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Cracked Serpentine Belt on CarBeyond its essential components, your car consists of many accessories, such as its air conditioning compressor, power steering pump, and alternator, among others. As opposed to using multiple belts to drive these items, which is how manufacturers used to accomplish things, a single long belt, known as a serpentine belt, gets the job done, transferring engine power to each accessory instead.

To maintain proper tension on the belt, it passes through a series of idler pulleys and an automatic belt tensioner. The right amounts of tension and friction are essential for driving the various vehicle accessories reliably, and it is why a worn or cracked serpentine belt can often be so problematic.

When Serpentine Belts Go Bad

It’s a commonly held belief that you’re supposed to replace the serpentine belt after five years or 50,000 miles. The actual time frame depends on the specific type of car and the manufacturer's specifications. A newer car’s serpentine belt could last up to 100,000 miles, whereas an older vehicle’s may need replacement sooner.

As for how you can tell when it’s time to get a new one, here are some telltale signs to be aware of:

Squealing

If you’ve heard your car emit a loud screech for a few seconds or longer as it starts up, that is a good sign that its serpentine belt has a problem. It’s possible that it simply needs tightening or adjustment, but it could also be cracking or stretched to its limit due to prolonged use. These belt threads do travel a surprising distance around your engine compartment, after all.

Fraying Belt

When looking at your serpentine belt, check to see if its edges are fraying. If so, it could be due to using an incorrectly sized belt or that the belt is simply getting old.

Shaking

When serpentine belts become loose, they can cause the entire engine to shake, which can easily be felt from behind the wheel.

Wear on the Pulleys

Degrading tensioners and idler pulleys can act as both a cause and symptom of an aging, cracking serpentine belt. These issues need to be addressed quickly, as they can lead to a snowball effect of further wear and damage.

What Happens When a Serpentine Belt Breaks?

Should your serpentine belt break, your accessories will no longer receive power. As a result, several things will happen, none of which are pleasant:

  • Your power steering will stop working
  • Your air conditioning won’t come on
  • Your battery will die
  • Your engine will likely stall quickly

Perhaps the most serious consequence of a broken serpentine belt is that it can lead to your engine overheating, causing your vehicle to suffer serious damage and putting you at risk as a result.

Replacing Your Serpentine Belt

Getting a repair shop to install a new serpentine belt can cost anywhere from $100 up to $300, even more for luxury or exotic cars. If you notice any of the above signs that your serpentine belt is on its last legs, don’t delay. Take it to a qualified and experienced tech for an inspection and replacement immediately.

Summary: Your car’s serpentine belt provides power to things like its alternator, power steering pump, AC compressor, and more. But as it ages, it will wear and crack, meaning you’ll need to replace it before it snaps!

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