There is no reason to be intimidated by the prospect of replacing your vehicle’s worn or broken serpentine belt. With the right tools, knowledge, and willpower, you can replace this essential belt on your own. Follow the guidelines detailed below, and your serpentine belt replacement project will prove faster and easier than expected.
A serpentine belt is a single, continuous belt used to drive multiple peripheral devices in an automotive engine, such as an alternator, power steering pump, water pump, air conditioning compressor, air pump, etc. The belt may also be guided by an idler pulley and/or a belt tensioner (which may be spring-loaded, hydraulic, or manual).
To allow the belt to pass over more than three pulleys with a large enough wrap angle to avoid slipping, idler pulleys which press against the back of the belt are included, forcing the belt into a serpentine shape. To accommodate this bidirectional flexing while remaining strong enough to transfer the total force required by multiple loads, a serpentine belt is almost always of multi-groove (multi-vee, poly-v, or multi-rib) construction.
On some engine designs, the “back” (smooth side) of the belt may drive some accessories. This is typically limited to components requiring less torque or where a large angle of wrap is present. Such accessories will counter-rotate vs. the “normal” pulleys. Some vehicles use two serpentine belts for their system, such as the manual transaxle equipped Ford Taurus SHO, 1995–1999 DOHC Nissan Maxima, vehicles using the supercharged GM 3800 engine, and many BMWs.
WHERE TO START: CONSULT THE GUIDES
Give your vehicle’s manual and the belt routing diagram below the hood a once-over before commencing. If this schematic is not available, you can likely find it on the internet.
Print out the schematic to use as a reference during the serpentine belt replacement.
STEP1: EXAMINE THE BELT WRAPS
Take a close look at the manner in which the worn serpentine belt wraps across the pulleys. Hold the new serpentine belt in-hand so you can practice replicating its route. It will also help to take a couple of pictures of the old serpentine belt’s position using your smartphone, but if the belt appears to be out of place, taking won’t do any good. When in doubt, consult the driver’s manual or the placard beneath the hood for an illustration of the proper routing.
Pinpoint the self-adjusting tensioner. Be especially careful as you slowly release the tension out of the belt. The rear of the belt moves against the tensioner, meaning it will look similar to a smooth roller as opposed to a traditional pulley.
STEP 2: RELEASE THE TENSION
Once you are sure you have enough room to maneuver your tools, guide the wrench along the tensioner. Remove the wrench or tensioner as soon as the tension is released. Once the tension dissipates, the old serpentine belt can be safely pulled out.
STEP 3: REMOVE THE WORN SERPENTINE BELT
You now have the opportunity to remove the worn serpentine belt. Be sure to spin the tensioner pulley with your hand to determine if it is worn. If the tensioner pulley is excessively tight, too loose, or loud, it must be replaced. This is also your opportunity to check the idler pulleys and pumps to ensure they are moving without restriction. The pulleys and idler pulleys for the alternator, water pump, A/C compressor, and smog pump should be checked to ensure they do not have deflection or are likely to wobble.
STEP 4: INSTALL THE NEW SERPENTINE BELT
It is now time to add the new serpentine belt. Align the ribs of the belt with the pulley grooves, taking special care to ensure the serpentine belt is not even slightly twisted. Tighten the tensioner. The final step is to double-check both the tensioner as well as the belt to ensure they have the proper level of tightness prior to starting the engine.
Do not immediately drive your vehicle after installing the new serpentine belt. Allow the vehicle’s engine to idle for a full minute or longer to ensure the serpentine belt is functioning as it should. Be sure to replace coverings or parts removed during the serpentine belt replacement prior to taking the vehicle out for a ride.
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