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Drive belts header
Serpentine belt diagram

Serpentine and drive belt service

Broken serpentine belt damage
Aftermarket belt tensioner
Gates solution kit
Ok, it's just a belt, right? No big deal, right? Well, in truth, your drive belts are a fairly important part of the engine system. When you consider what is lost when the belt breaks, runs off track or slips on the pulleys it becomes clear that your drive belts are extremely important.
To begin with, most water pumps are driven by a V-belt or serpentine style belt. No belt equals no engine cooling, which as you probably know, is bad. Very bad. Some water pumps are driven by the timing belt but those are far exceeded by the number of engines that use drive belts for the water pump. The alternator or generator, depending on how old your vehicle is, is also reliant on a drive belt. Without a functional belt, your battery will quickly go dead and your vehicle will be undriveable. Air conditioning, air pumps, power steering and in many cases, the cooling fan itself, are all driven by a belt that is attached to the engine crankshaft pulley. Obviously, belt condition is an important part of any automotive maintenance regimen.
Of course, there's more involved than just the belt itself. There are also idler pulleys that are simply there to precisely position the belt so it can run smoothly between the pulleys on your accessory items like the alternator and air conditioning compressor. There are also tensioner assemblies that help to route the belt, but mainly are designed to keep an exact and continuous amount of tension on the belt to increase it's efficiency and allow the bearings of all the pulleys to last as long as possible. These items can fail to varying degrees, from just being noisy, to completely seizing up and causing major damage to the belt and other components like the pulley in the picture below. When a belt gets wrapped up in the pulleys, serious and costly repairs may be necessary.
If your belts are making noises that are not normal for your vehicle or one of the bearings on the front of your engine is getting loud, I would recommend you contact All Pro auto repair or another auto repair shop and make an appointment. Auto repair and maintenance isn't always as complicated or as expensive as you might think and many times it costs nothing to take five minutes and determine if there is an impending failure or just an annoyance. Quite often a simple adjustment is all that's needed. Either way, don't neglect this important maintenance category.
(There are some vehicles with known belt system issues, like the Dodge 3.0l, 3.3l and 3.6l engines which are all known for belts riding off the pulleys. Special kits like the one pictured below that has ribs on both sides of the belt, are made by the Gates Corporation and are designed to eliminate the design problems that cause some belt systems to fail.)
(Aftermarket tensioners and idlers are available for performance modification as well as to dress up your engine compartment with a bit of additional eye candy!)