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What Happens to a Car When the Serpentine Belt Breaks? - Southwest Performance Parts

What Happens to a Car When the Serpentine Belt Breaks?

Picture yourself driving down the road listening to your favorite tunes, when suddenly, you’re interrupted by a loud screeching noise coming from under the hood. 

The steering becomes stiff, the temperature gauge starts to climb, and the battery light flickers on. Panic sets in as you realize that you're miles away from the nearest service station, and you're left wondering what's happening to your car and how you're going to get out of this situation. 

This is a nightmare scenario that anyone who has experienced a broken serpentine belt is all too familiar with. And if it’s just happened to you, the you know how frightening and frustrating it can be. This seemingly small component plays a crucial role in keeping your car running smoothly, and when it fails, it can cause a domino effect of issues that can leave you stranded.

But, what happens to a car when the serpentine belt breaks, exactly? You’re about to find out. In this detailed guide, we’ll talk all about what you can expect to happen when this vital system fails. From the loss of power steering to overheating, alternator failure, and more - there are actually an array of issues that arise without a properly functioning serpentine belt.

The good news? The fix is actually much easier and more affordable than you may imagine. Here at Southwest Performance Parts, we have the premier selection of high-performance serpentine belt kits for all makes and models. We can help you get back on the road fast without any of the stress that comes with expensive repairs.

But, before we guide you through all that, let’s get into what really brought you here today - what happens to a car when the serpentine belt breaks?

What Happens to a Car When the Serpentine Belt Breaks?

The serpentine belt drives multiple components that reside within your engine, including the alternator, power steering pump, and air conditioning compressor. So - when the serpentine belt starts to fail, it's essential to address the issue before it leads to more significant problems.

But in order to do that, you first have to diagnose the issue. So, what happens to a car when the serpentine belt breaks? Let’s start with a few telltale signs of a broken serpentine belt.

Squealing and Chirping Noises

Typically, you’ll hear a broken serpentine belt before you notice anything else. A failing serpentine belt often produces squealing or chirping noises due to slippage or misalignment. 

This can be an early warning sign that your belt needs attention. Ignoring these noises can lead to the belt breaking, causing more major issues - such a loss of power steering.

Loss of Power Steering

After you hear the effects of a broken serpentine belt system, you’ll feel them. That’s because when the serpentine belt breaks, it stops providing power to the power steering pump. As a result, you'll lose power steering assistance, making it much harder to turn the wheel. 

This can be especially dangerous at higher speeds or during sharp turns, as it requires a lot more effort to control your vehicle. 

Engine Overheating

The serpentine belt is responsible for driving the water pump, which circulates coolant throughout your engine. A broken belt means the water pump stops functioning, leading to a rapid rise in engine temperature. 

Overheating can cause severe engine damage, including warped cylinder heads, cracked engine blocks, and blown head gaskets. This is one of the most serious risks of driving with a broken serpentine belt - more on that later.

Dead Battery or Other Alternator-Related Problems

The alternator relies on the serpentine belt to generate electricity to charge your car's battery. If the belt breaks, the alternator can't charge the battery, and you may find yourself stranded with a dead battery.

Even if you are able to keep the car on, you’ll deal with alternator-related issues like weird indicator lights, slow or malfunctioning accessories, dim or overly bright lights, and more.

Malfunctioning Air Conditioning

You can say goodbye to a nice cool AC system when your serpentine belt goes. That’s because, again, the air conditioning system (specifically, the AC compressor), is powered by the serpentine belt. When the belt breaks, the compressor won't receive the power it needs to cool the air, leaving you without functioning air conditioning.

Worsened Fuel Economy and Emissions

Last, but certainly not least, you can expect to suffer through worsened fuel economy and emissions with a failed serpentine system. That’s because the serpentine belt drives other engine components such as the emissions system and the air injection pump.

Can I Drive My Car With a Broken Serpentine Belt?

Knowing what happens to a car when the serpentine belt breaks, you’re probably thinking…that doesn’t sound too bad. As long as the car runs, can I drive it with a broken serpentine belt? 

Technically, you can drive your vehicle - but, ideally, to the nearest auto repair shop or back home to fix the issue yourself. Once you discover that your serpentine belt is broken, you should make plans to find another means of transportation.

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Driving with a broken serpentine belt is highly risky and not recommended. When the belt breaks, it causes a sudden loss of power to essential vehicle systems, leading to potentially dangerous situations and costly damages.

