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Timing Belt Replacement on my 2008 PT Cruiser

This is the service that pretty much killed my 2002 PT Cruiser. The shop messed up so many things I was still fixing the car months later. "Next time I'm doing the job myself". So here we are, "next time" is now. Replacing a timing belt should not be difficult. However, on the PT Cruiser, just getting to the timing belt is a lot of work.

This will be another of my STEP-BY-STEP procedures. I have done the research on-line and downloaded the Chrysler factory service procedure and photos. There are several different procedures published for this work, but I recommend always getting and reading the official factory procedure for any service. The factory published procedure indicates we have to discharge the AC system and disconnect the lines. I do not have the equipment to do that, and this is where the other on-line research becomes important. It is very good to know someone has managed to do this job without disconnecting AC lines.

I suspect this is a case where a professional shop will spend less time and money getting the AC system completely out of the way, than they would spend working around the system. Whatever is faster for a repair shop is usually less expensive for a customer. When the customer is doing the work, time is usually less important than possibly messing-up a totally unrelated system.

In addition, when working on my own stuff, there are usually side issues that a repair shop will ignore. One thing in particular is the battery on this car. The battery is hidden under the air box and usually gets less-frequent maintenance. I plan to remove my battery and thoroughly clean the area. I will also remove the fan assembly, and completely remove the radiator. It's time to replace the coolant anyway, and it looks like removing this stuff will greatly improve access for the timing belt job. The AC condenser coil will then float loose on the AC lines while jacking the engine up and down.

This lowered Cruiser is way too low for regular store-bought vehicle ramps. The body hits the ramps long before the tires are even close. My ramps are a set of vehicle loading ramps about 8-feet long. These ramps can easily be set up to safely put the front tires off the ground and just about any convenient height. In this case 16" is is a good height. That provides plenty of room to work on a creeper from below, but not too high to still lean on the fender and work from above. Do make sure you are working on a floor or good solid ground. Block the rear tires so they can't move.

Take lots of photos. Digital photos are free, and may help a bunch when memory fails while putting it back together. That is obviously not the factory air filter box. The aftermarket air filter systems don't add any horsepower, but they "sound" faster, grin. I almost closed the hood at this point. Everything is jammed in this engine compartment with not a millimeter to spare. Too late, I already bought the parts.

TOOLS NEEDED

Most mechanics tool sets will have the required combination wrenches and sockets. Everything on this car is metric. The most commonly used sizes are 8,10,13,15,18 and 19 mm. Match the drive size to the fastener size. Generally use 1/4" drive rachets for 8-10 mm, 3/8" drive for 13-15 mm, and 1/2" drive for 18-19 mm. A big assortment of extention bars and swivels is essential when working on this car. A good 3-jaw gear puller, straight-edge, ruler, a lug wrench, and one special T55 Torx bit for the motor mount bolt. An air impact wrench is extremely helpful. Gasket cement, and some oil-resistant silicone sealant. Assorted pry bars and drift pins will help align things when putting bolts back in. More is better, you can't have too many good tools. Other special electrical tools are described under Step-4.

Step 1 -

See that rubber seal around the front and sides of the engine compartment? It pulls straight up and off the flange.

There's the seal curled and tossed on the windshield.

Step 2 -

Now remove the Grill Cover. It's bolted at the top, then just pull down and forward to release the clips on either side. It's plastic, don't break it.

Step 3 -

Remove the top radiator support bracket. It's bolted at the top and to a brace in the middle. Leave the hood release bracket and cable attached.

The radiator support might be able to just dangle by the cable, but that looked like it was going to be in the way, and probably scratch the paint. Solved the problem with some industrial bubble wrap and bungee cords.

The next few steps may not be strictly necessary, but it is pretty obvious why it was a good idea to do a little additional disassembly on this particular car. If you don't want to remove your intake manifold, fan shroud, or radiator, that's fine. Just skip those steps, but I can't guarantee how the rest of this precedure is going to work out with those items in place.

