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Old 09-02-2012, 01:27 PM   #1
older_bassman
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Help with repeat bad belt tensioners.

Hello,
My daughter has a 2003 ZETEC ZX5. About 135K miles on it. Over the last year and a half she has had the serpentine belt tensioner replaced 3 times. I am hoping to find some items I could check as this doesn't seem normal to me. Not to mention it is getting expensive for my daughter.

The first one was a Ford factory part where the bearing started getting noisy. I don't know if it was the original or not. We had the tensioner and belt replaced at this time. The second tensioner was an after market of unknown brand. It cracked and broke at the mounting. The most recent tensioner was a Ford factory part and seized after hearing a clicking noise for a couple of days. This last time I had the tensioner, belt and idler pulley replaced (new Dayco tensioner).

The water pump should be good as it was replaced late last year when the timing belt was replaced. The alternator and A/C appear to be ok but I have not tried to pull the belt and check them myself and am relying on the mechanics comments.

Assuming this was not just bad luck, what checks can I make to find what is causing the tensioners to fail?

Thanks in advance for the help.


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Old 09-02-2012, 06:17 PM   #2
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only 2 ways a tentioner goes bad most of the time, its to tight ( belt to small ) or water in bearing... steam cleaning or missing weather shield near wheel well
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Old 09-03-2012, 03:48 AM   #3
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Belt too long will break them far faster. The tensioner arm repeatedly hitting the off stop will break arm clean off. Make sure when belt is changed the tensioner is running in the range marking cast on tensioner, if not then wrong belt.

Ford branded tensioners actually suck, they don't last as long as others. I've had new ones fail in less than 6 months, there are reasons why we won't go into here. Gates are good.

I've been running my 2 Foci for years with no water shields, the tensioners that I've rebuilt myself seem to last forever like that.
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Old 09-03-2012, 10:34 AM   #4
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"Belt too long will break them far faster. The tensioner arm repeatedly hitting the off stop will break arm clean off. Make sure when belt is changed the tensioner is running in the range marking cast on tensioner, if not then wrong belt.

Ford branded tensioners actually suck, they don't last as long as others. I've had new ones fail in less than 6 months, there are reasons why we won't go into here. Gates are good."


Agreed. And I deal with Gates belts and tensioners at O'Reilly and we don't see issues like that with them. If so not very often. That's all I've ever put on any of my vehicles and I've always had good luck.
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Old 09-03-2012, 10:39 AM   #5
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FWIW... I don't have a Zetec, so I don't know, but can the belt be put on more than one way? I know I had a serpentine belt on an old van that you could put it on 2 different ways. One way it would tighten up as it should, and the other way it would just barely be tight if the adjuster was all the way out.

I too prefer Gates parts, but it doesn't seem like anyone is making things to last. However, your problem seems to be worse than that. I think you should look into whether or not that belt is too long, or what position the tensioner is in when it's all the way tight. Like AMC said, the arm shouldn't be close to or touching the tensioner stop.
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Old 09-03-2012, 02:15 PM   #6
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Thanks for all of the responses.

My daughter stopped by today and I took a look at the belt. I can't get to checking the tensioner range today but will try to get to it in a week or so.

The new belt part appears to be 83 inches (830K6 and 6PK2110 on belt). I know the parts lookups I have done spec the belts at 82.68 to 82.72. Will the extra 1/4 -1/3 of an inch make a difference? I suspect it might once the belt ages and stretches but not early on. If so I might take it back in a few weeks and tell them to put on an exact match.
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Old 09-04-2012, 12:20 AM   #7
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It may look like it but modern snap back tensioners generally do not have the total adjustment length oldschool adjustable bracketry did, meaning the belt length pretty much needs to be dead on. If right the belt will almost seem too short, where correct length comes in the belt can stretch a good bit through its' life and still be in range. Simply picking a belt to be 'in the range' may well not be good enough. It needs to be at the low end if belt new to guarantee long life. That way tensioner has the full arm swing worth of wear compensation to use up.
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Old 10-03-2012, 01:40 PM   #8
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I've had a chance to look at the new belt and tensioner. There appears to be plenty of range at this point. I will keep closer tabs on it as time goes by.

Over the past couple of weeks my daughter has started seeing the dreaded intermittent battery light problem. Happens at highway speed and at stopped idle. Cleaned up the battery and checked all connections to the alternator as best I can. The voltage looks ok to me as being 12.8V prior to start and 14.8V while running no load. With the A/C and blower, head lights, cooling fan all running it drops to 13.0V and then settles in at 13.3V. Goes back to 14.8 as soon as I shut down all of the accessories. Going to schedule a day to have her come over so I can just replace the alternator and pigtail. It has 140K so figure I might as well do both since I need to remove the alternator to get decent access to the pigtail and wiring harness.
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Old 10-03-2012, 02:28 PM   #9
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While not "tragic" it would be nice to see better numbers under load.

When you get to it, using a local rebuilder instead of a generic "rebuilt" from the parts store often gives better results - AND besides keeping the money "local", you'll get feedback on the condition of the unit you bring in.

With a local electrical shop I've had results ranging from "it's fine, look for another issue, no charge" to "it's too far gone to be worth repair, I'll build you one that'll work better for just a bit more" when bringing in starters or alternators for repair.

In between the extremes, you'll get the "it's OK now, but it could use some freshening so it'll last & work better" (which sounds like your situation).

Luck!
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Old 10-03-2012, 08:23 PM   #10
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If original alt then brushes may well be dead on the regulator assembly at that mileage. That can make a come and go charging issue.
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