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How To: Replace the Serpentine Belt, Tensioner, and Idler Pulley on a 2009 to 2014 Ford F-150


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    • By Counterman
      As luck would have it, I have the perfect serpentine-belt story to demonstrate: 1) the strange side of automotive repair; 2) the crazy things you have to deal with as a counter professional; and 3) that professional technicians can make mistakes, even when we don’t realize it.
      A few years back, a friend of mine had driven to Georgia for a month-long visit with family. While they were down there, one of the front brakes locked up. They took the car to a local shop, which quoted them a lot more money than they could afford to fix the car. Since they were a close friend, and since I always looked for an excuse for a road trip, I agreed to help.
      I was confident in their description of the problem, and even though I had never worked on the vehicle – a 1991 Lincoln Town Car – I was sure the problem was either a caliper or a hose. I bought all the brake parts I could possibly need, rented the cheapest econo-box car I could find for one way, filled the trunk with parts and tools and set the cruise control for Georgia.
      As soon as I arrived, I transferred my cargo to the Town Car, turned in the rental and went to work. All I needed to do was fix it just enough so the car would make it back to Ohio and the comfort of my shop. I slapped on the caliper, bled it out and it was ready to go. However, before hitting the road, I did a quick check-over of the rest of the car.
      My only serious concern was the serpentine belt. It was severely cracked and worn – probably one of the worst I had seen. I envisioned it falling apart somewhere in the mountains, so I thought it was best to replace it. On the way to the freeway, I stopped at one of the large auto parts stores and bought a belt. Since I hadn’t planned on this, I also had to buy a serpentine-belt tool.
      The belt took me longer than normal to replace because the accessories on the bottom of the engine were difficult to get to, but I could see them well enough to know the belt was on correctly, and all the pulleys and tensioners seemed OK. I started it up, the belt ran true, so I was good to go. The freeway was still a couple miles and a half-dozen traffic lights away. Sitting at the very last light before 600-plus miles of open road, the car suddenly started making a terrible noise under the hood.
      The rhythmic nature of the noise told me something was wrong with what I had just done. I dodged the entrance ramp for the side of the road. The new serpentine belt had completely shredded and fallen apart. I removed the remains of it, and luckily still had the old one in the trunk. I double-checked all the pulleys and tensioners and could see no problem, so I reinstalled the old belt.
      Clearly, it couldn’t have been my mistake, so I blamed the belt for being defective. But, I still wanted a new one for the trip, so I returned to the auto parts store. I explained the problem, but they didn’t have another one. They refunded my money with no questions asked – which was, from a standpoint of customer service, the correct thing to do, and from my standpoint, also correct since a defective part wasn’t my problem.
      With no option for a new belt, I had no choice but to cross my fingers and make the trip. I made it back without a single problem. The next week I took the car into the shop to properly finish up the brake work and install another new belt. This time the car was on the lift, so I draped the belt in place from the top, and as I always do, raised the car up so I could loop the belt around the accessories on the bottom.
      Then I saw the problem. It turned out the correct belt for the car was a seven-rib belt. Someone in the past had installed an earlier-model A/C compressor that had a six-rib pulley, and they had installed a six-rib belt so it would work. Oops. In my apparent haste, I didn’t notice that when changing the belt. Of course, a six-rib belt works fine on seven-rib pulleys. But when the seven-rib belt was forced to work on the six-rib pulley, it shredded like cheese going on a pizza.
      The counter professional where I bought the belt didn’t question whether or not it was defective. He just refunded my money. But he could have questioned it and maybe he should have, and not necessarily with the intent to say I had made a mistake, but in the interest of figuring out what had happened. Admittedly, I was surprised by the “defective” belt, but my confidence got in the way of common sense. Had I been questioned, I may have thought a little harder and began to wonder if indeed I had missed something. Well, we all make mistakes.
      Selling Serpentine Belts
      So, what goes into selling serpentine belts? The application is normally the easy part unless you have a crazy story like mine, but you may often be asked how to tell if the belt is worn out. Small cracks in the top surface of the teeth are normal and common, even with low miles on a belt. When the cracks extend all the way down to base of the teeth, that’s a belt that should be replaced.
      The more prevalent indicator, however, is the cross-section of the teeth. When they’re new, the belt teeth aren’t pointy. They are squared-off at the top, and the cross-section of the belt will mate perfectly in the pulley grooves, providing maximum contact area. When the belt wears, the teeth become pointy and the cross-section of the belt changes drastically, reducing the contact area.
      These visual inspections almost always allow you to make an easy decision about the belt. However, if condition ever is in question, and the vehicle owner isn’t sure of age or mileage, then it’s time to replace it. But the belt isn’t the only factor. Idler pulleys and tensioner pulleys are ideal upsell recommendations. Any loss of proper tension and any misalignment – both of which can be caused by worn idler or tensioner pulleys – will cause premature belt wear and/or noise.
