Isn't 22k miles a little early for a serpentine belt to wear out?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Oct 01, 1997

Dear Tom and Ray:

Recently, I took my 1993 Buick Century to a local dealer for servicing
prior to starting on a road trip. The odometer reading was slightly over
22,000 miles, and at the time I had had the car 33 months. I was shocked
when the service department informed me that a belt changeover was
needed involving the "serpentine" belt.

I registered my surprise that this would be necessary at 22,000 miles.
Is it normal to have belts replaced on today's automobiles at 22,000
miles? I can appreciate that belts may deteriorate, but I'm wondering
about the kind of material used in these belts. Could they be made of
some low-grade material, possibly including cork granules or some other
flimsy material that might cause them to fail at 20,000 miles? -- Carl

TOM: Our chief investigator, Paul Murky, of Murky Research, has looked
into this for us, Carl. And he was shocked to discover that belts for
the '93 Century are, in fact, made out of old Boone's Farm Strawberry
Hill corks, used Hartz flea collars and petrified giraffe droppings from
Busch Gardens.

RAY: Actually, belts should last 30,000 to 40,000 miles, Carl. So 22,000
is a little on the early side. But there are several possible

TOM: One is that the belt had just worn out prematurely. The belt could
have been defective, or may have been damaged somehow. Or perhaps -- in
addition to your 22,000 miles -- you spent the equivalent of another
15,000 miles idling the engine, waiting for your wife to come out of the
betting parlor.

RAY: Another possibility is that the dealer was being less than honest
with you. Maybe you didn't really need a new belt. Maybe it just showed
some early signs of wear, but he had a boat payment due and needed a few
extra bucks that week.

TOM: More likely, however, is that he was just being cautious. You said
you came in for service prior to a road trip. My guess is that he
detected some signs or wear in the belt -- maybe a little bit of
cracking -- and recommended that you play it safe and replace the belt
before you hit the road.

RAY: Sure, it's possible that the belt could have lasted another 10,000
miles. But on the other hand, it could have broken -- and left you with
no power steering -- while you were on your way down Pike's Peak.

TOM: And then you'd be writing to us complaining that you took the car
in for service, and the morons at the dealership didn't have the good
sense to tell you to change the belt that was about to break.

* * *

Dear Tom and Ray:

Will it hurt my husband's 1996 Pathfinder to have its exhaust pipe
hooked up to a shop vac that reduces to two garden hoses leading to a
trap with a skunk in it? It has to idle for about 25 per skunk in order
to "euthanize" them. -- Marcia

TOM: Will it hurt the car? No.

RAY: The skunk, on the other hand, might have a different opinion.

* * *

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