The Different Types of Drive Belts
The serpentine belt is probably the most commonly used belt today and likely what you'll find under the hood of your car if you drive anything newer than a 1990 model. Need to change it? It's pretty simple. The belt snakes its way through multiple accessories, the crank pulley, an idler pulley or two, and a tensioner. Grab a socket and pull on the tensioner pulley to loosen the belt to remove it. Serpentine belts are easy to replace, but if they break, you're guaranteed to be on the side of the road since they run everything from your alternator to your power steering.
You'll know they need to be replaced if they begin to look heavily cracked or if the depth of the grooves becomes too shallow. A good rule of thumb is to check them around 60,000 miles and replace them by 90,000 miles. You can purchase an easy-to-use and inexpensive belt-wear gauge to check belt wear for a more scientific inspection.
Drive Belts & V-Belts
Most cars have interference engines, which means the clearance between the moving parts is so small that if they get out of time, they'll run into each other. The timing belt connects the crankshaft and camshaft, keeping them in sync. You'll likely not see the timing belt on your car because it's hidden behind the timing cover. Nevertheless, the timing belt can be your nemesis; ignore it, and you'll have a very expensive engine rebuild on your hands. Usually, these should be replaced every 60,000 to 90,000 miles. Like any belt, miles and time will cause them to crack like the one pictured here, and you'll have a very bad day if it breaks. Many cars have timing chains instead of belts, which are designed to last for the engine's lifespan.
Like anything on a car, extreme temperature ranges are the killers of longevity. It's always a good idea to inspect your belts at the beginning and end of winter and summer.
If you have experience dealing with belts, let us know. Leave your stories in the comments.