Serpentine Belts vs Timing Belts: What’s the Difference?

A timing belt has horizontal "teeth" that are made to fit both the crankshaft and camshaft. In contrast, a serpentine belt has multiple V-shaped grooves that appear vertically along the belt.
Serpentine-Belts-vs-Timing-Belts

When it comes to maintaining your vehicle, there are a lot of different parts and systems that you need to keep an eye on. And if you’re like most people, the inner workings of your car’s engine might be a bit of a mystery.

But one thing you should definitely know is the difference between serpentine belts vs timing belts. Both are crucial parts of your engine, but they serve very different purposes. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at serpentine belts and timing belts, and we’ll explain what sets them apart.

What is the Serpentine belt?

The serpentine belt is a long rubber belt that delivers power to your alternator, power steering pump, air conditioning compressor, and (sometimes) the water pump, according to Virginia Tire & Auto.

Serpentine belts are typically one long belt that snakes its way around these different components, hence the name “serpentine.”

Serpentine belts are made of rubber and are reinforced with fiberglass or Kevlar to increase durability. They are designed to last for a long time, often over 50,000 to 100,000 miles. However, serpentine belts do wear out over time, and they may need to be replaced.

What is Timing Belt?

The timing belt is made of rubber and has hard teeth that engage with the cogwheels on the camshaft and crankshaft, according to Peters cars. The job of the timing belt is to harmonize crankshaft and camshaft rotation, and if both are synced up properly, then your vehicle’s pistons and valves will operate correctly.

They are designed to last for a long time, often over 60,000 to 100,000 miles. However, timing belts do wear out over time, and they may need to be replaced.

Serpentine-Belts-vs-Timing-Belts

Serpentine Belts vs Timing Belts: What’s the Difference?

A timing belt has horizontal “teeth” that are made to fit both the crankshaft and camshaft. In contrast, a serpentine belt has multiple V-shaped grooves that appear vertically along the belt. Over time, these belts need to be replaced (roughly around the same time). You can immediately tell the distinction between the two belts when you look at the ribs on the belt.

Here are the five main differences between the serpentine belt and the timing belt:

1. What They Do

Serpentine belts and timing belts are both used to drive various components in a vehicle’s engine.

A serpentine belt is a single belt that typically drives multiple accessories such as the alternator, air conditioning compressor, power steering pump, and others. The serpentine belt is driven by the crankshaft pulley and it runs along several pulleys on the engine accessories, providing power to each of them.

A timing belt, on the other hand, is a thin belt that connects the crankshaft to the camshaft. Its main purpose is to keep the crankshaft and camshaft in time with each other, ensuring the engine’s valves open and close at the correct time. This is crucial for maintaining engine performance and preventing damage to internal engine components.

2. Where They’re Located

Serpentine belts are typically located on the front of the engine, running along multiple pulleys and accessories. They are usually easy to spot, as they are the only belt running along the front of the engine.

Timing belts, on the other hand, are located behind a timing cover on the front of the engine. This cover is typically made of plastic or metal and is located on the front of the engine, above the crankshaft pulley.

3. What They’re Made Of

Serpentine belts are usually made of rubber with reinforced fibers such as polyester, Kevlar, or nylon which provides strength and durability to the belt. These belts are designed to last for a long time and can withstand heat, oil, and other engine contaminants.

Timing belts, on the other hand, are typically made of reinforced rubber or a durable synthetic material such as neoprene which is resistant to heat, oil, and other contaminants.

4. How They’re Grooved

Serpentine belts have grooves on the inside surface that fit into pulleys on the engine accessories. These grooves help keep the belt properly aligned and prevent it from slipping.

Timing belts, on the other hand, have teeth on the inside surface that fit into gears on the camshaft and crankshaft. These teeth help keep the belt properly aligned and prevent it from slipping. This teeth-and-gear design is the reason why the timing belts are more precise and accurate than serpentine belts.

5. How Easy They’re to Replace

Replacing a serpentine belt is typically an easier task than replacing a timing belt. Serpentine belts can be removed and installed with a socket or belt tensioner tool, which makes the replacement process relatively simple.

Timing belts, on the other hand, require the removal of the timing cover and other components, which makes the replacement process more complex. Additionally, timing belts are typically recommended to be replaced at a certain interval, recommended by the car manufacturers, regardless of the appearance or condition, since a timing belt failure can cause severe engine damage.

Serpentine BeltsTiming Belts
Drive multiple accessories at once, such as the alternator, water pump, and air conditioning compressor.Drive the camshaft(s) and/or crankshaft in an interference engine.
Made of durable materials such as polyurethane or a reinforced rubber compound.Made of a rubber compound and reinforced with fiberglass or Kevlar.
Typically, last longer than timing belts, up to 100,000 miles or more.Typically need to be replaced every 60,000 to 100,000 miles.
Tension is maintained by a spring-loaded pulley or an automatic tensioner.Tension is maintained by a tensioner pulley.
Noise when worn out or damaged may be noticed.Failure of a timing belt can cause severe engine damage, including bent valves and pistons.

Symptoms Of Bad Serpentine Belts vs Timing Belts

A serpentine belt and a timing belt are both important components of a vehicle’s engine, and they can both malfunction, causing problems.

Here are some common symptoms of a bad serpentine belt:

  1. Squealing noise from the front of the vehicle.
  2. Power steering and AC not working.
  3. Engine overheating.
  4. Cracks and wear on the belt.

Here are some common symptoms of a bad timing belt:

  1. Engine misfires.
  2. Smoke after starting the vehicle’s engine.
  3. Difficulty starting.
  4. Low oil pressure
  5. Loss of engine power

It’s important to note that a broken timing belt can cause serious engine damage, so it is important to have it inspected if you suspect a problem.

Serpentine Belts Vs Timing Belts: Cost

The cost of repairing or replacing belts varies based on the amount of labor and time needed for the task, which is reflected in the price.

The cost of the serpentine belt itself could be around $50 and the labor cost could be around $150. As a result, the cost of replacing a serpentine belt can range from $70 to $200 depending on your exact model and where you are having it replaced.

Timing belt replacement costs range from $500 to $1,000 on average, while waiting for it to break before replacing can cost upward of $2,000 or more. Especially, if there’s another damage that occurred in the process.

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