This begs the question, just how long can you drive a car without a working serpentine belt?

How Long Can You Drive a Car Without a Working Serpentine Belt?

The exact amount of time you can drive a car without a serpentine belt varies depending on several factors, including the condition of your vehicle and the specific systems affected. However, it's crucial to reiterate that driving without a serpentine belt is not safe and should be avoided at all costs.

With that said, here are some factors affecting how long you can drive a car without a properly functioning serpentine system:

  • Engine cooling system efficiency: If your car has an efficient cooling system, it may take slightly longer for your engine to overheat. However, this doesn't mean you should attempt to drive any further.
  • Battery charge: A fully charged battery might provide some extra time for your car's electrical systems to function. Nevertheless, you'll eventually lose power, leaving you stranded.
  • Driving conditions: If you're driving at a slow pace or in stop-and-go traffic, you may be able to drive for a short distance. However, the moment you start driving at higher speeds or encounter challenging road conditions, the risks increase significantly.

Eventually, you’ll need to come to terms with the situation and get your serpentine belt fixed. And for that, you have two options - which we’ll discuss below.

Tips for Getting Your Serpentine Belt Fixed in a Quick and Affordable Manner

When it comes to addressing a broken serpentine belt, you have two primary options: tackling the repair yourself (DIY) or seeking professional assistance. 

While both options have their merits, we believe that going the DIY route can be both cost-effective and empowering, especially when you choose to use a high-performance serpentine belt system from our online store, Southwest Performance Parts.

DIY Repair

If you're comfortable with basic automotive maintenance and have the right tools, fixing a serpentine belt can be a manageable and rewarding task. By purchasing a high-performance serpentine belt system from Southwest Performance Parts, you'll not only save money on labor costs, but you'll also be investing in a durable, top-quality belt that's designed to last.

We manufacture our parts ourselves under the reliable A-Team brand - allowing you to enjoy the best of both worlds in terms of quality and affordability by cutting out the middlemen. We have  SBC serpentine belts, SBF serpentine belts, LS serpentine kits, BBC serpentine kits, and BBF serpentine kits

So - no matter what you drive, your perfect replacement is here waiting for you. And once you have it, here are some tips for a successful DIY serpentine belt replacement:

  1. Gather the necessary tools, such as a socket wrench, serpentine belt tool, and a diagram of your vehicle's belt routing. Take the time to watch video resources on the subject so you can feel confident making the repair.
  2. Ensure your vehicle is parked on a level surface and the engine has cooled down before starting the repair. Dress in any PPE necessary - like gloves, eye protection, etc.
  3. Carefully follow the belt routing diagram and make sure you have the correct belt for your specific vehicle make and model.
  4. Loosen the tensioner pulley to remove the old belt and carefully install the new belt, ensuring it's properly aligned with all the pulleys.
  5. Double-check the belt's tension and alignment before starting your vehicle to ensure everything is running smoothly. Our guide on how tight a serpentine belt should be is an invaluable resource as you make this repair.

Professional Repair

If you're not comfortable performing the repair yourself, it's essential to find a reputable and skilled mechanic to replace your serpentine belt. Keep in mind that labor costs can vary, so it's a good idea to obtain quotes from a few different repair shops. You can still choose to purchase a high-performance serpentine belt from Southwest Performance Parts and provide it to the mechanic for installation.

Whether you decide to tackle the repair yourself or enlist the help of a professional, it's important to prioritize the health of your vehicle by addressing a broken serpentine belt as soon as possible. 

And, either way - you can source your system through our online storefront to enjoy peace of mind knowing you’re getting a high-quality, performance-driven serpentine belt that will stand the test of time. At this point, it’s time to bring our conversation to a close.

Final Thoughts on What Happens to a Car When the Serpentine Belt Breaks

Now that you know what happens to a car when the serpentine belt breaks, you’re well aware of why you shouldn’t keep driving. Instead, take your car back home and find another means of transportation. Not only is driving a car with a failed serpentine system going to create more trouble down the road, it’s downright dangerous.

You can learn more about what causes a serpentine belt to break to help prevent the issue from arising in the future. Otherwise, there’s just one thing left to do - head over to Southwest Performance Parts and pick up your replacement system today. 

Our online storefront has the exact system you need to get back on the road and do so in style. The best part? You can upgrade your car’s performance without breaking the bank. 

So, what are you waiting for? If you have questions about which system is right for you or would like assistance troubleshooting your car’s unique problems, get in touch with us today!

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