      Noise is the big one, and usually the first thing that makes people think about replacing the belt. Serpentine belts normally run very quiet, which is one of the reasons we like them so much. Any squeaking or chirping usually gets blamed on the belt, and usually it’s the reason they’re replaced. Make no mistake: A worn belt certainly can make noise, but usually it’s in combination with other factors.
      It’s not uncommon to install a new serpentine belt to remedy a squeaking noise, only to find the noise is still there. In most of these cases, the belt truly needed replaced, but think of the perception by the customer. If they’re not aware of the other factors involved, they’re going to blame it on the quality of the belt. It happens often. Go figure! Who would ever claim a new serpentine belt was defective?
      As I previously mentioned, incorrect alignment or incorrect tension can and will cause noise. In addition to pulley and tensioner condition, when the belt is installed, it makes a great straight edge. If it’s not perfect, then something is misaligned.
      The most common culprit for noise, however, is dirt, debris and particles lodged in the accessory pulleys. If you don’t see it at first, look closer. It often collects in the base of the pulley grooves. As innocent as it may look, it will cause you to pull your hair out chasing a noise.
      There are plenty of ideas floating around about how to clean them, but the bottom line is that it simply doesn’t matter. Clean is clean. Here’s the catch. Often, the debris is embedded in the grooves to the point where you have to dig or scrape it out with a pick, then follow it up with a wire brush. It’s not always fun, but it’s the only way to ensure no noise from the belt. You can use any solvent or degreaser you want, but that’s just the finishing touch. The physical debris must be removed, all the way around each and every pulley.
      When it comes to upsells, belt tools are nice to have in stock. These are generally just for releasing the tension on the belt, but there’s another tool that’s a long metal rod with two metal “fingers” on the end. They are designed to grab and maneuver the belt, so you can install it in cars with very limited space to work. These can be a real lifesaver.
      If the car has more than one belt, it’s a good idea to recommend all of them at the same time. If one is worn out, the other most likely will be too. It’s almost always a dirty job too, and one that causes a lot of skinned knuckles because you’re working in such a tight space. Shop towels and mechanics gloves are a great recommendation. If they don’t want gloves, point them to the nearest drug store to pick up Band-Aids on the way home. They’ll probably need them!
      Last but not least are stretch belts. All the same rules for wear and inspection still apply, but there’s no tensioner. They have an elastic core that allows them to keep tension on the pulleys. They work great. Period. But installation is different. You absolutely must use the correct tool. It’s not that the tools are earth-shattering wonders; they simply provide a smooth ramp to guide the belts in place. If you do it any other way, you risk damaging, and most likely will damage, the belt. 
      Oh yeah, and for the record, I didn’t put another six-rib belt on the Town Car. I installed the correct A/C compressor pulley and put a seven-rib belt on the car. The way it should have been.
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    • By Counterman
      Alligator sens.it RS universal TPMS sensors now cover the 2020-2021 Ford Bronco.
      “This vehicle has hit the market by storm and Alligator is proud to offer service for this impressive new SUV,” Alligator said in a news release.
      The all-terrain Bronco is another addition to the expanding list of Ford vehicles that can automatically learn and detect TPMS sensors once installed into each wheel assembly, or if rotating tires at regular intervals.
      Alligator offers these instructions: Simply install the new Alligator sens.it RS universal TPMS sensors, then begin driving the SUV, and the system will register the new IDs automatically while driving. Based on the instruction manual, make sure to park the vehicle the required amount of time for the TPMS system to enter into relearn mode (usually 20 minutes).
      The Alligator sens.it RS universal TPMS sensor also supports location detection, so when rotating tires, there’s no need to reset the system manually. Simply follow the same procedure as auto-learning and the display will show the new tire locations on the dash after driving for a few minutes.
      “By continuing to use Alligator sens.it RS universal TPMS sensors, shops can ensure they are working with a part that supports the full range of OE features, which helps make the job easier, reduces unnecessary downtime in the bay for TPMS learning or general sensor issues, helps the bottom line and, most importantly, keeps customers happy and coming back,” the company said. “When replacing OEM sensors with aftermarket sensors, rest assured that RS Series TPMS sensors from Alligator will provide all the functionality your car delivers. Regardless of the tool you use to program your Alligator TPMS sensors, this new application should be available for programming after you complete the latest update.”
      Alligator is a brand of
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    • By OReilly Auto Parts
      How To: Change the Oil and Filter On a 2004 to 2011 Ford Focus
    • By Counterman
      The first of the Ford “modular” engines was a 4.6-liter V-8 that appeared in the 1991 Lincoln Town Car. The family soon grew into six unique displacements, including a V-10. Three decades later, the modular family is still around, most popularly in the current 5-liter “Coyote” trim.
      Let’s look back at some of these original engines, the vehicles they powered and a few of the reasons we still hear about this engine family on a regular basis.
