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Chains Versus Belts


Drive chains are most often made of metal, while belts […]

Drive chains are most often made of metal, while belts are often rubber, plastic, or other substances. Although well-made chains may prove stronger than Drive Belt, their greater mass increases drive train inertia.

A drive belt drives the accessories installed on your engine such as the alternator, power steering pump, water pump and the air conditioner compressor. Most modern cars have one or two drive belts. If there is only one drive belt, it might also be called a "serpentine belt."

Drive belts can often slip (unless they have teeth) which means that the output side may not rotate at a precise speed, and some work gets lost to the friction of the belt against its rollers. Teeth on toothed drive belts generally wear faster than links on chains, but wear on rubber or plastic belts and their teeth is often easier to observe; you can often tell a belt is wearing out and about to break more easily than a chain.

Chains are often narrower than belts, and this can make it easier to shift them to larger or smaller gears in order to vary the gear ratio. Multi-speed bicycles with derailleurs make use of this. Also, the more positive meshing of a chain can make it easier to build gears that can increase or shrink in diameter, again altering the gear ratio.

Both can be used to move objects by attaching pockets, buckets, or frames to them; chains are often used to move things vertically by holding them in frames, as in industrial toasters, while belts are good at moving things horizontally in the form of conveyor belts. It is not unusual for the systems to be used in combination; for example the rollers that drive conveyor belts are themselves often driven by drive chains.

Drive shafts are another common method used to move mechanical power around that is sometimes evaluated in comparison to chain drive; in particular shaft drive versus chain drive is a key design decision for most motorcycles. Drive shafts tend to be even tougher and more reliable than chain drive, but weigh even more (robbing more power), and impart rotational torque.