Colder temperatures are fast approaching, and with colder temperatures comes increased strain on your car’s moving bits. This means you’re more likely to get that often familiar squealing noise upon start-up. It’s almost always caused by your alternator or power steering belts slipping in the cold weather.
This is because cold rubber doesn’t grip so well, also because you’re more likely to have lots of electric things operating (fan/lights/wipers) in winter which adds more resistance against the moving belts, and also because the belts may be nearing the end of their lives and getting worn out and loose. Tightening a belt could be seen as temporary solution, but it generally works.
While my Suzuki Swift has never squealed, I noticed that one of the belts has started to make a chirping noise on cold mornings. So while I tighten the belts on the car, I’ll be taking photos so you can do the same. It’s not as scary as it sounds and you can do it yourself if you have some basic tools and a free afternoon.
There are two belts on the passenger side of the engine (on left hand drive vehicles). One looks after the alternator and water pump, and the other looks after the power steering and air conditioning. I’m going to tighten both belts a little. The picture above shows the area where the first belt is, called the alternator belt. For this you will need a 12mm wrench/spanner.
Looking straight down at the belt, you’ll see the alternator and this bolt circled above. Spray the bolt with some lubricant first because it probably hasn’t moved in years! Wait a moment for the lubricant to soak in, then undo the bolt by turning it anticlockwise. If you’re lucky, the alternator will move if you push on it (but I doubt it!) allowing the alternator to slide up and down the long hole in that arm.
Jack up the car and remove the wheel on the passenger side (if your car is left hand drive) and remove the plastic splash guard. This will give you access to the bottom of the alternator.
Now you can stick your head under the wheel arch and look up at the alternator. You’ll see the bolt (circled in red) that the alternator is hinged on. This is probably seized up with all kinds of mud and gunk, so give it a good spray with lubricant from all angles and both sides.
Let it soak for a few minutes and give the area a good whack or two with a hammer, just to shock it into loosening up. I admit that these tips aren’t pretty, and I’m no mechanic, but if you need a quick fix then they should sort you out.
With everything all lubricated nicely, and with the top bolt loosened, you can now put some pressure on the alternator with a strong metal rod. Make sure you’re putting the pressure of the metal rod against the metal of the engine, not a plastic part which could break. Then, pull your end of the rod towards the front of the car to push the alternator back.
It requires a little multi-tasking if you’re alone, but you can use your foot to apply pressure to the rod, while using your hands to tighten the alternator adjuster bolt at the same time. It should be tight enough to stop any squeaking noises, but not so tight that the belt could break. This is where you have to use your instincts. A handy rule of thumb is that when complete, the belt should only move by about 3 or 4 millimetres when you push on it.
Once you’re satisfied the belt is tight enough, put the plastic splash-guard back in place, put the tyre back on, and we’ll move onto the second belt. This one looks after the power steering pump & the air conditioning compressor. This one’s also a little easier to adjust, although somewhat tricky to get access to.
Start by spraying these two bolts with lubricant. After you’ve let it soak in, loosen the tension pulley nut (circled in red) by turning it anticlockwise a few times. This will allow the whole pulley (the thing with the belt on it) to move up or down. Once the nut in red has been loosened, tighten the tension pulley adjusting bolt (circled in blue) by turning it clockwise.
It’s a pain in the butt to get a wrench in there but with each clockwise turn, the whole pulley will gradually creep upwards and the belt will tighten. Tighten it until it’s quite firm, but not overly firm. Again, you’ll have to use your instincts – or a belt tensioning tool – but they cost money.
Once the belt is firm, tighten the tension pulley but (red) again, to make sure everything stays in place… and that’s it! If you’ve done the belts up tight enough, then your squeaks and squeals should be gone and you can enjoy starting your car without waking up the neighbourhood!
And now for the disclaimer:
Your belts might be completely worn out and tightening them could make them snap soon afterwards. In that case, just buy new belts and use these instructions to install them. Also, I should point out if you tighten the hell out of your belts then you could put lots of strain on the bearings in your pumps & pulleys. And of course I should also add the ultimate disclaimer: I am not a mechanic and you should do everything on this page at your own risk. Honestly, the world would be a happier place if we didn’t need to put disclaimers on everything but that’s life.
Now get out there and have a great day!