1993 Plymouth Voyager Serpentine Belt and tensioner

Tiny
THENUTTYNURSE
  • MEMBER
  • 1993 PLYMOUTH VOYAGER
  • 6 CYL
  • FWD
  • AUTOMATIC
  • 13,000 MILES
Recently, my father took my van to have the oil changed. The facility he took it to suggested changing the serpentine belt as it has alot of wear. I had NO problems with it at the time they changed it. After replacing the belt, about 50 miles later, the belt started to sqeal very loudly. I took it to a local car shop and was told that the belt was 1/2" too long and appeared to be the wrong belt. The technician suggested taking it back to the shop that put the belt on. The original shop told me that it was the correct belt but went ahead and replaced it with the smaller belt, the belt that their inventory told them was not for my van but for a van without a/c (mine has a/c). They stated that the tensioner was more than likely the problem but they did not harm it. They told me that it probably broke the spring when they replaced the first belt as the van was old. After driving the van with the smaller belt, for about 30 miles, the belt began to sqeal again. Also, I am getting horrible gas mileage since the belt changes My question is why did I have zero problems until they replaced the belt. If they put on the wrong belt would that have damaged the tensioner? If the 2nd belt they put on was 1/2" too small would they have been able to get it on the pulleys? I feel that they are responsible for this problem as it did not exist prior to them changing the belt.
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Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009 AT 11:31 PM

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Tiny
CARADIODOC
  • EXPERT
This is one of the reasons I got out of tv repair and car repair. Everything is the fault of the mechanic. Everything that goes wrong from now on is his fault.

First of all, look at your old belt. If it has more than one crack per inch on the ribbed side, he was looking out for you because it could break at any time. You should thank him for bothering to check it. If it had broken 50 miles after the oil change, you would be the first one blaming him for not checking it.

It is impossible to find a belt that is only a half inch too long or too short. Ten new belts from the dealer will be ten different lengths. The tensioner is spring-loaded to accommodate these variations in length. Two inches difference in length will not be a problem.

On the 3.0L engine, the air conditioning compressor is driven by a different belt. There is no such thing as a different belt for engines with or without AC. On the 3.3L engine, the difference in the belts with or without AC is about 8". The wrong belt wouldn't fit. It also would not have worked fine for 50 miles.

I've never seen a spring break in one of these tensioners, and I don't think they could have damaged it by replacing the belt even if they had tried to. If they could be damaged by changing belts, there would be millions of damaged tensioners all over the country.

I took my mother's '95 Caravan on a cross-country trip a few years ago. At one point I thought I felt a vibration from that tensioner. I pulled on the belt to move the spring-loaded arm; it moved, ... And stayed there. Had a horrendous squeal until I smacked it with a small hammer. The pivot was rusty and sticking. Was it my fault because I pulled on the belt? Of course not. The tensioner needed to be replaced. But the belt didn't squeal until I tugged on it. Just because your belt wasn't squealing before doesn't mean there wasn't a problem waiting to happen.

A conscientious mechanic will warn you about worn tires, loose steering parts, even low brake fluid level which he knows means you will need a front brake job soon. Over half the cars I did oil changes on had loose radiator hose clamps and loose battery cables. I tightened those on every car I serviced, but we would never dare tell the customer we did that for them at no charge because we knew we would be blamed for every conceivable thing that went wrong after that.

My standard line when I call my buddy at his shop is "Ya hey; you changed my oil last month and now my power antenna doesn't work. What you gonna do about it"?

These tensioner pulleys have given a lot of problems in the past, and I suspect yours is no different than mine. Besides getting rusty and sticking, the pivot can wear causing pulley misalignment. A pulley that's off-center by only 1/16" can set up a squeal as the belt slides sideways as it goes around it. High quality belts, like high quality brake pads, tend to squeal the most.

If you think there's something wrong with the belt they put on, put your old one back on and keep the new one in the van for a spare. It is entirely possible the new belt is different enough in length that the tensioner is in a position where the pivot is tight, and the old belt puts the pivot in a spot where it's been bouncing around and keeping the rust worn away so it stays free. That still doesn't mean the tensioner shouldn't be replaced, but if it doesn't squeal, you can ignore it until it fails completely out on the highway. If that happens, and you have the 3.0L engine, you can keep driving for up to an hour or more until the battery goes dead. You won't have power steering, but you won't even notice that at highway speeds. The van will run the battery down as you drive. That will happen much faster if you have the head lights on. The engine will not overheat.

