Remember how your parents told you that driving a car is a huge responsibility? They weren’t just trying to scare you—it’s true. An important aspect of car ownership is a commitment to proper maintenance. One area that is easy to keep an eye on for yourself is belt maintenance. Belt degradation can lead to overheating, loss of battery charge, or other serious issues.

Checking the Serpentine Belt

The serpentine belt delivers the engine’s power to all the accessory drive components. This belt, unlike many other belts, is composed of a synthetic rubber called Ethylene Propylene Diene Monomer or EPDM. This material does not show obvious damage or wear. When inspecting the serpentine belt, focus on the condition of the rims and grooves instead of looking for cracks. This is most easily accomplished with a special tool called a belt gauge. Place the tool in the belt’s grooves, perpendicular to the belt. If there is a visible air space and no sign of damage, the belt still has life. However, if it lies flat, it needs immediate replacement. Check out this video to view the serpentine belt inspection process: 

Inspecting the Tensioner

When checking out the serpentine belt, always inspect the tensioner too, especially if the belt is worn. This mechanism maintains belt tension and absorbs shock loads in the belt drive. The tensioner can wear out in the internal damper or in the pivot shaft bushing, and either problem can lead to slippage—which can create a nightmarish mechanical situation. Observe the tensioner while the engine is running. If you notice a small amount of tensioner movement, chances are that all is well, but shimmies and shakes spell trouble.

Avoiding Slippage

Belt slippage leads to an increased heat load and premature failure of the belt. It also distributes excess heat to other involved components, increasing their risk of damage as well. Save yourself unnecessary repair expenses and potential roadside headaches by checking these two mechanisms as a regular part of your car care routine. And don’t forget to take your car in for its scheduled maintenance with a professional as well.

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