If an internal combustion engine is to work correctly, many different parts have to move at precisely the right time and in sync with each other. Something has to orchestrate this process and, typically, engineers use a drive belt (also known as a "serpentine") for the purpose. Yet this drive belt will also need to be controlled so that it operates within very strict guidelines and can deal with powerful forces. Enter the tensioner, one of the most critical parts of the entire engine, despite its diminutive size.
Why should you be on the lookout for issues with your tensioner, and how can you avoid a potentially catastrophic problem?
Keeping It Moving
The drive belt itself will link the crankshaft, camshaft and other ancillaries and provide power accordingly. The designers engineer this carefully so that it can put up with the expected wear and tear, but it also needs to be correctly adjusted before it can work properly. A tensioner is essentially a spring-based gadget placed onto a separate pulley. It will adjust automatically as the belt is in motion to keep it moving along relatively narrow guidelines.
If the tensioner begins to play up, the belts will move too much on their pulleys, and this will eventually cause the engine to fail. If the belt were to break when the motor was at full speed, this would cause significant damage to all of the internal components.
Be on the lookout for issues when you first start the engine in the morning. If you hear a high-pitched squealing noise, then the tensioner may have worked loose. The serpentine belt may also exhibit signs of wear and tear and may begin to fray due to excessive movement along its track.
Remember, the drive belt is responsible for providing power to many different components, including the air conditioning system, the water pump and the alternator. Any of these parts may begin to play up if the drive belt is not performing correctly due to a loose tensioner.
Avoiding the Issues
You can avoid many of these problems if you take the vehicle in for its scheduled service. The technician will have a look at the drive belt, ensure that it is in good condition and adjust the tensioner if needed. Sometimes, you may need to replace the tensioner altogether if it has become too badly damaged.
If your car is a foreign model, such as a BMW or Volvo, you might want to visit a European car mechanic who has the specialty parts and tools that are needed.