Today brought another episode in my recent spate of car troubles: The serpentine belt shredded itself and then popped off while I was up in Cleveland. I was luckily able to fix it, but it made for a long, hot trip.
It all started with a weird incident as I was leaving to pick up an art piece I bought from my Uncle’s estate a couple weeks back. I backed out of the drive. On the street, as I stopped backing and started to move forward, a ground hog suddenly appeared from beneath my car and ran off, with a scared look back at the car.
I heard a squeak and something seemed off as I pulled forward. I considered pulling back into the drive to check it out, but figured I’d just go and park on the side of the road if problems cropped up. It seemed mostly alright, so I kept going. I stopped at a rest stop after I got on the highway. I looked under the hood, and it seemed hot, and maybe had a slightly burning smell, but I couldn’t see anything, so I kept going.
While driving through Cleveland, stopped at a light, a man and woman at a gas station started waving their arms, jumping, and yelling something. There were other cars and some people walking, so I didn’t think they were targeting me, maybe were trying to draw attention to a fund raiser car wash type thing or something. But the woman looked frustrated and turned away, which drew my attention.
As I pulled forward, I could tell something was wrong. I quickly found the nearest side street and parked. Probably better there than among all the people at the corner anyway. I could hear noises coming from under the hood, so I popped it and looked under. A cloud of dust-like junk floated out, and I immediately saw a bunch of strands of the belt spinning and wapping things or fallen off around the engine cavity. I stopped the engine and pulled off as many strands as I could.
The remainder of the belt seemed intact and turned the pulleys fine, so I figured I could make it to the art place. So I drove on these weird, super narrow brick one-ways to get out of there and made it to the art place. I bought my piece and then came back to my car to decide what to do. It was hot and sunny, so I figured I’d drive to a park or something. I missed the nearby Edgewater Park, so I ended up at Lakewood Park.
It was hot and sunny there too, but at least it was more spacious. After taking a look again, more strands had come off. I pulled them, but wasn’t sure what to do. I went for a walk in the park, then came back with the plan of checking my Chilton’s guide. It didn’t give a lot of info. Made it seem like I may need some tools I didn’t have though to replace.
I called my dad to get advice, but he wasn’t there. I found an auto parts store that was near but toward home, and headed that way. My dad got back to me while I was driving, so I discussed the problem with him. I pulled into the parts store lot while we were talking, so I was able to look at the situation again. I didn’t mention the ground hog at that point, because I wasn’t sure that it was related. The solution we decided on was to buy the belt and try to drive to his house so we’d have all the tools and I’d have other eyes on the problem. I’d avoid highways. If it broke on the way, I’d either call him or call AAA.
The Auto Zone guy pulled up three belts on his screen, but said that they only had the worst one that I probably didn’t want. They didn’t end up having that one either. He gave me some other locations that had the most expensive ones. I started heading toward one that seemed on the way home, but thought better and went to an Advanced Auto that was nearby.
They had a belt, which I bought. Since I planned to make it to my parents’ with the old belt, I tried pulling off the new strands that had separated, but unfortunately the belt partly slipped off of the pulley. I struggled to get it back on until I finally found the tensioner pulley and figured out how to get it to work. I luckily had the correct sized socket and wrench in case something went wrong with my recent wheel hub replacement. I was able to get the belt back on, but unfortunately, after starting the vehicle, the belt popped off entirely. So I was left with little choice but to install the new belt.
I went back into the store and bought some gloves (to deal with the engine heat) and a socket set (to remove a bracket that was in the way and in case I needed to deal with any other bolts). I had not taken a picture of the belt path before it popped off, though I had thought about it, and Chilton’s only had a couple pictures that didn’t match my setup. I put it on in what seemed like the only way it would go, putting the ribbed belt against ribbed pulley and flat belt against flat pulley. There was a lot of extra belt left though. I worried it was the wrong belt, but comparing it to the old, it was about the same.
I spent quite a bit of time in the hot sun looking online, but I couldn’t find a single picture that had exactly the same layout. I looked back at the book too, but it didn’t help. Eventually, I decided to just try with the belt again, and finally noticed a different way to route it that seemed kind of goofy but also got the right sides of the belts and pulleys matching. It was hard to hold the tension pulley all the way “loose” while also putting on the belt, but I got it. Started up the car, heard a few noises and smelled some burning, but it seemed to be running just fine.
Called my dad again and told him the situation After telling him about the ground hog, he said that was probably what did it, because they like to chew on things like that. So I decided to take the highway. I drove home, staying mostly to the right on the highway and stopping once at a rest stop to check it out. I made it, finally.
After all the heat and stress from that, I wasn’t feeling great. At times during the ordeal I felt like I might have a panic attack, but I didn’t. I lowered the air conditioner and pointed a fan at me until I felt better. I drank a cool seltzer and ate a clif bar, since I hadn’t eaten lunch and it was already almost 6. Called my dad again to tell him I made it and we discussed what I should check out to make sure things were alright.
I’m hoping the ground hog was scared enough by the driving incident to not return, but in case he wasn’t I put some chicken wire under the car. Hopefully it’ll confuse him, scare him, or make it too difficult to get back into the engine cavity. And hopefully I remember to remove it before driving again. I didn’t feel like doing anything else with the car today, so I will have to check the pulleys again and look for any other chewed up or damaged parts from the ground hog tomorrow.