Understanding All the Drive Belts in Your Car | YourMechanic Advice

Understanding All the Drive Belts in Your Car

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Your car’s engine has a number of mechanical parts attached to it that perform essential functions like delivering power (the alternator), cooling your engine (the water pump), helping you to drive more easily (the power steering pump) and keeping you comfortable (the air conditioner compressor). Without a drive belt, none of these parts would work.

The purpose of drive belts is to deliver power between different engine components. They work by means of friction between the belt and pulley, which is why loose belts can cause various components to work poorly, or not at all.

That’s a very basic overview of car belts, and by no means all-inclusive. Let’s talk in a bit more detail about different types of belts and how they work in your car.

Here is an overview of the most common types of drive belts:

V-Belts

Some vehicles have multiple belts, called v-belts, that come off the crankshaft of the engine to drive the alternator, the air conditioning compressor, the power steering pump and the water pump. In older vehicles, v-belts were the standard.

Advantages of the v-belt system are:

  • Belts are short and not likely to slip.
  • If one belt fails, the entire vehicle doesn’t end up off-line.

Disadvantages of the v-belt system are:

  • Auto supply stores may not stock a full range of belts, and they may need to be special-ordered.

  • Belts will usually wear at about the same rate, so you could end up having to replace several belts within a short time frame.

Serpentine belts

A serpentine belt is a single, long belt that drives all the engine components that would otherwise be powered by multiple v-belts. Serpentine belts are most common in newer cars, and are essentially the standard for the modern vehicle.

Advantages of serpentine belts are:

  • No chance of multiple belt failure.
  • Easy to replace.

Disadvantages of serpentine belts are:

  • Multiple accessories can be affected if the belt loosens.
  • When the belt fails, the entire engine is off-line.

Timing belts

The timing belt is also sometimes called a camshaft drive belt or a Gilmer belt. It is a notched belt, made of rubber, that enables the crankshaft to turn the camshaft, and opens and closes the engine valves synchronously with the pistons. In late model vehicles, the timing belt has essentially replaced the metal timing chain.

The advantage of the timing belt over the timing chain is that if the timing belt fails, there is less potential for damage to valves and pistons.

Symptoms, causes, and effects of failed or failing drive belts

  • V-belts: If a v-belt is failing, it will squeak, and accessories may not work properly. If it fails, the accessories that it powers will stop working. Causes can include ordinary wear or fluid contamination.

  • Serpentine belts: If a serpentine belt is failing, accessories may not work properly, car may be hard to start or not start at all, and the belt may emit a squeaking, screeching or chirping sound. Causes can include cracking, wear or stripping, fluid contamination and poor belt tension.

  • Timing belts: If a timing belt is failing, your car may idle rough, or you may hear a slapping sound from the motor compartment. If it fails, your car will not work at all. There is also a possibility of serious damage to the valves and pistons. Causes can include wear, slipping or fluid contamination.

Common enemies of drive belts

Road dirt, oil, water, and excessive heat are all enemies that can cause drive belt problems, so you should make sure that your car isn’t leaking oil, and that when you’re topping off your oil you do it carefully. Make sure that your engine undercover isn’t missing or damaged, since it is your first line of defense against contaminants that you can pick up on the road.

Recommendations

You should have your vehicle checked by a mechanic regularly in order to determine if your belts need to be adjusted or replaced. Timing belts are generally long-lived, but given the potential consequences if the timing belt fails, the importance of regular check-ups cannot be over-estimated. Serpentine belts usually need to be changed about every 50,000 miles. It makes no sense to keep driving with a worn or damaged belt, because eventually, it will break and you’ll end up stranded and possibly needing expensive repairs


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Stacy

23 years of experience
223 reviews
Stacy
23 years of experience
Chevrolet Tahoe - Serpentine/Drive Belt - Atlanta, Georgia
He is awesome! Friendly and very informative about all car information. Provides honest recommendations. He is an absolute pleasure to work with.
Ford Escape - Serpentine/Drive Belt - Jonesboro, Georgia
Stacy was awesome very knowledgeable and helpful on getting my car up and running again. I would recommend ten times over.

Andrew

10 years of experience
633 reviews
Andrew
10 years of experience
Jeep Grand Cherokee - Serpentine/Drive Belt - Shawnee Mission, Kansas
Andrew was very personable, knowledgeable and professional!!! Thank you so much for an amazing experience with your company
GMC Yukon - Serpentine/Drive Belt - Kansas City, Missouri
Andrews a very good mechanic knows his Craft and has a great attitude at the same time again thanks Andrew and my mechanic

Larry

15 years of experience
15 reviews
Larry
15 years of experience
Toyota Highlander - Serpentine/Drive Belt - Chicago, Illinois
Great service for this mechanic.. On time upon his arrival.. I would love to use his services in the future for all of the vehicles In my family!! I would highly recommend him or this company!!!!

Juan

11 years of experience
2 reviews
Juan
11 years of experience
Ram 2500 - Serpentine/Drive Belt - Vacaville, California
Juan was extremely polite, very knowledgeable and was upfront with what work needed to be done immediately and what needs to be completed in the future. Cost was less than what was quoted at the dealership and way more convenient. We will definitely be using this service again, hopefully with Juan as our mechanic.

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