Step 4 -

The aftermarket air filter and breather tube come out easy. One hose clamp and a couple of electrical plugs. There are a few other electrical plugs. Disconnect the center engine plug from the computer module on the firewall, and everything that connects to the intake and throttle body. There are several electrical connectors and hoses. Masking tape works well if you need to label them. I've done this a few times, and don't need labels anymore.

The main reason I disconnect and safely tuck wiring away is to prevent damage to the wire or connectors. We will be jacking the engine up and down. Heavy parts can easily slice through wiring, and crush plastic connectors.

Special tools for harness connectors. There are at least three different types of electrical connectors. Look for a red clip. The red clip is a lock that prevents the connector from coming unlatched. The clip usually pulls out slightly. Some pull out in-line with the connector, others go across the connector. Once that clip is released, there is a push-tab that releases the connector. The tools above are what I have found works best. A small 90 degree pick with a sharp point will easily grab and pull some of the locking clips. Others seem to be handled better by the paint can tool. These are usually given-away at the hardware store when you buy paint. That hook end is a great mini pry bar for lots of small things, not just paint can lids.

Side cutters: Maybe someone can successfully release and re-use wire harness hanger clips. These diabolical devices wrap around the harness and hang it from a convenient hole with a serrated pin. My success rate pulling and re-using those clips is worse than 1 in 10. Side cutters quickly dispose of the clips. A conventional wire tie wrap will secure the harness to the same hole in far less time than it takes to fiddle with the factory hanger clips.

Step 5 -

The intake, and throttle body are off. It almost goes that fast. Two clips release the plastic cover over the throttle and cruise cables. Press to release, and set the cover aside. Don't force it, it's plastic. Roll the throttle cam up by hand to unwrap the cables, align the loose end of the cables with the slot, then slide the ends out. Both cable ends come out the same hole. Both cable jackets are anchored together in the same bracket slot. The outer cable has a clip, once released both cables slide loose. Tuck the cables and wiring out of the way. There are five 10 mm bolts across the front of the intake, then one large bolt through a bracket in the back (near the throttle body). Do inspect and protect the seal around each intake port. Stuff rags into the intake ports on the engine, so nothing gets dropped or crawls in there.

Did anyone see the little nest in the middle of the last photo?

A field mouse made a cozy nest under my intake manifold. Wonder how many trips he has taken with me?

The mouse nest has been removed. Removing the spark plugs isn't absolutely essential, but it makes the engine much easier to rotate by hand. While we are on top, unbolt the power steering reservior, two bolts hold the bracket to the back of the engine. Don't attempt to disconnect the hoses, just slide it as far as it will go away from the timing cover. Disconnect the engine ground strap from the torque strut bracket.

By now we have accumulated a bunch of nuts bolts and small parts. When possible put most sub-assemblies back together with hardware in place, exactly the way they came off the car. Clear plastic containers work great for loose hardware and small parts. Use a different container for each step or series of parts as they are remmoved. The containers can be labeled with a marker if necessary. Do yourself a favor and don't toss all the hardware and small parts in one container. Sorting what goes where later can be a real pain. It's also not a good idea to drop tools in there like I did. That screwdriver was lost until I started going through my parts cans to reassemble the car.

Step 6 -

The radiator drain is located on the driver's side. It only takes a quick turn of the thumb screw to open the drain. The fan assembly unbolts from the back side of the radiator. Most of the bolts and the fan shroud are easier to remove from beneath the car. The fan has two electrical connectors at the lower left corner. Disconnect the larger one that connects to the vehicle harness. The rest of the wiring, connectors, and relays stay with the fan and shroud. Disconnect the lower radiator hose and the shroud comes out the bottom. Then disconnect the top hose and unbolt the radiator from the AC condenser coil. The radiator lifts out the top.

Step 7 -

The lower radiator hose can now be removed from the engine with a standard pair of Channel-Lock pliers. The power steering bracket and pump are now very easy to access. They will be unbolted, but first we need to take the main accessory drive belt off.

