I have pretty much no mechanical ability. I know this. There are certainly things that I can do… like change the oil, but where we’re at now with on-street parking it’s not worth the minimal difference in price for the convenience. That’s about the extent of my ability though. I can change batteries, air filters, maybe an oil filter, and am now confident I could install an alternator… but that’s about it. I won’t do brakes.
This morning, on my way to work, I ‘m going down a side street in Mt. Lebanon and the battery light & Brake warning light both come on at the same time. I know this usually isn’t good. Two lights generally = “oh shit”. My power steering was gone. I checked that level, and the brake fluid level… both were in the good range. I had pulled over in front of a nice large house on a side street in Mt. Lebanon.
I called my wife to come get me, took her to work, & commandeered her car for the day… so I could figure out what was going on. In having no mechanical knowledge… I have “a guy” that I trust with all my auto repairs. Only problem being the auto place is where I grew up, not where I currently live. I called the guy to ask what the meaning of the battery charge & brake warning light combo could be. (My wife Googled it on her phone, but I wanted to confirm.) He was thinking alternator too… I thought I was going to have to learn to replace an alternator today. Towing the car to where I grew up and paying a professional to install an alternator weren’t in the budget this week.
After getting prices from several local auto places (& after posting on Facebook/Twitter and maybe Google+ asking for advice, and looking around online on how to install an alternator), I decided to go check my car out again before buying an alternator. Luckily… I noticed something was missing: a belt. I have no idea what it’s called… but it connects the alternator & power steering. (Which I found out after a 2nd call to my “guy” to confirm that all the symptoms would be the same.)
So, a belt seemed easier & cheaper than the alternator. Sadly, I have no idea where the first belt went. I traced my route several times… no belt on the road, or on the side of the road. Someone must have grabbed it minutes after I dropped it. I had to go on the advice of the helpful guys at Advanced Auto. I’ve had good experiences with them in the past… their pro-rated battery warranty is killer.
I go to Advanced Auto location one… and get the belt that’s recomended for my car. I never questioned if it was the belt I needed… I mean, their database wouldn’t be wrong, would it?
An interesting aside, that I will chuckle about until the end of time… The guy at Advanced Auto location1 tried to sell me a belt that was $18.99, but even thought the computer said there were 2 in stock… he couldn’t find them. So, he said there was one for $11.99. I asked if I should be worried about the difference in price… if it meant a great deal of difference in quality. He said “Well, yeah… but this is all we have. Basically, the cheap one is made overseas and the expensive one is made here.” That made me feel better. It’s a Subaru. I don’t care where the parts came from. They’re all probably from Japan or Mexico even though it was all assembled in Indiana. When I got the cheaper belt… and went to install it, it said “MADE IN U.S.A.” in big white letters. I literally laughed out loud. Can we get over this “other countries are inferior to us in making stuff” thing? It’s 2011. Advanced Auto ought to put a bullshit meter on that guy.
Well, the physical removal of the bolts, the belt cover, and loosening of the alternator was ridiculously simple. The belt wouldn’t quite go on. No biggie, I thought. There’s got to be something else I can loosen… or maybe I’m not thinking of something else. I called by uncle who’s a tinkerer and who has shown me how to replace a starter for some advice. I figured there’s some magic shoehorn kind of move where I can slip the belt on, no problem. After a chat, we assumed that I had done everything… I just needed a bigger belt. He even looked up the part number for me online. Armed with knowledge and confidence, I headed back to Advance Auto location one. I described my new dilemma, asked for & received the larger belt, and headed back to my ghetto Subaru broken down in a fancy neighborhood.
The new longer belt went on with little effort, and then… wouldn’t pull taught even when the alternator was lifted the while way up. My patience was being tested today. I called Advanced Auto… and asked… if there was a size in between the two sizes I had. I was told that there was, but that I probably didn’t want it. The guy told me to un-bolt the pulley from the power steering, and move it to make the smaller belt fit. I could tell that even if I got the smaller belt to fit, there wouldn’t be enough slack to lift the alternator off of the close by A/C belt. (I learned some new terms today.)
I went to Advanced Auto location #2, also thankfully close by… and asked for the in-between belt. I was again told that I probably wanted the smaller one again if the bigger one didn’t fit. I went through my explanation of why I wanted the middle size… and was advised to buy both the smaller and middle size (that all said made in the USA and were the cheaper brand by the way), and to really try to make the smaller one fit “because that’s what the computer says belongs on the car”. Good logic, but we’re past that.
For poops n’ giggles, I tried the smaller one… again… and ran into the same problem… again. I used the in-between size, and it fit perfectly. There’s enough room to loosen it if I need to, and there’s enough room to tighten it if I need to. It’d Goldilocks’ proverbial “just right”. Thanks to Advanced Auto’s awesome return policy, I was able to return/exchange all the belts I didn’t use. I returned the last one again to Advanced Auto location 2.
(Odd aside #2 – the longer belt was $1.07 cheaper than the shorter belt – but also “MADE IN U.S.A.”.)
That’s 4 trips to 2 different Advanced Autos to buy 3 different sized belts to find the 1 that fit.
So, what should have taken me about 5 minutes took all day. and probably half a tank of gas. At any rate, it’s done. $11-ish for a belt is cheaper than $129-ish for an alternator and me doing it = more savings.
If you have a 1998 Subaru Legacy Outback and need to replace the belt that goes from the Alternator to the Power Steering… and the prescribed 345K5 doesn’t fit. Try the 350K5 before you try the 355K5. I’m not arguing with Advanced Auto’s HAL 9000 or “made in ‘Merica” employees. I’m just sayin’.
Thanks to everyone who helped today… with comments, advice, and moral support… whether it was by phone or social networking. I really appreciate it and am glad I had so many people willing to help out! If you ever need auto advice, don’t call me. You can call me for cooking or PC advice… maybe even general electronic gadgetry.