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'97 Ford Explorer- Serpentine belt/tensioner issues

I don’t know much about car repair, but when my car recently broke down, I thought I’d give it a try.

The serpentine belt on My '97 Ford Explorer broke apart while driving. I pulled over immediately and got to work on fixing it. I noticed the Idler was bent so I bought a new belt and idler. The Idler wheel was busted but it didn’t mess up the bolt so that was an easy fix. I noticed after putting in the new belt that the tensioner wouldn’t hold the tension so I bought a new one to replace it. I installed the new tensioner, even though it fit slightly differently than the old one. I was assured after going back to the auto parts store, that it was correct.

The car turns on now and sounds fine, but I can barely turn the wheel. I have no idea what to do.

Could the generator wheel, crankshaft pulley, or something else that has the serpentine belt attached to it need to be replaced as well? What should I do next?

It sounds like you missed the power steering pump pulley when routing the serpentine belt. Or perhaps you’ve managed to get it turning backwards.

You don;t way what engine you have, but here are some routing diagrams for '97 explorers.

I know I didn’t miss the power steering pump pulley. I have the diagram under my hood so I knew how to route the belt. I even double checked online to be sure.

After I replaced the idler and had the old tensioner on, the steering was rough. I was able to drive my car back home with it though. With the new tensioner, I can barely move the wheel and haven’t attempted to drive it around.

How would I have got it turning backwards? How do I check for that? I believe it’s been turning clockwise. Is that correct?


You need to take the belt OFF and make sure ALL of your pulleys are spinning FREELY… I dont know how you would miss this but your PS Pump may be failing and may be very difficult to spin the PS pump pulley…so while its not locked up…it may be hard to turn… THIS or a different pulley may be hard to spin… and what may have caused your belt tensioner to explode in the first place. Take that belt off…and physically spin all pulleys…see what you get and let us know. I bet your PS pump has an issue. Also double check your belt routing diagram…its pretty straight forward


It is possible your power steering pump is fried and caused collateral damage. Does the pump turn easily? what does the ps fluid look like, and is it full?

Thanks for the advice.

I know the belt is routed correctly. There’s a diagram under the hood and I double checked online. I removed the belt and spun each pulley. Each one worked fine except the Crankshaft Pulley. I put the belt back on and started the car. It spun all the way around so I don’t know if the car needs to be on for the Crankshaft to spin.

Someone on a different forum suggested it might be my power steering pump. I checked and it spun freely without any grinding noises. I also checked the power steering fluid. It’s an orangish brown color. It was also right in between min and max. How would I know if that was the problem?

I drove around the block this time. It was a little easier to steer but I couldn’t make sharp turns. The battery light was on the entire time as well.

Battery light on? ASSuMEing the belt is routed correctly you have a battery, alternator or cable connection problem. I think you need a professional diagnosis and there is too much now going on for an internet diagnosis.

I think you have the belt tensioner installed incorrectly or have the wrong belt tensioner.

Or the wrong belt?


@nostini you said the new tensioner “fit slightly different than the old one”

It sounds to me like perhaps you were sold the wrong belt or the wrong tensioner

I’m going to go to a different store tomorrow and ask. I went back to my original store because the tensioner looked different. They assured me it was correct, but obviously somethings still wrong. Hopefully it’s something as simple as the wrong belt or tensioner and not a larger issues.

Thanks guys.

If your battery light was on…I think your alternator may have given up the ghost…See while it was functioning…it could have been MALfunctioning… Because when the engine spins that pulley its going something like 2-3x crankshaft speed…and at those speeds it may have been very hard to spin bec it was dying on you or trying to overcharge your batt… and would have been VERY hard to spin…this couldve wrecked your tensioner…?

This issue could be many things actually and unfortunately…None of us will solve it via internet bec its a specific issue on your vehicle that has clues we would see if we were there…not like this… Many of us here would know what the issue was if the vehicle was in front of us…but here its very difficult.

Since the new tensioner isnt self destructing like the old one did…My guess is that whatever was hard to turn is not any longer…could be that your PS pump passed some debris into the rack…or some kind of rackn pinion issue… The PS racks go bad ALL the time… On my Pontiac Bonne Supercharged I could turn my wheel left and NOT RIGHT… it was the rack a well known issue on those vehicles…

Sorry we are having trouble helping…this is one of those issues where we need the vehicle I think



I have to refer back to Honda’s post. I suspect he may be right.
With the belt off, the PS pump pulley should be easy to turn and not loose laterally (sideways).

With no power steering and alt light on, there may be something very wrong with the belt system. I just replaced the tensioner on my 2000 model, and the parts store had the wrong tensioner listed for my 4.0l SOHC. The correct part was listed under the 4.0l OHV version. The big difference was the wrong part used a pin to locate it, and the correct part used a notch. The wrong part would not fit right, nor do it’s job. The new part looks a bit different, but fits correctly and does the job.

I figured the Crankshaft would only spin when the engine is on. I’m new to car repair and obviously don’t really know what I’m doing. I’m trying to figure it out though.

I went to another store today and was informed the other store gave me the wrong belt. I’ll install it later and hopefully that fixes the problem. They told me the tensioner, while looking slightly different, is the correct one.

I think you’re all right though, if this doesn’t fix the problem, I should bring it into a shop.

Thanks for all the help.

@nostini If that incorrect belt was too long, the tensioner may not have been able to maintain the correct tension
Incorrect tension could explain the power steering and alternator problems

I trust you’ll be able to get a refund for that incorrect belt, correct?

And good luck!

Please post back when you’ve fixed it

The verdict is in…it was the wrong belt. The young fella at the auto parts store never quite had the confidence I was expecting when telling me about what part I should have. Now I know that was for a reason.

I picked up a new belt from a competitor yesterday. It was tough to put on. Required a friend to help me out, but the car is running fine now. The only final thing, is now the “Check Engine” light is on. I don’t know if that’s a common occurrence when you do this kind of repair and the guys at a shop simply know where to turn it off, or if there’s a potential alternate problem. Is this common? If so, where do I turn off the light?

The Check Engine light could be on for any number of hundreds of issues. Many parts stores can read the codes, formatted like P0121, and you can post them here for opinions. None of the stores near me will not turn off the CEL, though. But, if the problem is corrected, the light will eventually turn itself off.

@nostini congratulations for being persistent and getting a handle on your problem!

The check engine light may have come on for a low voltage condition

Please post any fault codes you retrieve

The battery light on usually means the alternator isn’t spinning or the wiring harness to the alternator isn’t properly connected. Or the alternator has failed. The fact that both the battery light and the power steering isn’t working is an almost certain indiction that there’s something wrong w/ serpentine belt orientation/configuration/tension or one of the pulley’s is sticking. It’s possible a pulley will spin ok when not under load, but may bind up under tension. Have you visually observed all the pulleys are freely turning and not making excessive noise when the car is idling?

Otherwise, the only other explanation is that BOTH the power steering pump and alternator have failed.

One other thing: If this belt is driving the water pump, you need to be very careful monitoring the coolant temp until you get this resolved, otherwise you may be facing expensive engine damage.

It’s normal you couldn’t turn the crank pulley by hand. It has nothing to do with the key being on or off. There’s a lot of force holding it from the piston compression. You’d need to remove the spark plugs at the very minimum to be able to turn it by hand. When mechanics need to turn the crank pulley, they do it with a wrench.

I concur with the others, you are in need of some pro auto repair help at this point. I wouldn’t rely on just the auto parts store. Find a local mechanic experienced with your make/model and get an opinion.