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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
We have had our 2005 RAV4 for nearly 4 years without a whimper. My girlfriend drives it as her primary car and LOVES her little beast! It is now Winter in Colorado with more Snow than we have had for a while and she brags about how it handles in the Snow. Just up skiing and she CRUISED into the Rocky Mountains, loving the drive. :laugh

Early this week she called me from work saying there was an odd noise from her beloved Car: sounds like a turboprop engine. Hmmmmm. That ain't right. No warning lights lit, no power drop, no nothing else. We met at a parking lot to take the bus to the Bronco's game and it was a low hum that came from the starboard side of the engine (left as you look at it). After the game (they WON!), she started it and there was a REALLY LOUD deafening HOWL that was low to high pitched, so loud I couldn't tell where it was coming from. Increased with engine RPM, dropped as it decreased. No warning lights. An odd belt or electric smell. Hmmm... We took the back roads to the house and she drove without a problem. Next morning: howl still there and maybe isolated to the alternator/belt area. Huh. Howl? Does not sound like the water pump. Belt or electric smell without smoke? The belt does not look like it's in trouble. Alternator, power steering pump (too far back), AC compressor clutch (?), idler pulley. Huh. :confused:

Took off the serpentine belt (see more below) and all those pulleys turned smoothly, including alternator. So: off comes the alternator (easiest to get to). Once out, one whiff of the unit and The Smell was obvious: that is where it was coming from. HAS to be that (initial prayers to the Car Gods submitted). Off to NAPA for a rebuilt one and a new serpentine belt (love that word!!).

After some mangling (again, see below), got everything put back together and torqued (guess torque: the Vague Horrible Haynes "Repair" Manual had no torque listed; more on that later). Moment of truth: was that the problem? Will the HOWL be gone? (Ending prayers submitted at this time). Start up: noise is GONE!! YAY!! (WHEW!!). And no warning lights lit! The noise must have been an internal ELECTRICAL interference. One tip-off was the noise STOPPED immediately after the key was turned off for that brief time the engine is turning with no electrical power. And the smell. Looking it up on line to replace it helped some but there are some KEY points I need to make. The Horrible Haynes Handbook loves to tell you: "Unbolt the old unit and remove it. Replacing the old unit is the reverse of the removal." which tells you nothing.


1) Removing the serpentine belt: there is a 19mm bolt-appearing boss at the top of the idler pulley unit ABOVE the pulley that allows you (with some help [girlfriend] or some innovation to keep it pulled) that allows you to take the tension off the idler pulley (it's job) without doing all the methods I have seen on UTube. Attach a 19mm socket to it with a breaker bar attached and a length of pipe (conduit in my case) for leverage. SLOWLY pull the bar forward and have your partner (girlfriend) hold the tension as you slip the belt off the idler pulley. Do NOT attempt to remove the belt from the alternator pulley as that has a rim that you would need to mangle the belt over; it will just slip off the idler or water pump pulley. That frees up ALL pulleys and allows you to find out which is the damaged unit. Can you replace the alternator without replacing the belt? Oh, yes. But I figured at 165,000 miles and having no idea how long it had been on....and while I was doing things....

2) Belt replacement: The wheel well fairings have to be removed to do it right. Jack and brace the car. Remove the wheel and the wheel well fairings (two plastic snap buttons (get new ones), the rest screws. Either make a drawing of the route of the belt or use the one in the Horrible Haynes. You will NOT remember the route just looking at it. Serpentine means "going all over the place" and is it VITAL it is replaced correctly. Take the tension off with the breaker bar as above and remove the old belt. Wind the new belt around the pulleys according to your diagram making sure all the valleys and peaks of the pulleys/belt line up correctly, not offset. Slip the belt on the idler pulley LAST and have your girlfriend relax her pull on the breaker bar, which wll put exactly the right tension on the belt (great invention!!). Inspect ALL the pulleys, now that there is tension on, to make sure it is properly setting in all the pulleys. Put the wheel well fairings and wheel back on. Start 'er up!

3) Alternator: Grrrr...... As with all things in the engine compartment, there is not much room to work. This is NOT a contest to see how many times you can mangle the alternator in and out before you finally get it to fit. For you aircraft mechanics, this is like working on a Mooney. OK: negative cable off the battery. GENTLY remove all electrical connections to the alternator. The green plug pulls off once you find the little pin to press to remove it. The fitting at the top is covered with a grey plastic cover that will snap off with the GENTLE help of a small screwdriver....or just break. It snaps onto a flange on that fitting. You can't really move all those wires out of the way so removing the alternator takes some CARE to not snap wires. Unsnap the engine/body ground wire. A 14mm bolt at the top of the unit is easy to see. Not quite 180 degrees on the bottom of the unit is a 12mm bolt you cannot see (without a mirror). Both come off and the unit is free with some pulling. GENTLY remove the unit, turning and twisting it around the hoses/tubes/wires. Since you already have your new unit (turn in the core AFTER you drive the car to the parts store) measure with a micrometer the space between the two mounting bosses (that the upper bolt goes through) on the old and new alternator to make sure the are the same width. If the new one is even 1mm too narrow, it will make putting the new one in nearly impossible without a very large hammer hitting a fragile electrical unit (bad idea). My new one was just that, which I discovered on the SECOND time I had it in. You would think they would be the same. You would think. I had to shave off the inner part of the housing on the PULLEY side (the other side is steel) with my shop vac handy to suck all the metal filings away from the unit. THEN it slipped back in as an "exact fit". Upper bold: easy. Lower bolt: where the hell is that hole? A mirror helps to see if the two holes are lined up. Use anti-seize on the threads to facilitate putting them back and removing them later. Torque: "just tight enough"...grrrr... Hook electrical fittings back to their respective spots. Battery post reattached (after cleaning it with the terminal do have a terminal brush, don't you?). Start the car. WHEW! NOW you can take the core back.

3) Drink a beer or your favorite adult beverage after you get home, knowing you just saved yourself $500-1000.

Total cost: $150 with a $50 core charge added (already refunded: take your receipt!). Time (in the Winter): about 4 hours total. Belt replacement being the most time-consuming.

Morals: never heard a HOWL like that one and it was a mystery until I removed the alternator and took a whiff of the unit, confirmed by my better-nosed girlfriend. It has been said the way to end a relationship is have her help you with your car (or teach her how to fly): choose your mechanic mates carefully. I love the sign "Caution: watch for flying tools". I try to be patient but..... she puts up with me......

Hope this helps. YES, you can do this..........:D
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