Belts and hoses are important components in your vehicle. If something goes wrong with them, you will have problems. By paying attention to the belts and hoses, you can help keep your vehicle running its best. You don’t need to hire a professional to check your belts and hoses. You can do it yourself. You just need to make sure the engine is cold.

Belts operate the alternator, power steering pump, water pump and air conditioner compressor. It is important to start with a visual inspection of the belts and a testing of the tension. Look for cracking, fraying or missing pieces, all of which warrant a replacement. To get an accurate reading of a belt’s tension, you need a belt tension gauge. If you don’t have one of these, you can check the tension by depressing the belt along its longest straight section. If it deflects one-half to one inch, the tension is good.

There are various types of belts. Here is a brief description of some of them, along with some maintenance tips:

?• The drive belt or fan belt powers the power steering pump, air injection pump, air conditioning compressor and mechanical cooling fan. There are two types: the V-belt and the serpentine belt. The belts should be checked when the oil is changed. Look for signs of cracking (random cracks on the ribs of a serpentine belt are normal and don’t require an immediate replacement), missing pieces, splitting or separating layers.?

• The timing belt keeps the crankshaft and camshaft synchronized, which, in turn, keeps the valve operation matched to the position of the pistons. There are some engines in which the belt operates other parts, such as the water and oil pump and balance shafts. For this, manufacturers usually have a recommended mileage for replacement. Failure to follow this recommendation could result in major engine damage. Because it is easier to access the water pump, tensioning pulleys and timing belt sprockets when the timing belt is removed, you may want to consider replacing these parts as well.

After checking the belts, you may check the hoses-the radiator hoses (upper and lower), heater hose and bypass hose. Look for small leaks, and if you find some, use duct tape as a temporary patch. If you notice the upper radiator hose has collapsed, you have a defective radiator pressure cap that will need to be replaced. Test the heater and radiator hoses by firmly squeezing them. If they are hard, make a crunching sound, are extremely soft or sticky, or are covered with oil, they need to be replaced.

You should check the coolant hoses twice a year, in the spring and fall. You also need to check the hose connections, but only when the engine is warm. Drive the vehicle around for a while and then pop the hood. If you see swollen spots in the coolant hoses, this indicates areas of weakness and the hoses need to be replaced. You should also check for cold leaks. These generally seal themselves when the hoses get warm and expand, so wait until the engine has cooled and look for dry coolant cracks or small damp spots down the radiator, thermostat housing, hose ends or firewall.

Belts and hoses are not difficult to maintain or overly expensive to replace. If you choose to ignore a defective belt or hose, however, it could lead to more expensive problems. It’s a good idea to practice preventive maintenance, and if you aren’t comfortable doing that yourself, to turn your vehicle over to a reliable mechanic.

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