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Hamonic balancer

1991 Oldsmobile Ciera

6 cyl (3.3L ?), auto trans

unknown mileage

A friend has a beat up 1991 Olds Cutlass Ciera. A friend of heres is working on the car for her. First he said she needed a water pump but now says that didn’t fix the problem. Have been unable to get a clear description of the problem to post here.

However, now the friend thinks her car needs a harmonic balancer.

So, what, please is a harmonic balancer, what does it do, and why would it be related to a water pump.

Oh and by the way, no one is looking at the timing chain/belt (whichever it has) while the water pump is off.

I do know the car won’t start.

Not much to give y’all to work with, but that’s all I happen to know about her car.



A harmonic balances is a vibration dampener. It’s on the end of the crankshaft where the front pulley attaches. The thing is a hub with a layer of rubber and another circle of metal on the other side of the rubber. Like a wheel around a wheel separated by rubber so that the outer wheel can absorb the vibration. Find out what they are trying to fix.

This car is almost 18 years old and has no real monetary value-I wouldn’t sink much money into the car unless you’re a bunch of high school students with no alternative.

As for the car problems…Hmm…Well a water pumnp has nothing to do with a car not starting first of all, so I don’t know why it was replaced. A water pump circulates coolant through the engine drawing heat from the motor and then circulates through a radiator to release that heat. Whether it functions or not has nothing to do with a car not cranking over or starting and running temporarily.

A harmonic balancer is a large and relatively difficult to remove circular weight attached to the crankshaft which dampens engine vibration and can also be used to balance a rotating assembly (it’s more complex than that, but this is the simple answer). Why someone is diagnosing this as a problem I have no idea. It sounds like someone is throwing parts at the car which is an expensive thing to do.

Diagnosing why a car won’t start is easy if you understand three basic things:

  1. An engine needs air to run
  2. An engine needs fuel to run
  3. An engine needs spark/ignition source to run.

You are missing one of these. Determine which one it is and go from there. Do not replace parts unless you are sure of the problem. This is not a complicated car to work on, so there should be no need to throw parts at it. Good luck.

Thanks for the explanations.

I’ll try to find out more from my friend about just what the problem with her car has been and why her friend thinks the water pump and harmonic balancer are problems.

Yes the car is old but she is quite poor and has no money to buy anything, even used, at this point. She bought this car used barely two years ago. And right now she is dealing with huge medical bills for cancer surgery. She is proud and not liable to accept much help from others. The most I’ve been able to do is provide all her transportation to and from the hospital, doctor’s apppointments and such the past month and even then she’s insisted on giving me some gas money. I understand and respect her POV but just wish I could both afford to buy her a newer used car and that she’d accept it if I could.

Again, thanks for the info. If I learn anything more of real substance, I’ll post back for additional help from you wonderful answer folks.

God bless.


UPDATE: Okay, so turns out the car does start and run, however with extreme engine vibration and “terrible” noise, is what I’m told. Turns out the stains around the water pump appeared to be old on further investigation, although I’m not clear whether or not my girlfriend’s male friend went ahead with replacing the water pump.

However, how he came up with diagnosing the need to replace the harmonic balancer is that he said it is literally coming apart, the middle rubber ring separating from the inner and outer metal rings.

No one yet has given her a clue how much the part will cost although her friend doing the labor for free says he thinks it is an expensive part. Doesn’t know yet where/how he’s going to get the part.


Junk yard. Junk yard. Junk yard. This is a part that typically is not replaced. I’ve owned cars and trucks that are typically 20 years old or older, and have never had the need to replace one. However, I can see how neglect and severe conditions may cause problems like this. Get a suitable replacement from a junk yard, and save some money.

BTW, I’m currently rebuilding a 1962 Ford 390 V8, and the balancer on it is still in decent shape. It is not separating at all.

Everyone she knows that has ever done any work on cars all say they have NEVER heard of a harmonic balancer coming apart. She is poor enough she always has to buy very old, high mileage cars with questionable prior upkeep. So she ends with cars that always have something else wearing out on them.

Any idea what sort of condition problem with a car would make a harmonic balancer start coming apart???