While we have the opportunity, clean up around the battery and inspect those shift cable bushings. One bushing is visible in this photo. If the shift bushings are worn out, the shifter will be very loose and might not work at all. Now, is a good time to replace the bushings if they are wearing out. There is another set of bushings at the shifter, but the ones that usually cause trouble are at this end.

Mix up a little baking soda and water for the area under and around the battery. If it bubbles, that is battery acid eating away at your car. Don't get the baking soda solution on top of the battery. Some on a wet rag can be used to scrub the battery clean. Hose everything down with clean water to rinse.

Step 8 - Transfer vehicle to Jack Stands.

Up to this point the car was on ramps, but now the right front tire needs to come off so we can remove the fender liner, accessory drive belts, and motor mounts. It is easy to transfer the car from ramps to jack stands with a floor jack. Use the floor jack to raise each front tire off the ramp, slide the ramp out of the way, and replace it with a heavy-duty jack stand under the vehicle frame. The lift point on the frame is just behind each front tire. Use wood blocks so the jack stand does not scratch paint. This is an old gravel driveway area, and my stands have a large base area. If there is any question set the stands on 3/4" plywood to prevent them from going into the ground and tipping.

Step 9 -

To remove the inner fender splash shield there are three bolts that go up into the unibody frame. The bolts are in a row front to back, cleverly concealed in a narrow channel behind the flange I'm pointing to with the red arrow. The bolts come out easy enough from below with a long extension. Once the three bolts are out, there are two plastic push pins that hold it in place underneath the car. The fender liner comes out with a little bending and folding.

Step 10 -

Support the engine under the oil pan, right behind the lower torque strut in this photo. In order to remove the engine mounts, and timing covers, the engine will have to be jacked up and down. Use a block of wood to protect the oil pan. A piece of scrap 2x4 or 2x6 works great. The jack will remain in place to support the engine until the motor mounts are reinstalled.

Step 11 -

Remove the upper torque strut. It probably isn't going to come out of there yet, so don't bother. Just slide it into the void area to the front for now. The black bracket bolted to the shock tower needs to come out, then we will be able to fish both of them outta there. The cruise control actuator is bolted to this same bracket. Remove two nuts, and try not to drop the small double-stud bracket. It will fall loose when the nuts come off.

Here's what it took to get this bolt out. Do this one first, the others are much easier to get.

This is the bracket and upper torque strut, out at last.

This is a diagram of the belts and accessories that may help figure out what's what.

Step 12 -

The Red Arrow points to the tensioner for the main accessory drive belt. Put a 19 mm box end wrench on the nut and pull the tensioner towards the crank pulley (blue arrow) to take the tension off the belt do it can be removed. The alternator is on a second belt that is much harder to remove. Loosen pivot bolt at the bottom of the alternator, loosen the adjuster lock bolt at the top of the alternator, then loosen the adjuster bolt. The adjuster bolt faces towards the firewall. As the adjuster is loosened counter-clockwise, the alternator will s-l-o-w-l-y move closer to the engine. It helps to be able to work blind, with one hand, since that is all there is room for between the engine and firewall. Get comfortable, you will be in this position for a long time.

Step 13 -

Remove the pencil strut and lower torque arm (yellow arrows). The blue arrow points to the balancer bolt. Remove that bolt. An impact wrench does it in a moment. If an impact wrench isn't available, put the car in first gear, jamb something in the brake rotors to keep the front hubs from rotating, then remove the balancer bolt.

Step 14 -

Remove the balancer. My three-jaw puller has a cage that prevents the three jaws from slipping. In this case, any three-jaw puller may work since something can be jammed in the slot behind each jaw. The puller needs to stay centered and square. Some pullers come with pilot shafts in various lengths. e also need a pilot shaft long enough to jack the pulley off the crank. These may or may not come with the puller. A piece of 3/8" steel dowel, or a long bolt will work as well. Careful, what we don't want to do is mess up the threads in the crankshaft.

With the crank pulley off, there are four 8mm bolts holding the lower timing cover in place. Get those out and then remove the lower timing cover. Finally, after several hours of work, we get to see some of the timing belt!

