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Police Evacuate Apartment Complex Over Audi Belt Tensioner Mistaken for a Bomb

The tensioner was safely removed from the apartment complex without incident.
A VW-group timing belt tensioner mistaken for an explosive device by the Salt Lake City Police.
Salt Lake City Police Department

Police in Salt Lake City removed a “suspicious device” from an apartment complex on Wednesday, June 30. The piece of hardware, which authorities described as potentially explosive, turned out to be a timing belt tensioner commonly found on Audis. In response to the tensioner’s discovery, police evacuated areas of the apartment complex where it was found, citing an “abundance of caution” in a press release.

The officers on scene requested the Hazardous Devices Unit inspect the mechanism which, to be fair, does have a pull-pin similar to something you might see on a hand grenade. Pulling said pin doesn’t set off an explosive charge, though; it puts pressure on the vehicle’s timing belt.

When I reached out to the Salt Lake City Police Department for comment, a spokesperson replied, “We approach every suspicious package/device call with the highest regard for safety. We have to for the well-being of our officers and our community members, we never let our guard down in these situations even if the object may appear harmless.

“We know that any object: speakers, computers, cell phones, radios, etc. can be converted into an explosive device. Our officers are trained to never become complacent. In this situation, our officers correctly assessed the situation and acted properly. Based on the witness statements, the fact that no one at the location claimed ownership for the device and that it seemed highly out of place, it was appropriate to notify our bomb squad so the device could be identified, handled safely, and then tested to confirm there was no threat.”

Car enthusiasts on social media were quick to point out the police’s confusion. On Reddit, users noted that since the belt tensioner appears not to be OEM, it very well could cause catastrophic failure and turn an engine into an explosive device. By itself, though, it’s just a car part.

Below, you can see a very similar unit being prepared for installation. The pin in question holds back the pressure used to tension the timing belt until it’s in place. Once that’s done, the pin is pulled and the belt stays tight. Other automakers use a similar style of tensioner to maintain proper timing on their belt-driven engines as well.

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