Hearing the words ‘serpentine belt’ might make you think about a snake, but that is actually a part of your car. This belt is connected to all your car’s engine accessories – like the water pump, alternator, air conditioning, power steering pump, and cooling fan. You might also hear it referred to as a drive belt, and it is responsible for transferring the energy your engine is producing to all these additional accessories. So, what happens if this belt breaks? You’ll know it right away, and it can cause big problems if you don’t stop and fix it immediately. Here’s how much it’s going to cost you and what to watch for.
How Much Does A Serpentine Belt Replacement Cost?
Luckily, replacing your car’s serpentine belt is not extremely costly. The belt itself can usually be purchased for $50 or less depending on your specific vehicle. The biggest cost associated with the replacement is labor cost. Even then, the total job is likely to only set you back somewhere between $70 – $220 on most vehicles. A certified technician should be able to perform the job on a standard vehicle like a Honda Civic or Honda CR-V in under an hour. Higher end cars like a BMW or Mercedes will take longer and could cost $300 or more for the replacement.
What Does A Serpentine Belt Do?
So, exactly what is a serpentine belt and what does it do? A serpentine belt connects the pulley on your vehicle’s crankshaft to the pulleys on all your additional accessories. It provides power to your air conditioner compressor which keeps the interior of your car cool. It drives your water pump which spins coolant through your vehicle’s cooling system and prevents the car from overheating. It also runs your power steering pump which provides you the ability to turn and steer your car with ease.
This belt spins your alternator, which then charges your car battery as you drive and runs your car’s electrical system. In a nutshell, this belt drives almost everything connected to your car’s engine. Without this belt, imagine none of these accessories running. No air conditioning, no power steering, and no water pump – so your car would overheat in no time!
Faulty Serpentine Belt Symptoms To Look Out For
Unfortunately, sometimes a serpentine belt breaks instantly with no warning. In that case, you must immediately stop your car and replace the broken belt. Since you can’t drive your car with a broken belt, you’ll either need to have it towed to the auto repair shop or perform the car repair on the roadside. It’s a fairly simple job in most vehicles, so if you have a little DIY know-how, then you can probably do it yourself.
While the fan belt sometimes breaks unexpectedly, there are some symptoms that you can watch for to know when you need a new belt. This includes both audible and visual cues. Here’s what to watch and listen for.
1. No Power Steering
Since the belt turns your power steering pump, you might notice your car becoming very difficult to turn and steer. If the steering wheel gets hard to turn, then it could be a result of the serpentine belt not spinning the power steering pump quickly enough. If you notice this symptom, then you should immediately perform a visual inspection of the belt to see if you notice any tears or cracks. If you do, replace the belt right away. Of course, this problem could also be caused by low power steering fluid, so keep a check on your power steering fluid level frequently.
2. Strange Pulley Whine
In some cases, you’ll hear problems with the belt before you see them. As the belt ages, it begins to stretch for constant wear and tear. A serpentine belt is designed to fit very tightly around the serpentine belt pulleys, so as it begins to stretch and loosen, then it might start slipping on the pulleys. You might notice a whining or screeching sound when your engine is running. Sometimes this sound will go away as you accelerate. If you notice a squealing noise while your car is idling, then you probably have a bad serpentine belt that needs replacing. This noise could also signal a bad belt tensioner which is no longer holding the proper amount of tension on the belt.
3. Battery/”Check Engine” Light Turns On
We’ve already mentioned that this belt turns your alternator so that your car battery charges as you drive. So, if the belt breaks or is going bad, then your alternator might not output the proper charging level any longer. This will cause your battery light or your check engine light to illuminate on your dash. When you notice these warning lights come on, go ahead and take your car to the dealership to have things checked out.
4. Visible Cracks On Serpentine Belt
This is a surefire sign of an old belt that is on its way out. A visual inspection is one of the most common ways that a mechanic will diagnose a bad belt. A mechanic will typically perform this inspection at every oil change. If you notice any cracks on either side of the belt, then it should be replaced right away. It is not safe to drive with a cracked serpentine belt because it is bound to break soon. When it does, you’ll be stranded until you can get a new belt put on the car.
