Quick question about changing a tensioner

I need to change the belt tensioner on a 97 Buick. It has the 3.8l V6. Is it as simple as it looks (remove the coolant overflow, serpentine belt and take out the bolts) or is there more to it? Any particular tools I need other than sockets and wrenches?

I can’t drive the car to my house until it’s fixed, so I need to bring all the tools with me and I’d rather not have to come back for something I forgot.


Nothing is ever as simple as it looks. Start by investing in a repair manual.
TIP: often on a car with a transverse engine it’s easier to remove the wheel and the inner fender apron for enhanced access to the fromt of the engine. I don;t know about the Buick, but a manual should tell you if this is the best way.

You sure you need to replace the tensioner and not the idler pulley instead or in addition to? I’ve never had to actually change the tensioner but would go through a few pulleys. I believe it just bolts on though but I think you need to take the idler pulley off first to get access to the bolt. You need to just take a look see or I’ll check the manual if I get a chance. One thing though the pulley I believe is a left hand bolt so it is righty loosey instead of righty tighty. You should always have a tool box full of miscellaneous stuff you might need-like mirror, tape, putty, screwdrivers, sockets (1/4, 3/8) wire, etc. etc. Never hurts.

Edit: I don’t have that specific manual but on similar it looks like you may have to remove the alternator and/or the power steering pump and the heater hoses in order to gain access. So you would have to drain the coolant a little. You’d probably best have a look see first to see what exactly is in the way to access the three bolts or so.

I appreciate both comments.

@thesanemountainbike - you reminded me that I actually do have the Haynes manual for this car. Not the best repair manual, but it does show most of the information I need.

@Bing - Yes, I am sure it’s the tensioner. Reason being is that the tensioner itself works fine, but the coolant bypass tube (I think that’s what it’s called) has split open and pumps antifreeze out faster than I can pour it in. When you remove the tensioner, this short plastic tube comes out with it and then I can pull it off and install a new one. I said I needed to get the tensioner off because I figured more people would know what I was talking about. I also appreciate the suggestion of keeping a toolbox with some supplies. I really wish more people would carry just a few basic tools even if they don’t really know how to fix a car. I actually have one with most o the items you mentioned plus some open end wrenches, sockets, duct tape, fuses and all that kind of stuff. It’s gotten me home before, and I’m sure it’ll help get me home again.

To the best of my knowledge, I’ll need to remove to coolant overflow reservoir (which is of course already empty), the alternator, and then I can get at the tensioner to take it off. The heater hoses are attached to the tensioner, so I won’t need to remove them but just bend then out of the way to access the other side of the tensioner. The book time to replace a tensioner is just under an hour, so it can’t be too bad.

Thanks for all the suggestions!

Remove the alternator from the tensioner bracket then remove the tensioner bracket.

I would also suggest that you replace the two plastic coolant elbows with metal ones when replacing the bracket.

Yep, listen to Tester. Holy cow, when did they come up with that idea?