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Old 07-29-2021, 10:19 PM #1
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Exclamation Going to California, Part 2: Or am I? I took off my front skid plates and found...

Part two of me prepping my rig to make a transcontinental drive from Indiana to the Sierra Nevada...

When last I left you, I had successfully and comically changed my rear differential oil in my 2002 4Runner SR5 with 180k miles on it. I'm not laughing now, however...

To get a jump start on the weekend, I decided to make use of my last hour of daylight here in sunny Indiana and take off the skid plates. Took off both with great ease using my 1/2" rachet with a 12mm and 14mm socket. Easy peasy.

Unfortunately, when I removed the conjoined front skid plates, this is what I saw:



That is one nasty skid plate! And sadly, some of that mess seemed fresh. Note that is the passenger side "back" corner. (this is the side that faces "up" under the engine area)

I immediately hit the ground with my LED spotlight and phone to get these two pics of the front differential:



The above was taken with the camera almost directly under the corner of the front bumper. (driver side)



The above was taken almost directly under the differential. (driver side)

No fluid seemed to be running/dripping from the pieces/parts onto the driveway, but the fluids on them did look damp. We did have some rain today, but as you can see from the above skid plate photo, nothing else was wet or oily.

After this, I started rolling under to get better looks at everything. Here are two shots, this time from the passenger side.



Above was taken from just in front of the front wheel.



Above was taken from just behind the wheel, under the passenger side door. I am not ASE, but that area next to the rubber accordion thing does not look so good.

As you can see from the pics, ambient light was fading and I could not get good pics as my chosen extension cord was too short for the job. I threw a giant piece of new, pristine cardboard under the rig before I came inside and am going to check it out in the morning. Hoping it doesn't rain, so I can have untainted evidence of any leaking and the fluid in its original (sic) condition.

As a backgrounder:

1. I recently (this week) got a OBD2 scanner and have been monitoring engine temps. Engine seems to run between 195 - 199 when driving locally or on state/county roads, so anywhere from 10 - 60 MPH. I do seem to burn (maybe it's burning...) some oil. Couldn't quantify the amount since I just noticed it, really.

2. Also been monitoring tranny temps for the past week. I've seen them as low as 164 when cruising at speed, especially with cruise control on. Also seen it over 200 when in city driving. For example, it was up to 210 today, with weather here about 90 with 80% humidity. I checked fluid and it does not smell burnt, nor is it black. It's still got some pinkish hue to it. Looks like what Chris Fix would call, "OK, but should be changed soon" (I am paraphrasing on of his videos, I don't know him and he did not examine my vehicle...) Also, the radiator (changed at maybe 140k?) is pretty dirty and bug ridden. My plan was to remove front grill and hit it with some HVAC coil cleaner this weekend.

3. I've always just felt (like the 4Runner Force) she ran a little hot. I'd take a ten mile drive on a warmer day and at a drive through, could feel the heat pouring out from the sides. But honestly, I have a late model Odyssey van in great shape that feels the same way sometimes.

4. I do park on a slight, driveway incline, kinda sideways like this:

\

so I suppose it is possible that any leak naturally seeks the low point of where it lands, which would push it to the rear, passenger side of that skidplate.

5. I can say I have never seen any fluid leaking on my driveway or any other place we've parked the rig.

6. I'm hoping this "is it" but last time I changed oil (late winter) I did fumble the oil filter (was trying to grab it from the wheel well and I'm on the...errrr...husky side) so I know some fluid did leak out of it when it hit the skid plate and laid there while I tried to fish it out.

EDIT: 7. I do not think it is gear oil, because it does not smell like putrid vomit from a drunk that has been on the ground for a day or two after Mardi Gras. It is "oily" and dark in the sense of old oil. Just wanted to add that. I know the smell of gear oil from my adventure a couple of weeks ago.

Anyone who has an opinion on this, please let me know. This girl is supposed to head to Cali in 3-4 weeks and I'm starting to think she ain't making the trip like this.

