The Focus needed a new alternator. I said "I can do that."

 The alternator on our 2002 Ford Focus ZX3 died. We just made it home before the battery was drained. My wife suggested we call AAA and have it towed to a repair shop. I of course said "I can fix it." 

I've changed a fair number of alternators. Way back in the mid-'80s I changed the alternator on a slant 6 Dodge Dart in Cheyenne, Wyoming in the winter. Outside. While it snowed. With borrowed open-end, Chinese wrenches. 

I am a certified automotive mechanic. That's what the certificate hanging on my wall says. Of course I have never changed an alternator on a front-wheel-drive car with a transverse engine. But what could go wrong?

I watched some videos on Youtube and scoffed at the guys showing me how to change an alternator. I looked at the Focus, located the alternator (on the backside of the engine, on the passenger side, under the intake manifold. From one of the videos it seemed the biggest problem was going to be taking the tension off the serpentine belt. Easy peasy. So I dove into it. 

Remove the coolant reservoir, power steering reservoir, and this and that, and look down behind the engine and you can see the alternator. Really.

First problem was not the tensioner, it was the fact that I couldn't really see where the bolts were, and once I found them there was very little room to get at them - no room for a ratchet and socket. 

But despite the problems I got the alternator off the engine. Then came the fun part. How to get it out. No matter how I tried, and I tried every single angle, it would neither come up or go down. So I watched the videos again. Those guys just seemed to pull a bit on the engine as if to tilt if forward and the alternator almost popped out. I tried that in vain.

So I called my friend Steve who has access to repair procedures on the internet. You know real professional stuff. Steve said the procedure was to remove the three bolts connecting the front (right side) motor mount and slide the engine forward. Sounded pretty simple.

I went out and removed the bolts and attempted to slide the motor. It would not budge. I jacked the engine up a little and it moved but not enough the procedure said to move it so that the rear bolt hole of the mount was over the front bolt hole of the car - that is about 6"! That darn alternator simply would not fit through the opening. I called Steve back. He suggested using a ratchet strap to pull the engine forward. I did and it worked but it just seem like a rather brutal way to change an alternator.

Just above the oil filter is where the alternator was hiding..

Eventually I got the alternator out with, oh I don't know, maybe an 1/16" clearance. Putting the new alternator back in was just as challenging. Twist and turn, watch out for that bracket, don't get caught on that hose, bend that tab out of the way.

That's the ratchet strap that moved the engine that hid the alternator.

I've been told book time is 2 hours. I'd say it took me 6 hours of actual work, with another 2 hours staring into the abyss where the alternator lived, watching videos, and crying to Steve.

I did save some significant dollars. The alternator had a list price of $313.54; it cost me $196.00. Labor around here is around $100 per hour. It would have cost me a bit over $500 at a shop. 

You may notice that I didn't include the cost of the serpentine belt. I didn't replace it. It was replaced about 3,000 miles ago when the timing belt was replaced. (I had enough sense to pay someone to do that.)

But wait there's more!

The cost doesn't include the blood I gave. I have thin, brittle skin and I bled a bit. It always looks worse than it is. 

Another victim of the job was the oil filter. It sits directly under the alternator (see the picture above). In trying to lift the alternator out I dropped it a few times onto the oil filter. Dinged it just enough to put a pinhole in the filter. So add in the cost of an oil and filter change. But it needed it anyway. 

Bottom line? I'm done doing repairs like this. I'm too old and no where near as good as I used to be. It took me days to recuperate - the aches and pains of bending over the engine compartment and laying on my back under the car stayed with me for days.

I'm glad we still had the Lumina. As much as I complain about it, it saved my butt. I had almost sold it about a month ago but my better half said keep it until we get a new car. She's smarter than I am for sure.


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