5 Symptoms of a Loose Alternator Belt (And Replacement Cost)

Is your car making strange noises? Squealing or chirping sounds are the most noticeable loose alternator belt symptoms. But there are others.

In simple terms, the alternator charges the battery using a belt wrapped around a pulley. The belt is connected to the crankshaft. It needs the right tension to spin the alternator.

A loose belt can’t spin the alternator fast enough. Then the battery doesn’t get fully charged or the belt might even slip off completely. This result can get you stranded.

Keep reading to learn all the signs of a loose alternator belt. A few minutes now could save you from a breakdown later.

Related: Symptoms of a Broken Alternator Belt

Loose Alternator Belt Symptoms

Your car’s alternator belt wears down a bit every time you drive. Too much wear, and the belt can get loose or misaligned and you’ll start to notice problems.

Here are the 5 most typical loose alternator belt symptoms to watch for. If you ignore the issue too long, your car’s electrical system could fail and leave you stranded.

1) Flickering/Dimming Lights

dim headlights

If you are driving your vehicle and suddenly notice the headlights flickering or dimming or cabin lights inside the vehicle dimming, this could mean you either have a battery or alternator issue.

When it’s a problem with the alternator belt, the flickering or dimming lights may stay consistent for quite some time before they completely go out since no power is getting to them. Depending on how old the alternator is, it can also be a sign the alternator itself is on its way out.

2) Vehicle Stalls

If your alternator belt gets too loose as you’re driving, it may cause your engine to stall. This means that you’re engine essentially shuts down and you’ll be forced to pull over onto the side of the road.

Obviously, you wouldn’t want this happening on a busy street or rush hour traffic on the highway. If this symptom is consistent with the flickering lights issue, then a loose alternator belt is more likely the cause.

3) Battery Warning Light

car battery light is on

One of the first symptoms that you should notice is the battery warning light coming on. This warning light does not always mean there is a problem with the battery itself. It could just mean there is an electrical problem in the vehicle which is impacting the battery.

Rather than wait to see what happens, you should get it checked out by a mechanic or if you’re confident, take it home and troubleshoot the issue. A loose alternator belt may be the culprit.

Related: Causes of an Alternator Going Bad

4) Chirping or Squealing Noise

noise while driving

If the serpentine belt is loose, it often results in various noises coming from your engine. With a loose belt, it doesn’t sit right up against any pullies that are rotating it so noise may occur from the friction.

You’ll often hear cars driving down the street that have this problem and it seems to occur more in colder weather. If you fail to replace your alternator/serpentine belt, the problem will only get worse and to the point that the belt may completely slip off a pulley or pieces of it start breaking off.

Related: Common Causes of Alternator Belt Noise

5) Dead Battery

dead car battery

When the alternator can no longer fully charge the battery because of a loose alternator belt, the battery will then try to provide all the power to the vehicle on its own. Unfortunately, the battery will die within minutes because it doesn’t have enough power to sustain all the vehicle’s energy needs by itself.

Alternator Belt Replacement Cost

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serpentine belt replacement cost

The replacement cost of an alternator belt is typically between $200 and $400. The part cost is between $30 and $90 while the labor cost is between $150 and $300. The true replacement cost will depend on how long it takes the mechanic to access your alternator belt.

Related: Average Alternator Replacement Cost

Sometimes it is easy to access, so the labor will only take one hour or so. But if the belt is difficult to access, you could be looking at multiple hours of labor charges. At the most, it should not go over $500 unless your alternator is extremely difficult to access.

Belt Maintenance

To lessen the chance of an alternator belt problem and make it last longer, regular maintenance is important. Check the alternator belt every 30,000 to 50,000 miles or as your vehicle’s maintenance schedule says.

When you inspect it, look for cracks, fraying, or shiny/glazed spots on the belt’s surface. If you see any of these, it’s time replace the belt. Also, check the belt’s tightness. A good belt should not have much slack and should not move more than half an inch or so when you push down on it.

If you don’t know how to inspect the alternator belt, ask a mechanic to look at it during regular maintenance, like oil changes or tire rotations. They can check the belt’s condition and tell you if it needs replacement.

Keeping your engine clean can also help your alternator belt last longer. Keep the engine area clean and remove any debris. Car and Driver has a good article on a DIY engine cleaning process.

Dirt and grime can build up on the belt and cause it to wear out faster. If you see any oil or coolant leaks, fix them right away. These fluids can damage the belt’s material.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Long Does an Alternator Belt Last?

