How to Change the Belt Tensioner on Cars

by Contributing Writer

The belt tensioner on a Ford car applies tension to the serpentine drive belt to keep it running on the pulley path correctly. Without the tensioner, the belt would fly off in a matter of seconds, once the engine was started. The tensioner itself consists of a spring loaded arm and pulley. In some cases, the spring can break inside the arm or the bearings inside the pulley can crack. If either of these malfunctions plagues your Ford car you can have a new tensioner installed in about an hour.

Under The Hood:

 How to Change the Belt Tensioner on a Dodge Caravan

Locate the Dodge Caravan belt tensioner on the passenger side of the engine compartment just below the alternator and place a socket wrench over the bolt in the center of the tensioner pulley. Turn the socket wrench clockwise to relieve the tension and remove the serpentine belt from the pulleys.

Turn the socket wrench counterclockwise to loosen the bolt holding the belt tensioner on the engine and remove the belt tensioner assembly from the engine compartment.

Attach the new belt tensioner assembly to the engine with the bolt and tighten the bolt with the socket wrench.

Thread the serpentine belt of the Dodge Caravan around the pulleys the same way it came off and move the socket wrench clockwise on the belt tensioner bolt to fit the belt around the tensioner.

Place the serpentine belt around the tensioner pulley and let the tensioner move back into position to tighten the belt.

Items you will need

  • Socket wrench set

 How to Change the Belt Tensioner on 2.2-Liter Olds Alero

Park the Oldsmobile Alero on a level surface and in a safe work area. Engage the parking brake. Open and raise the hood and wait about an hour for the engine to completely cool down. Once the engine has cooled down, remove the negative battery cable from the negative battery post with an adjustable wrench and set it out of the way.

Inspect the top of the plastic radiator shroud for the serpentine belt routing directions. The diagram is stamped to the top of the radiator shroud and it will be a picture that outlines the routing directions of the serpentine belt. The diagram will be needed in case the belt slips out of any of the accessory pulleys.

Locate the belt tensioner on the front of the engine. The tensioner is mounted to the front middle portion of the engine between the power steering pump and the crankshaft. Place a socket and a breaker bar onto the bolt head in the middle of the tensioner pulley. Turn the breaker bar clockwise with one hand to release the tension from the belt. Reach down with the other hand and slide the belt off of the tensioner pulley. Slowly release the breaker bar and the tensioner will retract until it stops. Once the tensioner stops retracting, remove the breaker bar and socket from the tensioner pulley bolt head.

Hook one end of a bungee cord to the belt near the tensioner. Hook the other end of the bungee cord through the holes on the power steering pump to hold the belt up and to prevent the belt from slipping out of the the pulleys.

Locate the single bolt head on the front middle section of the spring-loaded arm of the tensioner. Loosen and remove the single bolt with a ratchet and a socket. Place the bolt in a safe area. Pull the old tensioner straight off the front of the engine. Match the old tensioner to the new tensioner to ensure that the new tensioner is the proper size.

Position the new belt tensioner in the same location as the old tensioner and line up the mounting bolt hole on the tensioner with the hole on the front of the engine. Screw the tensioner mounting bolt through the center of the tensioner. Tighten the tensioner mounting bolt down snug with the ratchet and socket. Torque the tensioner bolt in a range of 30 to 40 foot-pounds with a torque wrench and a socket.

Place the socket and breaker bar onto the bolt head of the new tensioner pulley. Turn the breaker bar clockwise with one hand and remove the bungee cord from the belt with the other hand. Slide the belt under the new tensioner pulley and slowly release the breaker bar. As the new tensioner is retracting, the tensioner pulley will pull the belt to the proper tension. Finish removing the bungee cord from the engine compartment. Inspect the belt to ensure that it is seated inside all of the accessory pulleys.

Reconnect the negative battery cable to the negative battery post and tighten the cable with the adjustable wrench. Crank the engine for about 15 to 30 seconds. Inspect the belt to ensure that it remains inside of each pulley. Also inspect the new tensioner pulley to ensure that it is rolling freely and moving up and down with no restrictions. Turn the engine off and shut the hood.

Items you will need

  • Adjustable wrench

  • 1/2-inch drive breaker bar

  • 1/2-inch drove socket set

  • Flashlight

  • 1/2-inch drive ratchet

  • Bungee cord

  • New belt tensioner

  • Torque wrench

 How to Change a Belt Tensioner on a GM Vortec 5.3

Raise the hood and inspect the front of the engine for the belt tensioner. The belt tensioner on the 5.3 Vortec engine is located on the lower left side of the engine beside the crankshaft pulley. Use the square opening on the front of the tensioner to loosen the tension from the belt.

