What You Need to Know About Serpentine Belts If You Want an Auto Mechanic Career

automotive mechanic career
The serpentine belt is a long, winding belt that powers a number of important automotive components like the alternator, power steering pump, air conditioning, and sometimes the water pump. While it used to be that several different belts served these components individually, inconsistent performance issues eventually led to the single-belt solution. The serpentine belt—so called because it “snakes” around several different gears and pulleys—is essential for a vehicle to run properly, and issues with this belt can cause a number of serious issues for drivers. If you’re looking to pursue a career as a mechanic, it’s useful and important to have an understanding of how the serpentine belt works, what happens if it breaks down, and how to know when it needs replacing.

The Serpentine Belt Powers Several Essential Components

Serpentine belts are made from high-quality reinforced rubber. While neoprene used to be the standard material used, belts today are generally made with ethylene propylene diene monomer rubber, or EPDM, which is more durable and lasts longer.
The belt is designed to transfer power from the engine to several peripheral components: the alternator, air conditioner, and power steering. The serpentine sometimes, but not always, powers the water pump as well.
Without the power transferred by the serpentine belt, these functions will not work, resulting in a nearly—or completely—un-driveable vehicle.

Serpentine belts transfer power from the engine to several important peripheral components
Serpentine belts transfer power from the engine to several important peripheral components

Serpentine Belts Wear Down Over Time

Serpentine belts are subject to regular wear and tear, but can generally last somewhere around 80,000 to 160,000 kilometres. While older neoprene belts show wear by cracking, newer EPDM are more resistant to this, but do lose rubber gradually like a tire.
While regular use is enough to wear down the serpentine belt over time, there are some factors that might cause a belt to become damaged prematurely, including a misaligned alternator, a missing or damaged engine under shield (which protects the belt from water and other debris), and oil or coolant leaks.

Signs of a Failing Serpentine Belt to Watch for in Your Auto Mechanic Career

There are several signs that can indicate a failing serpentine belt. Squealing or chirping noises, for example, could indicate that a belt is beginning to wear, under low tension, or otherwise not working properly. Issues with air conditioning or power steering are another sign that the serpentine belt might need replacing.
Even if motorists don’t notice any of these signs, however, they should be sure to get their serpentine belts inspected regularly, as a belt that breaks entirely could result in an overheated engine and a stalled vehicle.

A broken serpentine belt can stall a vehicle and leave drivers stranded
A broken serpentine belt can stall a vehicle and leave drivers stranded

When inspecting serpentine belts during your auto mechanic career, there are several visual signs that indicate a belt needs to be replaced, including missing pieces, damaged or separated ribs, and uneven wear.

Some Cars Are Going Beltless

During your automotive mechanic career, you might also run into cars which have no belts at all. Any Toyota Prius from 2010 or later, for example, uses electric motors to power the systems normally run by the serpentine belt. These kinds of engines have several advantages, including improving fuel efficiency, removing the risk of a damaged or broken belt, and reducing engine noise. Despite these benefits, however, beltless engines are not yet standard across the industry, so mechanics may be fixing broken belts for some time to come.
Are you ready to begin your auto mechanic career?
Contact CATI to learn more about our automotive mechanic schools.

Form is submitting