Simple Car Maintenance: Checking Accessory Belts

This week’s installment in our series on simple car maintenance is all about checking accessory belts. If you have a newer vehicle, it probably uses a serpentine multi-accessory drive belt, which is a single ribbed belt that drives all the accessories, air conditioning system, power steering, alternator as well as other pumps and accessories.¬†Older model cars and trucks may have separate accessory belts.

It is important to keep an eye on accessory belts because they wear and become damaged over time. A broken accessory belt can result in serious damage to the engine or its systems. Occasionally checking the accessory belt or belts will help you catch and replace a bad belt long before it breaks.

Check your accessory belt or belts by following these steps:

Inspect belt for signs of wear. Inspect the belt or belts when the engine is off and the car is cool. Along with the visual check, feel the condition of the belts checking for cracks, fraying, splits or brittle areas.

Look for places on the belt where the rubber appears slick. Slick spots may cause a belt to slip and can be precursors to overheating and cracking.

Check the pulleys. Inspect the belt for rubber deposit build-up spots or worn spots that could catch and cause it to snap.

Note the belt tension. Feel the tension on the longest length of the belt; it should be tight, with little or no give.

Any squealing sounds you hear coming from the engine could mean a worn, loose or damaged belt. Listen to how the engine sounds with the hood up if you are not sure about the sounds you are hearing. Making sure the vehicle is parked, with the parking brake on, and have someone accelerate the engine while you listen. Always be sure to keep a safe distance from belts and components while the engine is running.

If you suspect you have a problem with accessory belt condition, be sure to get your vehicle in for service as soon as possible.