A vehicle’s serpentine belt is likely to decline in quality as the miles add up. It starts with the squeaking. The loud noise is the sign that the serpentine belt should be replaced. If not, the car can start to die (power steering, AC, water pump, etc.). It’s a repair with an average cost of up to $250.
The serpentine belt powers up various vehicle accessories such as the water pump, the alternator, and the air conditioning unit. When the belt fails, though, it could seem like the car is on its last leg.
It starts making a horrid squeaking sound at startup and on U-turns. Some drivers report hearing the noise when they accelerate.
When drivers see the laundry list of problems that happen because of one bad belt, a repair that doesn’t usually cost more than $300, they might feel lucky (if the problem is caught early).
If car owners want to keep that serpentine belt from squeaking, they should first learn the ins and outs of what indications present themselves when the belt goes bad, what options exist for the repair, and how much a driver should expect to pay to resolve the issue.
Serpentine Belt Problems: Signs and Symptoms
If you want to make a serpentine belt stop squeaking, you might as well as identify the issues. There are plenty of signs that indicate the serpentine belt is going bad.
- Steering becomes a challenge. The serpentine belt can push the power steering pump. Losing the power steering feature means that your car will be very difficult to turn, potentially causing a dangerous situation. If that happens to you, arrange for a tow.
- Because the belt might power the alternator, if it goes wonky, you might see the battery light flash on the dashboard. The car’s losing power!
- If the engine is designed in such a way that it powers the water pump with a serpentine belt, then it’s bound to overheat if the belt is on the fritz. Drive with caution
- The AC’s on deck, too. If the serpentine belt doesn’t work, the AC might not have the power it needs to operate.
What Does it Mean if the Serpentine Belt is Squeaking?
In general, the serpentine belt, like any other car part, is subject to damage due to wear and tear over time. If the serpentine belt won’t stop squeaking, it could be damaged.
The squeal is a classic sound in old cars. Starting up the engine in the morning for that drive to work, and eeek – what is THAT noise? It’s likely the serpentine belt.
The belt holds an important task under the hood. It moves the engine’s various accessories. For example, it powers the alternator.
Some people wonder if that squeal is really the brakes. If you hear the noise when hitting the brake pedal, then it’s probably not the serpentine belt. If you hear it when starting the car or when making a U-turn, it could be the serpentine belt that’s doing you dirty.
In old cars, it could be both!
The bottom line is that the noise means it’s time to get the serpentine belt checked out and quite possibly repaired. Getting the car to the mechanic is the only surefire way of getting the belt to stop squealing.
Serpentine Belt Replacement Costs
People who are sick of hearing the serpentine belt squeal might wonder how much they have to pay to make it stop.
Mechanics will only spend between $30 to $80 for the part. The price of the part depends on the make and model of the car, on the year, and on the availability of the piece.
The additional labor cost to have it installed runs between $100 to $200. The mechanic usually spends an hour or so working on the job. This means the repair is fairly quick and easy. In terms of car repairs, it isn’t too expensive.
This might be good news for the person who solves the serpentine belt problems early on. If the belt is just squealing, but the power steering, alternator, water pump, and air conditioning module are still in working order, that’s okay. It won’t be too major of a repair in most cases.
However, letting the car run with the problem until these modules or accessories are impacted could drive up the costs pretty quickly.
For example, if the battery dies, you’ll have to replace that. If the car over heats, many parts of the engine can get messed up.
When you think about the ominous mechanic’s warning about a serpentine belt going bad, don’t write it off. Get the repair done while it’s cheap, fast, and easy. If you wait for the problem to come to a head, it could blow up in your face.
If the power steering or alternator stop working while you’re driving along, not only are you due for a major headache involving a tow truck, you could be putting you, your passengers, and the general public at risk. It isn’t worth it!
It is not safe to drive with a bad serpentine belt. It is not recommended. Drivers with this problem should take the bus, call a mechanic, or send the car to a junkyard.
Can You Spray WD40 on a Serpentine Belt?
No. If you want to make a serpentine belt stop squeaking, you may want to think again before busting that old can of WD40.
There are a lot of people who run to get lubricant the second they hear a squeak. That’s not the right course of action when it comes to a serpentine belt, however.
The WD40 removes friction from the belt, which it actually needs to do its job. Additionally, the chemical breaks down rubber. You’ll need a new belt in no time flat if you put a corrosive substance on it.
