Different Car Belts Explained


Sep 02nd, 2020

Different Car Belts Explained

For the average car owner, a quick look under the hood can be quite overwhelming. There are so many different car parts squeezed so close to each other in the engine bay. On top of that, you have loads of wires, hoses, and a few belts as well. In this article, we're going to talk about the different car belts that you can find under the hood.

What are the different types of belts in a car?

The first thing you need to know is that there are generally two different types of car belts. If you're under the impression that there are many more types, that's because these two belts are often called many other names. You may have heard some of them like the timing belt, the serpentine belt, V-belt, and the drive belt. But are they all the same? If not, what's the difference?

First, let's understand what each general type is designed to do:

1. Timing Belt

The timing belt connects two parts: your crankshaft and camshaft. The reason it's called a 'timing' belt is that it synchronises the movements of both those shafts to ensure that the valves and pistons of the combustion engine move in precise timing. A timing belt lasts anywhere from 7-10 years or close to 170,000 km.

2. Drive Belt 

The primary purpose of the drive belt is to deliver power to car parts surrounding your engine, including the alternator, water pump, air conditioning compressor and others. Any time your car engine is on, it turns the drive belt which then powers all those other devices at the same time. 

You must have heard people refer to a drive belt as a serpentine belt or a V-belt on older cars. These names take from the shapes that the belt assumes as it passes through various pulleys and tensioners that keep it in place. So, for example, if it follows a serpentine shape, it's called a 'serpentine belt'. A belt moving in a V-shape is called a V-belt. A driving belt typically lasts up to 160,000 km. 

How do I know if my car has a belt or chain?

Don't panic if you ever hear someone talk about a drive chain instead of a belt. Depending on the car model that you drive, it may use a chain instead of a belt.

The simplest way to figure out which one your car uses is to look under the hood. Another way would be to refer to your car owner's manual, which will tell you everything you need to know about your car’s engine and its parts.

What happens if I don't change my drive belt or timing belt?

These two belts might not seem like much at first glance. However, they play critical roles in any combustion-engine vehicle. If either of these belts snaps, you're in for a world of trouble!

Let's look at what might happen if you don't replace a damaged timing or drive belt.

What happens if a timing belt snaps?

If a timing belt snaps, the first thing that'll happen is that the engine will stop working. Depending on the type of engine it is, it may or may not get damaged on the inside.

In interference engines where the piston and valves move in the same small space, the piston will strike the open valves causing massive internal damage. In a non-interference engine, however, the engine will merely stop working.

Either way, your car will be immobilised and stuck wherever it was when the belt snapped. If this happens, getting the car towed to a workshop and fixed will probably cost you a fair bit of money.

What happens if a drive belt snaps?

When a drive belt snaps, it creates sort of a domino effect. Remember, a drive belt powers many of the essential car parts or devices located under the hood.

So, for example, if your drive belt snaps, your water pump and cooling fan will suddenly stop working, leading to your engine overheating fast. Your alternator will stop recharging your car battery, and your air conditioning unit won't work either.

A broken drive belt doesn't seem as damaging as a broken timing belt. Still, it would be best if you replaced your drive belt once you notice any signs of damage. Fixing this one thing could save you from much bigger and more intensive repairs later.

When should I change my car belts?

When it comes to car belts, you should always try to catch any damage early. So, it's essential to have your mechanic inspect the belts often. An easy way to do this is to have them check it every time you go in for an oil change or periodic maintenance.

Apart from that, you should also know the signs of a damaged belt. For instance, if you hear a squealing noise coming from your engine, especially when first starting the car on a cold morning, that's a sign you should get your belt checked. 

While it's true that car belts can last a long time, its key to replace belts before they cause any significant engine damage. After all, you wouldn't want to find your car immobilised because of a broken belt.

To keep yourself well-informed about car belts and other essential car parts, check out Carpart.com.au's blog. We have daily articles about car maintenance and tips to car owners. You will also find some handy tools to use, such as our automotive-dedicated directory and auto parts locator. Visit us now and try requesting a car part if you’re looking for one!

By Ray Hasbollah