Here is a picture of a harmonic balancer ($100). A used one may be available from a salvage yard for $25 to $50.,APP786838/vehicleId,1613902/initialAction,partProductDetail/store,1140/partType,00665/shopping/partProductDetail.htm

The engine (3.3L V6) has a timing chain which is good for the life of the engine.
The rough running (“out of balance”) engine condition could be from several cylinders misfiring. There are several possible causes of misfire. Chief ones are bad spark plugs and, maybe, spark plug wires. Another is the distributor cap and rotor. There are more possibilities. The repair manual lists them, and how to test for them.

Thank you for the pricing info and link! This is quite helpful.

The harmonic balance is critical for reducing the twisting stress on the crankshaft (caused from each power stroke). If the engine is run for any length of time without a harmonic balance or without the outer metal ring, don’t be surprised to find your crankshaft splits in half somewhere down the road (even after you’ve fixed the harmonic balance).

The engine (3.3L V6) has a timing chain which is good for the life of the engine.

I wouldn’t say that. Timing chains usually start to go around 250k miles. For the last 4 vehicles we’ve owned that’s no where near the life of the engine.

My friend’s friend is going to have the car towed to a professional mechanic tomorrow, rather than drive it any with a bad harmonic balancer, and have a new balancer installed. A new, not salvage balancer, for $100 plus $150 labor.

ADDITIONAL QUESTION: My friend’s question is if there are any related items, such as the crankshaft, that should be replaced at the same time???


Hopefully not the crankshaft, since that wold mean an engine rebuild. But a pulley-driven accessory (alternator, water pump) might hae been damaged by the bad harmonic balancer. But probably not.

What happened to the “mechanic” who was willing to change the harmonic balancer for free (labor)? There are times when it’s best not to put new parts on a car -----such as lack of funds.
There may be other maintenance which the prior owner didn’t do. The one in the position to decide what it needs is the mechanic working on it.

PDATE: “Okay, so turns out the car does start and run, however with extreme engine vibration and “terrible” noise, is what I’m told.”

This does not sound like a balancer…Maybe a real mechanic can sort it out.

These things have a chain-drive transmission, right? Those chains can get very loose, right? Balancer failure is VERY rare, but it does happen…Easy to spot, the timing mark moves all over the place!!

The “free” mechanic is the do-it-yourselfer friend who first thought the prob was the water pump. After 4 hours work, discovering that didn’t fix the prob, found the coming apart balancer, etc., admitted he was in over his head and is “helping” get the car to a supposedly “trusted real mechanic” who is slated to do the work. Ergo, there goes the free labor.

Nickie (my friend) only buys very old junker clunkers, due to lack of money, and then does no preventative maintenance on them. As a result, she lives with an endless array of serious car troubles that arise, leaving her in even worse financial straits. I’ve tried to get her to accept an interest free loan from me to buy a newer used car in better shape than she typically does and then to keep it maintained but she won’t accept the help. I’m not the only one she has turned down. She is independent, proud, hard-working, generous with her time and efforts to help others, and poor as can be, partly due to permanently ongoing astronomical medical bills.

So, the most I can do is try to collect a bit of info here on the board for her now and then hopes that it helps her situation a bit.

Thank you so very much everyone for your help.


Okay, thank you. I’ll relay that info in case it turns out to be the case.

All I know is what she was told and then told me, that supposedly the amateur free help found the balancer coming apart, the middle rubber ring separating from the inner and outer metal rings, after deciding it isn’t the water pump that is the prob, supposedly because he know thinks the stains around the water pump are old.

Basically, he is trying to help but doesn’t know much about cars beyond bare bones basics and she doesn’t have money to take it to a real shop unless and until his efforts fail.

I’m just the friend hearing about it all third hand and trying to make sense of the muddle of info I hear enough to ask a few questions here in hopes of then taking back any helpful info. And all you poor souls responding are wonderfully long-suffering and kind with your time and efforts. Thanks again.

I beg to differ. I’ve had to replace two of them on my Buick 3800 over the course of 450,000 miles. They do indeed separate from the rubber and start to wobble. It’ll throw the crank sensor off and the car will either miss or not start. The new GM part itself is about $250 plus a couple hundred labor. I also had one go bad on another Buick within the 50K mile warranty so anyone who says they have never heard of it hasn’t worked on many GM cars.

You have a good heart, Marnet.