This article was first published in 2005.
Most small superchargers available from wreckers use a multi-rib belt drive.
Depending on the car to which the bower is being fitted, this drive can be taken
from a standard accessory belt. However, it’s all a bit more difficult to do in
practice than it sounds when it’s said quickly!
Using an Existing Belt Drive
If the blower can be positioned so that its drive pulley lines up perfectly
with an existing belt drive, a longer than standard belt may be able to be used
to additionally drive the blower. However, before even considering this
approach, a number of factors need to be assessed.
Some cars use a single serpentine belt to drive a bunch of things including
the power steering, air con and alternator. In these cars, the belt drive will
be wide (eg a 6 rib belt), include a sophisticated tensioner, and be driven from
a large crankshaft pulley. Getting hold of a longer belt is likely to be easy
and the original tensioner can continue to be used.
However, other cars use separate belts to drive some devices – for example, a
single belt to the power steering pump. This belt may be a relatively narrow,
its tension may be able to be set only over a small range by adjusting the power
steering pump on its mounts, and the crankshaft drive pulley may be small. Using
this belt drive for the supercharger may have a host of associated problems.
Key questions that need to be answered when considering the use of an
existing belt drive system include:
- Can the supercharger drive pulley be lined up with an existing belt
- Does the existing belt width match the supercharger pulley?
- Does the belt have a tensioning arrangement that’s suitable if a longer belt
also drives the blower?
- Is the crankshaft pulley diameter suitable for driving the blower? If not,
can the supercharger drive pulley be changed?
- Is there clearance for the belt on its new path?
- Is a longer belt available?
Multi-rib belts are technically known as ‘poly vee’ or ‘poly grooved’ belts.
In automotive use, the cross-sectional profile of the ribs is standardised (it’s
a "PK" profile) and only the number of ribs and the length of the belt varies.
A simple code is used – a 6PK 1410 belt is one with 6 ribs and a length of
1410mm. Note that this code number is written on the belt itself, so there’s no
need to know the car it’s usually fitted to. This is very useful because it
allows you to measure the required new belt length, count the ribs and then go
to an auto parts store and ask for a 4PK 1460 – or whatever.
Another very important point to know is that it’s easy to reduce the number
of ribs by using a sharp knife to slice the belt longitudinally. So for example,
if cut in half, a 6PK belt can become a 3PK belt, or if two of the grooves are
cut off, a 6PK can become a 4PK.
In the case of the blower fitting being covered in this series, finding out
that belts could be altered in rib count was an absolute saviour – the blower
brackets were already made and a 3PK belt around 1460mm long was needed – but no
such belt exists. However, there are plenty of 6PK belts around this length –
and as a bonus, after it has been slit into two, you have two belts for the
price of one!
The greater the number of ribs, the greater the width of the belt and the
more power it can transmit. Note that compared with the older type of narrow
V-belts, poly-vee belts need higher belt tension – something to keep in mind if
a dedicated tensioner is required. Another characteristic of poly-vee belts is
that their rear (ie flat) surface can be used to drive devices. However, this
side of the belt cannot transmit as much power as the ribbed side.
Tensioners are available in two basic designs – those that are manually
adjusted and those that use an internal spring to automatically maintain belt
tension. A tensioner used with a poly-vee belt the can be placed on the inside
of the belt (a grooved pulley is used) or on the outside of the belt (a flat
pulley is used).
In addition to allowing the adjustment of belt tension, a tensioner can also
perform other functions. Firstly, it can act as an idler pulley. In this role it
helps guide the belt when there is a great distance between successive pulleys,
and can also alter the path of the belt to provide clearance. Secondly, a
tensioner can be used to improve the supercharger belt wrap – that is, the
number of degrees that the belt is in contact with the pulley. If it is to
improve the wrap, the tensioner will probably need to be placed on the outside
of the belt and so in the case of a poly-vee belt, will need to use a flat
(In actual fact, ‘flat’ tensioner pulleys are not flat but instead have a
slightly crowned surface. The belt rides up the crown and so centres itself
without shoulders being required on the pulley.)
