This requires a special tool. Buy one or make one yourself. Since I had never had a set of crow's foot wrenches before, I didn't even think of using one for this job until a guy at O'Rielly's showed me their tension release tool set. For $20 I bought an eight piece metric set of crow's feet. I snap the crow's foot on my tensioner release handle one way for the 1998 T&C that I have and then turn it over for the 2000. A nice 3/8 break-over bar or long rachet handle would probably work great with the crow's foot - you might need a short cheater pipe. I have the short 15mm socket that came with the tensioner tool set that I bought, but I couldn't get it to align to the tensioner pulley bolt head on the 1998 model. For that I was using a 15mm open end wrench with a cheater bar made from a short piece of conduit.
Photo of belt routing with arrow showing where to place belt when installing it initially. Also photos showing the various pulleys.
Use a tool to rotate the tensioner pulley down in the direction of "A". (It also rotates a little forward.) Then use your left hand to slip the belt from under the IDLER pulley so that it runs above the pulley as shown by the dotted line at "B." Relax the tool pressure on the tensioner, but leave the tool on the bolt if it will stay.
This shows the tension pulley and the bolt head that holds it on (A). It's a 15 mm bolt. "B" marks the power steering pulley.
The tensioner pulley is down below the cable bundle, vacuum line, and motor mount. Also shown is the store-bought tool placed on the tensioner pulley bolt.
The idler pulley (A) guides the belt below the motor mount. You can reach the belt on the bottom of the pulley and as tension on the belt is reduced by pulling on the tool, you can slip the belt from under the idler pulley and move it to the top of the pulley. Release the force on the tool and the belt will be slack and still in place on all the pulleys except this idler. "B" marks the crankshaft drive pulley, "C" is the water pump pulley, and "D" is the A/C pulley.
Obviously you don't run the engine with the belt loose like this, because the water pump won't be rotating. Actually, I did start my engine for a few seconds, long enough to determine that the noise I'd been hearing wasn't coming from the engine. (As it turned out, the noise was from a bad water pump bearing. The procedure for replacing that is here.)
Using a Store-Bought Tool on a 2000 Chrysler T&C
This short video shows how to use the tool to release belt tension while slipping the belt from beneath the idler pulley or the reverse which is to release the tension while slipping the belt back under the idler pulley where it's supposed to be during engine operation. The special tool has a short or shallow 15 mm socket and a thin handle. The space between the head of the tensioner pulley bolt and the frame of the car is not very large. I'm going to use a 15mm crow's foot instead of the 15mm socket now.
I've added a video that illustrates the four basic steps I use to install a new serpentine belt. (Or re-install a used belt.)
It probably takes me about 5 to 10 minutes to replace the belt now.
This next video shows me installing a new two-sided belt (two grooved sides). Because so many owners of the Chrysler Generation Three minivans were having belt problems, Gates developed a two-sided belt with matching grooved pulleys. The kit includes the belt, a new tensioner with grooved pulley, and a grooved idler pulley with mounting bolt. A few months ago I bought the Gates kit from Amazon. I looked at Amazon's listings on 2-13-13 and found these part numbers and prices: Gates 38379K Enhancement Component Kit - $101.27 (List Price: $207.99) This includes the tensioner w/pulley, idler pulley, and the belt grooved on both sides. I checked that it fits the 1999 Town & Country with 3.8 liter engine. It should be the same for all Generation III Chrysler minivans with 3.3 or 3.8 liter engines. I ordered a spare belt: Gates DK060956 Dual Sided Micro-V Belt - $50.79 ($84.99 list). The grooved pulley is also available separately: Gates 38009 Belt Drive Pulley $14.55 (list $24.99). Always double-check the suitability for your vehicle before purchasing.
I had just installed the new tensioner with grooved pulley and the grooved idler pulley. (Photos here.)
The next video shows me putting the belt on. It was harder than I expected.
The two-sided belt was stiffer than the standard belt with grooves only on one side. That made it a little harder to slip it around the pulleys. After we stopped the video and I got ready to pull the tensioner down and slip the belt over the idler pulley, I saw that the belt had slipped off the power steering pulley, so I cheated and crawled under the car to slip it back on; the car was up on ramps anyway, so it was easy to get under it.
There was another problem; the belt was still tight even after I mananaged to move the tensioner all the way to its stop, and I could just barely get the grooved belt to slip over the edge of the grooved idler pulley. If the belt had been just a little longer, the job would have been a snap. The factory system with slick idler pulleys and a belt slick on one side is easier to work with.
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