What Are Essential Belts that Drive your Car?

A car’s engine is responsible for a lot of things in addition to running the car. 

It’s responsible for operating the alternator that generates power, cooling your engine, running the air conditioner, and doing much more. 

So how does the engine achieve such a myriad of tasks alone?

The answer is belts!

All of the auxiliary systems use drive belts to transfer power between different components and it’s integral to ensure they keep on running properly at all times.

Different Types of Belts in a Car

Timing Belts

Timing belts are crucial for any engine as they are responsible for synchronizing the camshaft and crankshaft of the car

One important note about timing belts is that they don’t last forever. 

They need to be replaced regularly according to the manufacturer’s recommended intervals for the best performance. 

Generally, timing belts are often made from extremely durable materials like rubber and synthetic composites

However, they consistently undergo a lot of stress, which results in their performance degradation over time. 

Fan Belt

The fan belts that power the engine’s cooling fan are also referred to as drive belts or auxiliary belts.

They are normally constructed of rubber and deteriorate with time due to constant exposure to the extreme heat coming from the engine. 

A damaged fan belt can lose power and may overheat your car, thereby leading to serious issues like a blown gasket and reduced performance. 

For the best performance, you should frequently inspect fan belts and replace them when the wear becomes too prominent. 

Alternator Belt

The alternator belts are responsible for one job only, to run the alternator, which is responsible for all the electrical components in the car. 

Some cars using more compact designs won’t have a separate alternator belt as they’ll use a single belt to power multiple components. 

However, alternator belts are not too uncommon, especially in models older than 2010. 

However, there is no set rule on which cars will have a separate alternator belt.

Serpentine Belt

Serpentine belts power multiple engine accessories like the alternator, power steering pump, and air conditioning compressor. 

Their ribbed design allows them to transmit more power than traditional V-belts. 

However, you have to regularly check them for flaws and replace them whenever needed. 

Serpentine belts are also known as drive belts, and accessory belts as they perform the same function but have slight differences in the type of material.


If you are driving a classic, then it’s unlikely that you’ll find a serpentine belt in your car. It’s more likely that you’ll find a V-belt instead. 

V-belts perform the same function and get their name from their V-shaped cross-section. 

This allows them to fit snugly in the pulleys that drive the accessories and help the belt stay in place while transmitting power efficiently.

Which Belt is the Most Important for Driving a Car?

All belts are important for any car; however, the timing belt is the most crucial one. 

The timing belt is an internal engine component that ensures the correct timing and synchronization of the engine’s camshaft and crankshaft.

A failing timing belt can cause significant damage to the engine. It can cause the engine’s valves to collide with the pistons and render the engine unusable. 

Generally, timing belts are very inexpensive and simple to replace. 

However, ignoring the manufacturer’s instructions pertaining to them can cause significant damage to your car.

Other belts such as the alternator or serpentine belts are also quite important. 

A lot of components in your car require a constant supply of electricity and their failure can cause your car to stop after a while. 

Generally, there won’t be any safety concerns regarding the failure of these belts as the car’s battery allows the electrical components to continue operating

However, it means that the car would immediately stop working as soon as the battery runs dry.  

What are the Differences between Serpentine Belts and Drive Belts

Frankly, there are no functional differences between the serpentine and drive belts. However, they consist of different materials. 

Serpentine belts last longer because they are more flexible and tougher. 

Moreover, serpentine belts are also ribbed from one side and provide a better overall grip.

How to Tell if a Belt is Failing in Your Car?

There are many ways to tell if a belt is failing in your car. Here are some of the most common signs:

1. Abnormal noise

Any squeaking or chirping noise coming from the engine bay indicates a loose or worn-out belt.

2. Wear and Tear

Visual inspection is one of the most reliable ways to check the condition of your belts. You can easily tell when they are beyond saving and may need replacement

3. Warning lights

The check engine light can tell you whenever your engine is behaving abnormally. 

In most cases, there is a high chance that it’s your belts. Some modern vehicles even have a separate light for belts and battery health, so recognizing an issue becomes simpler.

4. Frequent Overheating 

If your car is frequently overheating, there is a high chance that there is an issue with its belts. Check them and see if they need to be replaced.

5. Electrical failure 

If the serpentine belt that drives the engine accessories fails, it can cause a loss of power steering, air conditioning, or charging system, depending on the accessory.

Can You Drive a Car with a Broken Belt?

It depends on what belt we are talking about. You can’t drive the car if your timing belt fails

Furthermore, it will cost you a lot if you are not careful as a broken timing belt can significantly damage the engine and its components.

The case of a broken serpentine belt is different. It’s not essential for the engine as it only runs the electrical components. 

In case of failure, the car would continue to work until the battery runs out. However, the car can be driven without a serpentine belt.

Key Takeaways

Cars are complicated assemblies and have multiple components that operate in tandem to keep things running. 

Belts are very important for any car as they are a simple and effective way to transfer power from the engine to all the other components. 

As a car user, it’s integral to ensure that your belts are in perfect condition as it keeps the car running.


Dean Alvarez, TireForge Head Author

Thanks for reading our article! We've written this article with a lot of thought and care. If you're interested in seeing more of our content, please check out our Tires section and find an answer to your questions!

Tire Forge