Can you drive a car without a serpentine belt?

You may have seen a long rubber-like belt connecting some moveable parts in a car’s engine area and wonder what it is and its function. This is a special belt called a serpentine belt made of rubber to stretch and firmly hold the moveable accessories during rotation.

The role of a serpentine belt is to transmit power across the engine accessories such as power steering pump, water pump, air conditioning compressor, and alternator. For smooth rotation and efficient power transfer, this belt is supported by pulleys like idler and crankshaft pulleys.

If you drive a car without a serpentine belt, you will experience difficulties when turning the steering wheel since there is no hydraulic pressure. In a sense, if you can drive a car without a serpentine belt, the roles played by this kind of belt should be subjective to your worry. Considering the roles of the serpentine belt, you can drive the car without it, but the vehicle will barely operate correctly. This means you can drive the vehicle without a serpentine belt but with the limitation of a short distance.

The engine cooling and steering power pump and other important activities around the engine depend on the serpentine belt. In cooling, this belt helps the flow of coolant that controls engine overheating.

How long can you drive a car without a serpentine belt?

The longer you can drive your car without a serpentine belt is between 1-2 miles or 20-90 min. But this is affected by some conditions, such as high temperatures and how the car is engineered. Again, the vehicle version or model can significantly be affected by running without the accessory belt.

The old version of vehicles is designed to have multiple drive belts connecting the engine accessories. But today’s vehicles only use a single serpentine belt powering all engine accessories, although under multiple pulleys.

Again, driving a car without a serpentine belt should be done slowly, with no overspeeding, as the steering wheel will have difficulties turning.

The common problems of a serpentine belt leading to its failure

There are common problems that can fail the serpentine belt to function its roles. They include;

1. Wear and tear

Although the serpentine belt is made of strong rubber material, it encounters problems such as wear or tear. As it moves over several metallic pulleys, there is intense friction that causes it to wear. Overstretching for a longer time, tear due to thinness or cracks can make it break and fail to function. 

2. Tensioner Bearing or idler pulley issues

Most serpentine belts move over some idler pulleys that are tensioner bearing. These parts sometimes go bad and fail the serpentine belt to do its work.

3. Contamination by oils

You may purchase a new timing belt, and in less than a week, it fails. When you check on it, you discover things like oils on its surfaces. This is a common problem affecting the serpentine belt, such as elements of coolant or oils leaking from the engine. Oils make the serpentine belt soaked.

4. Issues with hydraulic belt tensioner

When a tensioner acting as a shock absorber becomes damaged, the serpentine belt is affected, and it will fail. Therefore, the driver should take action to repair the bad tensioner.

5. Bad automatic spring loading belt tensioner

A healthy serpentine belt should operate under proper tension, and this is why there is a spring-loaded automatic belt tensioner. If this tension is absent, the serpentine goes slipping, which leads to wear and gets damaged.

This is easily detected when you start the engine; there are some squealing noises. Also, when turning the steering, the squealing noise is as the serpentine belt tends to slip off the pulley.

But all such faults can be noted early if the driver is keen on the car’s operation. The common issues that can happen for you to know your serpentine belt is under faults are mentioned below.

  • The car’s steering is experiencing difficulties in turning
  • There are squealing sounds
  • Pulley whining 
  • Battery not charging
  • The belt’s visible wear, tear, and cracks
  • The car engine is overheating
  • Inadequate air conditioning


Driving a car without a serpentine belt risks the car’s health. Some parts such as the engine may overheat, air conditioning becomes poor, alternator failure, and steering power difficulties. The driver should always check up on the belt and find broken, worn out, cracked, and bad pulleys. You should replace these parts. When there are some issues like squealing noises and no power in steering, they can indicate serpentine belt issues.

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