What could be causing Glen to burn through so many alternator belts?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Jun 01, 1995

Dear Tom and Ray:

My work vehicle is a 1976 Chevy G-30 van with a 350 engine. My problem is that I keep burning up alternator belts. If I turn on the headlights or AC, I'm likely to smoke the belt. It's as if the alternator stops turning and the belt keeps going. The result is a fried belt. I've had so much practice, that I can replace the belt in five minutes flat. I've used belts from different manufacturers and the tension is OK. The pulley alignment is OK. I've replaced the alternator three times. I must have a big time electrical problem of some kind, right? The best shade-tree mechanic in the neighborhood says that only Click and Clack can handle this one!

RAY: Boy was he wrong, Glen.

TOM: This IS a puzzling one. If the alternator is good, the belt is good, the tension is good, and the pulleys are good, the only thing I can think of is that something is dripping onto the belt and making it slip.

RAY: If you're leaking power steering fluid, for instance, it could be dripping slowly right onto the alternator belt. The belt might work fine under normal conditions, but when demand on the alternator is great, the fluid might make the belt slip. So that when you turn on the lights or the AC, and the alternator gets harder to turn, the belt slips and starts smoking.

TOM: If that's not the answer, we're going to have to pursue my brother's theory, which involves space aliens and Betty Crocker Frosting. So see if you can find a leak. I'll bet one turns up.

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