable all summer long in Alamogordo.

On some vehicles, the water pump or radiator fan or the power brakes are also run by the serpentine belt. Some even have more than one serpentine belt.

It sounds like a lot of important stuff, doesn’t it? The bottom line is that your serpentine belt has a lot of responsibility when it comes to the ideal operation of your vehicle. No matter how your engine is arranged, you aren’t going far without a serpentine belt.

As you can imagine, it’s important to ensure your serpentine belt remains intact and the tensioner pulley on your engine to remain at the right tension to keep the serpentine belt tight.

Desert Road

If your serpentine belt were to break on one of our desert southwest roads, your battery would die in just a short distance. If it runs your fan or water pump, your engine could overheat. Your steering and braking could also be affected.

But just how long will a serpentine belt last? That will vary for each individual car or truck.

Serpentine belts do a lot of work, they’re tough and can last for thousands of miles. Inevitably, the belt and the tensioner will wear out over time. The spring on the tensioner can also become worn and would no longer provide the necessary pressure to keep the belt tight.

A worn belt can slip or be misaligned, and can stress your vehicle engine’s expensive accessories and will cause them to wear prematurely. The good news is that an inspection can reveal a belt that’s worn.

Your vehicle has a recommended interval for inspecting and replacing your serpentine belt. It’s often recommended that the tensioner, and the idler pulley if so equipped, be replaced at the same time as the serpentine belt.

What Your Serpentine Belt Inspection May NOT Tell You.

Owner's Manual

You may have been told by your service advisor to look for cracks in your belt to see if it needs to be replaced. The old style belts would crack, and chunks would fall off so you could easily see when you needed a new one. Several years ago, manufacturers started making serpentine belts out of a new material. It’s much more durable, but it’s harder to tell when the belt needs to be replaced.

Modern belt material doesn’t crack as often as old belts did, however, living here in Alamogordo with all the hot dry weather, cracked and glazed serpentine belts are quite common.

The new style serpentine belts are now manufactured with ribs incorporated right into the belt’s material. So, in addition to inspecting for cracks, the depth of the belt’s ribs need to be inspected and measured to determine wear.

Even though your vehicle’s owner manual will have a recommendation for when it should be changed, more frequent inspections can reveal if it should need to be replaced sooner.

In addition to looking for wear, you can listen for warning signs that may indicate there’s a problem with the serpentine belt. You may hear a squealing sound from under the hood when accelerating. Or, you might even hear a slow, slapping sound if you have a loose belt.

Service Writer

Serpentine Belt Inspections You Want

If you suspect a serpentine belt problem, or if it’s just been a while since it was last checked, ask your friendly and knowledgeable Tierra Del Sol Automotive service advisor to schedule an appointment and have a technician perform an inspection.

Your Tierra Del Sol Automotive technician will inspect the belt and other mechanical systems in your vehicle to see if there are any impending or potential signs of trouble. They will inspect your serpentine belt for damage or wear and perform a visual inspection of the belt to see if it has any cracks that signal the belt could fail soon.

They’ll measure the depth of the grooves in the belt with a special gauge to determine if there is enough amount of belt material remaining. The results are used to establish when the belt is worn and should be replaced. If the ribs wear too deep, it’s time to replace.

Tierra Del Sol Automotive Logo

The serpentine belt is an important part for the function of your vehicle. And compared to the accessories that the belt effects, it is not an expensive part replace – so it’s a good idea to replace a serpentine belt before it fails.

Consider having the tensioner pulley that keeps the belt at the proper tension replaced along with the serpentine belt.

Replacing a worn belt will extend the life of your accessories and prevent future breakdowns. So, change your serpentine belt and belt tensioner as recommended by your owner’s manual or your friendly and knowledgeable auto pros at Tierra Del Sol Automotive.