I am in the process of replacing my tension assembly in my 1996 Camaro (also a 3800 V6). I haven't got it all apart yet, but I did buy a factory replacement part from O'Reilly's today. From what I can see from looking at the new part, you must remove your alternator first. At that point, you'll see that the tension assembly is a fairly large piece that is only held on by a few bolts. Toward the top, it forms one of the mounts that the alternator attaches to, and toward the bottow, it curves back out and has a couple of rubber hoses attached to it. I haven't figured out where the hoses go to exactly, but they look fairly easy to remove.
The thing that really threw me off is that I thought you had to have some sort of special tool to remove the tension assembly. I thought that just the tension pulley (black plastic wheel) and the arm that it attaches to was the assembly, but it's actually a big piece that attaches with a few bolts.
Well, I hope this points you in the right direction. Just remember, remove the alternator first and you'll see how big the assembly actually is.
If its like my Buick Regal (98) there are 2 bolts holding the tensioner on. Remove those bolts (2 1/2 in or so) and it will seem like something else holds it on. It will be loose yet won't come off. Since coolant flows through the tensioner it has to go back into the engine. You have to take a prybar and gently pop it off the engine. There are (2) passages in the tensioner. One is a 90 degree plastic elbow that goes into the intake manifold. This will break when you pry it off. The other passage slips into the water pump. There is an o-ring in there, do not forget to change it. The elbow is called a heater core bypass elbow, your parts store should have it. You will have to use a seal pick to get the old pieces out. Clean the passages out with a rag, spray silicone on the new stuff and it should slip in easily. Also I would suggest if it hasn't been done yet, R@R the lower and upper intake manifold gaskets and get the Dexcool antifreeze out of the motor. Trust me on this, it will save you a ruined engine. Good luck.
Here is a diagram that shows the whole assembly. I am planning on replacing one of the elbow O rings on our Chevy impala because it is leaking, hope it goes smoothly! Thanks for posting your experience.
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