Lower the breaker bar into the engine well and slide the end of the breaker bar into the square opening of the belt tensioner. Pull the breaker bar counterclockwise to loosen the tension from the belt. Slide the belt off the tensioner pulley and let it hang down.

Loosen the two mounting bolts on both sides of the belt tensioner, using a ratchet and a metric socket.

Pull the belt tensioner straight off the front of the engine block and out of the engine well. Position the new tensioner onto the same area and screw the two mounting bolts into the new tensioner bracket. Tighten the mounting bolts with the ratchet and socket.

Turn the tensioner counterclockwise with the breaker bar to get the belt back around the tensioner pulley. Slide the belt onto the pulley and slowly release the breaker bar. Remove the breaker bar from the tensioner and the engine well. Make sure that the belt is still inside of each accessory pulley.

Crank the engine and watch the new belt tensioner as the belt is traveling under the tensioner pulley. The tensioner should be moving freely with the movement of the belt with no restrictions. Turn the engine off.

Items you will need

  • 1/2-inch drive breaker bar

  • 1/2-inch drive ratchet

  • 1/2-inch drive metric socket kit

 How to Replace a Belt Tensioner on a 99 Chevy Cavalier

Open the hood, and prop it up. Move to the front passenger side of the engine, and locate the spring-loaded belt tensioner above the crankshaft pulley.

Remove the belt from the belt tensioner. Turn the belt tensioner clockwise from the bolt in the middle of the tensioner pulley with a breaker bar and socket. Slip the belt off the tensioner pulley, and release the breaker bar.

Hang the belt to the side of the alternator pulley with a bungee cord to prevent it from sliding out of any of the accessory pulleys.

Locate the mounting bolts that secure the belt tensioner to the front of the engine block. Remove the mounting bolts including the mounting bolt in the middle of the tensioner arm with a ratchet and a socket. The mounting bolts should be 13 mm bolts.

Reach in, and pull the tensioner off the engine block with your hands. Hold the new belt tensioner in place over the same area. Screw all of the belt tensioner mounting bolts into the tensioner. Tighten the bolts with the ratchet and the 13 mm socket.

Slide the bungee cord off the belt. Turn the tensioner clockwise with the breaker bar and socket. Slip the new belt around the tensioner pulley, and release the tensioner. Pull the breaker bar out of the engine well.

Crank the engine to ensure the tensioner is working properly. Make sure the tensioner pulley is moving up and down with the movement of the belt. Shut off the motor.

Items you will need

  • 1/2-inch drive breaker bar

  • 1/2-inch drive socket set (metric)

  • Bungee cord

  • 1/2-inch drive ratchet

 How to Replace a Belt Tensioner on a 1998 Chevy Cavalier

Open the hood on the 1998 Chevy Cavalier and locate the spring loaded belt tensioner. It's on the front passenger side of the engine or in the front center of the engine. Use the bolt head in the middle of the tensioner pulley to loosen the tension off of the belt.

Rotate the tensioner pulley clockwise with the ratchet and socket. Then, pull the belt out from under the tensioner pulley. Hang the belt to the front of the engine with a bungee strap to keep it from falling out of the other accessory pulleys.

Locate the bolt head that in the center of the spring loaded section of the tensioner. Loosen and remove the bolt with the ratchet and a socket by turning the bolt counter-clockwise. Pull the tensioner straight off of the front of the engine and place it to the side. If the tensioner is stuck, slide a flathead screwdriver behind the tensioner and pry outward until the tensioner comes off of the front of the engine.

Position the new tensioner to the front of the engine. Screw the bolt back into the center of the spring loaded arm and tighten down tight with the ratchet and socket.

Remove the bungee strap from the belt. Then, turn the new tensioner pulley clockwise to make room for the belt. Slide the belt under the new tensioner pulley and release the tensioner. As the new tensioner retracts it will tighten the belt to the proper tension.

Inspect the belt to make sure it's still seated inside all of the pulleys. Then, crank the engine and let it run for 15 seconds. Watch the tensioner as the engine is running to ensure it's working properly. Turn the engine off and close the hood.

Items you will need

  • 1/2-inch drive ratchet

  • 1/2-inch drive socket kit

  • Bungee strap

  • Flathead screwdriver

  • New belt tensioner

 How to Replace the Belt Tensioner on a 2002 Honda Odyssey

Remove the Drive Belt

Look for the drive belt routing diagram on your vehicle's engine compartment. This is a black and white label, about 4 by 6 inches, usually attached to the radiator shroud or near the strut towers inside the engine compartment. This diagram will be your guide when reinstalling the drive belt. If cannot find one, make a simple sketch on a piece of paper.

