There are 2 crucial belts in a car engine that directly affect the mechanism’s operation: a serpentine belt and a timing belt. However, most drivers can’t tell these 2 belts apart and often utilize the terms interchangeably (when they don’t). To clarify things, Driverevolve has put together a “serpentine belt vs timing belt” comparison table and explained the details in today’s post.

Serpentine BeltTiming Belt
PurposeRun engine’s accessories and attachments.Maintain the proper timing of the engine’s cylinders in the combustion chamber.
PlacementSurrounding the engine’s rotors.Behind the alternator, wheels, fans, and motor mounts.
MaterialsRubber.Rubber, polyurethane, and neoprene.
Ease Of ReplacingEasier than a timing belt.Harder than a serpentine belt
Cost Of Replacement$100 – $195$1500 – $3000

Definition And Purpose

What Is A Timing Belt? 

The timing belt takes its title from its primary purpose, which is to keep the motor’s cylinders precisely timed in the combustor. They also run important vehicle’s inbuilt parts, which include:

  • Camshaft(s).
  • Water pumps (occasionally).
  • Oil pumps (occasionally).
  • Injector pumps (occasionally in diesel-operated vehicles).

What Is A Serpentine Belt?

Serpentine belts are belts that power the car’s motor attachments (components that are not associated with the engine). Those parts include:

  • The alternator.
  • Power steering pumps.
  • AC compressor.
  • Water pump (occasionally).
  • The belt for cooling fans (occasionally).
  • Auxiliary air pumps (occasionally).


The timing belts are tucked away underneath a casing that is notoriously difficult to remove. Removal of the alternator, wheels, fans or motor mounts may be necessary, depending on the motor setup of your car, to reach the component for maintenance.

It is not always easy to tell the state of a timing belt just by looking at it, but you can always check it via the examination valve in the timing casing.
A timing belt is hard to reach. – Engineering Choice

 It is not always easy to tell the state of a timing belt just by looking at it, but you can always check it via the examination valve in the timing casing.

It is not always easy to tell the state of a timing belt just by looking at it, but you can always check it via the examination valve in the timing casing.
A serpentine belt is easy to find. – Dubizzle

On the flip side, your car’s serpentine belt is not within the motor and is thus easy to get to and examine. In the same way that a serpent or snake might weave its body surrounding its prey, a serpentine belt wraps itself around the many rotors that power the car’s automotive parts. 


While rubber is the most common material for a timing belt, polyurethane and neoprene are also used. Cabled fibers (tension elements) strengthen the component’s design, and a textile wrapping supports the serrated edge.

The timing belt also comes with inbuilt teeth that mesh with the engine crankshaft and camshaft pulleys. It’s built more rigidly than a serpentine belt, so it won’t extend and can survive high temperatures and, to some extent, oil or fluid leakage.

On the other hand, serpentine belts are frictional drive belts; therefore, they are from a rubber composite that wraps around the accompanying conveyors and transmits movements via just the force of traction.

The serpentine belt is a kind of V-belt having lengthwise grooves that slide into complementary slots on the conveyors. Those grooves also help to increase the contact surface, resulting in higher friction.

Serpentine Belt Vs Timing Belt: What Happens If It Breaks?

Timing Belt 

Should you notice bad timing belt symptoms, it’s advisable to pull over to the side of the road and turn off the motor right away. Degradation of the timing belt will result in mismatched piston-to-valve timing, causing the engine to overheat.

There are two possible causes of a timing belt failure: the belt sliding or the belt breaking. Whether your car uses an interfering or non-interference motor might lead to cylinders and valves coming into touch with each other within the vehicle.

Once the timing belt shatters, your crankshaft rotates at 1000 RPM while your camshaft stops spinning. Consequently, the pistons will keep pounding on their cylinders, potentially striking the valves.
A failing timing belt will interrupt the operation of the whole machine. – Student Lesson

Timing belts might fail if they are worn or frayed. Damage caused by parts contacting one another harshly would necessitate pricey repairs due to the high cost of replacement components and service costs.

Since it might be hard to tell if you suffer from a faulty timing belt, timing chains are frequently recommended over timing belts.