In a belt drive system there are parts of the belt which are relatively slack
and parts which are relatively taut. Except for some Hondas, all engines rotate
clockwise as viewed front-on looking at the crank pulley. Belts work by pulling
rather than pushing, so the slack side of the belt is therefore the section
between the left-hand side of the crankshaft pulley and the left-hand side of
the supercharger pulley. In order to reduce the load on its bearing, a manually
adjusted tensioner is usually placed on the slack side of the belt, while sprung
tensioners must always be placed on this side.
If the belt is adequately tensioned, clearances to the belt can be kept quite
small – even when the distance between successive pulleys is large. For example,
with the 3PK belt being used here, the clearances are as tight as 8mm. The belt
doesn’t foul any surfaces, even under full load and high revs.
In this series we’ve been covering the fitting of a small Subaru Vivio
supercharger to a Toyota four cylinder engine. This engine uses a single 3PK
poly-vee belt to drive the air con compressor (via the ribbed side of the belt)
and water pump (via the flat side). That’s all that is driven by the belt - the
engine doesn’t have an external alternator and uses electric power steering.
As shown here, the standard belt tensioner is located on an extension of the
engine mount – however, to fit the supercharger, a completely new
engine/supercharger mount has been constructed, so removing the tensioner. The
original tensioner is of the manually adjusted type, using a grooved pulley
mounted inside the belt on the slack side.
The Subaru supercharger that’s being fitted uses a 4PK (ie 4-rib) pulley.
However, given the low supercharger power draw that’s expected in this
application, it was decided to stay with the 3PK belt, which will fit straight
onto the 4PK pulley, leaving a groove free. (The alternative was to replace the
crank pulley/damper and air con compressor pulleys with 4PK designs, something
which will still be possible to do later if the 3PK belt proves to slip.)
Three drive belt approaches were considered:
- Pivot the blower on its lower mounts to adjust belt tension. This requires a
belt that is exactly 1410mm long, as the room for pivoting the supercharger is
- Use a tensioner placed on the outside of the belt. This flat pulley could be
mounted on the slack side between the crank pulley and the supercharger pulley.
The placement of the idler in this position would also increase blower belt
wrap. However, the available room is extremely tight and the pulley would be
very hard to access to adjust belt tension.
- Use a tensioner on the inside of the belt, placed on the tension side
between the blower and the water pump. This would require a grooved pulley and
would slightly decrease blower belt wrap. While space is again tight, there is
more room available here than on the slack side of the belt.
It was decided that the last approach would be used.
The bracket to hold the standard Toyota tensioner....
...was fabricated from 40 x 8mm steel bar.
It is mounted on a gusseted plate welded to the main supercharger bracket.
The tensioner bracket bolts to the mounting plate via four high tensile
Slots are located in the bracket to allow the tensioner pulley to be moved
sideways so that it can be precisely lined-up with the belt. The slots also
allow the pulley to be twisted slightly so that its axis of rotation can be at
exactly 90 degrees to the belt. (It’s important that you give your tensioner
pulley some adjustments other than just for tension. In the real world, it’s
unlikely that the pulley will perfectly line up without some further adjustments
The completed bracket looks a little over-engineered but it’s important to
realise that in this application it is subjected to pulsing loads imposed by the
Roots-type blower. In addition to these loads, it must also withstand the loads
caused by the belt tension – and do all of this without the bracket
Another important aspect to keep in mind is that the longer the belt, the
greater the tension adjustment range that will be needed. The system should be
organised so that the belt is quite a tight fit to get on when the adjuster
is at its lowest belt tension position.
In operation the belt drive works well, with no discernible slippage and only
normal belt wear.
If you have a small pointer-style laser, use it to line up the pulleys when
making adjustments. By shining the laser down the front faces of the pulleys,
it’s easy to see small misalignments.
Next week: supercharger inlets and outlets, bypass valves, and suppressing
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