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What Is a Serpentine Belt?

BY: Nikki Ayers
A close up of a car's serpentine belt.

You don’t have to be a professional mechanic or a race car driver to feel a sense of pride in how your car looks and performs. In fact, just because you may not know exactly what items such as a water pump, head gasket, crankshaft, or serpentine belt are doesn’t mean you don’t care for your vehicle and want to keep it well maintained. 

But, while not knowing every single part under your car’s hood isn’t a big deal, it never hurts to expand your knowledge of how your vehicle operates. For example, learning more about your car’s serpentine belt and what you can expect to happen if it breaks can help you keep it and your vehicle properly maintained for years to come.

What Is a Serpentine Belt?

A serpentine belt is a long rubber belt that helps distribute power to the engine accessories. Most serpentine belts will route around the crankshaft, alternator, power steering pump, air conditioning compressor, and water pump. It is also referred to as a “fan belt,” “drive belt,” or “accessory belt” on vehicles with two or more belts. 

To put it simply, serpentine belts are powered by the crankshaft, which spins due to the energy created by your engine during combustion. This process rotates the crankshaft pulley, which pulls the serpentine belt in one direction to spin each attaching accessory pulley. Each vehicle’s engine has a specific serpentine belt and belt tensioner to ensure enough tension to turn your accessories at the correct speeds. And like other 

Overall, the accessories powered by the serpentine belt are designed to spin at a certain speed to keep your engine’s accessories working efficiently. A belt that is too big or too small can cause belt slip or even cause your belt to break due to abnormal wear. It’s also good to remember that while similar in function, a serpentine belt is not the same as a timing belt, which is primarily responsible for synchronizing the timing of the valves and pistons of your engine’s combustion chamber.

What Happens When A Serpentine Belt Breaks?

As a serpentine belt is made of rubber, they are considered a “wear & tear” item and can become worn out and bridle over time. For example, constant exposure to engine bay heat and extended use will cause the rubber belt to develop cracks, which over time can lead to them breaking. And like most issues with the various internal components of your car’s engine, a bad serpentine belt will cause your car’s check engine light to go on, and you will lose power and function to any accessories driven by it. 

To give you a better idea of what you may experience when a serpentine belt breaks, we have broken it down by accessory drive component, which includes:

Power Steering

The serpentine belt on your vehicle will turn the power steering pulley attached to the power steering pump. This helps pump fluid through the power steering system to make turning your vehicle much more effortless. So if a serpentine belt breaks, you’ll know right away as your car will be much harder to turn than ever before. 

Air Conditioner Compressor

The A/C compressor, or air conditioner compressor, is one of the most vital components of your HVAC system as it helps to pump Freon through your system, which is responsible for cooling you down when the temperatures go up. If your serpentine belt breaks, you will lose A/C function in your vehicle, which can immediately affect you and your passengers.

Water Pump

The water pump on an engine helps push coolant through the cooling system, allowing your engine to maintain a steady temperature to prevent overheating. The serpentine belt on many vehicles powers the water pump, so once this breaks, you may notice your car start to run hotter.

Alternator

As the main contributor to your vehicle’s charging system, your alternator creates energy by rotating the alternator pulley. The serpentine belt powers this, and your car will start to drain the battery and lose power once the serpentine belt breaks. This is usually the first sign of a serpentine belt breaking, as your vehicle will most likely die before it overheats or you notice your turning has become more challenging.

Is a Serpentine Belt Included in My Extended Warranty?

Since you cannot drive without one (in most cases), you will need to get a new serpentine belt and have it replaced by either yourself or have a certified mechanic do the work for you. This is a relatively easy job and averages around $107 to $131, though this can vary based on your specific make and model. For example, here are the costs of replacing the serpentine belt on some popular vehicles on the road, including:

Most vehicles should have a serpentine belt replaced around the 50,000 to 60,000 mark. But, as with the cost of replacing it, this will vary from vehicle to vehicle, so it’s always best to check your owner’s manual. There, you’ll be able to learn when you should replace your car’s serpentine belt and other essential services you should be doing as part of your vehicle’s maintenance schedule.

However, while a serpentine belt is an important piece of any vehicle, as a wear & tear component, most extended warranties or vehicle service contracts will not provide coverage for your serpentine belt. However, while you may need to pay to have your car’s serpentine belt replaced, most will still cover the accessories powered by your serpentine belt, helping to give you peace of mind when it comes to other kinds of repairs. 

Keeping Your Car Maintained with Endurance

Like many of the other components found within your car’s engine block, a bad serpentine belt can present itself in several ways, like seeing issues with your power steering pump, water pump, and A/C compressor. And, even while a serpentine belt won’t be covered by an extended warranty or VSC, having the right protection plan, like any of our Endurance auto protection plans, can help protect your vehicle’s other vital components from unexpected breakdowns and repairs.

So whether you’re looking for comprehensive coverage or basic powertrain protection starting at just $79/month, Endurance has a plan for you. Plus, only at Endurance can you get comprehensive breakdown protection AND savings of up to $3,500 in yearly maintenance services, including engine diagnostic exams, tire rotations, alignment checks and more, thanks to the industry-leading Advantage plan. And regardless of the plan you choose, as an Endurance customer, you’ll have the peace of mind knowing they can take your vehicle to any certified automotive repair facility or ASE Certified mechanic for repairs.

You’ll even automatically receive 24/7 roadside assistance and towing, trip interruption coverage and rental car reimbursements to help you in the event of a breakdown, no matter where you are. But that’s not all because, for just a $20 activation fee, you can get even more coverage and savings with a full year’s worth of  Elite Benefits, including two tire repairs/replacements, key fob replacements, collision discounts, and even total loss protection. 

To learn more about how any of Endurance’s protection plans can help you, give our award-winning customer care team a call at (800) 253-8203 or request a free quote today. And don’t forget that you can find even more articles on various automotive topics such as DIY car maintenance tips, answers to extended warranty FAQs, expert advice, road trip planning guides and more by visiting the Endurance blog

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