My understanding is that in either case it is a belt that is connected to the crankshaft and via a series of pulleys powers all the peripheral systems of the car.

My understanding is also that a fan belt and drive belt are the same thing, and that a V belt and a serpentine belt are subtypes of that entity.

Please fill in the gaps and correct any mistakes in my understanding of this.

3 Answers 3


V belts are traditionally found in older motors, where you would have a series of those belts coming off the crankshaft, each to their own individual accessory group (alternator, a/c compressor, etc).

See how the belts are staggered? enter image description here

Serpentine belts are much thicker by comparison and generally unify all accessories under one belt system.

enter image description here

  • However, serpentine belts are still distinct from timing belts, right? Do serpentine belts ever fill that function as well? Commented May 27, 2017 at 1:34
  • No, because the teeth on the timing belt give a fixed relationship - flat belts can allow slip to occur affecting the timing.
    – Solar Mike
    Commented May 27, 2017 at 5:22
  • do some engines have both or is it one or the other? I'm curious so I can buy parts for my 2000 RAV4 2WD. Commented Oct 1, 2019 at 16:05
  • 1
    @kraftydevil - One of the other. Your RAV4 uses a serpentine belt.
    – StyxRiver
    Commented Oct 6, 2019 at 18:54

V belts also derive their name from the cross-section of the belt itself. In the first photo above a V belt will ride in grooves on the pulleys. Serpentine belts don't have this same cross-section because as you can see in the 2nd photo both sides of the belt come in contact with various pulleys.

Get ready for some awesome ASCII artwork of a V belt cross section: :)

|       |
 \     /
  • 3
    LOL. It's a gift.
    – spartygw
    Commented Jan 31, 2013 at 21:20

Here's my attempt at some fancy serpentine belt cross-section ASCII artwork:

|| || || || |_|

It's vertical dimension is what I'll call thickness- and the serpentine belt is much thinner (ie less thick) than the V belt. It's width is double or triple that of a V belt- making it more ribbon-like.

It typically has 6 groves across it's width dimension and these run in complementary grooves atop the pulleys attached to the front of your motor.

It's debatable but serpentine belt systems are considered superior to Vbelt driven systems. I'm sure there are plenty of cases of Vbelts dramatically outperforming serpentine belts, but in the modern car with modern engine ( 1980 onwards) will be mfrd with serpentine belts.

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