03 Matrix rear differential shot


Back story: 11/24 car was broken into. No exterior damage. Foreign object jammed into ignition switch. Tow truck lifted front wheels and drove off with the car in park. Filed claim with insurance and they took the car to the shop.

12/7 I get the car back. There’s still some interior damage and after a short drive awful whining from the rear that gets worse as I speed up. Took the car back.

12/17. I get the car back again and shop says rear differential is “shot” and not due to the vandalism and won’t be fixed.

The car never made that noise before. According to the manual, when towing the car must be in neutral and recommend that rear wheels be lifted of the ground.


  1. Could the tow have done the damage to the rear differential or is it where and tare?
  2. Is there anything to look for that would prove whether its where and tear or something that happens while at the shop?

Any help is greatly appreciated!

Toyota tow manual attached

More than likely the rear diff was damaged by towing the vehicle on its rear tires.

Professional tow company’s don’t use wreckers anymore. They use roll-back vehicle haulers where the vehicle pulled onto bed and hauled away.

They switched over to these haulers to prevent damage to the drive train of vehicles like you’re describing.


Tester. Thanks for the quick reply. Is there any way to prove that this damage was caused by the towing? Is there something you’d look for?

The proof is in the manual .
'nuf said.

Present them the information on what should be done when the vehicle is towed.

Then I would inspect the diff components to determine if damage was caused over time, or if it was caused by the towing.

I’ve seen people wreck a transmission by towing a vehicle with a tow strap with all four wheels on the ground.


@Tester‌ Thank you for the details and apologies for the many questions. The car is at my local shop now, so I’ll ask them that again tomorrow. Can a mechanic tell the difference between the two? Is there something I can ask to make sure he’s looking at the right things?

And yes, I agree, proof is in the manual. But the insurance said specifically today that that doesn’t mean any damage was caused and I still have to prove it wasn’t wear and tear.

Thanks again!

Whats the mileage on the car? I googled you situation and found this. it should be enough to get your car fixed because the tow truck really messed up. http://www.toyotapart.com/ABNORMAL_NOISE_FROM_REAR_DIFFERENTIAL_T-DL002-07.pdf

Toyota Supports ASE Certification
Page 1 of 7
’03 – ’06 Matrix (AWD/4WD)
Technical Service
August 23, 2007
Some customers may complain about an abnormal noise from the rear of the vehicle
that increases in volume as vehicle speed increases. The noise is commonly described
as a whining, humming, roaring, or growling noise. The source of the noise may be a
damaged transmission coupling assembly and 2 ball bearing assemblies. Follow the
repair procedure in this TSB to diagnose and repair this condition.
2003 – 2006
model year
vehicles equipped with
AWD (4WD).
Vehicles towed with two wheels off the ground or driven with mismatched sized tires
can display this noise condition. These vehicles are NOT covered under warranty due
to the failure by the customer to follow Owner’s Manual instructions to prevent
damaging the AWD (4WD) system

Edit: it will also be very rough to prove this was not a wear and tear item. they will check the condition of the fluid and try to blame it because its probably dirty. he needs to get inside and look at the bearings to see if they have been ran without fluid, while being towed because of the angle im guessing. Also if you really want a case you need to GET THIS CAR TO THE TOYOTA DEALER. In the court they are considered the experts and what your independant mechanic has to say wont stand up in the court.

I wonder if you might have transmission damage too.

Tow truck lifted front wheels and drove off with the car in park.

I’m a professional mechanic and that’s all I need to hear to know that your differential was damaged by towing it.

But to prove it in a court of law would require more documentation, looks like you’re on your way with the above posts.

@zoomo 99k miles. I’ll share that tsb with the dealer and upload it to the insurance.

Re your edit: that’s the claim they’re trying to make that it’s wear and tear. When they gave me the car back saying the differential was shot, that’s before I had a chance to tell them how the car was towed. So I assume not knowing the improper towing occurred, they assumed it was wear and tear and moved on.

They also tried to claim the tow truck driver would have used the override button to put it in manual. Per the manual that wouldn’t have mattered since the rear wheels would have still had to have been lifted. So I’m curious if there’s any way to tell if the override button was used or not.

@auto-owner‌ what do you suggest I ask the so to look for to see if there was other damage?

@asemaster‌ I wish the insurance were as reasonable :wink:

Thank you all for the help!!!

@auto-owner‌ what do you suggest I ask the so to look for to see if there was other damage?

I’m not a pro. The only way I know of (short of disassembly) to determine auto trans damage is to pay close attention for any symptoms while driving.
Others here may have better ideas.

I’m having trouble understanding how, with the car in PARK, the rear wheels could move.

I'm having trouble understanding how, with the car in PARK, the rear wheels could move.

Because it’s primary drive wheels are in the front.

I’d have guessed standard towing procedure would be to use dollies under the rear wheels during a tow of an AWD vehicle. Same as if you tow a front wheel drive vehicle that has the parking brakes on, you tow it backwards with the front wheels on dollies.

I should admit at this point I’ve never towed a vehicle myself or actually seen one of the above configurations towed … but that’s what experienced tow truck companies would do, wouldn’t they?

UPDATE: The local tow company admitted that they towed the vehicle wrong. My local shop told the insurance knowing the car was towed improperly caused the rear diff noise. The insurance company accepted fault and my car was towed to the local Toyota dealer. I’ll update anything as I hear back.

Towing with the rear wheels on the ground and the transmission in Park will put a lot of stress on the viscous coupling between the rear drive shaft (held stationary) and the rear differential (turning). Most likely the coupling overheated and is damaged. It or its bearings could be making the noise; the differential has been damaged; or a bind (due to a locked coupling) between the front differential and the rear is overstressing the rear bearings and gears.

In any case, the rear drive unit will have to come out and the damage assessed.

Let us know what is determined and how it was resolved

@shaiss‌, way to stick with it. With the admission, I fully expect that you Matrix will be repaired at the insurance company’s expense. Keep on them as required and it will be repaired properly too.

Wow thats great that the tow company finally admitted to it. Good job pushing shaiss. Be sure to let us know how it turns out.

Has the tow-truck driver made a statement to the insurance company that conflicts with yours? Has the tow driver made ANY statement? A call to your state insurance commissioner might change your insurance companies attitude…