Of the three cars that litter the space immediately surrounding my house, our 1995 Peugeot 306 is by far the easiest to work on. It’s massively less complicated than the Audi or the Rover – it has just the one camshaft, not two or four, and it actuates just two valves per cylinder, not five or four. There aren’t many jobs on this car that I dread – and a recent screeching from the fanbelt was a fault that ought to be easy to remedy.
Even the simplest jobs can have their strange twists, though, and so it was to be with the 306. Read on for a mundane, yet strange tale of consequence and serendipity.
My wife doesn’t remember, but a long way back, we were rounding a corner near home and I heard a sharp metallic clang. It was the sort of sound that might have come from a piece of road detritus flung up against the underbody by a wheel, or perhaps something smallish parting company with the car. I assumed the former, and soon forgot all about it.
That was months back, anyway, and no ill-effects had been noticed. There had recently been an awful racket from the fanbelt, though, particularly with the headlights on, and I couldn’t recall ever having changed it before. So I invested £4.69 on a new part and set to work.
There’s loads of space under the 306 bonnet. The car was available with all manner of engines, up to 2.0-litre petrol and 1.9-litre diesel engines, the latter dressed with turbochargers and intercoolers and all kinds of junk, not to mention the power steering and air conditioning modules that so many 306s have cluttering up their engine compartments. No such nonsense here, though. The auxiliary drive belt runs only the alternator, and access is dead easy. It bode well for a simple job.
My hopes were dashed only seconds after I first deployed my trusty 16mm socket. The top securing bolt for the alternator (which needed to be slackened to swing the alternator down and loosen the belt) passes through a mounting bracket – and after slackening off I found said bracket to have cracked from top to bottom. Having any underbonnet component in half seems a poor state of affairs. Not a good start.
And I hadn’t got the fanbelt off yet, either. That required another bolt to be found and slackened, so I went looking for it. The alternator is held at the top, and then to a variable-length arm that moves the alternator in and out to increase or decrease tension. It’s quite an elegant little solution, really, and I easily found the bolt that fastens the sliding cradle. But I still had to slacken the arm from the engine block, by means of another bolt. So, where’s that then?
I easily found the hole through which the bolt passed, and another in the block into which the bolt engages. But where’s the bolt? Seriously, where was it? Had I failed to replace it after performing a now-forgotten repair years ago? Surely not? Or had it somehow worked its way loose over 22 years? Perhaps its escape accounted for that metallic clang I had heard all those months ago…
Suddenly, light was shed on the reason that the fanbelt had been making such a racket. It might not have been because it was slipping due to age, but because there wasn’t enough tension in it. And there wasn’t enough tension because the alternator was only actually being held in place by one bolt. This was a decidedly sub-optimal situation for a car that was in daily use – and needed to be back on the road for my wife to take to work on Monday.
A solution was needed. The old belt was now off, and was, pleasingly, perished and shiny to the point where it was in fair need of replacement anyway. But how was I going to get this alternator support arm properly secure? And what of that dodgy mounting bracket?
All of a sudden, I wished I was in my Dads garage. Pretty sure he’d have had a bolt to do the job. I could drive over, but that would be an hour and a half out of the day, and what if the bolt search came to nothing when I got there? But what were the alternatives? I live in a village, the car spares place I got the belt for would be closed today, it being Sunday, and there’s no guarantee they’d have a useable part there anyway. There’s a Peugeot dealer in nearby Colchester, but it would mean booking time off work for a trip into town on Monday, as well as another day the Peugeot spent off the road, and there’s always the risk of it not being in stock and / or the wrong part being ordered in. How do you buy a replacement bolt when you don’t have the original to compare?
In a wild display of optimism, I looked in all the little tubs of random thing-me-bobs that had been left in the garage by the previous owner. I know exactly what spare bits I’ve accumulated, and none of them would be any good at all in this application, but maybe somebody before I came along had been blessed with the foresight to leave me a spare alternator bolt for a 1995 Peugeot 306 1.4.
One old tub that previously contained Lyons Fab ice cream (a derivation of the wondrous Fab ice lolly) had a motley selection of brass bolts inside, presumably from some kind of woodworking project. They’d be no use here, but perhaps one of them could be modified? I took one that looked a likely suspect, and lined it up with the hole in the arm and the aperture in the block. Remarkably, it was the right diameter. More remarkably, the thread was a fit, too.
What wasn’t ideal, though, was the length. There would be a good two inches of excess bolt, and its head would sit in the direct path of the fanbelt. And I wouldn’t be able to cut it down, either – the top inch of the bolt’s shaft was threaded, and I don’t have a die set with which to extend the thread. Nor, for that matter, does my armory boast have any way of cutting a bolt down anyway – an oversight that needs amending.
So the search continued. At least I had identified the bolt type – an M8 of unspecified length. to I turned my mind to where I might find one. I surveyed the contents of the garage to see if I had anything that could serve as a donor. My eyes caught my Black and Decker Workmate that hangs from the wall – an inherited treasure from the same grandfather who bequeathed me the Rover. The bolts that secure the lateral planks are M8s – alas, their length made them a non starter. I considered all the flat-pack furniture I had assembled over the years, and wondered if any of it was stout enough to use M8 bolts. The answer, I concluded, was likely in the negative.
I was about to call my Dad prior to making a trip to his, properly equipped garage, when my depressed, downwards stare spotted something.
There, in a gap between two wooden panels that sat there awaiting re-purposing as loft-boarding, was a bolt. It seemed decidedly non-automotive in origin – there was a wing nut at one end – and I had absolutely no idea where it might have come from. There’s a possibility that it belongs to the parallel-action drawing board I have in the garage, its work-surface separate from its stand. Right now, though, that didn’t matter. Could there be any chance of it fitting?
Well, it was certainly the right diameter, but the thread seemed a little more coarse than the first, long bolt I tried, and I felt resistance after the first couple of turns by hand. But I had no idea what the original Peugeot bolt might have felt like. I decided to put it to the test. It had a 14mm head, so I used a socket and ratchet handle, and didn’t feel any more resistance than I would want to as I tightened it. There was certainly no sensation that I was tapping a new thread into the cast-iron TU3 block.
The bolt was possibly a little short, but, astonishingly, it wound smoothly in and I was able to apply a decent torque to secure the alternator support arm. I spent a few second gazing at my wonder-bolt and what it accomplished, but I hadn’t yet finished the job. I set the tensioner to hold the belt as tight as felt right, and tightened the bolt that held it at that point. That left me only with the top bolt. What issues might that bracket cause me?
Well, to be entirely honest, I don’t know. All I can say is that the two halves become one whole the bolt is properly torqued. There’s nowhere the bracket can go, and the alternator is held firmly in place. Left any longer without the additional help of that lower support, and it would likely have been a problem sooner rather than later. I’m going to need to replace it, and that’s on the to-do list. Right now, though, it’s hard to see how it could cause a problem. The alternator is secure, the new belt is nicely taut, and a decent test drive provoked no horrible screeching.
The faithful old 306 has survived another brush with disaster, and is back on the road again. Until next time.
(All images Chris Haining / Hooniverse 2017)