Today we’re focusing on the serpentine belt – a drive belt whose name is derived from its long, winding, snake-like appearance.
Serpentine belts are important car parts – without them, many components of your vehicle wouldn’t work and the car would eventually die due to engine failure.
Get ready to learn more about how this small car part works to keep your automobile alive, what to do when it fails, and how to remedy the situation without spending too much.
What’s the Price of a Serpentine Belt?
The serpentine belt replacement rates ranges from $5 to $290. Factors that influence the range include the place of purchase, whether in-shop or online, the brand of the part, and the year, make, and model of your vehicle.
For example, at an online shop, an ATS Diesel Performance serpentine belt for a 2009 Dodge Ram can cost about $67, but a Continental ContiTech serpentine belt for a 2018 Mercedes S Class 4.0L S560 will cost only about $8.
Some of the most popular auto parts brands of serpentine belts are as follows:
- Merchant Automotive
- Roush Performance
Serpentine belts may also be sold individually or in a kit along with other related parts such as belt tensioners and replacement pulleys, and they usually come with multilingual instructions for easy installation. Such kits may even include an alternator or an air pump. The serpentine belt kit price ranges from $33 to $300.
Just to give you a quick idea of how much the price varies depending on the type of vehicle, here’s a list of price ranges for various popular cars:
|2008 Chevrolet Impala||$116|
|2013 Volkswagen CC||$100|
|2007 Nissan Altima||$113|
|2013 Infiniti QX56||$149|
|2006 BMW Z4||$101|
|2008 Audi S5||$236|
Where to Get A Serpentine Belt Replaced?
Serpentine belts, along with any other car parts, can be replaced or repaired at dealerships or independent auto centers in your area.
According to statistics researchers, 75% of auto service is performed by independent shops while only 25% of repairs and replacements end up taking place at dealerships.
The reason for this may be the fact that indie auto centers have lower price ranges for vehicle maintenance and repair due to lower hourly mechanic rates.
Besides the type of auto center, the location of the shop will also play a role in dictating the cost to replace a drive belt. As always, replacement labor costs might depend upon the type of vehicle, as some might have more or fewer steps than others.
Based on prices gathered from industry experts, the estimated cost of labor is about $35 to $100. Below is a list of well-known independent auto centers that you can choose from locally:
- Pep Boys
- Merchant’s Tire & Auto
If you’re not in the mood to spend, changing the serpentine belt by yourself isn’t very difficult and will only take you about 30 minutes.
What Is A Serpentine Belt?
A serpentine belt is a long rubber belt that is used to keep multiple car systems running all at once. It’s located on the car engine and some of the systems that it supports are the alternator, air conditioning, water pump, power steering, and cooling fan.
It’s essentially a giant rubber band which is threaded over, around, and under a system of pulleys. A serpentine belt is also known as a multi-vee, poly-v, or multi-rib belt.
Before the creation of the serpentine belt, each system used a different drive belt. The alternator would have one, the fan would have one, etc. Most cars today use a serpentine belt to drive all the components, but certain models still have a few individual belts and use the serpentine belt for the majority of the systems.
There are many advantages to having one belt to rule them all. For one, the entire mechanism takes up less space. Using one belt also allows for higher tension which reduces the risk of slips and increases the life of the belt.
Serpentine belts are also easier to maintain, as replacement involves simply removing and installing one new belt rather than multiple ones. Individual belts also have a tendency to flip over when the engine is running at a high RPM, but serpentine belts don’t.
There aren’t many disadvantages to serpentine belts. However, its greatest drawback is the fact that a problem with the belt will cause all the system components to stop working simultaneously.
If a serpentine belt breaks or falls out of place, a vehicle will stop running due to loss of engine cooling.
Without the alternator working, the car battery won’t be able to charge up and the next time you try to start up the car, the starter may not be able to crank the engine.
The serpentine belt needs to be kept at a certain tightness to ensure that it glides and rotates along the pulley system.
In order to achieve and maintain this level of tension, some belts need to be manually tuned every so often, but most include a self-tensioning device which is used to automatically gauge the belt tension and make adjustments as often as necessary.
This device itself also needs periodic maintenance to ensure that it continues to keep the belt taut and avoid slips. Belt tensioners may be spring-loaded, hydraulic or manual.