People get this confused because the lubricant is designed for metal, but not rubber. WD means water displacement, and that’s what the chemical aims to do – for this reason, it helps avoid moisture in metals.
Not to mention, the problem isn’t always the belt. Yes, there could be worn spots are cracks on the belt. There could also be a belt pulley that’s no good. When the belt slides around the groove, it doesn’t connect. This slippage causes problems. Sometimes the belt is okay, but it’s too tight or too loose.
Another note: Some people say that the serpentine belt is only noisy on really cold days. This could be true. The belt is made out of rubber, so it could be pretty icy after a long night out on the street. Tell your mechanic if the noise goes away or gets worse in various weather conditions.
Replacing the belt runs about $250.00 on average.
Is Changing the Serpentine Belt a good DIY Project?
Although $250 to $300 isn’t too bad for stopping the serpentine belt from squealing, there are always people out there who want to cut out the middleman and do the work themselves.
If you’ve got the tools and the knowhow, and you’re identifying with the DIY types on this one, you could be in luck.
Mechanics claim that this repair is now easier than it once was thanks to automatic belt tensioners.
All you’ll need to do the job is a gauge, the serpentine belt, and a serpentine belt replacement tool.
Back in the day, there were even more belts in cars. Believe it or not, drivers often changed out these belts themselves in garages, back alleys, and parking lots. Now, however, the serpentine belt, also called a “serp belt,” has changed how the game operates.
Old cars may still require a tensioner, so use your best judgement on that one.
The general process is as follows:
- Check out the tension on the belt. Is there too much movement? The vibration should settle in at about 1/32 of an inch (or less) in the arm. The belt should run like water – no vibration. Jerks or vibrations mean the belt is no good.
- The car may have a diagram imprinted right on the engine to help you manage the belt formation. You could also check the owner’s manual for information.
- Locate the tensioner arm and release it with the proper tool.
- While you’re at it, check out those pulleys (also called rollers). If you can spot rough patches, it’s time to replace these parts as well. You want something that spins without making a thunderous noise.
- If you find out the tensioner is bad, send the car to the shop. Don’t even worry about the belt because they’ll have to put it back on after they address these underlying issues.
- Use the serpentine belt tool to the replacement belt on. The tool can be bought over the counter at an auto parts store. It generally isn’t very expensive.
- Test the belt before operating. First, do an eye test. How does it look? Smooth as silk, we hope. An old trick is to turn on the car’s AC too. This will give you a good idea of how the belt is doing.
The belt has grooves on it to keep it on track. If the gauge falls into the grooves when pressed against the belt, the belt needs to be replaced.
There are even applications for smart phones that allow mechanics and DIY enthusiasts to mark the belt and snap a quick photo to see if the belt is bad.
Cracks can be another sign that replacement is due.
Fun fact: In 2000, the automobile industry changed gears with the belts. They were once made of nitrile, but now they are composed of a material called ethylene propylene diene monomer or EPDM. This was a change in the right direction as the newer product lasts longer.
This also means if you’re driving a retro ride from before Y2K, you should be prepared to replace that belt at a moment’s notice (unless you’ve recently done so). This is just one of the many perks of owning a vintage vehicle.
If the instructions listed here already have you sweating, don’t worry. A mechanic will handle the job just fine, and the average cost of the repair is $150-$300. In fact, we recommend that all car repairs be handled by a trained and licensed professional.
Are Premium Serpentine Belts Worth It?
When we’re finally driven to resolve our squeaky serpentine belt problems, we may be tempted to take shortcuts, especially where cost is a concern.
Yes, economy belts offer cheap prices. However, premium belts are believed to go twice as long between swaps according to one local mechanic.
Serpentine Belt Replacement or Junkyard: You Be the Judge
On its own, the serpentine belt doesn’t sound like a major repair. In fact, plenty of old school car lovers do the repair themselves for nothing more than the cost of the part ($30-$80) and an afternoon in the garage.
Others, however, will be sick of car repairs by time the mechanic mentions this one. If you’re driving a beater, an old car, or a rust bucket, and the serpentine belt snaps, you might consider junking the car once and for all.
The average car’s lifespan is about twelve years. There are plenty of cars that make it longer, reaching 100,000 miles, even 200,000 miles. That being said, there are plenty of other makes and models that don’t reach 70,000 to recalls and repairs. Those cars are headed straight to the junkyard.
If the serpentine belt’s squeaking is the last straw, you might consider starting over with a new ride. Send the old squeaky car to the junkyard and receive a cash payment for the transaction.