How To Replace the Serpentine Belt In Your Car

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Many years ago, a car’s engine had multiple belts. These were commonly referred to as V-belts because of their shape. Your car may have had one v-belt to power the various accessories on the engine, such as the  alternator and the air conditioning  compressor. In addition, there may have been additional belts for the power steering and water pump
The upside to this setup was how easy it was to maintain. You could visually check each belt for cracking or fraying and replace it when it showed signs of wear. And if one belt broke while you were driving, in some cases you could continue home or to a shop to get it replaced. 

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Today’s modern cars are quite different. Manufacturers have replaced the need for two or three belts with one long one. These are called serpentine belts. Some time ago, car companies realised they could run all of the accessories powered by the engine with a single belt. So the serpentine belt was born. 
Serpentine belts are, of course, much longer than their siblings from years ago but also much wider. The belts are durable and last longer, with some car manufacturers, such as  Hyundai, saying its belts will last 60,000 miles.  Ford goes as far as to say its belts will last over 100,000 miles. The important thing to remember here is every manufacturer is different. Refer to the scheduled maintenance in your owner’s manual for inspection or replacement timelines. With all of this in mind, let’s take a look at what it takes to inspect and replace your car’s serpentine belt. 
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Inspection First

If your car is fast approaching the time when its serpentine belt should be replaced, you can do a quick visual inspection to check how it looks. Do you see any cracking or fraying along the edges? Unfortunately, cracks in a serpentine belt are not as clear as the old school V-belts. You can try pushing against the belt with your thumb to check for cracks on the groove side. But if you have to remove it to look for cracking, you might as well replace the belt. 
Another option is to check the grooves in the belt. Grooves in good condition are shaped like a ‘V’. Do the grooves look worn down or flat? Grooves that are worn will take on more of a ‘U’ shape.Those grooves align with matching channels on the pulleys. Worn grooves mean the belt is not gripping the pulley on an accessory well enough and can affect the performance of such things as the water pump or air compressor. 
Another sign the belt may need replacing is a screeching noise when you start the car. The belt is not gripping but actually sliding on the pulleys, making a noise you would rather soon forget. 

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Removing the Belt

Before you begin, look for a serpentine belt routing diagram for your car. Many car manufacturers mount a guide on the underside of the car’s hood. You can also check your owner’s manual. If neither are available, a quick online search should locate it for you. Worst case scenario is to take pictures of the belt placement yourself before removing anything. 
Most cars today have automatic belt  tensioners. These are a spring loaded idler pulley which keeps the tension on the serpentine belt. The tension is what keeps the belt on the various accessory pulleys. 
You can typically use the square end of a ⅜ inch  ratchet to release the tension on the spring. Others will have a bolt head that can be turned with the correct  socket. With either style of belt tensioner, the idea is to use the ratchet handle to release the spring, thus making it easy to remove the belt. At this point, simply snake the belt off of each accessory pulley, beginning with the idler pulley itself.

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Front and back view of a belt tensioner.
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Front and back view of a belt tensioner.
When replacing a serpentine belt, check the pulleys as well
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When replacing a serpentine belt, check the pulleys as well

Installing the New Belt

With the old belt off, check to make sure all of the pulleys turn freely, including the idler pulley. Any pulleys that don’t turn freely need to be replaced. You can also check the spring tension of the idler pulley with the belt off. If everything checks out OK, you can install the new belt, following the routing diagram or the pictures you took earlier. 
Make sure the new belt is positioned on each accessory pulley correctly. Any misalignment will damage or break the belt.

Replacing your serpentine belt is a great example of a do-it-yourself project. Your out-of-pocket cost for a new belt from eBay will be minimal. And you avoid a repair shop, charging a wide range of shop fees to complete the job. Plus, there’s the advantage of learning something new about your car.

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WRITTEN BY: ridestory
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