An alternator belt typically lasts between 50k and 100k miles. That said, its actual lifespan can vary depending on driving conditions, region, and maintenance habits.

Can I Drive With a Loose Alternator Belt?

No, it’s not recommended to drive with a loose alternator belt. Not only will you get an annoying squealing sound when starting up or accelerating, a loose belt can slip, causing poor charging and overheating. It can also damage other components in the engine.

What Happens If I Don’t Replace a Loose Alternator Belt?

Simply put, more serious problems can occur if you ignore the issue. The belt may completely fail, leaving you stranded. If the belt snaps, it can also cause damage to the alternator, power steering pump, and other engine components. Any of this can result in a much higher repair bill than a simple replacement job.

Is Alternator Belt Replacement a DIY Task?

Replacing an alternator belt can be a DIY project if you have the right tools and mechanical knowledge. If you feel confident in your abilities, make sure you understand exactly how the belt is routed (a photo or sketch before you start is recommended) and what the proper way of removing/installing it is.

If you’re unsure or uncomfortable with the process, it’s best to have a professional mechanic handle the replacement.


33 thoughts on “5 Symptoms of a Loose Alternator Belt (And Replacement Cost)”

  1. Hi. I just had my engine rebuilt and then the whole mess under the hood was put back together. When I got the truck (04 Dodge Ram 1500 5.7) back, there was a chirping noise when I shut the truck off, every time, sounded like it was coming from behind the radiator. Today, my ‘check gages’ light came on and then after maybe 4 hrs or so, I was driving and all the dash lights started coming on and then the lights and radio started messing up and going out. It lasted about a couple mile before she just died and everything locked up. We tried to charge the battery while it was sitting still and it started back up until we removed the cables and then it died again in less than 2 minutes. Is it possible that this is an ill fitting serpentine belt issue? Thanks in advance.

  2. WE took our 2006 Toyota Solara Convertible v6 to mechanic as we noticed the alternator (serpentine belt) broke. We expected approx a $100-150 repair bill. Mechanic had car half the day, we called he said bolt “snapped) and they were having difficulty removing it and said it was really difficult to do, took all day, and upshot is our bill was $280 plus tax…($300!) We had a feeling we were ripped off. I asked to see the “broken bolt” owner said it’s in the garbage…yet the story kept changing…at first he said the bolt was badly rusted…my husband thinks the mechanic just didn’t use enough lubrican’t to remove it. Does this sound like a scam or is this a fair charge? It is a well known actually tire place that does “complete car car” services as well. We just feel we were taken to the cleaners! My husband looked up the part online, the belt itself was $14. ! I know they make money on parts but geez!

    • Do you live in an area that salts roads? Rusty fasteners are very common there. Sounds like the bolt really was stuck and the mechanic had a bad time getting it out. One stripped hole or rusty bolt can really ruin a job sometimes. I’m surprised it took “all day” though. Why didn’t they just drill it out and helicoil the hole to give it new threads? Perhaps it was salvageable and they were being methodical, perhaps it was hard to fit a tap into that area, I don’t know.

      If your husband doesn’t have experience removing rusty hardware (and possibly helicoiling stripped holes after the bolt is removed) then it was probably well worth the money to have the shop do it.

  3. We just replaced the alternator and alternator belt on my 2010 kia soul on the 28th of Feb. Today as I was trying to leave work, the power steering was being finicky, it squealed a bit then stopped. I managed to get home without more issues, but I’m wondering If the belt needs to be tightened more or if I have another issue such as needing a new power steering pump?

  4. Does the alternator outcome depend on belt fitting? Will a loose belt cause lower volts on running? Previously I used to get 14+V while running but now a days it’s below 14V. Alternator is new one.
    And if I don’t start engine for couple of days, it takes 2-3 twist to get the power.

    • Yes, the alternator needs a properly tensioned belt in order to produce sufficient voltage, since that is how mechanical energy of rotation is converted into electrical energy. If your alternator isn’t producing enough voltage it can’t properly charge the battery, which would absolutely make it harder to start the vehicle.

    • Yes, absolutely. I test voltage at battery monthly and when the belt starts to stretch enough to cause slippage I get dip in voltage output. Last two times it was enought to cause an intermittent stall at startup. Sometimes I get tipped off by a chirping/squealing sound at start-up, which is a sure sign that the belt is loosening. I have a Sienna that does not have an automatic/springloaded tensioner. The belt has to be tightened manually so every 12 months or so I do it all over. Voltage drops, squeals and stalls go away.

  5. I find the information provided here to be extremely useful.

    Thank you very much for them.