Thanks!

UPDATE: So about 90 minutes after parking her, the cardboard remains clean as a whistle. I went into the garage and wiped part of the dirty area of the skid plate and it was more dry and gritty than wet, despite having a sheen. I guess oily stuff just looks shiney, regardless of moisture content.

Last edited by vonhughes; 07-29-2021 at 10:39 PM. Reason: Added some more info.
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Old 07-29-2021, 10:46 PM #2
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look at all your fluids - including power steering and tranny fluid on park when hot, if none are low, drive a few days with the skidplate off, and see if there are droplets in your driveway.

ALSO: Look at wheel driveshafts (forgot the name in english, CV axles?) boots, see if they are leaking grease, and see if someone greased your forward driveshaft (could expel some grease).
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Old 07-29-2021, 10:47 PM #3
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Best case scenario: The oil and collected debris on the skid plate is consistent with the normal drippings that occur while changing the oil filter. Most shops, especially the cheapo ones, won't bother to clean that up. That could be all you are seeing.
My Rx ---for what it's worth---maintain vigilance on all the fluid levels, so no fluid can drop too low. Check 'em all before you leave, and check during the trip.
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Old 07-29-2021, 10:59 PM #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pluton View Post
Best case scenario: The oil and collected debris on the skid plate is consistent with the normal drippings that occur while changing the oil filter. Most shops, especially the cheapo ones, won't bother to clean that up. That could be all you are seeing.
My Rx ---for what it's worth---maintain vigilance on all the fluid levels, so no fluid can drop too low. Check 'em all before you leave, and check during the trip.
I plan to get her on level ground in the garage tomorrow and do a full check of all fluid levels. I was happy to read your post and think about my update on it looking more "crusty" than oozy, if that is a word. LOL
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Old 07-30-2021, 03:05 AM #5
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My skid plate looks like that, except the oil is pooled. I don't know where it came from but I didn't consider the front diff until now...
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Old 07-30-2021, 07:13 AM #6
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Looks like any long-ignored 4runner I've seen. It could mean something (minor) or could mean nothing. Clean it up, THOROUGHLY, and monitor. My personal guess is that you're witnessing the leavings of the most common of 4runner oil leaks, the valve cover gaskets. Poke around with some light and see if the oil trail goes up to the firewall side of the engine/valve covers...

Since you've seen no major oil loss, and it runs/drives fine, no reason to get anxious. If you Really want to investigate, once you have the engine de-greased and cleaned (I prefer a cheap toilet scrubber, the kind with the metal wire loop, you can bend it into all sorts of great positions for cleaning), oh and dry, you can spray on anything that'll leave a powder. Think deodorant or athletes foot spray. I haven't needed to do this for a bit over a decade, but it was still available back then... anyway, you dust EVERYTHING with that powder, go for a ~60 mile drive and then look for brown streaks in the white powder. Should 100% pinpoint your leak (or leaks, if you're lucky like I was ~ both sides valve cover gaskets, might have been cam seals).

Anyway, relax and have a homebrew.... er, wrong forum. Relax, its nothing Major, just a warning that something needs to be addressed.
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Old 07-30-2021, 10:10 AM #7
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Happily, my carboard was clean as a whistle this AM.

Will give all the greasy stuff a good spray with CRC degreaser and see what the weekend brings.

Stay tuned!
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Old 07-30-2021, 10:57 AM #8
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If it's not gear oil it's probably valve cover gaskets or the oil cooler on the driver side of the engine block. Both fairly common places for engine oil to leak on these.

If it's gear oil you may have a bad seal on one of your front diff CV outputs.

If it's not dripping on the driveway it shouldn't be loosing fluid at an extreme rate you can drive it and monitor, checking along the way.
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Old 07-30-2021, 12:09 PM #9
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If the valve cover bolts were loose, I should (in theory) see some seeping from around the "rim" of the valve cover somewhere, right?

