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Inspecting Your Auto Belts

Inspecting your auto belts is a basic bit of car maintenance that should be done on a regular basis. To easily remember to do this, just plan on a quick check of the belts every oil change. As cars get older, you’ll want to increase the frequency to once a month. When you are changing a car fuse or doing anything under the hood, always pay close attention to what you are doing and make sure to place safety above all else.

Visual Cues in Worn Auto Belts

The visual cues are the first and the primary things we are looking for when doing this kind of inspection. Take a look first and just get a visual inspection. In many cases this is enough to warrant making the choice to replace a worn belt. Look for serious wear, cracked and frayed or even glazed material. There are many accessories under the hood that are belt driven, such as the alternator, and coolant pump. If these belts fail the accessories they drive will not work for you, so it is important to keep up with these things.

How to Inspect a Belt

To inspect a belt, you need to twist it so that you have visual access to its underside. This will show you the V shape or the ribs, depending on the belt type you are inspecting. Look for cracks, which are a sure sign that the belt is ready to be replaced and could fail at any time. Belts that are oil soaked are vulnerable to slippage, and they may not properly rotate the accessories fast enough to drive them. Glazed belts will be shiny in their visual appearance; this is a sign that the belt needs to be tightened, because the slipping causes that shine to appear. Belts with tears or splits in them need to be replaced immediately.

Adjusting Auto Belts for Tightness

Before you attempt to tighten or loosen an auto belt, always check the service manual for instructions that are appropriate to your car. When you are checking a belt’s tightness, find the longest straight span and work there. Be sure the belts are cool before you handle them. Push on the belt to see how much it moves. In most cases you want it to give maybe a half inch or so, although once again this may vary by model. If it gives too much, you need to tighten it; too little, and you need to loosen it.

Examine your service manual to make sure of the proper technique that applies to your vehicle, but in most cases belts are adjusted loosening the support for the alternator or by use of an idler pulley. Knowing where to make the adjustment is important; don’t just dive in under the hood with a wrench until you are sure of the correct procedure for your car. If it is the alternator, loosen that adjustment fastener and then wedge a pry bar in between the alternator and some strong area of support on the motor. When you pull the pry bar to move the alternator housing in a certain direction, it will serve to tighten or loosen the belt. Tighten up that adjustment fastener and recheck the belt and repeat as necessary.

Replacing a Defective Auto Belt

It is important to note that when you're inspecting auto belts and find that one is defective, you need to have its replacement on hand when you remove the old one. You can’t drive the car without that belt; and performing the replacement right then makes it easier because you are essentially performing the same action in reverse order.


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