To avoid costly repairs, you should get a new one every 5-7 years or 60,000-100,000 miles.

Serpentine Belt 

What happens to a car if the serpentine belt breaks?

In the best-case situations, a bad serpentine belt makes your car shake at idle but smooth out when driving. However, when the serpentine belt breaks completely, all parts within the engine will stop functioning.

First, your automobile’s battery will soon die since the alternator is no longer charging it. The longevity of a vehicle battery is short, and you may not make it more than a few miles before it completely fails and won’t start again.

If the vibrations are extreme, a vacuum hose could be the cause. It may also trigger motor surges or delays, resulting in poor performance.
A broken serpentine belt might stop the car completely. – Allstate Insurance Company

The loss of steering systems will also make it incredibly tricky to maneuver the vehicle. On specific models, the serpentine belt also powers the hydraulic system and radiator fans, causing your automobile to overheat. 

In this case, the consequences might be disastrous and expensive to repair due to the need for a complicated fix, including high costs for both components and service.

Thus, if you think your serpentine belt is about to break, you should either schedule an inspection with a technician or change the belt yourself if you’re mechanically inclined.

The optimal lifespan for a car’s serpentine belt is 7 to 9 years or up to 90,000 miles.

Ease Of Replacing 

While neither a serpentine nor a timing belt change is hard, the complexity gap may be substantial.

Timing Belt 

A timing belt is hard to reach and requires tools that most novice mechanics do not have.

The crankshaft drives the motor's linking rails which work closely with pistons within the combustor. On the flip side, the camshaft controls the piston fittings and rocker arm setup, which directs gasoline into the combustor.
A broken timing belt is hard to replace for an amateur. – Car Parts

The job will take much longer for a beginner than it will for an experienced mechanic, and there is the possibility that the installation will be done improperly, which could lead to engine damage.

Allow yourself a couple of days so that you can purchase any necessary components or tools. Timing belt replacement tutorials are accessible on YouTube for practically every car’s make and model, much like serpentine belt replacements.

Serpentine Belt 

Changing a serpentine belt is one of the easier maintenance tasks on most automobiles.

Serpentine Belt 
Replacing a bad serpentine belt is an easy task. – Your Mechanic

There’s no need to jack up the car, and the equipment needed for the procedure is readily available and affordable. YouTube has tutorials and review videos on nearly all car brands around nowadays.

However, if you don’t feel comfortable doing it yourself or don’t have the time, it’s best to hire a professional to repair the serpentine belt.

Replacement Cost 

There is a significant expense variation between changing a serpentine belt and a timing belt. 

Timing Belt 

Timing belt replacement is expensive because of the extensive time and effort required. Repairing a timing belt is often a five-hour process.

A new timing belt is typically about $50, which is affordable. However, due to the extra effort required to disassemble the machine to replace this belt, it is advisable to replace some other easily accessible components.

Those parts include:

  • Water pumps.
  • Tensioner pulleys for the timing belt.
  • Belt idler.
  • Surrounding gaskets and O-rings.

The timing belt is often sold in kits containing water pumps, pulleys, seals, and other associated parts, and you can purchase these products for anywhere between $100 and $300. When you factor in the hourly rate of a mechanic, replacing a timing belt might cost you $1,500 to $3,000 at a garage.

Serpentine Belt 

Changing a serpentine belt is not difficult, and as mentioned above, it doesn’t take a lot of time and effort. Thus, it’s relatively affordable to replace.

Prices for serpentine belts usually range from $25 to $75. You may replace the belt home and spare yourself $75 to $120 in service costs if you grasp the foundations of auto maintenance. The total bill to change the serpentine belt will be between $100 and $195.

Wrapping Up 

There you have it – a complete comparison of serpentine belt vs timing belt. While many people mistake these belts for one another, each has different definitions, is responsible for various purposes, and positions at different areas of your engine.

However, when they malfunction, these belts bring disastrous effects to your vehicle; thus, fix or repair them as soon as possible once you notice the warning signs. 

For more content like this, refer to our Fun Autopart section.


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