This is not the case if you have the 3.3L engine. The belt drives the water pump, so the engine will overheat in a minute or two. If you let it cool down on the side of the road for about 15 minutes, you can restart it and drive a couple more miles. Be aware though that every time you restart the engine, it is draining the battery. You still should be able to nurse it 10 - 15 miles like that without harming the engine as long as you don't let it get too hot.

Caradiodoc
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Wednesday, April 29th, 2009 AT 6:59 AM
Tiny
THENUTTYNURSE
  • MEMBER
I originally wrote about my problem with the squealing belt after a quick oil change place talked my father into changing my belt. I HAVE NEVER seen the original belt that was supposedly faulty. My van has a 3.3L engine and the first belt put on the van appeared thick, too small for the pulley and too long. I took the van back into the shop and they put and "the wrong belt" as they stated. They said they put on the belt for the make of vehicle (like mine) but for a van without a/c. Mine has A/C. It now squeals again. Took it back and was told that BOTH of the belts were the same belt, I saw them both and the second belt actually looked like a serpintine belt, unlike the first belt. They said that they felt the spring "give" when they changed the first belt. They NEVER told me this until today. Also, they stated that they could not have damaged my vehicle by putting on the wrong belt. I have limited knowledge but was married to a mechanic and have seen serpintine belts. Aren't they normally black, thin and are the width of the pulley (from one side of the pulley to the other side with no large gaps?) The initial belt was grey, thick, had 1/4" gap on the side of the belt to the side of the pulley and had teeth on the under side. I reminded the shop of this belt and they said that I was lying, that they put the same belt on each time! I am unemployed, on chemotherapy and very ill. I don't have the money to pay for a repair that I feel my car needs due to negligence. I understand that parts wear out but I was never allowed to have my old parts or see the old belt. My father took it in as a gift to me and is very trusting, somewhat of a sucker. Now I am stuck with little to no recourse. I called the BBB and found out that this shop has had numerous complaints but the bottom line is they refuse to acknowledge any responsibility. Maybe my tensioner is just old. The shop that it HAD TO BE SQUEALING when I brought it in. It did not! Then they said that they had a friend's shop I should take it to but to be forewarned that this is a huge job and would take over 3 hours.
If all is on the up and up why do they refuse to give me my old parts when asked for them? Why do they have ZERO record of the 2 different belts that were put on my vehicle? If I indeed had a tensioner problem (like they said the supposedly heard over 1 month ago when they changed the initial belt) why didn't they ever aprize me of this situation? I am tired of mechanics looking at women, especially very ill appearing women, and thinking they can tell them anything. I am lost and don't know where to get this vehicle fixed. The only decent mechanic I knew in Denver just closed his shop. Help!
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Wednesday, May 6th, 2009 AT 10:40 PM
Tiny
CARADIODOC
  • EXPERT
I was in Denver about 10 years ago visiting Downtown Radio of Denver. Real nice people everywhere I went.

I have to admit, from your description, it sounds like they may have installed an old-style V-belt. The proper belt is only an inch wide. I can't imagine how they could have found one that long let alone get it to go around the pulleys.

When I worked at the dealership, I had many informal discussions with one of the owners about business practices. He stated that it takes more advertising dollars to get one new customer than it takes to keep ten current customers happy. That's planning ahead long term. People who rip customers off, and especially when they don't make it right when they're found out, steal a few bucks profit now at the expense of building a loyal customer base. There was a tv repair shop in town here like that. His motto was "Ya gotta rip people off as hard as possible this time because they aren't coming back a second time. He eventually went out of business because he had no customers from our extended community of over 100,000. There was one very reputable repair shop in town, and he is the only one left in the county. My cousin also had a tv repair shop in a different county. Also extremely honest and never had to advertise for work. Word-of-mouth advertising provided enough work for him, his sister, and me part-time, in a dinky community of only 2,000 people.

Those stories go to show how putting the customer first pays off in the long run. As an instructor, I dealt with many employers in the area, and I can tell that most of them have a very good reputation. I can also tell though that some of the things they do are not meant to harm your car or rip you off, but if YOU, as someone who admittedly doesn't know as much about cars as a mechanic, found out, you would be convinced they were up to no good. My mother would often tell me stories about how her friend was treated at repair shops. I tried to imagine the shop owner's point of view but sometimes it fell on deaf ears.

Even the most conscientious owner can have a bad employee, or the employee can just have a bad day. Still, when a mistake is made, it's just so much easier to admit it and fix it. At the dealership, I had a reputation of "being a little slower than everyone else", but they also said I was "meticulous". You'd think that would be good, but now and then a customer would complain because it took me an hour and a half to align their car when they were scheduled for an hour and fifteen minutes. Never mind the car went straight and the steering wheel was PERFECTLY centered. There's no way to know what will set some customers off. Some are just angry because their car broke. Some are mad about the cost; some about the time. One guy actually got angry because my cousin wouldn't get out of bed at 3:00 a.M. And run to fix his tv!

