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I've got a tri-belt system in my '98 with the 2.7L. One, or more, of the three belts is squeeling like made when the engine's cold. Last thing I need is for a belt to break driving 3 hours to the folks for christmas break.

I have the belts, and wrenches, but no tension gauge. How important is the guage? If it can be eyeballed, or heard, how can I tell if it's tight enough but not too tight? Is that a tool I can rent at Autozone or somewhere?
 

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My repair manual (Haynes) has some specs but I've always just eyballed it. No problems at all in the 14 years that I've had my beater, and the belts have been changed or have been on and off several times.
 

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The old-fashioned way was to apply somewhat firm thumb pressure in the middle of the longest unsupported span of the belt, and it should deflect about a half inch or so.

From what I've heard, most modern belts have so little stretch in them that an extra 100 lbs of tension only changes the deflection by a miniscule amount - say, 0.5" becomes 0.4999" - and you can't really tell if its quite a long way out of spec. So all the modern service manuals say use a tension guage. Problem is, I've never ever seen anyone selling them, much less using one. Everyone still does it the old fashioned way.

The saving grace is that you have to get it really really far off to break anything. If the tension is just double what it should be, most times that just results in increased wear & tear on what is attached to it. So, you may expect reduced life from your water pump, your power steering pump etc. --- Hmmm, these are components that most people have failing relatively frequently in the engine bay!

It may be that these things wear out faster for other reasons, and so you may as well not sweat getting the tension perfect. Most people just live with the idea that these components need replacing every several years, for whatever reason.
 
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