What is a Serpentine Belt?
Written by Lee Wyatt (last updated April 4, 2012)
Anyone that has ever spent any time at all around a mechanic can easily tell you that the serpentine belt is one of the most, if not the single most, important pieces of equipment to be found in your engine. In fact, this is one of those pieces of equipment that can be found in just about any engine for any kind of vehicle. But the question remains, what is a serpentine belt? The answer to this question is both amazingly simple, and somewhat complex at the same time
- Purpose. Simply put, a serpentine belt is used to help transfer energy from the engine of a vehicle to numerous other peripheral items that help the vehicle run properly. For example, some of these peripheral systems include the alternator, power steering pump (if you have power steering), air conditioning compressor, air pump, water pump, and many others. In addition, in some designs or models of cars, both sides of the belt will actually help run the car, not just the one that is normally gripped.
- Types. While it is most commonly known as the serpentine belt, there are other names for it as well. Some of these are the multi-vee, poly-vee, or even multi rib belt. The name that is used is usually determined by the area or region of the country that you live in, but almost everyone knows it by the term serpentine belt. In addition, there are also some models of vehicles that use more than one serpentine belt to help with the proper running of the vehicle. One of the more common brands of vehicles where you can see an example of this is in BMW.
- Materials. There are very few things that a serpentine belt can be made from. Most commonly these items are made from a heat resistant material that is largely plastic or rubber in composition. Often times there are a few metallic threads running through it to help add a little bit of extra strength to the belt. One side of the belt is usually kept relatively smooth, while there are divots or teeth in the other side. These divots or teeth are designed to help the various cogs and wheels of the engine grab the belt better and more effectively transmit the power of the engine to where it needs to go.
- Basic maintenance. The basic maintenance of the serpentine belt is amazingly simple. The first thing that you need to do is periodically check to ensure that the belt is maintaining the proper tension. This is usually done by simply pressing in on the belt and ensuring that it doesn't move all that much (usually less than an inch, preferably around 1/2 inch). In addition, you will also need to check and make sure that the belt's teeth aren't missing (simply running your hand along the interior of the belt can tell you this), or that it isn't drying out and cracking (which can be done both by touch and visually).