I'm not sure if other things run off the same belt so you'll have to watch the gauges to prevent serious and expensive engine damage. The air conditioning is irrelevant. It is turned on automatically in winter when you use the defrost setting so it will remove humidity from the air before blowing the air onto the cold windshield where that moisture would condense and cause fogging. You can get by without that.
Turning the steering system, especially at low speeds, will tend to push power steering fluid out of the reservoir and make a big puddle on the ground. That in itself is not serious, just messy. Once the belt is replaced there will be a loud buzzing from the power steering pump due to the air in the system that will have to bleed out over a period of a few minutes to a few days. What CAN happen if you drive it a long time like that is the power steering pump can overheat and be damaged. The bearings and seals are lubricated and cooled with the power steering fluid. The rack and pinion steering gear will not be damaged. It should be okay to drive it like that to a repair shop but if you're thinking on letting the repairs go for many days or weeks, you'll be saving a few dollars today and spending a lot of dollars later. This is not a serious or expensive repair, ... Yet. Get 'er done.
I just checked rockauto. Com and found they list two different belts, one for the air conditioning / power steering, and another one for the alternator, but both are the exact same size. It would appear the alternator is on a separate belt. If you do indeed see two belts, the alternator will still be working. That keeps the battery charged while driving and powers all of the electrical stuff on the car. Without that system working the battery would go dead and the engine would stall in about an hour. To prove the alternator is working watch to "Volts" gauge on the dash. It should show roughly 13 to 15 volts when the engine is running. Those gauges are never very accurate so what's important to you as a driver is to become familiar with where it normally indicates and to observe when it doesn't read normally. When it comes to diagnosing a charging system problem, using a digital voltmeter is required because they are very accurate.
There is also no mention of the water pump so it must be driven by the timing belt. If that belt broke you'd be sitting on the side of the road in a puddle of tears. Keep an eye on the temperature gauge but the engine should not overheat.
A replacement belt will run around 20 bucks depending on quality and brand name. If it's the first belt to come off the engine, replacement time will be less than an hour. If the alternator belt has to come off first to get to the power steering belt you will be dollars ahead in the long run to have both belts replaced. The labor time will be the same either way. The only additional cost will be for the second belt. Typically both can still be replaced in under an hour although some car designs can make the job take longer.
With the thin, flat, multi-ribbed "serpentine" belts, broken belts are not real common but they still can break on any car. To inspect them look for a pulley where the belt's smooth backside goes around it so you can see the ribbed side stretched out. Or you can just twist the belt too if necessary to see the ribbed side. You're looking for small cracks going across the belt in the ribbed area. A rule of thumb is if the cracks are more than an inch apart, the belt can remain in service. If they're closer than an inch apart, it's time to be replaced.
Your mechanic will also check to see if the belt shredded on the sides. That is caused by a pulley that's not in perfect alignment. The cause must be corrected or the new belt will shred too, often in just a few minutes. Worn bearings in an idler pulley or in your case the power steering pump or AC compressor clutch can cause a pulley to be out of alignment. A pulley misaligned by as little a 1/16" can cause a horrendous squeal. Serpentine belts are not nearly as forgiving in that regard as the older-style V-belts.
Monday, November 21st, 2011 AT 10:08 AM