The short answer is yes, your car will start even if the serpentine belt is broken or missing. To get the car going, the battery sends power to your starter motor. The starter motor provides enough power to get your engine moving and the combustion process started. However, you do need your serpentine belt if you want the car to run for longer than a few minutes.

How the Serpentine Belt Works in Your Car

The serpentine belt uses a belt and collection of pulleys connected to your engine’s crankshaft. The belt transfers power from the engine to your cooling system, alternator, heat and air conditioning, power steering, and other auxiliary items. If the belt breaks, the car can overheat and will drain the battery instead of using the alternator to provide electricity to a variety of systems.

How long will my car run with a broken serpentine belt?

There are a few variables involved in the answer, but it should be able to run between 20 to 90 minutes. If it is a hot summer day, your engine can overheat very quickly without the coolant being pumped through the radiator. In many modern cars, the engine light will illuminate once it exceeds a safe temperature. It may even put the car in limp mode to protect the engine. If it is cold outside and you have a fresh battery, you may be able to travel up to 90 minutes before the battery dies. You will not be able to use fans, headlights, or other systems that use an excessive amount of electricity.

Your power steering will not work at all, making it very difficult to turn the wheel. Basically, you should be able to drive it to a safe space where it can be towed or repaired. If the belt is snapped and dangling in the engine compartment, remove it before moving the vehicle to prevent further damage.

Why did my serpentine belt break?

Original equipment serpentine belts are designed as “lifetime” parts, meaning they should exceed the warranty before failing. Most serpentine belts will last between 70,000 and 100,000 miles. If the belt goes out of alignment, it can wear unevenly resulting in premature failure. Inspecting the serpentine belt should be part of routine maintenance so it can be replaced before catastrophic failure.

Is it difficult or expensive to replace the serpentine belt?

Replacing a serpentine belt can be done by most homegrown mechanics. You will need a new replacement serpentine belt assembly, a set of wrenches, and possibly jack stands or a lift. An experienced technician can replace the belt in about 15 minutes. It may take you an hour at home. If you have your local repair shop replace the belt, expect to pay between $100 to $200.