Insert a belt-tension release tool, or similar tool, into the auto-tensioner arm.

Rotate the auto-tensioner arm counterclockwise and slip the belt off the tensioner pulley.

Release the auto-tensioner but do not let it snap back in place.

Remove the drive belt from the engine compartment.

Replace the Belt Tensioner

Unscrew the two auto-tensioner mounting bolts using a ratchet, ratchet extension and socket. Note the location of each bolt because they are of different size.

Remove the old auto-tensioner from the engine compartment.

Set the new auto-tensioner in place and start the two mounting bolts by hand. Make sure you install the bolts in their original place.

Start tightening the bolts until they hit the stop using the ratchet, ratchet extension and socket.

Torque the two bolts using a torque wrench. Torque the small bolt to 16-foot pounds [22 Nm] and the large bolt to 47-foot pounds [64 Nm].

Install the Drive Belt

Install the drive belt on each of the pulleys except the auto-tensioner pulley, following the routing diagram.

Turn the auto-tensioner counterclockwise using the belt release tool.

Slip the drive belt over the auto-tensioner pulley.

Release the auto-tensioner carefully.

Verify that the drive belt is properly routed and seating correctly on each of the pulleys.

Items you will need

  • Belt tension release tool

  • Ratchet

  • Ratchet extension

  • Socket

  • Torque wrench

 How to Change a Belt Tensioner on a Ford Ranger

Put your safety glasses on, raise the hood and locate the belt routing diagram sticker. The sticker is white, with black ink showing a diagram of the serpentine belt and how it routes around each pulley. If the belt is still on, move to step two; if the belt is gone, skip ahead to step three.

Put the belt tensioner tool into the tensioner and lever it back to release the pressure from the serpentine belt. Slide the belt off the tensioner pulley with your free hand. Remove the tensioner tool and set it aside.

Use the socket set to remove the bolt or bolts holding the tensioner body to the front of the engine. In some Rangers, you may have to unbolt and remove the idler pulley to get at the tensioner mounting bolts. If so, do not forget to put the idler pulley back on after you have replaced the tensioner.

Pull the bolts out by hand after loosening them and set them aside. Then, take the old tensioner out and put the new one in its place.

Slide the bolt(s) through the tensioner mount holes into the engine and start the threading by hand before finishing it with the socket and socket wrench. Put the idler pulley back on if you had to remove it in step three.

Put the tensioner tool on the new tensioner and lever it back away from the belt path. Once it is pulled back, slip the belt back over the tensioner pulley and let the tensioner move back to its natural position. Pull the tensioner tool back out.

Verify the belt is routed properly by comparing the routing to the diagram you located in step one.

Start the engine and watch the belt travel to make sure the tensioner is working properly before closing the hood and driving the Ranger.

Items you will need

  • Safety glasses

  • Belt tensioner tool

  • Socket set

 How to Replace a Belt Tensioner on a 2002 Ford Focus

Raise the hood and connect the belt tensioner tool to the belt tensioner.

Lever the belt tensioner to the side with the tensioner tool. Reach down with your free hand to move the belt out of the tensioner pulley's path. Once the belt is out of the way, release the tensioner. Remove the tensioner tool.

Use the socket set to unbolt the tensioner flange from the engine. Depending on how your Focus is equipped, you may need to unbolt and remove the idler pulley first to access one of the tensioner pulley's mounting bolts. The idler pulley can be removed by simply removing the bolt in the center of the pulley with the socket set and moving the pulley away from the engine by hand.

Remove the old tensioner after the last bolt is out. Position the new tensioner in its place. It is best to compare the two briefly before installing the new one, just to make sure you were sold the correct replacement part.

Threads the bolts back in by hand to avoid cross threading them. Tighten them down with the socket set. If you removed the idler pulley in Step 3, reinstall it now in reverse of how you removed it.

Put the tensioner tool on the new tensioner. Move it aside so you can route the belt over the new tensioner's pulley. Release the pressure on the tensioner. Remove the tool. Start the engine and monitor the travel of the serpentine belt to make sure everything is working properly before driving the Focus.

Items you will need

  • Belt tensioner tool

  • Socket set

  • Replacement belt tensioner

  • Replacement serpentine belt (optional)

 How to Replace The Belt Tensioner on a Ford Taurus

Place the end of the tensioner tool into the hole in the side of the tensioner and release the pressure by levering the tensioner away from the belt.