5. Engine Overheating
If your belt breaks while driving, this might be one of the first things that you notice. Since the belt drives your car’s cooling system, your vehicle will begin to overheat quickly when that system is no longer functioning. If you notice your temperature gauge heading toward the red, then pull over immediately! You might find that your belt has broken, and you should not crank your car again until the belt has been replaced. Letting your car overheat can cause major damage that could lead to a total engine rebuild. That’s not something you want to pay for when it could have been avoided with a $50 belt!
6. No Air Conditioning
If you’re driving in the summertime and notice it starting to get warm in your car, then your serpentine belt could be to blame. This belt is responsible for driving your air conditioning compressor, so when it breaks, things will begin to heat up! Place your hand against the vent with your A/C running. The air should feel cold coming from the vents and not room temperature. If your A/C is not cooling like it should, then stop and check your belts to make sure you don’t have a bigger problem.
Is It Worth Replacing My Serpentine Belt & Pulleys Myself?
If you have any automotive experience, then you can probably tackle a serpentine belt replacement on most vehicles. Replacing the belt on a Chevrolet or Toyota is usually not very involved, and it can save you some money in labor costs. If you’ve got a higher end car like a BMW or Mercedes, you might be better off letting a professional tackle the job.
We have an even better idea! Instead of paying for that repair for an old car (your car is obviously old if the serpentine belt breaks, right?), why not let Auto Wranglers buy your car for cash instead. We’ll do it quickly so that you will have some extra cash to buy a new car. When you sell your car to us, you’ll get an immediate cash offer in about 90 seconds, and we’ll complete the whole deal in 24-48 hours. Our service area includes the whole U.S., and we always provide free towing and pickup from your location. Contact us today to get your free offer and get the process started.
Serpentine belts play a huge role in your car’s normal operation, and it is impossible to drive your vehicle without one. If your belt is going bad or breaks, now you know how much you can expect to pay to have it repaired. Plus, you know the signs to watch for so that you may even catch it before something catastrophic happens. If you decide not to sink any more money into your old clunker, then just give Auto Wranglers a call. We’ll make you an immediate cash offer and buy your car in just a day or two. Give us a call now to get started!
Can I replace the serpentine belt myself?
If you’re wondering how to change a serpentine belt, it’s pretty straightforward. On most vehicles, this is a job that you can tackle yourself if you have a little bit of automotive experience. You’ll just need a few basic tools and be able to follow the routing guide located under your hood or in your owner’s manual. If you’re unsure whether you can handle it, it’s probably best to go ahead and let a mechanic do it for you or just sell your car to Auto Wranglers.
Can you drive a car with a bad serpentine belt?
It is not a good idea to drive a car with a bad serpentine belt. While the car will run until the belt breaks, a bad belt could break at any time with no warning. Once it breaks, you’ll only have a few seconds until the car’s electrical system goes haywire and the car starts to overheat. You’ll need to find a safe spot to pull over right away. So, you should avoid driving a car with a bad belt until you’re able to get it replaced.
What happens to a car when the serpentine belt breaks?
When the belt breaks, all the car’s engine accessories stop working. So, you’ll lose your power steering and air conditioner along with the car’s cooling system and alternator. Once the alternator stops charging the battery, the electrical components on your vehicle will start to act weird and your car will begin to overheat without the water pump operating. In short, you’ll have to stop your car as soon as the belt breaks.
How often does a serpentine belt need to be replaced?
If you want to know when to replace a serpentine belt, you can relax a little. Most serpentine belts last for quite a while. On average, these belts need to be replaced every 75,000 – 100,000 miles. Although these belts should last for several years, it is still a good idea to inspect them frequently. It is not unheard of for a belt to break even though the car is still fairly new.