      But first, a disclaimer: The “modular” name doesn’t refer to parts interchangeability, although some of these engine designs share common features. In this case, “modular” refers to the manufacturing processes used at the Romeo, Windsor and Essex engine plants to produce these engines quickly for a wide range of platforms. Each of these engines has distinct design features, and some need to be catalogued carefully – utilizing VIN, application and model-year information to properly identify components.
      The original 4.6-liter was a two-valve SOHC V-8 engine found in the Town Car, Crown Victoria and Grand Marquis. The 4.6-liter was designed as a replacement for the old pushrod 5-liter and 5.8-liter (aka the “302” and “351”), a trend that continued as the pushrod engine slowly disappeared from the Thunderbird, Mustang and F-Series trucks throughout the mid to late 1990s. These early engines were built in Romeo, Michigan, and Windsor, Ontario, and the two have distinctly different timing drives and cylinder-head designs.
      Identifying Romeo-built and Windsor-built 4.6-liter engines can be as simple as decoding a VIN – providing the engine is still in its original vehicle. Unfortunately, Ford chose to identify the Romeo engines with a “W” in the 8th VIN position, while the Windsor engine was assigned the number “6”!
      Looking at the engines themselves also gives a few clear clues, in case you’re dealing with an engine “in the wild,” or a possible transplant. The valve covers on the Romeo engine are held down with 11 bolts, while Windsors feature 13/14 bolt patterns. Beneath the timing covers, you’ll also find that Romeo cam gears are bolted to the camshaft, and Windsor cam gears are pressed onto their shafts. Even bare blocks can be identified easily by locating the “R” or “W” casting marks on each engine – and this time “W” actually means WINDSOR!
      F-Series trucks received a new modular option in 1997 in the form of the 5.4-liter, another two-valve SOHC V-8. The same year, E-Series vans were the first to receive the new modular 6.8-liter V-10. These engines were manufactured in the two Canadian plants, so there are no Romeo versions. These modular truck engines became known as the “Triton” series, which became a point of confusion a few years later when Ford introduced a THREE-valve cylinder-head design to the family.
      Triton would seem to indicate “three” of something, just like tricycles have three wheels or triangles have three sides, but the name pre-dates the first of the three-valve designs introduced in 2004. Triton truck engines can be found in both two- and three-valve versions, and the last 4.6-liter modular engine (produced in 2014) actually was a two-valve Triton engine.
      In addition to the trucks, three-valve engines were found in Mustangs and SUVs, but the modular family also included a series of four-valve DOHC engines in both 4.6-liter and 5.4-liter displacements. These were fit primarily in SVT, Shelby and other performance-oriented vehicles, but the Lincoln lineup also received the four-valve DOHC treatment periodically throughout the modular years. The current 5-liter Coyote continues this 4V DOHC tradition, along with its derivative 5.2-liter Voodoo/Predator, and 5.8-liter Trinity cousins.
      The 4.6-, 5.4- and 6.8-liter engines were plagued with spark plug issues in both the two-valve and three-valve versions. 1997-2008 modular two-valve engines with aluminum cylinder heads were prone to stripping spark plug threads, often ejecting the spark plug forcefully from its cylinder port.
      The three-valve design did not have thread-stripping issues, but the unique two-piece spark plug that Ford used in the three-valve engines from 2004-2007 has a tendency to snap in half during removal, leaving a difficult-to-remove stump of electrode shell at the bottom of the spark plug well. Several tool companies have developed plug-removal kits for the 3V vehicles, and thread-repair kits for the 2V applications. Ford redesigned the 3V heads (and spark plugs) for 2008, and has since upgraded the plugs specified for the 2004-2007 engines. Aftermarket companies also have developed one-piece replacement spark plugs for these applications, which decreases the chances of that tune-up going horribly wrong!
      Even though these modular engines have been around for a long time, the applications in which they originally were installed lend themselves to longevity. They still are present in fleets, from taxis and police cars to cargo vans and work trucks. Of course, modular Mustangs of all varieties continue to be enthusiast favorites, from daily driving to competition at drag strips, autocross and circle-track events. The secondary market for the Crown Victoria also includes motorsports, as they have become the preferred demolition-derby car in most full-size classes, and there are even racing series exclusively for P71 (police-package) Vics!
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    • DIY like a pro! Shop from over 1,000,000 Repair Manuals at eManualOnline.com! As low as $14.99 per manual. Shop now.


      DIY like a pro! Shop from over 1,000,000 Repair Manuals at eManualOnline.com! As low as $14.99 per manual. Shop now.


      DIY like a pro! Shop from over 1,000,000 Repair Manuals at eManualOnline.com! As low as $14.99 per manual. Shop now.

    • By OReilly Auto Parts
      How To: Change the Tail Lights on a 2004 to 2011 Ford Focus
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