Posted: March 1, 2013
Don’t neglect your engine’s life-support system.The belts that provide life support to your engine’s accessories — the alternator, auxiliary alternator, raw-water pump and circulator pump — will typically provide reliable, trouble-free service, provided they are properly maintained and replaced on a regular schedule. Many boaters neglect this all-too-important system. A broken belt is always bad news, because when it snaps, all drive power to whatever it turns is lost. That means the water pump quits circulating coolant through the engine, and the alternator quits producing amps.
The belts used to drive these accessories are of the “V” variety or ribbon-shaped flat serpentine belts. Often, one V belt may do double duty, sending life from the crankshaft pulley to both the alternator and coolant pumps, while another belt will help drive the raw-water pump.
The service life of a belt depends on the hours of use as well as the load, tension and heat. Every time a belt passes around a pulley, it bends and flexes, which produces heat that age-hardens the rubber over time. The wear process can be greatly accelerated if the belt is loose and slips, because any added friction between belt and pulley makes the belt run even hotter. This can cause glazing on the faces of the belt and cause it to slip even more. So one of the most important factors that affects belt life is making sure it is properly tensioned when it is installed, and that the proper tension is maintained throughout its service life.
The good news is that replacing the belts periodically can go a long way toward minimizing the risk of a breakdown caused by belt failure. After all, it’s a lot easier to replace a belt at your convenience than have the belt fail unexpectedly, no doubt in the middle of nowhere.
Belts are easily serviced, adjusted and replaced. Begin by inspecting the engine’s belts. First, check that the belts are tight — tight enough so they don’t slip, but no tighter. The old rule of thumb for belt deflection, allowing half an inch of “give” between the farthest pulleys is not a very accurate guide for today’s engines. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendation for belt tension. If a belt is slipping, it won’t turn its related accessory properly, and it will wear out and break prematurely. If it’s too tight, it will accelerate wear on bearings and seals. If you see any evidence of belt dust on the front of the engine or the alternator casing, the belt is either slipping or misaligned. If the belt and/or pulley shows signs of glazing — a particularly smooth, shiny appearance — it means the belt is slipping. A glazed belt must be replaced, but the glaze on a pulley can be “dressed” using 220-grit sandpaper.
To tension a belt, use a breaker bar as a lever to pry the accessory away from the crankshaft pulley, and then tighten the fixing bolt. Threaded “spreader” tools are available to make this task easier. Finally, ensure that each belt’s profile properly matches every pulley over which it turns. The belt should be even with or stand slightly proud, no more than 1/16 inch, from the top of the pulley walls.
On engines with a single serpentine belt, tension is usually self-adjusted automatically via a spring-loaded tensioner. No additional adjustment is necessary. If this is the case, check the tension pulley bearing. When the belt is removed, the pulley must spin freely with no rough spots detected under hand pressure.
If your engine has been eating or twisting belts, misaligned pulleys may be your problem. Alignment can be checked with a straightedge. If a pulley is bent or not on the same plane as the rest, the problem should be corrected, or the “bad” pulley will continue to ruin belts.
Deteriorating belts can cause collateral damage to the alternator. A chronically slipping alternator belt can create large amounts of fine dust. The issue arises when this belt dust is drawn into the alternator with the cooling air. If the rubber dust-like debris makes contact with the hot components within the alternator, it will melt and adhere to them, creating a harmful insulating blanket coating the bearings, windings, diodes and heat sinks, potentially causing failure.
Belts are comparatively inexpensive, so it’s cheap insurance to replace them every five years or 2,000 hours, whichever comes first. Remember, a new belt may require adjustment and retensioning several times in the first 50 to 100 hours of use, and should be checked for wear and tension during regularly scheduled maintenance.
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Quan Xianglan associated with reporter involving Xinhua Announcement Business
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