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Driving without serpentine belt - overheating?

In a recent thread (Steering wheel won’t turn?), '95 Chevy Lumina was driven by a shop mechanic two miles without the serpentine belt in place. I would think that lack of a serpentine belt means that the water pump is not turning. Wouldn’t that risk overheating? Can anyone hazard a ballpark estimate of how far it’s safe, in terms of temperature, to drive without a belt. Steering is a different matter of course, and also a safety issue.

I had a belt come off a few months ago (Dodge 3.3L) while on a freeway, and after less than a mile, my temp gauge was near the top. I didn’t know at first that the belt had come off, but the power steering stopped abruptly. I thought about temperature a minute or two later, about the time I was able to get parked. Granted that my engine was already at operating temperature when the belt came off, and the Lumina in question was probably cold based on the description given. I made it to a parking lot and got a free AAA tow (it was raining buckets at the time, and my tools were all at home anyway).

I thought that this would be useful info for anyone who encounters a broken or dismounted belt, to help decide about trying to limp home or to a shop, or to a safer location to wait for a tow.

Some vehicles…the water pump runs off the timing belt.

But the alternator and AC definitely run off the serpentine belt.

Some vehicles also have more than one fanbelt. One drives some peripheral items, the other drives others.

The absolute best thing to do is simply pull over to the first safe spot and call your auto club. That’ll ensure that the engine doesn;t sustain damage from overheating and it’ll ensure that you don’t suddenly die in the middle off a busy lane…should, for example, you be operating on your battery alone…until it runs too low to fire the plugs anymore.

I would suspect that two miles is the upper limit. I lost a belt on my Riviera 3800 due to the water pump bearing (bearing wears, pulley goes out of alignment, and belt won’t stay on). It was -10 out at least on the freeway. I drove probably a mile from one exit to the next and my temp guage was at the upper limit. I had just driven 40 miles so it was fully warmed up but it was ten below out too. I think if the car was fully cold, you could do two miles but it doesn’t take long to over heat.

Interesting points. Maybe that Chevy Lumina in the other thread runs the water pump off the timing belt as Mike mentioned, and if so, the mechanic probably knew that, and thus understood there was no risk of overheating. So that’s a key thing to know about one’s vehicle, to be used if/ when suddenly confronted with this scenario.

Quoting The same mountainbike: “The absolute best thing to do is simply pull over to the first safe spot and call your auto club.”

Did you know that you can add towing/roadside emergency coverage to your regular car insurance? I give $2.25 every six months for that coverage. That’s a lot cheaper than any auto “club” I’ve ever heard of, and I can pick the towing company. AAA has been getting involved in political things lately too, lobbying for changes in various laws. They are not for me.

Starting out with the engine cold, you can probably drive for between five and ten minutes before the engine starts to get hot. Two miles with the engine cold won’t hurt anything unless those two miles were in rush hour traffic and it took more than ten minutes or so to get to the shop.

@MG McAnick: I used to work for AAA many moons ago. Road legislation was one of their key selling points. In Minnesota they were responsible for making sure gas taxes went for roads and not the general fund. As an automobile association, part of their charge was to represent the interests of motorists, not just tow cars.

I’ve got towing coverage too plus motor club. The thing is when you are on the road or its a holiday, you have one person to call. Its not necessarily about the money but being able to get the service when you need it.

I don’t know anything about the engine design in your car, but as others have stated if it has a timing belt it’s likely it drives the water pump, which is the case with all my cars. I also have AAA Plus ($79 per year) which will tow me up to 100 miles per tow free of charge which is great for me considering most of my driving is within 100 miles of home and since I do my own mechanical work I can just have it towed home where I can put it in the garage to do the repairs.

Being a Chevy Lumina, odds are it has the 3.1L V6 that came in the overwhelming majority of those cars. That engine is a standard pushrod type with a chain driven camshaft. A few of them came with the horrible 3.4L DOHC engine, the water pump layout of which I am not familiar. I never had the displeasure of dealing with one of those, but have heard some stories.

Quoting Bing: “As an automobile association, part of their charge was to represent the interests of motorists, not just tow cars.”

At least one of the things that they lobbied for in my state was not in MY best interest. They had the audacity to spend my dues money to send out mailings touting what great BS they’d done for ME. Just so they’d know when and why I dumped them, I cancelled them and got part of my money back before that year was over.

With a good GPS or modern cell phone with GPS service, who needs their maps? With roadside assistance on my insurance, I don’t need them at all.

On a 3.3 caravan (& 3.8), the serpentine belt runs the power steering, alternator and waterpump. They also have a design defect and are prone to come off if exposed to moisture. There is a gates kit to address this and some have had luck using it.

@ galant
I really appreciate your message. I never found a good explanation for why the belt came off. Suspected a pulley was beginning to have a bearing problem, but nothing I could detect. Interestingly, I have recently been noticing that on damp days, like after a heavy winter rain when everything is damp, there was a chirp noise that made me think an idler pulley was failing. Now it fits together. I’ll have to check for that gates product. Thanks for that tip! --Roadtripper.

Many years ago when I was still in school, I had an old Honda that had a noisy water pump. On my way to the shop to get it changed out, the pump seized and fried the belt. I noticed the temp gauge literally shooting up. I shut it down and let it roll to a vacant parking lot, where I was able to call the shop and have a truck sent to get the car. I was only 1/2 mile from the shop when this happened, but the temp gauge was a clear indication I would not make it.

A few years later, I was driving a Buick 100 miles from home when the alternator bracket broke, throwing the serpentine belt that drove all the accessories, including the water pump. At the time, I was 3 miles from my sister’s house. I found that if I let the car cool for 30 mins, I could drive 1.5 miles before the temp gauge would climb to dangerous territory. It took a bit more than an hour, but I made it to her house. Next morning, I found a replacement bracket at a junkyard and had it replaced with a new belt. Obviously the car had much bigger cooling capacity than the Honda.

I’ve also had 5 timing belt cars in my life. I still have 2 of them. None of them had a timing belt driven water pumps. 4 of them, 3 Toyota’s and a Honda, have timing belts and allowed for the water pump to be removed without even removing the timing belt cover. The fifth one, a Mazda, required much more than the timing belt to be removed to get that water pump out. All the American cars I’ve had used timing chains.