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Belt It Out: The Skinny on Serpentine and Accessory Belts

“Tighten your belt.” This figurative, financially focused phrase gets bandied about during tough economic times. “Loosen your belt.” A literal expression summing up all-U-can-eat buffet aftermath. But seriously… Just like humans who wear belts variously for fashion and function, vehicles rely on belts for multiple purposes, with appearance and proper tautness key features of effective performance.

Serpentine drive belts at NAPA Auto Parts in Glenview, ILAccessory belt. Serpentine belt. Drive belt. Alternator belt. Power-steering belt. This belt stuff can seem bewildering, but it’s really not that bad.

Featured on newer vehicle models, a serpentine belt (aka “drive belt”) powers many functions simultaneously, including the cooling fan, air-conditioning compressor, power-steering pump, cooling fan and air-injection pump. (Talk about multi-tasking.) If this belt breaks, not only will all its associated functions cease, the engine might overheat and suffer significant damage. Older cars might use several accessory belts tasked with more individualized functions that a serpentine belt covers in one swoop. Either way, it’s a smart idea to keep tabs on your belts since failure can prove catastrophic.

How do I know when I need a new serpentine or accessory belt?

Odometer readings provide a good measure for gauging when it’s time to swap out a serpentine belt, which should last for roughly 60,000 to 100,000 miles of service. Checking belt condition during each oil change is a smart schedule to establish. Visual, sensory and auditory warnings of a compromised belt include:

  • Cracks, wear or pieces missing on the belt
  • Glazed appearance or oil visible
  • Engine overheating (a slick belt won’t drive a water pump adequately)
  • Air-conditioner fails to cool (also evidence of a slickened belt)
  • Squeaking, screeching or chirping, particularly during cold-morning startups and sharp turns
  • Check-engine light illuminates

Regarding tautness, if you can reach the belt and it moves more than a half-inch while being pressed, it might be in OK condition and just require an adjustment. Loose belts emit squeaky noises during rapid acceleration. However, belts contaminated by fluids (water, coolant, power-steering fluid or oil) also squeak. Water evaporates, so H2O-exposed belts will be fine. But other liquid contaminants will ruin a belt.

What parts might I need to replace my serpentine or accessory belts?

Replacing your serpentine or accessory belts is a DIY-worthy project, so when you’re ready, here’s a list of auto parts we can help you with:

  • Serpentine belt or accessory belts

Key DIY Tips

These steps, pulled from the detailed directions listed on our NAPA Know How Blog, will help you replace your serpentine or accessory belt:

What other repairs or maintenance should I do at the same time?

If you’re replacing your serpentine or accessory belts, you also might want to replace:

  • Belt tensioner

Remember, with Glenbrook Auto Parts in Glenview, you can save time by ordering your parts online and picking them up in the store. We’ll have them ready and waiting for you.

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