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At the heart of every car or truck, is an engine. And while there are various accessories attached to it, the serpentine belt plays a paramount role. In fact, without it, you’d be stuck on the side of the road.

Specifically, the power from the engine makes its way to these accessories through the use of attached pulleys. A belt, called a serpentine belt, transfers power from the engine’s crankshaft to a series of pulleys. These pulleys connect to other important accessories, including the water pump, alternator, power steering pump, and even the cooling fan for the radiator. However, when the belt goes, the attached accessories no longer work, which can cause major issues, such as your engine overheating or your alternator no longer being capable of charging your battery.

To get yourself back on the road again, you’ll have to replace the serpentine belt. If you don’t want to be left stranded, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on your serpentine belt as it builds up wear and tear.

Serpentine Belts vs. V-Belts

A serpentine belt is a single belt that winds around the engine’s pulleys. The belt itself can resemble a snake, hence the name.Serpentine belts simplify automobile construction and maintenance by allowing you to replace a single belt, instead of many.

Some cars and trucks, mostly older models made in the 1990s and earlier, are not equipped with a serpentine belt. Instead, they use v-belts. In this configuration, every engine accessory has its own drive belt. Sometimes the same belt drives more than one accessory, but a single v-belt never drives all of the accessories like a serpentine belt does.

You can tell if you have a serpentine belt by looking for a single, belt wrapped around the drive pulleys on the front of the engine.

Visually Inspecting your Serpentine Belt

All automotive belts are made of rubber. As the belt ages, moisture and chemicals naturally leach out of the rubber belt. Anything that wears will eventually wear out completely and break. The only way to tell what condition your belt is in is to visually inspect it.

Contrary to popular belief, a squealing belt is not necessarily a sign of a belt that’s about to break. Noises could be coming from a loose pulley, component, or something else entirely.

Most manufacturers recommend visually inspecting the serpentine belt during every other oil change. Visual inspections can make you aware of small problems before they become larger, more complicated issues, as long as you know what to look for and take the time to do it.

You’ll find the serpentine belt wound around the pulleys on the front of your engine. On a rear wheel drive car or truck, the surface of your engine is closest to the front bumper.

To inspect your serpentine belt you’ll want a flashlight, even if it’s daytime. Shine it down at your serpentine belt and find places where the belt wraps around the pulleys, forming sharp bends. Inspect these bends for any cracking, fraying, or general wear. If you notice any of these telltale signs, your serpentine belt needs to be replaced ASAP before it breaks and you’re left stranded.

Removing and Replacing Your Serpentine Belt

While it may seem like a daunting task to replace such an integral part of your engine, removing and replacing a serpentine belt doesn’t need to be scary. In most cases, replacement is actually a lot simpler than it looks.

The first step is to get everything out of the way. You may need to remove the fan attached to the end of your crankshaft. You might also need to unbolt your radiator and pull it forward a little to gain the clearance you need. Every car and truck is different.When in doubt, consult your owner’s manual or official repair guide.

A part called a serpentine belt tensioner puts tension on the belt, which keeps it from flying off when the engine is running. Most of the time all you need to do is put a wrench on it and then apply pressure in the direction that takes the tension off the belt. Once you’ve taken the tension out of the belt, it can be removed easily. Before you do this, it’s a good idea to make a simple drawing depicting how the belt wraps around the pulleys so you can put it back in proper position when replacing.

There should be a diagram from the manufacturer pasted on the underside of the hood or the crossmember for the radiator. Install the new serpentine belt by winding it around the pulleys and then using the tensioner to put pressure on the belt. Check, double check, and re-check your work before you start your engine for the first time after making this repair.

Finding the Parts and Expertise You Need

Whether you need the parts, information, or are just nervous about doing the replacement yourself, Pep Boys is here to help with whatever your automotive needs may be. Stop by your local Pep Boys store to speak with an expert about replacing your broken serpentine belt, or if you’re feeling handy, find the parts for your vehicle online and get to work under the hood.