The Frugal Car Owner: How to Change a Serpentine Belt

RelayRides blogger and automotive expert, Brad Iger, shares his latest installemtn of The Frugal Car Owner on how to save cash changing your serpentine belt. 

Welcome to another installment of our Frugal Car Owner series, where we show you how to do simple automotive repairs and save a few bucks in the process! Has your car been making a heinous squealing or squeaking sound when you start it and/or rev the engine? It may be time for a new serpentine belt, because if it’s on the way out, when that sound stops happening, it means you’re in serious trouble. So let’s avoid that by replacing it before it breaks completely. Here’s how:

Check the Belt

That serious trouble we just alluded to is because, while serpentine belts are essentially the same as the an old-school fan belt, on most modern vehicles one belt runs basically all the accessories on the engine. That means that if the belt breaks, your power steering, cooling system, electrical charging system and other accessories will likely stop functioning immediately. That’s not good. Fortunately, replacing a serpentine belt only takes a few minutes and requires a minimal amount of tools.

Before you remove anything, take a look at the belt that’s on the car. One easy way to assess whether you need to replace it is if you can see that the edges are brittle and if there are any visible cracks in the belt. If that’s the case, the rubber is drying up and is bound to fail sooner or later, so it’s wise to replace it now so you don’t find yourself on the side of the road when the belt goes kaput.

Get Parts

Find out what belt you need for replacement. Some belts will have the part number directly on them, so you may be able to just look at the old belt while it’s still attached and find the part number. If not, just bring your vehicle info to your local parts store and they’ll be able to find the one that fits your vehicle. Once you have the new belt, we’re ready to get wrenchin’.

Before removing the old belt, take a note of how it routes around the engine. There may be some tricky twists and turns here, so it’s worth remembering the route or taking a quick phone pic or two just in case. Many vehicles have a diagram somewhere in the engine bay that shows how the belts route, and if not, the owner’s manual often does as well.

Remove the Old Belt

When you’re ready to remove the old belt, you want to find the tensioner pulley. This spring loaded pulley is what maintains tension on the belt and prevents the belt from coming off the pulley system. The tensioner pulley will look a little different from the rest of the pulleys in that there won’t be an accessory attached to it. Turn the pulley with a rachet and the appropriate socket, if applicable, and this should loosen the belt. Remove the old belt.

Now is a good time to check the belt for signs of damage, because they can indicate a bigger problem with motor. Are there large portions of the belt covered in oil, or coolant spots? These are indicative of engine leaks, and also give you a better idea of where your engine is leaking from, so it’s wise to keep an eye out.

Replace the Belt

Follow the same route as the old belt used. You won’t be able to get the entire belt onto the pulley system until the tensioner pulley is loosened up, so wait to rotate the tension pulley until the rest of the belt is securely hooked up to the pulleys. With the tensioner pulley rotated, hook the belt back on. At this point, the entire belt should be hooked up to the pulleys with an adequate amount of tension. If everything looks good, go ahead and start the motor and make sure everything under the hood looks copasetic. If that’s the case, that’s it – you’re done! Pretty easy, eh?