2004 Toyota Highlander Rear Axle

Recently, I was driving down the road when my car started making a high pitched whiney noise (here’s a tip…if your car makes some strange noise, don’t keep driving it while you try and figure out what it is), followed by a loud pop (like a tire blow-out) which caused the car to skid out of control. Apparantly, a spoke of the rear axle broke off and got jammed somewhere causing the rear wheels to lock up (yes, this did result in a car accident, but thankfully, no one was hurt.) Has anyone else had this problem or am I just special???

A “spoke of the rear axle”?

Most likely, your differential self-destructed from lack of lubrication. With your next vehicle, I would suggest having the differential oil checked every 10,000 miles or so, and changed every 60,000 miles.

If a differential seal develops a leak, what you described can happen. It is rare, but poor maintenance does sometimes have unexpected outcomes.

I’m glad that nobody was hurt.

I picked up a used company car when I was hired as a sales rep. The previous driver reported no problems. While driving on an interstate the rear end locked up (RWD car, Buick Century 4dr circa 1981, with about 15K miles) and the car skidded as both rear wheels totally stopped rotating. I was able to keep the front wheels in front of the back ones by using the same techniques you use in sliding around in the snow. No other cars around me and I got it off main road and onto the shoulder.

When I got out of the car there was a putrid “burning” smell and some smoke coming from under the rear of the car. This was way before cell phones, and a trucker stopped when he saw the tire skid marks on the road and figured I wasn’t going anywhere. He used his CB radio for a “land line” and that was how I got the car towed off the road and to a GM dealer. One of the rear seals was shot and the fluid in the differential was long gone. I didn’t see any leaking because it had been dry for awhile. GM replaced the rear end under warranty, but the car was out of commission for two weeks awating parts.

Dropped differentials are unusual but it happens. More common in race cars and at the drag strip than in normal cars in normal driving.

Know the feeling, it’s been a couple of weeks already!

Thanks for the response! (And my husband will be happy to know that he’s right…he’s always said I drive like a race car driver!!!)

For inquiring minds that want to know…I just got the Highlander back. As it turns out, I was incorrect in stating it was a spoke in the rear axle, it was more like rust. The rear axle rusted/rotted through, resulting in a nice hole that allowed all the fluid to leak out (saw it myself) which resulted in the part not working, which resulted in the rear tires locking up.

The rear axle rusted through on a 5 year old vehicle?
Do you normally park it next to the ocean?
Do you live in an area where a lot of road salt is used during the winter?
While I have never heard of this type of failure on a 5 year old vehicle, I suppose that anything is possible.

In order to prevent this from happening again on this vehicle and on others that you may own, I suggest that you:

Have the vehicle–including the underbody/chassis–washed regularly, especially during the winter.

Have the vehicle serviced at least every 5k miles by competent mechanics–NOT by the untrained, inexperienced, disinterested kids working at Jiffy Lube and its clones. A competent mechanic servicing the rear differential would have spotted this type of problem LONG before it got to the point of perforating the rear axle and allowing all of the differential oil to leak out.

As I pointed out in my first response, if you had the differential oil checked every 10k miles, and changed every 60k miles, this type of catastrophic failure would have been unlikely.

Happy Motoring!

[qujote]The rear axle rusted/rotted through, resulting in a nice hole that allowed all the fluid to leak out (saw it myself) which resulted in the part not working, which resulted in the rear tires locking up.[/quote]

I have a very hard time believing that. The metal used is housing is very very thick. It would take 20-30 years to rust through. I’ve never ever heard of this on any vehicle from any year…EVER. There are MILLIONS of vehicles that have been sitting in junk yards all over this country and exposed rear axles for decades that aren’t even close to rusting through.

Yes it did, and yes I do…live at the ocean. The car is parked year round outdoors. Although there is not much in the way of external damage, that salt just loves to eat away at all the mechanical parts. Every time I’ve had the breaks changed, that’s the first question they ask me.

And, believe it or not, I do have the oil changes done at the local Toyota dealer. Who, I never have believed have done at decent job, and the only thing I credit them with is a good, convenient location to where I live.

Thank you for the good advice about the service!!! This has been a valuable and expensive lesson to learn on my part!!!

If all of the vehicle’s service has been done by the Toyota dealer, I would suggest that you have a civilized sit-down with the Service Manager (not the twit at the service desk). If their personnel have been underneath the vehicle for each service (assuming that you have had more done than just oil changes), they certainly should have noticed the degradation of the steel in the rear axle well before it rusted through.

If you press your point politely, but firmly, you just may be able to get the dealership to absorb some of the cost of this repair, simply because their personnel should have been vigilant enough to spot this problem prior to the catastrophic failure stage.