Today, at South Denver Automotive would like to explain how to check for problems with belts and hoses. Most of our customers are not interested in being a car repair expert, and they don’t have to be, that’s what we’re here for! However, there are a few easy things that you might be interested in learning to facilitate a bit of do-it-yourself car repair.
A great place to start is learning to check for problems with car belts and hoses, after all, they are responsible for keeping much needed fluids like oil in your vehicle. Rubber wears out faster in high-temperature environments, and a car engine most certainly counts as such an environment. Checking hoses and belts is a simple chore and something that can save money and a lot of headaches.
For example, if a hose that is part of your cooling system develops a leak or the belt that turns the water pump breaks, your engine is left vulnerable to overheating. This is most commonly a danger during the hotter months of the year but if the problem becomes severe enough before you notice your engine can overheat at any time. Hoses and belts are inexpensive fixes, but a cracked engine head from overheating can cost hundreds of dollars to fix.
Coolant and Heater Hoses
When it comes to the cooling system, the hoses are most definitely the weakest link. These tubes are made from flexible rubber compounds and are designed to be able to handle pressurized engine coolant. However, they are also routinely exposed to extreme temperature fluctuations, oils, dirt, sludge and even atmospheric ozone–all of which are damaging to the rubber compounds.
The most damaging factor is also the hardest to detect. Referred to as Electrochemical Degradation, or ECD, this phenomenon attacks the hose from the inside and causes fine cracks which is why it is so difficult to detect. Then any acids or contaminants in the coolant further damage the structure until it either starts to leak or ruptures completely.
Maintenance Tips for Hoses
The good news is that there are some easy maintenance steps you can take to diminish the possibility of a complete rupture.
- Check the coolant-recovery tank: there is an easily accessible white tank on top of your engine where you can check the level of the coolant fluid. There are usually marks to indicate at what level the fluid should be. If you notice that it is constantly coming up low, that’s a good indication that you have a slow leak somewhere. You can also check for remnants of car fluids on the ground where you usually park your car.
- To check for signs of ECD, firmly squeeze the hoses near the clamps, which is where the earliest signs of ECD appear. They should feel firm but pliant. Soft and mushy indicates a problem. Be sure to do this with a cold engine.
- Check the entire hose for cracks, nicks or bulges. Pay particular attention to areas near connection points, areas where the hoses are bent, and watch out for a hardened, glassy surface, an indication of heat damage.
- Regularly service the system by flushing out the fluid and replacing it with clean fluid. This is the number one way to cut down on ECD issues.
- Also, remember never to remove the radiator cap while the engine in hot! The hot coolant is pressurized in there and can blow up in your face, a very unpleasant prospect to be sure. Another danger is the electric cooling fan that can come on automatically at any point so keep your fingers out of there.
Other Important Notes about Hoses
Note that the upper radiator hose fails the most frequently, so keep the closest eye on that one. As a general rule of thumb, replace the hoses about every four years. If one breaks, we recommend that you replace all of them because the rest are probably getting old enough to be a danger. Remember, replacing a hose is a lot less expensive than replacing the damage caused by an overheated engine.
When you do replace the hoses, be sure that the new hoses are ECD resistant ones. Most cars built after 1993 have ECD resistant hoses so be sure that any replacement ones are also up to current recommendations. Each manufacturer uses its own trademark, but you will find something ‘Type ECD’ that indicates its resistance. Alternatively, ask one of our experts here at South Denver Automotive.
Belts are also made from rubber compounds, so many of the same elements that attack hoses, such as ozone, heat, oil, etc., can attack belts. Newer cars are usually equipped with a single serpentine belt that drives various accessories like the alternator, water pump, air-conditioning compressor and power steering pump. It is recommended to change this belt out every 50,000 miles. Older model cars have separate belts known as V-belts. It is recommended that these belts be replaced every 36,000 miles.
Maintenance Tips for Belts
Just like with hoses, there are a few steps you can take to diminish your chances of having a belt snap while you are driving.
- Inspect each belt carefully for any signs of wear like cracks, fraying or splits
- Watch for glazing, a sign of heat damage that can cause the belt to slip, overheat or even snap
- Twist the serpentine belt to check the underside for any separation, cracks or pieces missing out of the grooves.
Other Important Notes about Belts
When replacing belts, be sure to use the exact same size. Check the length, width and number of grooves to ensure that each aspect is the same. Also, belts need to have the right tension otherwise they may slip, generate heat or flat out not turn the accessory they are attached to. If you notice a high-pitched whine or chirping sound or, excess vibration noises you may have a belt tension problem that should be looked at.
We hope that this guide on how to check for problems with belts and hoses has been helpful. If you are in doubt about any of these aspects or need help with the inspection, feel free to bring your vehicle to our friendly and knowledgeable mechanics here at South Denver Automotive today!