Breaking a serpentine belt while driving is a common occurrence but a frightening experience.
Once you’ve gotten off the road and stopped at a safe place, you might be tempted to drive back home or go to the mechanic without the serpentine belt.
So, can you drive without a serpentine belt or should you get the car towed?
What Is a Serpentine Belt and What Does It Do?
Before going any further, you need to understand what the serpentine belt is used for.
The serpentine belt is a vital part of your car’s engine. It’s an inexpensive rubber belt that connects and drives your car’s essential components: the alternator, power steering pump, ac compressor and sometimes your water pump.
The belt is named that way because of the way it “snakes” around these vital parts.
What Are the Signs of a Bad Serpentine Belt?
Like all rubber components, the serpentine belt develops cracks and starts peeling when it gets old. If not replaced in time, the serpentine belt could break completely and even take out the timing belt as well on some cars.
Luckily, you can easily spot a failing serpentine belt well before it breaks. Here are the symptoms of a failing serpentine belt:
- Cracks and wear. Serpentine belts are reinforced with cord and continue working even if the rubber is cracked. If you see any cracks, missing chunks, uneven wear or rib separation, its time for a new serpentine belt.
- Squealing noises. A worn serpentine belt may start slipping, which causes squealing noises. Especially at startup. However, squealing noises can also indicate a bad belt tensioner or a bad pulley which makes the belt misalign.
- Power steering and AC failure. If the serpentine belt fails, the accessories that it drives will stop working. If you lose power steering, the AC and the alternator stops working or the engine starts overheating, it could mean that the serpentine belt is failing or has already snapped.
Can You Drive Without a Serpentine Belt?
You CAN drive without a serpentine belt but, you won’t get far and will risk damaging the engine.
Cars are designed to start and keep running for some time even after the serpentine belt has snapped, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a good idea to drive without it.
Driving without a serpentine belt is dangerous as you will lose power steering. Without power steering, making quick maneuvers will become nearly impossible, increasing the likelihood of getting into an accident and injuring yourself or others.
In addition to losing power steering, your alternator will stop charging the battery. That means you’ll be running only on the electrical charge that is left in the battery. Once the battery is dead, your car will stall immediately at any time, even in the middle of an intersection.
To sum up: don’t drive without a serpentine belt. Don’t risk it and get the car towed to the mechanic.
How Far Can You Drive Without a Serpentine Belt?
It depends on the charge left in your battery and the design of your water pump.
Diesel vehicles could keep running for a few hours if the batteries are fully charged. On the other hand, gasoline cars will stall after 15-30 minutes if the battery is fully charged because they use much more electricity to keep running.
However, if the serpentine belt drives the water pump, it doesn’t matter if it’s a diesel or a gasoline car – they both will overheat in a matter of minutes. Overheating will cause major damage to the engine, leading to engine replacement and a costly repair bill.
Even though a snapped serpentine belt is a big inconvenience, it’s a cheap fix in most cases. However, a cheap fix could turn into an expensive bill if you decide to drive without it, therefore you should get the car towed to a mechanic.
However, the main takeaway from this article is that you should check the serpentine belt periodically. It’s easy to do and will save you money and time in the long run.
Eddie is the co-founder of CarCareCamp.com, and the site’s primary contributor.
Under his belt, Eddie has a bachelor’s degree in Automotive Electronics Engineering and almost a decade of experience working as a semi-truck technician (specializing in electrics).