Last weekend, little Bee-Bee spat her dummy from the pram for the first time. I had spent the day clay pigeon shooting and boozing on the little island of Herm, on my return to Guernsey, Emma drove Bee-Bee into town to pick me up from the pub. When it was time to leave Emma went to start Bee-Bee and all we got was the dreaded solenoid click. By this time the days drink had caught up with me and I wasn’t on my top car fixing form.
The lights, windows, etc worked and so the batteries (our Surf is fitted with a winter kit which means it has two starter batteries for extra ummmph) were not completely flat. Although being a little drunk I still knew that this didn’t actually mean a thing, to start the car uses ALL the power and if the batteries had run down just a little they might not have had the kick to get the starter motor going. In my inebriated state I did the classic repeating myself thing, and constantly asked Emma if she had left the lights on.
Luckily with the bonnet raised someone recognised the international symbol for ‘car help needed’ and offered a jump start (from a smug Range Rover owner no less). We rolled the car back and attached the jumper cables. Still the starter motor just clicked away. I tried knocking the starter motor with a hammer to try and get the solenoid to engage, I also tried rocking the car back and forth in gear a few times too. The Range Rover owner left and two minutes later someone else offered a jump start, again nothing helped. In the end trying to fix a car in the dark, wet (it was raining...I hadn’t pee’d myself) and whilst drunk seemed a little pointless and so we pushed her back into a car park space and got a taxi home.
The next day with a clear head, daylight and a few tools we headed back down to the car. We initially tried turning the key in the hope that she might have magically fixed herself, but all we got was the dreaded click, click, click, click.
A quick mooch under the bonnet revealed one of the two fan belts that run to the alternator had snapped. The Surf has a three belt system (one for the air con and two for the alternator/water pump) so that if one snaps, the remaining belts will still power the water pump so the car won’t over heat. The remaining belt that was running to the alternator was loose and more than likely turned the alternator but not enough to maintain a regular charge to the batteries.
After a bit of tinkering and some butchering of some incredibly cheap jumper leads we managed to fire Bee-Bee up by jumping her off our Toyota MR2. I’m still a little confused why the Range Rover didn’t chuck out enough power to get her started whilst the little battery in the MR2 did the job fairly easily.
Anyway she was running and we managed to get her home. I ordered a belt kit with the plan to change all three belts whilst I was at it from Rough Trax. Two days later the belts turned up, along with a new heavy duty set of 3m jumper cables. I also collected my multimeter from work, with the plan of testing the alternator, starter motor and batteries properly.
I had Friday afternoon off work and decided to get busy on the belts. This was the first time I had worked on Bee-Bee properly and everything was going swimmingly, a few bolts were a bit awkward to reach but nothing out the ordinary...until! I got to the point where it was time to put the new belts on, the alternator was as loose as it would go on the adjustors but the belts seemed to by mm’s too short. I had no doubt that the belts weren’t correct as Rough Trax specializes in Hilux Surf’s. The only reason I could think of was that because the alternator had recently been replaced and that maybe the new one was not a stock Toyota part and the spacing was set-up slightly differently. Anyway after an hour of trying every trick in the trade to get them on I decided I had enough for one day as the light was dropping.
Feeling very disheartened I hit up the Hilux Surf forum with the hope that someone else had encountered the same problem and that the answer was awaiting me in html format. No such luck. In bed that evening I had a bit of a brainwave; if I removed all the alternator bolts rather than just releasing the tension on it, then I could angle the alternator, hook the belts over and bolt it back in place with the belts on. In theory it seemed like a good idea. On Saturday morning I logged on to the forum again and posed the question, being slightly impatient I didn’t bother waiting for anyone to reply and decided to just crack on with it.
The alternator is held in place with just two bolts; one acts as a pivot and attaches it to the engine whilst the other bolts it to the tension adjustment set-up. It was a bit of a squeeze to reach both of these but they came out without too much of a fight.
The alternator on the other hand was well and truly wedged in place between both sides of the pivot bracket, with some seriously wiggling/prying it dropped out. Having the alternator loose meant that it was easy to hook the two fan belts over the pulley. When came the time to put the alternator back I was faced with yet another problem. The mount on the engine block where the alternator pivots has a shim in it that tightens up against the alternator to clamp it in place when you tighten the main alternator bolt. This shim was wedged in position, to the point where I wasn’t even sure it was supposed to move. The shim being wedged in place meant getting the alternator back in between the mounts was nigh on impossible. Again I went to the forum for help, and again being impatient I didn’t wait around for an answer. I popped to the hardware store and bought a nut, bolt and washer set-up with the idea of sandwiching the shim back in place by tightening the nut and bolt through it. It worked, with the shim back in the open position it gave me loads more room to play with and slipping the alternator back in with the belts on was a piece of cake. The second bolt was a little more annoying to get in but it went with a bit of persistence. After that everything went back together fairly straight forward.
Once back together with the batteries in place I checked them with the meter and discovered they still had just under 12v in them. I tested the new jumper cables and she started first time, I checked the meter reading again and the batteries read at 14.3v so no problems with the alternator. I left it running for 10 minutes to build up some charge and switched her off and tried her again, she started first time.
So what should have been a simple 30/40 minute job turned into about a 3 – 4 hour job. Once I had finished I checked back on the forum and discovered that a few people had commented on my post, most advised it was a bad idea and pretty much not possible.
So despite all the problems and against the odds I was just happy that I managed to find a way to do it. Although in hindsight there may have been an easier way to do it by removing the water pump pulley and hooking the belts over. Anyway, it has been about 10 years since I have worked on any cars and if I had not been able to sort this it would have really knocked my confidence.
One thing it has taught me is that improvising works but having the correct tools for the job really speeds up the process and lessons the stress.