    I have a 2007 Acura MDX with very high mileage, over 200,000 miles but was running great until one evening as my wife was driving it to work, within 3/4 of a mile. It started showing battery in the dashboard with battery charging error message.

    I removed the battery and took it to auto parts store and they charged it and said it was still good battery. I didn’t want to risk driving the car there.

    I have asked a mobile mechanic to come and fix it.

    My question is whether you think the mechanic coming to fix the car will be honest with me about whether alternator belt is the issue or will he go for alternator so he can make more money?

    Sorry to sound a bit paranoid. I have been had before.

    Thank you very much for your useful advise.

    • That doesn’t sound paranoid to me. It’s good to be cautious when you’re trusting someone else with your vehicle.

      If the mechanic has good reviews (especially from people who are mechanically inclined and check his work), it’s a safe bet that he is honest and reliable. I would rather pay more for quality work if you know the mechanic can be trusted.

      Sometimes people leave negative reviews because they don’t understand what it takes to perform a difficult diagnosis or repair. Mechanics make a decent living, but they aren’t rich; they charge what they do because they have to pay the bills.

      Diagnostics are usually the hardest part of a repair. Finding the root cause of an issue often requires a clever mind, and the troubleshooting process is something that can’t really be taught in school.

      Find a mechanic who will test instead of guess, and don’t settle for a professional parts changer. If your mechanic starts throwing parts at the problem hoping something will fix it, consider finding another mechanic.

  6. Bettary icon appeared on dashboard,car went off I changed alternator.. after one day again bettery icon indicated the car went off what would be the cause again?

  7. AFTER replacing my dead/dying battery, I discovered a broken belt. And new battery dead…Im thinking the alternator .Forgot to have em check it at the autoparts store. Thanks for this article.

  8. My Serpentine/Alternator belt came loose, Bluish-Green fluid came out what is that? Is there significant damage?

    • That blue-green fluid is likely coolant by the sound of it. Check to make sure your coolant is topped off, both in the radiator and the overflow reservoir.

      That belt shouldn’t just come loose. It makes me wonder if something happened to the water pump pulley…

      Depending on your make and model, the water pump may be powered by the same belt used for the alternator. If this belt were to come off, coolant would not circulate through the engine which would lead to overheating issues, and potentially significant damage.

      You’ll need to put the belt back on before you drive so the alternator can charge the battery and coolant will flow, if indeed this belt is powering the water pump.

      In either case, I’d get it checked out by a mechanic as soon as you can.

  9. I just replaced the alternator on my 1999 toyota avalon. Drove it around the accelerate great but the headlights started to flicker is that a sign of the battery going bad?

    • Hmm, hard to say. It’s possible you have a bad battery, a weak connection to the alternator, a bad connection to the headlight bulbs, or maybe a bad ground.

      Start with the simple stuff: take your car to a parts store to have the battery and alternator tested. Assuming those are good, make sure the headlights are seated securely in their housings.

      Some types of aftermarket headlights (such as LED bulbs) have different power requirements than the factory headlights, and may come with a conversion kit or adapter. If this kit was not installed or has gone bad, you may also experience flickering.

      If those don’t help, I’d also look for any loose or corroded ground straps. Make sure both battery terminals are securely tightened over the battery posts. If you notice any corrosion at the battery, clean this off with a battery terminal cleaner.

    • A loose alternator belt usually sounds more like a squeal than a whistle. A whistle could potentially be caused by a leak in your air intake or maybe even gear whine from the transmission.

  10. Hi I’ve got a ford 01 laser glxi hatchback sedan 5 Spd manual and the battery keeps going flat and the battery is a year old can you help me

    • Try taking your car to your local auto parts store and have them test the battery and the alternator. Many places will test them for free. If the alternator or battery are found to be bad, replace them as soon as possible. I would guess they may even put a finger on the alternator belt for you to determine if the tension is set correctly.

      Do you notice a battery light illuminate on your dash? If so, check your owner’s manual for more information on possible causes.

    • In most cases, a single belt drives the alternator, water pump, A/C, etc. Even though you could technically drive for a bit with the power stored in the battery, your biggest concern would be overheating the engine which would cause catastrophic damage very quickly without a water pump. If your car has a separate belt just for the alternator, you could drive for as long as the power stored in your battery lasts (maybe 10-30 min).

      • Depending on what part broke, it may sound like nothing. You may hear the alternator belt squeal if the pulley seized, for instance. I would not consider the vehicle driveable at that point. The alternator charges your battery. Without a means to charge the battery you will be stranded when the battery is depleted.

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