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What is a car's accessory belt?

Accessory belts are used to drive the air-conditioning compressor, power steering pump, water pump and the alternator. In more modern cars one or two belts - known as the serpentine belt because of the way they twist around multiple pulleys - do all of these jobs.

Accessory belts should be checked every once in a while to make sure the tension between pulleys is correct.

Pick a point on the belt midway between pulleys and push on it with a finger. Using a ruler, if the belt flexes by more than an inch it may need to be tightened.

Accessory belts don’t usually have a recommended change interval. Instead, you are recommended to inspect them at regular intervals.

Our Haynes manuals have step by step instructions on how to do this. With the engine stopped, inspect the full length of the belts for cracks and separation of the belt plies.

Accessory Belt

Twist the belt between the pulleys so that both sides can be viewed. Also check for fraying and glazing, which gives the belt a shiny appearance.

Check the pulleys for nicks, cracks, distortion and corrosion; small cracks in the underside of a V-ribbed belt are acceptable - lengthwise cracks, or missing pieces that cause the belt to make noise, are cause for replacement.

Belts are relatively cheap to buy - always get a new replacement, never use a secondhand accessory belt.

Occasionally you’ll hear a squealing or screeching noise coming from under the bonnet, especially when you start the engine from cold and when pulling away.

Sometimes the alternator light will illuminate on the dashboard, indicating that the battery isn’t charging.

This is likely to be caused by a slipping belt, either because it has oil on it or it is damp and there’s not enough tension, so the belt needs to be tightened or replaced.

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