I'm not familiar with the laws in Colorado, but here in Wisconsin, we have a standardized form all shops must use. You have to sign in one of three places indicating if you want an estimate, don't want an estimate, or you want one only if the cost of repairs will exceed a certain amount. There is also a box to check if you want your old parts back. You are not entitled to parts you aren't paying for, usually warranty parts paid for by Chrysler, or for parts that have a core charge, unless you're willing to pay that charge. Core charge is similar to taking back empty pop bottles. You paid for the bottles AND the good stuff inside; and you can keep the bottles, but why would you want to? Parts that can be rebuilt, like power steering pumps and starter motors have a core charge as an incentive to return the old part. But even with these parts, you have the right to inspect them even though you can't keep them. Most of the people I know in the industry, are more than happy to show you any old parts and explain what they repaired for you because they are quite proud of their skill and knowledge. They should be. Cars are extremely complicated compared to just 20 years ago. When customers did not want their old parts, it was common practice to pile them in a corner someplace for a few days in case they came back or some question came up.

Doctors have it easy. They only have to know two models and three sizes. Mechanics have to learn about dozens of new models every year. No one ever complains about having to pay doctors over and over if they don't cure you the first time. Mechanics are expected to get it right the first time. That still doesn't excuse the way you were treated.

We're pretty lucky here in the middle of Wisconsin. Only the Chevy dealer has an extremely bad reputation, (typical of many GM high-pressure dealerships). All the other dealers help each other out. If I had to fix a Ford or Pontiac that we sold used, the other dealers would borrow us service manuals or try to answer questions. We have very little of the "you took it to THAT guy; no one is as good as me" attitude. Can't speak for the rest of the state, or the country for that matter, but most intelligent shop owners realize that women consumers are the fastest-growing segment of car buyers and they have to give them the respect they deserve.

Now keep in mind, on the other hand, that a lot of people have no desire to be knowledgeable car consumers. Women stereotypically have never been, but more and more men, who were always thought to be so car smart, don't have a clue about maintenance or repairs. Since men are "supposed" to naturally know about cars, service advisors treat them that way. Women are expected to not know the details of how a car works, so most service advisors try to not get too involved with descriptions of work needed or work performed. In my limited experience, they don't do that from lack of respect; they do that to avoid confusion or frustration. I can't tell you how many times my mother's eyes glazed over while I was telling her my "exciting" story. Nodding off at the supper table was pretty common too. By the way, she died from cancer a year and a half ago. Never made it to chemo. Sorry to hear about your situation. I'm wishing you the best.

My best recommendation for finding a good shop is to ask friends and if possible, your old mechanic for recommendations. Don't overlook the dealerships. At the Dodge dealership, we were almost always less expensive than the chain shops, especially Midas. Independent shop mechanics have to know so many different car brands and models that they never become as good at the few models seen at the dealership so they often take longer to diagnose uncommon problems and make the repairs. Dealership people are familiar with the cars, and very often don't have to spend your dollars on diagnosis because they already know what's wrong.

Parts are another thing to consider. Take a sensor for example. The mechanic at the dealership can just trot over to the Parts Dept, get a sensor, plug it in and try it. In the rare event it doesn't solve the problem, he just takes it back to the Parts Dept, then continues on with a more in-depth diagnosis. The independent mechanic can't afford to stock every version of every sensor, so he calls the NAPAs or Carquests, then waits for the part to be delivered. If it doesn't solve the problem, he is not allowed to return any electrical part because it can't be verified that he didn't damage it. Since he must keep what he buys, he will START with the in-depth diagnosis to be sure the part he orders will fix the problem. These things all lead to a higher cost of performing repairs which has to be passed on to the customer.

On the other side of the coin, dealerships have a huge list of expenses that often aren't found in the smaller independent shops. My dealership had six people in the office doing paperwork. Mechanics and salespeople generate income from the work they do. People doing paperwork, service advisors, and cashiers don't produce any income for the business, but they are an expense. I made a detailed list of business expenses that I used in the classroom when we discussed how repair shops operate. I am still astounded at how many shops are charging over $100.00 per hour, but when you look at that list, you will wonder how they can pay all those bills when they ONLY charge that much. Only the most efficient, best run dealerships can survive. They can't get away with just raising their rates because they'll drive customers away.

