I just replaced the serpentine belt on my 1996 Ford Contour. I opted to remove the front passenger-side tire to gain access to the tensioner. Once I was able to get to the tensioner pulley, I had the old belt off and replaced within 10 minutes. I did have some help, though. It is much easier to have one person release the tension while another puts the new belt into place.
22:42, 14 Mar 2009 ~
No, you do not have to remove it. It is also possible to release the tensioner top-side. I once had a tensioner go bad in the parking lot at work and had to replace it there with what I had in my trunk. It is easier with the tire off, but if you have to a slim ratchet with a shallow socket should do the trick.
You don't. The serpentine belt tension is automatically maintained by the tensioner pulley, which is an idler pulley located on the passenger side of the system and looks like it doesn't drive anything. If the belt tension is incorrect, the tensioner pulley must be replaced. If the question meant 'how to release tension from the belt' (for removal, etc.), this is done by applying the correct size socket wrench to the tensioner pulley's center nut and rocking the pulley away from the belt.
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