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Does the manual mention when it is best to change them?
You gotta wonder there is probably an ideal time where you get maximum life out of them without having to wait until they break and you need to fix it at a customer's property where it will just eat up time and profits.
Here are some things to think about on reasons to change belts on lawn equipment:
-With age belts get something like dry rot. The inner lining of belts get brittle and crack.
-With wear, and age, the belt strings start to show. Next, the belt starts to unravel and the string gets into everything. In some cases the string can get caught up in other parts of the mower and bend, break, or move parts underneath.
-With heavy use, age, and wear, the belt stretches. In some situations this will cause the belt to slip because the belt is too loose (depending on the mower set up. I have seen belts be so loose that they would not engage anymore). This does several things:
1) There is less productivity due to the belt slipping under load, causing the blades to turn slower, etc. (you do the math).
2) When the belt slips, that causes friction. Friction causes heat. Heat transfers from the belt to the pulley, from the pulley to the shaft, to the bearings and seals. Hot bearings and seals shortens the bearing and seal life.
3) A belt that is too loose and slips will also wear out quicker. When it gets extra wear it slips more, which makes it wear more, which makes it slip more.... You get the picture.
With that said, when you buy the belt to replace the bad ones, either buy OEM parts or a quality after-market brand (Stens, Oregon, etc). For example, don't buy belts at the auto parts store. Belts that you buy at the auto parts store are what they call "fractional horse power belts". This simply means that the belts are not intended to have multiple horsepower (like a lawn mower engine) pulling on them. They simply won't last. They are designed to turn a cooling fan, alternator, water pump, etc. Not 2 or 3 lawn mower blades under a heavy load. When you listen to a mower run, lets say with an 18 hp motor, when you hit the heavy grass, the engine will pull down. This means that you have 18 hp that are pulling against that belt. A fractional HP belt will last a VERY SHORT time like that. So, do yourself a favor and buy a good quality belt.
Another thing to know about belts is that most manufacturers today are making it harder to replace the belt with a non-OEM or non-OEM Spec belt. They make the belt odd lengths like 81 5/16" long (this is on an Exmark but many others play the same game). Don't think for a second that you can use an 81" or 82" belt. One will be too long and will slip (see above section on slipping belts) and the other will be too short and you won't be able to install or if you do get it installed it will put extra strain on the machine and depending on the mechanisms involved, it may not disengage.
So, with that all that said, buy a GOOD QUALITY and CORRECT LENGTH belt.