Despite being simple parts, belts have an integral role in the operation of an engine. In simplest terms, a belt powers a part or series of parts within the engine. A given engine can have several belts, commonly depending on the engine’s age and its design. In this blog, we will discuss the four most common engine belts: the timing belt, fan belt, alternator belt, and serpentine belt.
If you look under the timing cover at the front of the engine, you will find the timing belt. This belt is attached to the crankshaft and camshaft through a system of pulleys and has two jobs: to power the engine’s camshaft and keep it in sync with the crankshaft. It times the valvetrain, ensuring the valves open and close at the appropriate time. Timing belts typically need to be replaced after 90,000 miles, though some can run as long as 110,000 miles. It is also important to note that the water pump should be replaced whenever replacing the timing belt as it is likely the water pump will not survive until the next timing belt replacement.
The next type of belt is the fan belt. An engine’s cooling system needs some type of belt to power it. Some engines use a serpentine belt, but many use a fan belt. The fan belt powers the water pump, radiator fan, and air conditioning. By powering the cooling system, a functioning fan belt allows the radiator to remain cool and ensure that coolant is properly circulated throughout the engine. If the fan belt breaks, your engine will not be sufficiently cooled. This can cause the engine to overheat, potentially leading to costly repairs. The fan belt should be checked during every routine inspection.
The third type of belt you’ll find in an engine is the alternator belt. This is a small belt, the sole function of which is to power the alternator. Depending on the engine design, the alternator belt may also be used to power the steering pump, though this is rare. The alternator belt is critical. Without it, the battery will not stay charged.
The final type of belt we will cover is the serpentine belt. The serpentine belt is somewhat of an all-in-one belt that replaced older types of belts, such as V-belts. The serpentine belt is on the front or side of the engine where it snakes through several pulleys, hence its name. Serpentine belts are ribbed to increase contact with the drive and driven pulleys, allowing them to transmit greater power. The crankshaft causes the serpentine belt to spin, powering engine accessories such as the power steering pump, water pump, alternator, and air conditioning system. The serpentine belt usually lasts between 60,000 and 100,000 miles, though it should still be checked during every routine inspection.
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