Serpentine Belts & Timing Belts / Chains

Some of the most vital components of a vehicle’s engine are operated with belts (or chains), so their importance cannot be understated. Ensuring each of these components are in good condition and working properly is essential in keeping your vehicle running smoothly. But what is the difference between the serpentine belt and the timing belt or chain?

Serpentine Belt Overview

Typically found on the front or side of an engine, the serpentine belt is responsible for powering many vital engine components. It is usually made of rubber reinforced with fiberglass, and it snakes around several pulleys attached to various engine components or idler arms that provide belt tension. This snaking around gives the serpentine belt its name, and these belts also help to reduce engine noise and vibration.

Serpentine belts are driven by the crankshaft pulley attached to the engine. This provides the rotational power as the engine is running. From there, the serpentine belt snakes around pulleys that give power to components like the alternator, water pump, power steering pump, and air conditioning compressor. There is also typically a belt tensioner that ensures the serpentine belt has the proper tension under various conditions, including engine load and temperature.

When to Replace a Serpentine Belt

Having your vehicle checked by a certified dealership or repair ship is always recommended to ensure safe operation of your vehicle, but there are a few signs that may indicate your serpentine belt needs replacement. One sign is a squealing noise coming from the engine compartment, which can mean the belt is slipping or worn out. Another common sign is having features like power steering and air conditioning not working as well as it used to, or not working at all. The engine overheating is also another sign to look out for when the water pump isn’t being powered properly. And finally, a visual inspection of the belt to see if there are any cracks or damage can indicate that it is time to change your vehicle’s serpentine belt.

Your vehicle’s maintenance/service guide or owner’s manual provides recommendations on when to replace the serpentine belt, even if it is still functioning properly. Typical service intervals are between 60,000 and 100,000 miles, but it can vary depending on the year, make, model, and specific engine in your vehicle. Often mechanics will recommend replacing items like the belt tensioner or idler pulley at the same time to ensure continued smooth operation of the engine.

Timing Belt & Chain Overview

Whether the engine in your vehicle has a timing belt or a timing chain, the functions they provide are the same. Both timing belts and timing chains synchronize the movement of the crankshaft and the camshaft of the engine so the intake and exhaust valves open and close at the correct time in relation to the movement of the pistons. The primary difference between a belt and chain is their shape and material they are made of.

Timing chains usually last longer than timing belts as they are made of metal versus belts that are made of rubber. Timing belts typically have a recommended replacement interval, which can vary depending on the vehicle.

Some advantages of timing belts over timing chains are that they are quieter, more efficient, lightweight, less expensive to replace, and create little vibration while the engine is running. Advantages of timing chains include longer lifespans (which can sometimes be the entire life of a vehicle), as well as greater resistance to slipping and stretching compared to a worn-out timing belt.

When to Replace a Timing Belt

Typically, automakers recommend replacing timing belts at intervals ranging from 60,000 to 120,000 miles. To find out if your vehicle has a timing belt and how often it should be changed, it is best to check the maintenance guide in your owner’s manual. It is important to replace your timing belt before it is damaged or breaks, as it can cause your engine to stop working.

If you have a non-interference engine in your vehicle (where the valves and pistons never occupy the same space), the belt will need to be replaced and the timing will need to be set correctly again. If you have an interference engine in your vehicle (where the valves and pistons occupy the same space at different times), a broken timing belt could cause serious damage to your engine, and even require complete replacement in some cases.

Find Your Next Used Vehicle at Enterprise Car Sales

Check out our cars, trucks, SUVs, and vans for sale at Enterprise Car Sales.