Does your car squeal like an aggravated pig when you start its engine? Does turning your steering wheel send an ear-piercing screech across entire parking lots? Are you sick of irritating other motorists with violent whining sounds from under your hood?
If your vehicle is guilty of any of the above, it’s probably in need of new belts. A belt change is one of the easiest and cheapest maintenance jobs going — but countless motorists still drive around with belts that are on the verge of failure.
Rubber belts are used to transfer the rotating action of your engine’s crankshaft to various accessories that are attached to the engine. These accessories, in turn, run various systems on your car.
As with any car part, belts wear out and require periodic replacement. If a belt under your hood lets go, you’ll lose the functionality of all of the accessories attached to it, so pre-emptive belt changes prior to failure are very good idea — especially in the winter driving season.
To check your belts visually, pop your hood and familiarize yourself with their location. The owner’s manual can be helpful here. Ensure belts aren’t cracked or frayed.
If possible, give each belt a firm, solid tug, too. If a belt deflects more than about a half inch, it may be too loose — which could accelerate wear. If you like your fingers, remember to never reach into the engine compartment while the vehicle is running.
Planning to ignore the signs of belt wear? Here’s a list of the common belt-driven accessories on your vehicle — and what to expect if the belt driving them fails.
Power Steering Pump: Most vehicles have a belt-driven power steering pump. This pump powers a system which does most of the physical work of turning your vehicles front wheels. This leaves drivers with minimal steering effort. If the power steering belt lets go, the hydraulic action is lost. This can be startling and make steering all but impossible for some drivers, which could lead to an accident.
Alternator: The alternator creates the electricity needed to recharge your battery and run all the electrical accessories on your ride. If the alternator belt snaps, electricity stops being generated, and the vehicle will stop dead in its tracks a few moments later.
Water pump: The water pump is the heart of the engine’s cooling system. Some vehicles have a water pump that’s driven by a belt. If the belt snaps, the flow of engine coolant ceases. Overheating follows, possibly resulting in warped cylinder heads or other internal damage.