As a final thought, you might consider inquiring at your local community college's Automotive program. Again, I can't speak for others, but at my school, we taught eight classes, each once per year for eight weeks. Two classes ran at the same time. There were very strict guidelines as to what we would accept in the shop because we did not want to be in competition with the employers who might hire one of our graduates. If you had an electrical problem, wipers for example, we would only work on your car during the one or two weeks of the year when we were studying that subject. We had about a dozen people from the community who would sit on their broken car until it fit our program because they understood the value in students working on live cars with real-world problems.

Not all Automotive programs are the same among the other technical colleges. Some have short Automotive Maintenance programs, some schools are so big, they run various classes multiple times throughout the school year. To address our waiting list, we even ran two classes through the summer and on Saturdays.

In our program, we charged ten dollars per hour labor and went according to "flat rate". Flat rate just means every job for every model of car has a time value. Most shops go according to this "book time" so everyone gives you the same estimate. Only the hourly shop labor rate will vary. With flat rate, you don't pay more if a slower, inexperienced mechanic does the work, but you don't pay less if a very experienced mechanic with a lot of time-saving expensive tools gets the job done faster. You also don't pay a second time if the job wasn't done properly the first time. If the mechanic rushes or cuts corners, then has to do it over, he does it the second time for free. That's the checks and balances.

An easier way to explain flat rate is to imagine I'm going to pay the neighbor kid ten bucks to mow my lawn. If it takes him an hour, he earned ten bucks per hour. If he uses a scissors and takes all day, he earned ten bucks per day. If he invests in an expensive set of tools, say a riding lawn mower for example, and gets the job done in half an hour, he earned the equivalent of twenty bucks per hour. With his special tool investment, he can mow twice as many lawns in a day, so he earns more money, but his customers aren't paying any more to have their lawns cut faster.

I can't imagine what repair they quoted three hours for. In the early 1990s, we had a service bulletin about changing the spring-loaded tensioner pulley and belt, and modifying the mounting hole. The entire job, including finding the car in the parking lot, driving it in, running to the Parts Dept. For the parts, raising the car on a hoist, doing the repairs, parking the car, and writing up the paperwork paid.4 hours. That's 24 minutes! Warranty never pays what it actually takes to do the work. Also, most flat rate books list two times; one is that warranty time which most shops ignore, and the other is a more realistic time that takes into account rusty nuts and bolts and other common problems. Still, an hour is more than enough time to replace a belt and tensioner. I bought a new '93 Dynasty with the 3.3L engine, and replaced the tensioner for a chattering sound at 12 miles! Ford has had at least six different service bulletins for serpentine belt squeal on their trucks, and according to my friend, none of them solve the problem.

At my school, we got parts delivered locally, at a very good discount, then marked them up 20 percent. That profit, and the labor charge, formed a "breakage fund". If we broke a new part, or if we damaged the car, that fund paid for repairs. We never used our program budget dollars, which came from the taxpayers, to fix our mistakes. All work was supervised by the instructor or shop assistant. In my classes, part of the students' grade was based on quality of the entire job, never on how fast it was completed. Time is one thing you will have to understand if they are willing to work on your van. The other instructor where I taught had all of his classroom lectures and shop demonstrations scheduled before the start of the school year and he rigidly stuck to that schedule. Because he was so inflexible, he could tell you exactly which day to bring your car in for service. I constantly varied my class scheduling based on how well the group was understanding the new material. Every group of students was different so I could never be sure when we would reach a specific topic. For that reason, like at most other schools, you would have to drop your car off, then wait for a phone call when it was done. Could be a day; could be a week. A few people got angry until we explained that was the trade-off for very inexpensive service. If they didn't have the time to wait, there were plenty of reputable shops in the area that could get to it right away.

Well, this is probably my longest reply yet. Good luck with your treatment. My stepfather was the chief editor for a Polish newspaper. After he died, my mother volunteered there for a few years. She researched and wrote about the Burzynski Clinic in Texas. Lots of history, lots of struggle with the FDA, but an extremely high success rate. This clinic was even mentioned by name one night on a call-in radio show while I was driving to the hospital to visit my mother. I had just called that clinic earlier that same day! After all the legal crap from the FDA, (and the threat of putting a huge dent in the drug companies' profits), he is only allowed to treat people after all other conventional treatments have failed. Still, with people who have no hope of getting better, he has a very high success rate. I was planning on taking my mother there over Christmas break, but she didn't last that long. Now I'm an orphan!

Caradiodoc
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Thursday, May 7th, 2009 AT 3:47 AM

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