Have you ever heard a loud, banshee-like squeal from your vehicle?
It was probably a drive belt.
That’s the most common way to tell if there’s an issue with one of them—after all, you can’t really miss it—but what caused it in the first place? How do you fix it? Can you do it yourself, or do you need to visit a mechanic?
These questions and more will be answered as we explore just about everything you need to know about the drive belts in your vehicle.
Let’s start by explaining what a drive belt is and why it’s important:
What is a Drive Belt?
There are several different kinds of drive belts in your vehicle:
- Serpentine belt
- Drive belts
- Timing belts
These belts are a common part that need maintenance. If neglected, you can encounter problems ranging from the aforementioned banshee-squeal to poor battery performance or even overheating.
Let’s examine each in more detail:
Serpentine Belts Explained
A serpentine belt is a more modern type of belt. If your car was manufactured after 1990, it’s almost certainly what you have. The belt “snakes” its way through the crank pulley, the idler pulley, the tensioner, and other accessories. Despite this serpentine path the belt follows, it’s not terribly difficult to replace—generally you only need to adjust the tensioner to remove it.
Serpentine belts are absolutely vital to the operation of your vehicle. If it breaks, you’re guaranteed to have to pull over and stop the vehicle (you likely won’t have a choice). They run many systems in your vehicle, including power steering and the alternator.
Drive Belts Explained
A drive belt, sometimes called a V-belt, are the kinds of belts generally found in older vehicles. It’s called a V-belt by some auto professionals because of the way the teeth on the belt are tapered (in a V-shape). Unlike a serpentine belt, V-belts tend to only go through one or two components, such as the power steering, water pump, or radiator fan.
The benefit to a vehicle outfitted with V-belts is that if a non-immediately-vital belt breaks, you’re still likely to get home. The disadvantage is of course that you have multiple belts that are necessary to change, and in some vehicles installation can be a little more difficult than a serpentine belt.
Timing Belts Explained
You can think of the timing belt in your car or truck as something of a referee. Its purpose is to keep the crankshaft and the camshaft in sync with one another. The amount of space between moving parts in an interference engine that uses these components is so tiny that if they get out of time with one another, they can touch—obviously a significant problem. The timing belt prevents this.
While all belts in your vehicle are important, the timing belt is perhaps the most important to keep maintained. If ignored, you may even have to rebuild your engine if the damage caused is great enough.
In fact, the timing belt is some important that some vehicle manufacturers use timing chains, a more robust version of a belt that’s usually designed to last the lifespan of the engine.
The timing belt is usually obscured by the timing cover, so it’s a bit more difficult to quickly inspect visually on your own. Be sure to remind your mechanic to take a look at it during your regular maintenance appointments—more on this below.
Know When Your Belts Need Replacement
The belts in your car will eventually need to be replaced. As with many of the components in your vehicle, temperature changes can affect their condition. Thus, checking your belts in the beginning of summer and the beginning of winter are good “rule of thumb” times.
Generally, modern belts only need to be replaced every 60,000 to 90,000 miles. When a belt starts to get worn out, you’ll notice that it looks dry and cracked. At the first sign of cracks, you should consider replacing the belt. The good news? It’s a relatively inexpensive repair in most cases.
A great tactic to discover when your belts need to be replaced is to ask your mechanic to take a look at them every time you get an oil change (which should be roughly every 3,000 to 5,000 miles). If you’re driving a newer vehicle, start doing this after your odometer reads over 50,000 miles.
Good Maintenance is Regular Maintenance
Regular maintenance is important for all components of your vehicle, but the belts are particularly important and often misunderstood by the average driver. Keeping your driveline and belts in good shape will prevent unexpected breakdowns and potentially more costly repairs.
If you’d like to learn more about your vehicle’s needs and what a great maintenance schedule for it would be, we encourage you to start a conversation with your local BG certified professionals.