What Is a Serpentine Belt and How Does It Work?

By Richard Robertson | Automobile

What-Is-a-Serpentine-Belt

Have you ever taken the time to wonder why you see a serpent-like belt coiled around some parts in your engine when you open it?

It may seem like unimportant but the truth is that; a failure of that one belt can delay your movement, cause your car to breakdown and prevent you from enjoying the air conditioner in your car. Well, that is how powerful and important a serpentine belt.

A serpentine belt is a continuous belt which is found in automotive engines parts like the water pump, alternator, power steering pump, air pump, air conditioning compressor. It is made from sturdy rubber for strength and durability.

Initially, car manufacturers used several belts for different engine parts but now, a single serpentine belt is used to power these engine accessories.

A serpentine belt transmits power to everything in your engine by curling like a snake around different pulleys. It is responsible for powering the crankshaft to control the pistons of your engine.

Also, it powers the alternator from which electrical currents emanate to power all the electrical parts of your car. One can say that a serpentine belt is to automotive engine what electricity is to man. It makes things to work.

The serpentine belt is also responsible for your engine cooling system. It transmits power the water pump which prevents your engine from overheating. If this water pump fails at any point in time, your car engine will overheat and fail.

This belt may be simple but if it fails in your car, the important parts of your engine will stop working and the car will be inoperable. This is why it must be replaced as soon as it is cracked or worn for your vehicle to be in a good condition at all times.

Presently, many late model trucks, minivans, front-wheel drive and rear-wheel drive cars have serpentine belts which drive the accessories of their engines.

This is because it is both easy and cheaper to use it than multiple belts. It is also more compact to use in the engines than multiple belts.

There are many great things about the serpentine belt.

  • A single serpentine belt is more efficient to use than multiple belt system.
  • It consumes less space in the compartment of your car engine. Instead of seeing multiple belts wrapped around a different accessory, it will just be one.
  • The belt doesn't stretch under tension because of its wideness.
  • Due to subjection to high tension, the belt last for a longer period of time.
  • The high tension reduces slip for the use of lower-ratio pulleys.
  • Lower-ratio pulleys help to reduce the load which the engine bears, and reduce the amount of fuel and power which the engine consumes.
  • Serpentine belts are easily maintained or replaced, unlike others. This is because all it requires is one movable belt tensioner.

Even though a serpentine belt has many advantages as compared to others, it also features as a setback. Since it is a single belt that powers the important accessories of the car engine, any crack or breakdown will automatically render your vehicle useless.

Many of the critical functions in your car engine will fail automatically unlike when you use multiple belts for different parts. Such parts like the alternator, water pump, and power steering pump will stop working and we know what will happen next.

However this may seem helpless but the good news is that before it actually goes under, it will give adequate visual warning to the user unless you didn't check it. Also, it may continue working for some time even if it has shed off several grooves.

How does it work?

Well, a serpentine belt powers many things which make your car work perfectly. It may be single and wide but it has its own technicalities when it operates. To work on several accessories of your engine, it coils like a serpent around each part.

It revolves around the alternator, power steering pump, air pump, water pump etc in a continuous manner to keep them operational for the engine to work properly.

The serpentine belt may be guided by a belt tensioner or an idler pulley which can either be hydraulic, spring loaded or manual. A tensioner helps to apply the force that creates tension for the serpentine belt.

It maintains the right tension on the belt so that you will not need to re-tighten it and it must be halfway between its throw to work. The serpentine belt can only be loose if it is not the right size or the tensioner failed.

The serpentine belt is also designed with many grooves in "V' shapes which supply adequate traction for the drive and component pulleys.

To be specific, the ribbed side of the belt connects with the grooves on the accessory drive pulleys while the flat side connects with a tensioner roller. If the tensioner starts failing, the belt will be misaligned and come off.

Apart from the "V' grooves, the back which is smooth also helps to drive some accessories depending on the engine design.

However, this is only possible if the components require less torque or where there is a large angle of wrap. In such engines, those accessories will counter-rotate.

Conclusion

A serpentine belt is a necessary part of your car engine. It powers some important accessories that keep your engine up and running. Without it, your engine can overheat and ground your car.

Using a single serpentine belt is more compact, cheap and easy to maintain. This is why new model vehicles are using it instead of multiple belts.

It works well with either a tensioner or an idler pulley. If either of them gets damaged, your belt will malfunction. As a good driver, you must replace your belt when you notice any cracked or worn sides, to avoid disappointment.

Other things that can cause wear on the belt are, improper tension, oil leaks or coolant leaks.

One good thing about the belt is that it won't just break down suddenly. If you inspect it from time to time, you will notice that it has reached its limit even though it may still be working.

Also, make sure to replace the tensioner when it is faulty to avoid damaging your belt. Sometimes, a rattling sound is the warning you will get indicating that the tensioner is damaged.

If you don't want to cause damages to yourself or your car, take adequate notice and care for your engine's serpentine belt.

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