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story and photos by “joandjo,” as edited by Kelsey Wright
I purchased a 1999 Chrysler Town & Country (similar to the Dodge Grand Caravan and Plymouth Grand Voyager); while I appreciated its improvements over my 1997 minivan (HomeLink remote, tiltable A/C vent, thicker valve cover gasket, radio volume switch in the steering wheel, and better headlights), but it had one problem: The belt was shredded at the edge, and the tensioner was making noise.
(The 1999 minivans were in the same generation as 1996-2000 models, but the serpentine belt and tensioner may have been common to newer models as well, using the 3.3 and 3.8 liter V6 engines. The latter lasted through the 2010 model year.)
I changed the belt from the old van to the new one. Within 3 miles, the belt was shredded again. I decided to change the tensioner from the old van to the new.
Numerous people on allpar.com said, “remove the nut at the back from below.” This is a 15-minute job if you know how to do it, but a 3-hour job if you don’t, so I took some pictures for everyone’s benefit.
The hardest task was to remove and put the belt on. Everyone had their own way. I used a daisy chain wrench setup (pictured above).
This is where the tensioner is.
But where is the nut at the back? Can you see the nut in the above picture? Here it is. It is necessary to remove this nut.
First, I removed the tensioner from the old van from the top. It took over an hour. I chose this way since I needed to remove the alternator anyway, to replace it with a newer one from the old van.
In the new van, I approached from below to compare how easy it is. So, how to undo the nut from below? It’s not hard at all if you have a proper tool setup. It took less than 5 minutes to remove.
And here is the tool setup.
15mm socket + 4” wobble extension + u-joint + 24” extension (it can be a 12” extension)
Just unscrew the nut at the back and the tension will come off easily. When you put back in, place a wood block (or similar) between the tension and the inside fender to keep the tensioner in place until you tighten the nut. And that’s it.
Most agreed that doing it from below is easier; “It’s easier to feel for the nut than to see it.” However, the odd angle can cause it to be hard enough to remove the altnerator and go from above. If a helper can be found to swap the tensioner so the person below doesn’t have to leave, that’s the best way.
The hardest part about coming in from above could be getting the socket through the hole to get to the nut on it.
One member used a 15 mm box wrench with a one inch PVC schedule 40 pipe (2 ft long) to relieve the tension to take the belt off and put it back on. He also suggested keeping the hood open with a pole on the other side to avoid hood rod interference. Wear gloves.
Another member said he had two ways to relieve the tension to take the belt off and put it back on. One was daisy-chaining two combination wrenches, (15mm at the tensioner head); the second was using an 18" extension over the end of the forward “claw” on the 15mm combination wrench. Special tools exist, but there is no need for them.
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