Kia Troubles

Wondering if anybody can offer suggestions.

I recently did the timing belt on my 2009 Kia Spectra. And while doing that, I replaced the accessory belts since they had to come off anyway to The timing belt went fine, but since then I’ve had consistent problems with the AC compressor drive belt. First problem was the tensioner pulley fell off the car. Not sure how that happened. I torqued it to spec. Car is a salvage title (“Rebuilt”) and had clearly been hit on that side so maybe it was just faulty. In any case, losing the AC belt took out the belt that drives the water pump and alternator. And since the power steering is driven by a belt off the water pump, that pretty much took out everything.

Replaced the alternator belt while I went out looking for a replacement for the AC belt tensioner and idler pulley.

Found one on Amazon that included the axle and tension adjuster screw. It’s an almost but not quite correct match. The incorrect aspect is that there’s not quite sufficient space between the hex head on the adjuster screw and the flange that serves as the bearing surface to fit into the slot on the mounting bracket on the engine. Some work chucking the screw into a drill and spinning it with a file on the underside of the hex head (not a load-bearing component) took off about 50 mils (one and a quarter mm to you metric folk) and that was enough to let it fit.

The problem is that the AC drive belt tends to walk off the pulley–outboard so that it starts to collide with the belt driving the alternator and water pump, taking it out and…suddenly we’ve got our fingers crossed that the battery will last long enough to get home and hauling the steering wheel around by main force because no power steering.

I’ve tried various tension levels in the idler pulley. Doesn’t help. Tried replacing the pulley with one specific to the Kia thinking maybe there’s some subtle difference in dimensions between this one and the “correct” one. Nope. Same problem there.

I’ve been through four AC belts and three power steering belts (currently have the old one on) trying to solve this problem. The only parts I’ve touched in this subsytem are the harmonic balancer (which drives the belt), the tensioner, and the belt itself. The belt driving the water pump and alternator is fine, which suggests the problem is not with the harmonic balancer. That leaves the tensioner or something else just chose this moment to let go.

Any suggestions?


On the way home from the ice rink today, there was a brief “growling” sound from the front of my car, the steering in my car suddenly got heavy, and then the electrical fault warning light went off. By that combination I knew that I’d lost the alternator belt.

I promptly drove to the nearest auto parts store (wasn’t going to chance trying to get home on just the battery). Bought not one but two alternator belts (one to get home on and one in case I damaged the first on the way. Also a 12 mm combination wrench because of course I didn’t have my tool kit with me. (Need to get a halfway decent tool set to leave in the car.) Replaced the alternator belt in the parking lot of O’Reilly Auto Parts. Old one didn’t break exactly but had walked off the pulleys and basically shredded lengthwise. Part of it, about half the normal width, was still present stuck between the pulleys.

Now normally this would be just further aggravation but, as it happens, this may be the clue I needed to figure out the problem with the AC belt. You see, the AC belt had been walking off its pulley with disturbing regularity. Normally, that would mean something out of alignment but the only component that could be out of alignment that I’d messed with at all was the harmonic balancer (had to take it off as part of the timing belt change). However, the alternator belt, also run off the balancer, hadn’t before this been giving me any trouble so I didn’t think the balancer could be the problem. Now I’m wondering if maybe the extra length and more “open” routing of the alternator and water pump belt might have made it more tolerant of a misalignment. In any case, losing both alternator and AC belt is a strong indicator that the problem lays with the harmonic balancer.

So right now I’m waiting for the engine to cool down before getting under the car and checking. Since the alternator pulley is on the front of the harmonic balancer, I can check it against water pump and alternator with a straight edge. Can’t do that with the AC.

5 thoughts on “Kia Troubles”

  1. See if you can find a “flanged” idler pully, with ridges on both sides of the pully surface. This is commonly done on serpentine belts (which I’m surpised you don’t have – a single belt that winds around all over the place and drives everything…) and that should help keep the belt from “walking” off of the pully.

    However, the fact that your belt is walking off the pully speaks to a malalignment somewhere. Suggest using a yardstick as a visual aid – drop the edges on the pullys to make sure they’re aligned in/out; and lay it flat to look for twist of one pully relative to another. It’s not 100% accurate (yardsticks get a lot of abuse,) but you’re not measuring with the yardstick, you’re just using it to help you focus.



  2. I read about harmonic flywheels where the elastic part has begun failing, and the belt pulley begins moving independently of the part fastened to the crankshaft.


  3. New update: After losing the alternator belt I got the car home with the replacement belt, got it up on a jackstand and pulled the belts. Checking with a straightedge, the alternator and water pump are nicely aligned. Harmonic balancer, however, is a bit inboard of being in plane with the other two. I removed and reinstalled it. Same issue. I’m not sure how that can have happened. Unless maybe there’s a washer or something on the inside that’s missing. None of the harmonic balancer replacement vids nor the timing belt replacement vid mention such a component. There is this metal piece that’s keyed to the crankshaft to turn with it and fills the hole in the timing belt cover over the sprocket. That, at least, is not missing. Nothing, however, that makes since to have been the result of the timing belt change which is when issues started. So I’m very puzzled.


    1. Eric O of South Main Auto ran into a Kia Harmonic Balancer problem a few years ago.

      Or search, south main auto kia harmonic balancer failure on YouTube.


  4. Belated final update. Replacing the harmonic balancer solved the problem. Not bad for a car with (at the time) 150,000 miles on it. I’ve put another 14,000 on it since (between work, getting my daughter both to her school and apprenticeship at the tattoo shop, and skating, I drive a lot) with nary a problem.


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