Put the crank bolt back in the crank and snug it down. We will be using that to turn the engine when we start aligning the timing marks in a few steps. It will be too late to put this bolt in after the engine has been raised up.

CHRYSLER RANT - TIME TO VENT

Please skip this section if you love Chrysler, and feel they can do no wrong. The original plan for this step by step procedure was to include just enough personal side issues to be a little more fun to read than a service manual. From previous experience, I knew this car was difficult to work on, but thought it would be possible to avoid a rant about vehicle design that totally ignores maintenance procedures. I was wrong. The additional time required to do any repair work on most modern vehicles is a completely unnecessary expense for the consumer, and should be grounds for a class-action lawsuit.

CASE IN POINT:

This is the right engine mount through-bolt. Most of us have a set of Torx bits, but I bet few people have this monster T55 size.

When confronted by this fastener, I had to stop work and go rummage in every tool box to find something / anything that would extract the offensive goofball piece-of-xxxx! What I found was an odd-size hex driver bit in a brake service tool set that was a very loose fit in that T55 bolt. The point is that this special Torx head bolt was completely unnecessary. There is absolutely no reason this bolt couldn't have been a standard hex head. In fact, a hex head bolt screwed right into place when it came time to put this back together. The next person to work on this vehicle won't have to deal with that odd-ball Torx fastener.

RANT PART B:

Many times up to this point it would have been very nice if the designers had left just 1/4" more space. This entire procedure has been a series of completely frustrating experiences. Removing each part has some added degree of difficulty that clearly could have been avoided by better design. In many cases when a part falls loose, it is almost impossible to remove from the cavity it is trappen in.

After finally exposing the entire timing belt, there is almost no room to work between the vehicle frame and the the engine. Aligning timing marks should be easy, however, on this vehicle there is no way to get a good straight-on view of any part of the timing belt and gears.

Adding further insult to this procedure is the water pump. Few of the water pump bolts are accessible. The water pump is located behind the back part of the plastic timing cover. It is impossible to replace the water pump without first removing the timing gears from each camshaft so the rear timing cover can be removed. Only a complete moron would design it that way. When the shop replaced the timing belt on my 2002 PT Cruiser they told me "the water pump couldn't be replaced because the bolts were frozen". They lied. Clearly, the small water pump fasteners didn't stop them from removing it. This brainless design-flaw adds another set of totally unnecessary steps to this service procedure. All Chrysler had to do was leave an opening in the timing cover where the water pump is, or make part of the timing cover removable, separate from the timing gears.

Rant Over - Time to jack up the engine

With the engine supported by a jack, the motor mount cross bolt should come out easy, once you find a T55 bit or something else to loosen it with.

At this point most instructions call for disconnecting the exhaust system, evacuating and saving the AC system charge. I didn't see any need to do either of those. The the top torque strut and bracket are already off. The AC condenser Coil is hanging free. It is theoretically possible to remove the exhaust system bolts from somewhere back under the catalitic converter, but it will take every extension in the tool box to reach the bolts. I studied it for a few minutes, and even got a socket on one of the bolts. Exhaust hardware is always completely frozen, and very difficult to remove without breaking something. I decided to jack up the engine until the exhaust pipe hit the floor and see what it looked like.

No, the exhaust pipe does not have to come loose. Just before the exhaust pipe hit the floor, the engine plate mounting bolts were accessible above the frame. Remove three very long bolts. Two bolts are in recessed holes. The third bolt is hidden down low in front of where that goofy Torx cross-bolt was. Fishing the three long bolts and the large motor mount plate out of there took more than a few minutes, with the engine as high as it would go. The cast iron motor mount plate is larger than most of the available holes it might come out of. Once that bracket is out, remove three 8mm bolts and the top timing cover comes off.

This is all the removed parts set aside in my trailer for safe-keeping. That's a lot of stuff, and we don't see all the things hanging by hoses, like power steering pump, and AC condenser coil. Few of the remaining images are photos, The photos I attempted did not come out well. There just isn't enough room to work or take decent photos. In most cases there is barely room to get one hand in there.

