Written by me in 2006 after taking roughly five times as long as I should have needed to replace the alternator in a 1995 Dodge Neon. Do not take this as a general attack on the design of the Neon. It's far from the worst designed car I've owned. Never previously published

Ode To A 1995 Dodge Neon

Note: These are the hitherto secret notes of a design review conducted someplace in SouthEastern Michigan in the early 1990s. The presenter -- Dudley Forthright -- is known to have been an automotive engineer with the Chrysler Corporation in that timeframe. He subsequently had a nervous breakdown, torching several SUVs and attempting to steal a nuclear warhead which he said he intended to use to destroy the Microsoft Corporation campus in Redmond, Washington. He has currently recovered, is living under a different name, and is making a living selling organically grown blueberries at a location that we will not reveal. We have been unable to positively identify the other reviewers at the meeting who we call Manny, Moe, and Jack. We are certain those are not their real names. Other than the deliberate obsfucation of names, we have attempted to present the content of the meeting as accurately as is possible.

Manny appears (How? by whom?) to have been designated as the meeting coordinater: "Morning Moe, Jack. Hi Dud. Looks like we're all here. Anyone mind if I record this meeting? Fingers are a little too sore for writing" (The meeting was apparently tape recorded, then translated to text by some software product or other. We recovered the notes many years later from a used hard drive that had purportedly been wiped clean. We do not know what Manny did to his fingers)

Manny: "OK, this is a peer review of the design of an Alternator for a car to be called the Neon that will be released for sale in 1995. The presenter is Dudley Forthright. The meeting is yours Dudley.

Dudley: "Well, as you can see, it's an alternator. It can generate ... (at this point the transcript descends into incomprehensible technobabble that we have not reproduced. We have been assured that the material in the transcript makes no sense whatsoever. We suspect that the translation software was overwhelmed) ...

Dudley: "OK then, well, let's get on to the configuration. As you can see, the alternator will be mounted on the left side of the engine where it will be nearly inaccessible. It'll be driven by a single belt that will run on the inside division of the crankshaft pulley.

Moe: "Excuse me Dud, did you give any thought to a serpentine belt?

Dudley: "Indeed we did. And there are some advantages to a serpentine belt. It'd be a maintenance nightmare because we'd route it over the motor mount -- here, let me get a slide up and that will make more sense -- and anything that makes maintenance harder furthers our corporate goals. But we'd need an idler pulley and that would add seven cents to the cost of the car. Anyway, getting the single belt off and on will be plenty hard enough. You have to remove the power steering belt to get to the alternator belt. and look at the clearance here between the crankshaft pulley and the car body. Pretty narrow, eh? Given any luck at all, it'll take two people to route one of these belts.

Jack: "Or one guy with three arms ..." (General laughter).

Dudley: "As you can see, the alternator mounting looks straightforward, but look at this slide. See how we're going to run power steering and airconditioning and fuel lines through this space. Nobody in the world will be able to get a wrench in there.

Moe: "Well, yeah, that looks pretty good, but couldn't they get to the adjuster bolt from the bottom or by going around to the driver side and laying on top of the engine?

Dudley: "We're fine on the driver's side thing. The coolant recovery tank will block access there. Of course, they could take the tank out, but we covered that last week. To get the coolant tank out, you have to remove all this airflow stuff and the tank won't quite fit out the gap between the engine and the body. And the tank will leak all over the car. And we're pretty sure that the disconnected hose to the recover tank will leak also. And, Oh yeah, we moved the bottom bolt on the recovery tank down a bit. Now you can see it plainly, but you need a socket with a 24 inch extension to get it out. And I don't think you CAN get it back in once the car is assembled.

"But you're right about the bottom. How about we put a splash shield in here? That should block access from the bottom.

Jack: "Y'know -- if you put a bracket on the top spashshield to route all those hoses through, you can put a bolt way at the back to hold it. If you put that bolt way at the back ... No, not there. Yep, there under the power steering return hose. They'll never get that sucker out, and if they do, they'll never get it back in.

Dudley: "Hey, that's great. Why didn't we think of that? Consider it done.

"Now then, let me get on to a couple of features that may not be obvious.

"First, look at the adustment bolt. See how it anchors in the back of the lockdown bolt. You'll need to remove both to get the alternator out. But if you remove the adjustment bolt (which you can't do if the coolant recovery tank is in place) then the lockdown bolt will spin and spin and you'll never get the lockdown nut off. And, by the way, you can't get a wrench on that lockdown from any direction and manage more than a sixteenth of a turn.

Jack: "That's great. I don't see how you can improve on that.

Manny: "I do. If you put a flange on that drip shield you can make sure that they don't get a crowsfoot wrench on that nut and turn it a third of a rotation at a pass.

Dudley: "That's great Manny. I'm sure we can do that.

"And look at the bolts and nuts -- 15mm.

Jack: "Brilliant. Everybody uses 14mm or 17mm. I'll bet there are mechanics out there who don't have a 15mm anything. And they'll need 15mm everything to deal with this sucker.

Dudley: "Well, 15mm most things. Except the adjustment bolt. That has a half inch head and metric threading.

"Oh yeah, and you won't be able to get the alternator out of the car unless it is on a rack or jacked up. If it is run up on ramps, there isn't enough clearance over the axle to get it out.

"There is one thing though. You can get the alternator loose by removing these three bolts on the mounting bracket and once it's loose, you can reach up and remove the upper mounting bracket and the whole thing will come out. We've worked and worked, but we can't come up with a way to make that as painful as it ought to be. Anyone here have any thoughts?

Manny: "Nothing comes to mind. Jack?, Moe? (long delay). OK, well, it's not an obvious idea, I suppose that some of our dealer mechanics will work it out, but probably not so many indepenents and owners. Maybe we'll just have to live with it.

"Anything else?

Jack: "It's nothing for Dudley to do, but you might note something that the body team did. If a mechanic does manage to get nuts and bolts out where will he put them? On the little ledge that runs along at the edge of the engine compartment, right? Well guess what. If you drop one there or get it rolling, there is a good chance that it will roll right down here, sail through this hole and wind up behind the headlight.

Moe: "Brilliant!!! Do I remember correctly that the Neon is one of our vehicles where removing the headlight assembly is going to be a nightmare because we have a hidden bolt that is nearly impossible to get to?

Jack: "No, you have it right.

Manny: "OK then, I think we have a satisfactory design here. Everyone agree that this alternator is going to be about as difficult to work on as human minds can make it? (sounds of agreement). I'll get the meeting minutes out in a few days. If anyone has any further ideas, contact Dudley. Thanks for your time. Dud, thanks for the coffee and donuts.

"Our work here is done. Moe, Jack, next week the starter. Same time same place. OK?

Copyright 2007, Donald Kenney (Donald.Kenney@GMail.com). Unless otherwise stated, permission is hereby granted to use any materials on these pages under the V2.5 Creative Commons License