1. Archive


Published May 13, 2011

Click and Clack talk cars - By Tom and Ray Magliozzi

Kit can solve belt problem

Q: I have a 1998 Chrysler Town and Country Minivan with the six-cylinder engine. Whenever I drive through a puddle, the belt slips off. All of the original undercarriage guards are still present and in factory condition. I have replaced the water pump, idler pulley and tensioner, to no avail. This occurs so often that I must carry a specially modified wrench underneath my driver's seat so I can stop and put the belt back on. I have become so proficient at this that I can put the belt back on in less than four minutes. The slightest amount of water will cause the belt to slip off. During the winter melt and spring rain, I must navigate the roads as if I am driving through a field of land mines and avoid all pools of water, regardless of size. I have asked numerous mechanics, both shade tree and dealership, but have stumped them all. Can you explain the cause and provide a solution so that I may hang the wrench back up in my garage? William

Tom: This is a common problem with Chrysler minivans of that era. Usually when a belt slips off, it's due to either a worn-out belt or a misaligned pulley.

Ray: If the pulleys aren't all in the same exact plane, the one that's out of line will try to tug the belt either forward or backward out of that plane, and with the help of something slippery - like some water - it often can succeed in pulling off the belt.

Tom: And in fact, Chrysler issued a Technical Service Bulletin for this problem. For $300, Chrysler will replace the mounting bracket of the idler pulley to better align it with the other pulleys.

Ray: Unfortunately, we've been told that often this doesn't solve the problem.

Tom: So about five years ago, Gates came up with a set of replacement parts you can have installed that WILL solve the problem.

Ray: The Gates kit contains a special double-sided, grooved belt and matching grooved tensioner and idler pulleys. So the belt matches the pulleys, and sort of locks into place. That makes it much harder for the belt to come off.

Tom: The kit costs just over $100. Your mechanic can get it from his Gates supplier and install it for you (we're told Goodyear has a similar kit). Then you can hang that wrench back up until the next thing breaks.

Clean headliners carefully

Q: I recently purchased a '99 Chevy Suburban to replace an '87 Suburban (which I call my Sanford and Son truck, and my daughter simply calls "Rusty"). The '99 is a great vehicle, in good shape, but is pretty grubby inside. Rather than send it to a detail shop, my daughter has offered to clean it (for a price) in order to keep the money in the family. She is very meticulous and thorough, and plans to clean every inch of the interior. Our question is this: How can she safely clean the headliner without the risk of having it delaminate? We have had several cars, including the '87 Suburban, where the cloth separated from the foam backing and had to be stapled back into place - not very attractive. I'm afraid that vacuuming it might cause it to separate, and I'm also concerned that an upholstery shampoo might act as a solvent and dissolve the glue. Aside from hoping the manufacturers are making headliners better than they used to, do you have any suggestions? Andrew & Chrissy

Ray: You're right to worry about it. Somehow, headliner technology hasn't managed to keep up with, say, the physics they're using in the Large Hadron Superconducting Supercollider.

Tom: We won't really know if the technology has improved until the current generation of cars gets to be 15 or 20 years old.

Ray: We checked with our go-to car detailer, Greg at the Car Salon in Cambridge, Mass. He agrees that you need to proceed with caution.

Tom: He says he never uses a vacuum on a headliner. He uses a mild soap and a small amount of water on a sponge or cloth, and rubs the headliner very gently. Then he wipes it off the same way.

Ray: He says you don't want to use a lot of soap or water, because that can easily seep through the headliner and break down the glue.

Tom: The other issue he runs into with headliners is odor. Headliners are wonderful at absorbing and retaining every nasty scent that has ever passed through your car.

Ray: So if you've already shampooed the seats, the carpets, the door panels and the windows, and can't figure out why the car still smells like Uncle Nunzio's cigars, look to the headliner.

Tom: Washing it, as Greg suggests, probably will help. But you also might hit it with a light spray of Febreze or something similar.

King Features Syndicate