At the moment, that area looks dry as a bone and relatively clean. Need to get an extension to snug the bolts, so I can't tell if they are loose at the moment.
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Old 07-30-2021, 01:01 PM #10
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I painted the insides of my aftermarket skid plates sand/tan. I can stay on top of any fluid buildup. After a valve cover gasket job, she's not a dripper at all. My factory skids had years of buildup like the photos in this thread.
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Old 07-30-2021, 01:35 PM #11
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Another vote for leaking valve cover gaskets. You'll be shocked how far the oil drips can travel when moving at speed. The oil tends to fling back on the steering rack and transmission/transfer case depending on which side is leaking the worst. Makes it seem like you drove through a knee-deep puddle of engine oil.
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Old 07-30-2021, 05:32 PM #12
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Looks like oil changes (front diff mess) and leaking valve cover gaskets. Nothing major. Fix and clean at your convenience.

Trans temps are normal for a stock 4Runner. Nothing to worry about unless you are going to push it in the future.

Engine temps are high, likely due to an upside down thermostat. It is safe to drive like that, but temps should be within a few degrees of 190*F at all time if the thermostat is installed (correctly) with the jiggle valve at the 6 o'clock position (instead of 12 o'clock like every other engine, which is why the mistake is made so often).

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Old 07-30-2021, 08:52 PM #13
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That's exactly how mine looked when I bought the truck with 165K miles. I replaced the valve cover gaskets, and it's been bone dry ever since.

As others said, this is pretty "normal" for a 20 year old truck. Not everyone is as careful or diligent about having a leak-free engine as most of us on this site are .
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Old 07-30-2021, 10:30 PM #14
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Damn, I think you boys all need to apply for MENSA membership based on what I found today!

After a morning 20 mile run, I threw the cardboard back under her. Had a lot going on today, so I didn't get to look at it as much as I wanted. Well, when I looked at the cardboard about 8 pm tonight, I saw a small drip of oil on it for the first time. Oddly, it was on the driver side, closer to the front of the engine bay than the rear.

Grabbed my flashlight and phone and took this photo on the drivers side...



D.U.R.T.Y. !!!

Obviously something going on there now that I have gotten a look at it in better light.

Here's a shot from the passenger side, much better...



So I am assuming the leak is oozing down the driver side of the valve cover, hitting the area underneath (including the front diff, see photo above) and then, due to the incline of where I park, making its way to the passenger side, where it collects.

Per the advice above and some of the other threads I've read, I decided to try to tighten up the bolts and I was gobsmacked at how loose they were! I am wondering if the low torque requirement I've read about (something like 50 in lbs...meaning about 5 ft. lbs?) results in these babys vibrating loose? Not sure. I know the VC was changed at 160K or so. (I am at 180K or so now)

Has anyone put some Lock Tite on theirs when doing the VC job? Or is that contraindicated?

Anyway, I had a hard time getting to the very rear bolt on the driver side and some of them on the passenger side, so I am going to need to get a wobble extension Saturday morning and give them a gentle turn. Then, I'll hit everything with degreaser and proceed to do my fluid changes.

THANK YOU to all who chimed in on this post and others on the forum. I told Mrs. vonhughes, "It is great when folks you've never met can help diagnose problems and advise solutions from hundreds or thousands of miles away. THIS IS THE PROMISE OF THE INTERNET!!!"

I'm hoping this puts my rig back on the path to Cali. Hopefully I'll have a Part 3 coming up soon!

p.s. After cleaning everything up and tightening all the bolts on the VC on Saturday, I had an opportunity to pick up someone from the airport, which is a 100 mile round trip from my location last night. This morning I'm happy to report I saw no running/dripping/oozing from any of the locations I saw previously, so I'm assuming this chapter is closed. Thanks again!

Last edited by vonhughes; 08-02-2021 at 04:49 PM. Reason: Added a p.s. to the story.
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