How to Put a Serpentine Belt and How Much Does It Cost?

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If you hear a squealing or chirping sound from your engine, chances are you have a bad serpentine belt. In this repair guide, you will learn: how to put a serpentine belt in case it’s time to replace it and how much does it cost?

All car parts and components are subject to wear and tear. But a responsible car owner is always on top of car repairs and he maintenance. You should address issues quickly before it escalates to a bigger problem. One of the most important aspects of preventive maintenance is belt replacement.

What is a serpentine belt?

Before you learn how to replace it, first let’s discuss what a serpentine belt is and its role in your car. It is a long snaking (that’s why it’s called serpentine), a winding belt that keeps several car components running efficiently. This includes the alternator, AC system, the power steering pump, and in some cars – the water pump. This is the reason that if you ignore a bad belt, it can cause a lot of trouble. Imagine having a bad serpentine belt that eventually breaks while you are driving.

How many belts do most vehicles have?

Did you know that back in the day, cars have separate belts for each component? However, it became problematic since it results in inconsistent performance if one of the belts wears down or breaks. Imagine having to repair four different v-belt back in the day. Thankfully, the serpentine belt was introduced in the 70s.

What happens if it wears out or snaps?

When this happens, you will lose power steering, your AC and your engine cooler will fail to circulate antifreeze through the cooling system. Once it is cracked or worn out, the belt may produce unusual serpentine belt noise coming from the hood.

How to put serpentine belt

Once the serpentine belt snaps, you can’t repair it. But you can just buy a replacement. By this time, you are aware of how crucial it is. In this section, we are going to teach you how to put a serpentine belt easily.

It only takes about 15 minutes to change it. Changing the belt on certain cars may require special tools so it’s best to familiarize yourself with your car’s manual. Make sure the car is turned off and that the engine bay has already cooled down.

Before you touch anything, find the routing layout of your car’s serpentine belt. In some cars, you can find it in the radiator support. Check the manual if you can’t find the diagram anywhere in the car.

5 easy steps to replace your old belt

Release the tensioner. Using a rachet and socket, rotate the belt tensioner. This will relieve tension on the belt. You may use a breaker bar if you need more leverage. If your car has a manual tensioner, tighten the bolt to keep it in place after relieving tension.

Remove the old belt from the pulley.

Double-check the new belt. Make sure the old and new belts have identical lengths and widths.

Place the grooved side of the belt against the grooves of the pulleys. Refer to the diagram to put the new belt on the pulleys.

Tighten the belt. Compress the tensioner and check the tension of the belt. If it stretched by one inch then you need to tighten it.

Startup your engine and observe if the belt sits and rotates correctly. If you have experience in basic car repair, replacing it is easy. However, if you are unsure, consult a professional mechanic. Improper installation of the is as bad as an old and worn-out belt.

Serpentine belt replacement cost

How much does a serpentine belt replacement cost? In this section, let’s take a look at the serpentine belt replacement cost. Both for DIY and the cost if you have it replaced in auto centers.

Serpentine belts are inexpensive compare to other car parts. Depending on your car, the belt cost as low as $40 or as much as $100. A professional mechanic will charge you up to $120 on labor.

Serpentine belt vs timing belt

Most people use the serpentine belt and timing belt interchangeably. Yet, these belts have entirely different functions. We have a separate article on timing belt vs drive belt, but here’s a primer:

What is a timing belt

To fully understand what a timing belt does, let us first discuss the shafts in your engine. A car’s engine has two main shafts: the crankshaft and the camshaft. The timing belt ensures that these two are connected and runs at the right “time” hence the name timing belt. It keeps your engine valves working harmoniously.

A separate article regarding timing belt will be posted in All Car Fix soon so don’t be confused with serpentine belt vs timing belt.

When to replace serpentine belts?

As we have mentioned time and time again, all car parts have their life span. Sooner or later, you have to replace them before they completely wear out. There are a lot of variables when it comes to replacing serpentine belts or any other car parts. This includes the condition of the vehicle as well as the environment in which you drive. So, when to replace serpentine belts? Older serpentine belts last about 50,000 miles. Fortunately, serpentine belts today are built to lasts. Most car maker recommends replacing it every 60,000 to 100,000 miles.

If you hear unusual serpentine belt noise, you should inspect it immediately.

Symptoms of bad serpentine belts

While serpentine belts may last for a long time, there are a few symptoms that you should be aware of to prevent yourself from being stranded. 

These include:

Serpentine belt squeal – It’s the most common symptom. It is noticeable especially on cold mornings before your engine warms up. The squealing indicates that the belt is slipping or is not properly aligned. You should inspect it right away and have it adjusted or replace a new one if necessary. 

Serpentine belt cracked, cuts and tears – Aside from the sound, you should manually inspect what’s under the hood at least once every few weeks. If you see cracks or any sign of damage on the belt, you need to replace it. If you’ll wait for it to snap, you are risking other parts as well as your safety. 

Overheating engine – In some cars, the serpentine belt also helps in circulating the antifreeze through the cooling system. Once it breaks, the water pump stops and the engine overheats as a result. 

Tip:

If you need to bring your car to a mechanic with a failing cooling system, be mindful of the temperature. You must drive slowly and carefully to avoid overheating the engine even more. The best way to avoid further damage is to call a mechanic or have your car towed. 

No power steering – The loss of power steering could also indicate other problems such as lack of fluid or faulty power steering pump. But since the power steering is connected to the serpentine belt it is worth considering checking it. 

AC is not working – There are several reasons why an AC suddenly stops working – no air from the vents, no noise coming from it. But a bad serpentine belt could also be the culprit.

Here are some other warning signs:

The check battery light is on

Rubber peeling of the belt

Steam or vapor from the hood

Weak spots or missing grooves on the belt

Conclusion

In this guide, you have learned how to put a serpentine belt. You have also learned how it affects your car in case it wears out or snaps. Before it snaps and risks your car, watch out for signs and symptoms of a bad belt. This includes squeaks and the malfunction of some of your car’s components. Replacement cost is inexpensive especially if you do it yourself.

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