Brakes. Headlights. Wipers. Tires.
Parts like these should be on your routine inspection checklist. But what about belts and hoses? Easy to overlook, worn belts and hoses could trigger major auto troubles—from an overheated engine to the sudden loss of power steering.
Luckily, all it takes is a little preventative maintenance—and a peek under the hood—to sidestep expensive (and potentially unsafe) breakdowns. “Belts and hoses are very cost-effective to maintain,” says Jeff Cox, president of the Automotive Maintenance and Repair Association. “But if they fail, the resulting damage could cost thousands of dollars to repair.” Here’s how to make sure yours are in working order.
This multi-grooved rubber component in the front of the engine snakes around various pulleys to drive some of your car’s most important accessories, including the alternator, water pump, power-steering pump and air-conditioning compressor.
Prior to the early 2000s, cracks were an easy visual indicator of a worn belt. Today, most belts are made from advanced compounds that resist cracking. So how can you tell if you have a bad belt?
- Cox recommends heading to a service center or auto-parts retailer and purchasing a belt-wear gauge. Place the handy pocket-size device (which typically costs less than $10) over the ribbed section, then read the instructions to know what your particular gauge indicates. This will identify whether the belt has experienced excessive wear and requires replacement.
- While you’re under the hood, check for fraying along the edges of the belt. This could be a sign of a belt-alignment issue.
- Notice discoloration? If so, that might signal contamination from engine fluids, which could break down the rubber. Time to take your vehicle in for service.
Coolant, Radiator and Outlet-Heater Hoses
Hoses also play a vital role in vehicle performance. Perhaps most importantly, they circulate coolant between the radiator and the engine (via the radiator hoses), then take that warmed-over liquid to the heater core (through the outlet-heater hose) to help warm up the passenger compartment.
Over time, these temperature changes could cause rubber hoses to harden. And acids from the coolant can weaken the linings of the hose from the inside. This is known as electrochemical degradation, or ECD.
If the heater hose goes bad in the winter, you’re in for a chilly ride. But it’s important to know that a leak in any of the above hoses could cause coolant to drain out of the vehicle and result in serious engine problems.
“Visual cues are really the determining factors,” says Cox. He offers these signs of potential failure:
- When the engine is cool, look for degradation on the hoses by squeezing along the hose. “You want it to be pliable,” says Cox. “It should go back to its normal shape.”
- Check for cracks around hoses, which could indicate the rubber is breaking down. Notice any rust around the fasteners? Get your car checked out immediately, as the hose could be close to breaking away from the engine or radiator.
- Inspect for leaks at the heater-core outlet. A loose fastener at the heater core could cause coolant to seep into the carpet of the vehicle’s interior. “You can usually smell it,” says Cox. “The coolant has a sweet smell—almost like maple syrup.”
- Finally, search for any kind of heat damage. “You’ll notice swelling and discoloration in the hose,” Cox adds. “Those are definite signs it should be replaced.”
As far as how often to inspect these parts, Cox recommends checking out the belts and hoses (or having your service provider do so) at every oil change. Also, it’s a good idea to check them before long road trips, because no one wants to spend a vacation stuck on the side of the road.
If you’re ever stranded on the road, having Emergency Roadside Service (ERS) could get you out of trouble ASAP. (It’s available through your GEICO Mobile app.) Add ERS to your policy for just pennies per day per vehicle.
Read More: What To Do If Your Car Overheats
By Rod O’Connor