One side of the belt is usually smooth and the other side is covered with grooves or ‘ribs’. Depending on the vehicle and the engine design, the pulley system might use the smooth side or the groove-side to operate.
A couple of different car models use two serpentine belts instead of just one. Manufacturers that are fond of this are Ford, Nissan, GMC, and BMW.
Symptoms of a Bad Serpentine BeltSymptoms of a Bad Serpentine Belt
As times goes by, serpentine belts can begin to degrade. The belt may stretch, crack, and the ribbed side can start becoming smooth. Other physical symptoms of old age can include frayed edges and glazed surfaces.
Rubber parts will peel off the belt. Fluid may also drip on it which will cause it to not roll so well. If it becomes misaligned with the pulleys, it might need to be replaced. Here is a list of symptoms to keep an eye out for when diagnosing your engine’s serpentine belt:
- Strange Noises – The most obvious symptoms of a problematic belt will be the noises that you hear coming from the engine. These include squealing and chirping sounds that indicate low belt tension, a stretched-out belt or resistance between a pulley and the belt. All of these issues are caused by a belt that’s slipping and you may be able to fix the problem by tuning the belt tensioner.
- Wear and Tear – Pop open the hood every now and then and do a visual inspection of the serpentine belt. It’s typically easy to identify an old and worn-out belt as pieces of it might be flaking off or fraying and small pieces of the ribs might have even completely fallen off. A belt in this state will continue to work though, so if you see this type of damage, it’s a sign that the belt is due for replacement.
- Non-Working Systems – The failure of any one of a car’s onboard systems may be an indication of belt failure. The air conditioning, power steering, and cooling fan will likely be the first to go. If you’re driving when a belt breaks, the car will be able to run on battery power but only for a limited amount of time before the car dies. In this situation, normally an icon will light up on the dashboard to alert you to the problem.
- Vehicle Completely Inoperable – You might experience this scenario if you attempt to start up the car and nothing happens after you twist the ignition key. If your battery is drained due to a failed alternator that can’t run because of a damaged or faulty serpentine belt, the starter motor will not be able to crank up the engine.
In the event of a belt failure, don’t forget that there will be plenty of indicators on the dashboard. The check engine light and the ALT or GEN light may be on.
If you experience any of the aforementioned symptoms, it’s advised to take immediate action. Never ignore the signs thinking that it’s something that can be taken care of later.
If a belt fails while in the middle of a crowded highway, an accident could happen. The other systems which are dependent upon the belt’s continued functionality might even become damaged as a result.
Dealing with a broken serpentine belt is nothing compared to dealing with a damaged engine. By replacing a belt at the right time, you’ll have better peace of mind when on the road.
How to Prevent Serpentine Belts from Being Damaged?
Serpentine belts are built to last, but they do have a limited service life – somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 miles.
Most vehicle manufacturers usually recommend an inspection at least once a year or every 30,000 to 50,000 miles.
You can also visually inspect the belt yourself without taking it in and check for any damage. If it’s still in good condition, there’ll be no need to replace it just yet.
In order to prevent a serpentine belt from sustaining damage, preventive measures must be taken.
The best maintenance steps to take are regular cleaning of the belt and pulley system. Fortunately, it’s very easy to pop the hood open and check the belt anytime, so no special tools are needed aside from maybe safety gloves.
Check for any oil or grease contamination. There shouldn’t be any lubricants on the belt and pulleys as it can cause friction which will eventually make the belt slip.
The serpentine belt can also be damaged by chemicals that are present in the oil or grease. Use a clean and dry rag to wipe off the belt and pulleys. In the case of excessive grime build-up, you can take the belt off altogether to make it easier to clean.
The tension of the belt is regulated by a device called a belt tensioner. It’s responsible for maintaining a pre-set amount of tension. If the belt gets tighter or looser, the tensioner is supposed to compensate and adjust it back.
Some belts on older vehicles don’t have tensioners and need to be tuned manually. If your car doesn’t have a belt tensioner, consult the owner’s manual and follow the steps to correct the belt.
If your engine is equipped with a belt tensioner but the belt itself is slipping or flipping, you’ll need to get it checked out by a technician.
It’s recommended to always have the tensioner inspected when working with the engine, serpentine belt or pulleys. If your vehicle has a misaligned belt tensioner that is ignored, a variety of mechanical problems can manifest including a complete overheat of the engine which may become permanently damaged.