TIMING BELT INSTALLATION and ALIGNMENT

This is a lot harder than the old V8 timing chains I used to slap on in a few moments. Before removing the old belt, rotate the engine clockwise until the timing mark is at Top Dead Center (TDC) and the cam pulleys are correctly aligned. This is why we reinstalled the crank bolt after removing the pulley. It is fairly easy to turn the engine clockwise using an open-end wrench on that bolt. Each cam pully is marked "UP" with an arrow indicating when they are in the correct position. The timing belt on my engine had obviously stretched. The cam timing gear marks did not align until the crank was well past the TDC mark! This explains why my mileage has gradually dropped. Retarded cam timing improves top end horsepower at the expense of low end torque and fuel mileage.

Do not think you can intentionally set your cam timing advanced or retarded by one tooth to get more horsepower or better fuel mileage. One tooth on the crank is 18 degrees. One tooth off is way more than the three to six degree range recommended for any cam tuning. Always install timing belt with cam gears aligned and Crank at TDC.

Once you have the engine at Top Dead Center with the cam gears aligned, go ahead and loosen the tensioner belt and remove the old timing belt. If your new parts includes a new idler and tensioner, remove the old ones now. Pay attention to how the old adjuster is mounted. I've tried to show and describe it below, but there is no substitute for seeing with your own eyes. This is when it became apparent that the water pump was located behind the back timing cover. That design flaw added another paragraph to the rant above.

The correct way to replace this water pump is to buy or make a special tool to hold each timing gear while removing the bolt, remove the cam gears, and unbolt the back timing cover from the engine. That's the correct way. At this point, working on this beast had completely used up my normally adequate supply of patience. I was seriously peeved. That is not a good state of mind to work on anything, and I probably should have taken a break. Instead, I got destructively creative. There are two bolts in the rear timing cover located near the water pump. Remove those and the cover around the water pump is fairly loose. Only one section of cover really needs to be removable to replace the water pump. So I notched the plastic cover between the holes that were already in it, then cut / snapped the mostly loose part of the cover off.

Do use gasket adhesive to hold the new water pump gasket in place while placing the new water pump and starting the bolts. Careful, these are small bolts and should not be over-torqued. Snap one off and the engine may have to be removed to drill out the broken bolt. That would add a bunch of unnecessary hours to this job.

Reinstall rear timing cover and cam gears (or just reinstall the creatively-modified partial rear timing cover in my case). The newly-broken part on my rear cover fit together and does not appear likely to move anywhere once the bolts that hold it to the engine are in place. Install the idler and belt tensioner. The idler is easy, just the one bolt, nothing fancy. The tensioner is a little less clear. The metal tang slips into a slot between two cast fingers on the block. The top plate of the adjuster should be at about 8 o'clock. Do not tighten the center bolt yet, finger-tight is fine.

This is the new tensioner that came in my kit. It is shown rotated with the tang and top plate in the "loose" 8 o'clock position it will be installed. This is where the timing belt will most easily slip onto the tensioner. Note that the hole in my new top plate is square, rather than 6mm hex most instructions describe. A 6mm hex bit still fits, but will slip before getting the tensioner set. In fact, the 6mm hex sticks just well-enough to drag the top plate around to the adjusted position, about 180 degrees counter-clockwise.

This photo shows how the adjuster is installed on the engine. The spring tang fits into the slot on the engine as the center lock bolt is started into the block. Look close and in this case, the setting notch appears to be rotated slightly too-tight. The tang should be centered in the notch. This setting may be in the "acceptable" range, but I'd take another whack at it. Try to center the notch on the tang.

The cam gears are a long ways away from the crank gear, and it's impossible to get right in front to see that everything lines up perfectly. Plus, it is difficult to pull all slack out of the belt while working around each pulley. Any slack will cause pulley movement when the belt is pulled tight. The trick is to know where the slack is most likely to be, and compensate for it by pre-setting pulley(s) slightly off to compensate for the expected movement.

