GARAGE GURUS OUR SHED, OUR CARS, OUR STORIES
DOES ANYONE know what it sounds like when an alternator belt snaps? I do. I found out the hard way, and it’s not as dramatic an event as you might think. Before I worked out what that bloody noise was, I slowed the GTI a bit to listen...nothing. Maybe even less noise than before. Once the glow of the battery light slowly appeared on the dash, it was clear this wouldn’t be one of those good weekends where everything goes according to plan.
Once in the driveway, the hood went up and the missing noise was apparent.
The alternator was there, alone, naked. Poor thing. The battery had lost its partner in crime, and this clearly needed to be rectified. The silver lining was crossing another mystery noise off the list.
The alternator was making a subtle grinding sound that I previously couldn’t place. With the alternator disconnected, the noise was gone.
So, the belt came out, after it was unravelled from the alternator’s pulley, and the inspection began. The belt was shredded, so finding a new one was now the challenge.
To make matters frustrating the VW engineers of the 80s (in their infinite wisdom and understanding that once the car was designed they’d never have to deal with its problems) had placed the alternator belt behind two others, running from the engine to various pumps and compressors.
“Hooray, we get to replace all of the belts!” is what I’d like to tell you I said at this point.
However, what I did say may be unpublishable, even though I’m sure some of you have said the exact same thing.
The easiest way to fix this seemed to be a visit to Repco, until it became apparent that Repco’s parts system does not know what kind of belt goes on a 1990 Golf GTI. The in-store staff decided to go rogue and manually searched for some belts that were close to what I had brought in from my own car. A+ for effort.
After a failed attempt at getting everything back on the car with my friend and mechanic, Dave Judd, I went with the option of doing some home-surgery. It also seemed that after hitting the alternator with one of his hex keys and nearly welding it in place, it might be best to use the somewhat less expensive tools I had at home.
My old man and his brother, my uncle, put up their hands to help out, despite knowing they’d be in for a frustrating time. It turned out to be fairly straight forward, just a bit fiddly. Move the alternator down, turn the fuel pump at the bottom sideways a bit, and voila, all the belts go back on one by one. First the good news: no more battery light! Unfortunately the quiet grinding noise was back, which meant an alternator rebuild was inevitable.
One last bit of advice: if you have relatives with a bit of mechanical knowledge, buy them a beer every now and then. It’s cheaper than paying for labour.