Timing Belt Tension Problems

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Take the upper timing cover off. Put a socket on the crank bolt, and put all the slack on the tensioner side by applying some counterclockwise pressure on the socket.
How much slack is there? If there appears not enough slack to make the belt move much away from the crank timing belt pulley teeth, then you're fine. Remember that the crank timing belt pulley is very small, and presents the most danger for a jumped belt. If you can't decide if there's enough slack to make the belt jump the crank pulley, then you'll need to take enough apart that you can see the crank timing belt pulley.
Once the tensioner bolt is tightened, the spring ceases to have any function. If the tension is OK, just leave everything alone.
If you can't decide if the amount of slack you have is OK, leave the upper timing cover off and drive to a garage. Ask a tech there for his professional opinion.
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In fact, once the tensioner bolt is tightened, you could even remove the spring if you wanted to.
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I appreciate this information. I was unsure of how critical it was to have the tensioner's larger hole (= the one opposite where the spring attaches) on the peg. Also, I'd never had tension on the spring (in this past week of travails, albeit mostly good learning ones). Not knowing any better, this morning in 3.5 hours I went in there, got the tensioner properly "pegged," got the spring properly tensed, set the tension, rotated the crank a few times and watched for smooth operation and neither too much slack nor too much tightness, buttoned her up, checked the timing. All is well. Thanks so much for sticking with me on this one.
I am getting really fast at changing timing belts.
I am curious: Where did you get the PDF drawing?
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That's extremely important. The tensioner will not function unless it can pivot on that peg.

Just glad to help.
I was also kind of curious what the problem was. As I said earlier, it's easy to assemble the tensioner incorrectly, since it can go together several different ways.

Experience counts. The first time I removed a Macpherson strut it took me over an hour. The second time it was 20 minutes. By the third time I was down to five minutes.

It's just a (bad) scan from my '91 Integra's shop manual. I then added the text in a graphics program.
I had the scan resolution set very low without noticing it, which is why it's so bad. I corrected the wrong text, but otherwise will leave this one alone.
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By any chance do you mean the tensioner's //spring// will not function unless the tensioner housing can pivot on the peg? And if this is so, then given that you observed that, "Once the tensioner bolt is tightened, the spring ceases to have any function... you could even remove the spring if you wanted... ," then the peg also only has a function during this tension adjusting step, so it too could be removed?

I think it's very helpful. My web site on this is garbage at the moment. I will either take it down or re-do it. If I re-do it, and if you do not mind, I may put the PDF file on it. Okay?
I do not see this drawing at the UK site's "factory service" manuals. Do you know whether the UK sites's manuals are abbreviated ones? Plus there is no "tensioner replacement" section; only an "adjusting TB tension" one. Does your Acura shop manual have a "tensioner replacement" section?
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Elle wrote:

correct pivot action is essential to correct setup.

you should set the tension with the covers on, so you shouldn't be able to remove anything.

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You could put it that way, yes.
But ultimately the result is the same either way, in that the tensioner will not take up the slack of the belt if the tensioner is not properly located on the peg.

Yes. The bolt you tighten is what holds the tensioner in place for normal use. The spring just provides the initial preload on the belt.
My statement about removing the spring was intended as an illustration, not as something you would actually want to do.

It's yours. I just ask that you attribute the diagram to my site.

No it doesn't. Mine only has an adjustment section. Plus a couple of diagrams showing exploded views of the area that has the tensioner.
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I just noticed I have the tensioner spring mislabeled as "tensioner" in that diagram.
I'll fix that later today.
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Elle wrote:

that spring doesn't look right. it's /definitely/ not correctly oriented. it should be a shorter thicker spring, and it's got a plastic sleeve on it. it hooks onto a pin above the idler so that it causes the idler to rotate about its fixed pivot point.
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Tegger wrote:

it comes from the service manual.

but that only tensions that one length of belt. you need to rotate to ensure all the lengths between all the rollers have adequate tension.

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Not that this would help you now, but the way we ensured proper belt, cam, and crank position on my bro-in-laws 01 Accord was to mark the belt and pulley with white-out on the pulley marks.
Once the belt was off, we counted the number of teeth from each mark on the belt, then put matching white-out marks on the new belt. We then slid the new belt right on to the engine, and everything lined up perfectly!
I will be using this method on every timing belt I do from now on. It totally took the 'fear factor' out of being out by a tooth or 2.
Any thoughts on the above?
t
Elle wrote:

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This is indeed exactly what Idid. But then I set the tensioner incorrectly. I drove around 20 miles with symptoms, not knowing what exactly was wrong. The next day,tTroubleshooting the tensioner resulted, at one point, in a too slack TB. The TB slipped, and the car would not start. The camshaft and crankshaft had both been rotated quite a lot by this time, so the marks became meaningless.

I have used it in the past and it is the way to go.
I am still stunned at how lucky I got yesterday. I moved both crankshaft and camshaft independently of each other a lot, too, prior to re-installing the belt. Late yesterday afternoon I was really beat and sort of slapped the belt back on, thinking no matter how careful I was, I'd have to re-assemble nearly all, try to start it, check the timing with my timing light, estimate how far off I was, then disassemble all and adjust by a tooth or more.
After around 30 miles of driving today, my Civic is still running great. I will feel better after a full week has gone by, though. Still, I celebrated with the purchase of four new tires and an alignment (by an import specialized shop which explained everything they found) this morning. The ride is really smooth. I am stylin' in this old but incredibly reliable and fuel efficient car.
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wrote

So, there was a happy ending to this saga. You are braver than I -- I don't touch them anymore. It was easy in the old days when I had a Sunbeam Tiger or was tuning a 1970 Honda CB 750 or an an older Triumph Bonneville.

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Just exactly what I do. It helps immensely in preventing the "one tooth off" error.

Excellent idea.
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