Install the timing belt starting at the crank, work it around the water pump, idler, and cam gears in a counter-clockwise direction. Remove as much slack as possible while fitting the belt fully into the teeth. The final pulley is the Tensioner. It may be difficult to get the belt on that one. A thin piece of hard plastic cut from any plastic container makes a great tool to wrap around the pulley and shoe-horn the timing belt past the edge of the adjuster. Some belts may be slightly longer than others, or the belt might be pulled a little tighter around the pulleys, leaving more slack for the final spot. This cheap hard plastic "tool" also helps install other belts.

There is no real trick to this adjuster. With the timing belt in place and the center lock bolt just finger-tight, use a 6 mm allen wrench to rotate the top flange counter-clockwise until the lower plate with the setting notch starts to move clockwise against spring tension. There is no way to see it move, but a finger will let you feel it. While holding tension on the top plate with the allen wrench, work your other hand down in there with a rachet to tighten the nut. Then, get back where you can barely see the marker with a flashlight to check the adjustment. Loosen the bolt, and repeat this procedure, until the adjustment is correct. This would be so much easier if it was possible to see the adjustement while tightening the center bolt.

If done perfectly, with the left cam gear pre-set one-half tooth down from perfectly aligned, tightening the adjuster should end up with the crank still at TDC, and both cam gears perfectly aligned straight across. Good luck with that, it took me about six tries. If anything is wrong, loosen the adjuster, remove the timing belt and try again.

This is wrong. At first glance, the cam gear marks may appear to be aligned, but notice that the spokes on the timing gears do not go straight across. Compare this photo to the line drawing above to see what is wrong. The cam gears need to look EXACTLY like the drawing above. Almost right is still WRONG.

Once everything looks exactly right, definitely turn the engine two full turns clockwise using the crank bolt, and make sure everything still lines up perfectly. Then do it again. It's easy to see TDC approaching by watching the cam gears. Do not turn the engine using anything but the crank bolt, and only turn in the clockwise direction. If you go past TDC, go around two more turns clockwise.

HALLELUJAH! - REASSEMBLY CAN NOW BEGIN

Install upper and lower timing belt covers. Three bolts in top cover four in bottom cover.

At this point I still see absolutely no issue with my rear timing cover being intentionally broken.

Install engine support / power steering bracket. Three long bolts.

Install power steering pump and other pump bracket if removed.

Slowly lower engine to normal position and install motor mount through bolt.

Install engine damper/pulley, lower torque strut (loose), and top bolt for pencil strut (loose).

Install and tighten alternator belt. Tighten alternator lock and pivot bolts.

Install main accessory belt.

Slip upper torque strut into fender cavity, reinstall upper torque strut bracket to shock tower.

Install upper torque strut (loose), cruise control actuator, ground strap, and power steering reservior.

Install radiator if removed. Make sure rubber mounts slip into holes in lower frame.

Bolt AC condenser coil to radiator at two upper tabs. Condenser coil aligns with top of radiator core.

Slide fan assembly into place from below car. Install bolts at bottom and sides.

Connect lower radiator hose and power connector for fan assembly.

Install radiator top cover. Pins on radiator slip through rubber mounts.

Install 3 bolts in each side and one in the center. Don't tignten until all bolts are started. Don't force anything.

Install grille making sure all clips on both sides snap into place.

Install spark plugs, plug wires, wire connectors, and intake manifold.

Connect vaccuum hoses, and throttle cables.

Install or replace wire harness clips.

Install battery box and battery. Connect cables.

Install air filter assembly.

Before installing fender splash shield, the torque struts were installed "loose" in the steps above. Adjust torque struts by jacking front edge of engine, so the engine rotates up in front. The idea is to rotate, rather than raise the engine. The measurement at top torque strut must be as shown in the drawing below. Hold that adjustment with the jack while tightening all bolts for both torque struts, and completing installation of the pencil strut.

Install fender splash shield and check that no part of the plastic covers is dragging on belts or pulleys.

Fill radiator with 50:50 antifreeze and water.

Start engine, listen for noises, look underneath for leaks.

If all appears well get vehicle off jack stands and take for a short test drive on back roads where you can safely make a few turns, speed up, and stop. Park it, open the hood, and check for any issues.

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