Slide your other hand in and slip the serpentine belt off the tensioner pulley. Once the belt is off, allow the tensioner to slowly relax and then remove the tensioner tool.

Use the socket set to unbolt the tensioner from the engine. Depending on your year and make of Taurus, this may be accomplished easier from the top side, or through the wheel well, or underneath.

Lift the tensioner away from the engine and set it aside.

Position the new tensioner where the old one was and start the fastening bolts back in by hand, using your other hand. Once the bolts have begun to thread in properly and are holding, tighten them down with the socket set.

Slide the tensioner tool back in and lever the new tensioner backward until you can slip the belt over the pulley with your spare hand. Slowly allow the tensioner to move back into place and remove the tool.

Start the engine and monitor the belt to make sure it is riding on all the pulleys properly.

Items you will need

  • Tensioner tool

  • Socket set

 How to Replace the Belt Tensioner on a C5 Corvette

Open the hood and remove the air filter intake assembly by hand; it is held in place with threaded knobs. As you remove the knobs, make note of which one goes into which hole, as they are not interchangeable. Set the assembly to the side.

Insert the belt tensioner tool into the belt tensioner and pry the belt tensioner clockwise, away from the belt path, so you can move the belt off the tensioner pulley with your other hand. Carefully release pressure on the tool once the belt is off, then remove the tool.

Use the socket set to unbolt the belt tensioner body from the engine. Make note of which bolt came out of which hole so you put them back in the same places during reinstallation.

Lift the tensioner out of the way, and put the replacement tensioner in position. Thread the bolts through the tensioner body and into the engine. Tighten them down using the socket set.

Put the tensioner tool back onto the tensioner, and once again lever the tensioner clockwise until you can reach in and route the belt over the pulley on the new tensioner. Carefully release the pressure on the tool and remove the tool.

Reinstall the air filter intake assembly in reverse of how you removed it, taking care to put the three threaded knobs back into the exact holes they were in before disassembly.

Items you will need

  • Serpentine belt tensioner tool

  • Socket set

  • Replacement serpentine belt tensioner

 How to Replace the Belt Tensioner on a Chrysler Grand Voyager

Remove the negative battery cable from the battery using a wrench. Set the cable aside, making sure it cannot touch the battery terminal while you are working on the engine.

Position a jack under the right side of the van and raise it off the ground. Insert a jack stand under the frame to support the vehicle.

Locate the drive belt shield or splash shield and remove it by prying out the plastic rivets that secure it with a flat head screwdriver. Locate the belt tensioner and slide a wrench onto the lug at the end of the tensioner. Turn the tensioner counterclockwise to release the tension.

Remove the drive belt from the tensioner and remove the mounting bolt in the center of the tensioner with a socket and ratchet. Remove the tensioner from the engine block.

Install the new belt tensioner onto the engine block using the mounting bolt from the original tensioner. Torque the mounting bolt to 21 foot-pounds with a torque wrench.

Place a wrench on the lug at the end of the tensioner and turn it counterclockwise. Reinstall the belt on the belt tensioner then slowly release the tensioner, allowing it to tighten the belt. No adjustment beyond that is required.

Reinstall the splash guard by pushing the guard up and inserting the plastic rivets to secure it. Support the van with the jack, remove the jack stands and lower the van to the ground.

Reconnect the negative battery cable to the battery terminal and tighten the bolt with a wrench.

Items you will need

  • Wrench set

  • Jack

  • Jack stands

  • Flat head screwdriver

  • Socket set

  • Torque wrench

 How to Replace the Belt Tensioner on a Saturn

Park the Saturn on level ground, and open the hood. Wait for the engine to cool down.

Place a ratchet driver into the square hole on the tensioner arm connected to the tensioner pulley, which is to the left of the crankshaft pulley. Lift up on the ratchet, and remove the serpentine belt from the pulley, but leave the belt on the other pulleys.

Remove the spring connected to the bottom of the tensioner arm using a pair of pliers.

Remove the two bolts that secure the tensioner arm to the engine block using a socket and ratchet, and then remove the tensioner from the Saturn.

Place the new tensioner against the engine block, and secure it using the two bolts, socket and ratchet.

Secure the spring to the bottom of the tensioner arm using the pliers.

Place the ratchet into the square hole on the tensioner arm, and lift up on the handle. Place the serpentine belt onto the new tensioner pulley.

Items you will need

  • Socket set

  • Pliers