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Did I just total my 2009 Sienna in the car port?

I learned over many years that anything you make or do, the first time, is not only the most expensive, but also the most dangerous. The first time a little kid chews gum they are at risk of choking on it. The first time you use a knife to peel an apple you may cut your finger. The first time you ride a bicycle out of the yard, you may fall off. The more times you do it, the more sure you are of what you are doing.

Also, cost of making things drops by magnitudes as production increases by magnitudes. Today, you can buy a ‘toy’ calculator for a dollar or two that has more computing power than a million dollar 1950’s IBM. Of course, the peripherals would still cost a lot, but the power is there.

But, in this case I am going to refer to the mistakes that are made doing something the first time.

Some weeks ago, I used my new floor jack to raise the 2009 Mexican Sienna to change the oil and filter. To make sure I learned to do it right, it took me more than an hour to get it up with jack stands in place. I would do something, then re-read the manual for the jack and for the jack stands.

I would put the jack under the front jack point, and get down on my stomach to make sure it was right. And, that is the way the whole operation went and that I was using the jack and jack stands correctly. It went really well and I was satisfied with the results.

It took me two days to find the tire man at home to swap in the old Cooper tires for the ones I smashed on the curbing pieces. Night before last he showed up and his daughter called me to let me know he was there. I assumed he had been on a binge, which is the normal reason for a Mexican man to disappear for two days. But, there were no signs of it when I went to his shop and had the work done.

Yesterday, I decided to put the one tire/wheel back on using the new jack. I pretty much went through the same rigmarole as before, except operation of the jack stands and jack I felt comfortable with.

I put down a tarp, an old WWII shelter half, which the local military surplus guy in McAllen moans when I tell him I use it for car work. I have had those since around 1962. (But, of course, he also whimpers when he sees what I did to my WWII machete. I filed it until it looks like a large butcher knife…)

I slid the jack under the rear jack point, looked under and moved it until it looked right, then got down on my stomach and moved it around, then jacked it up until it was close to the target. I went through that sequence at least four times, until it was right at the jack point, and visually directly under it, or so I thought.

I jacked it up a ways, then suddenly the car settled back down an inch or two. I thought, “???”.

I got under again, and instantly realized I had put the cup of the jack not on the jack point, but directly behind it. It looked like it was perfectly in place, but it was not. And, something crumpled. Inside the car, the rear fold down seats are about an inch from fully folding into place.

I soon realized this was purely a visual error. I knew exactly what I needed to do and where the jack was supposed to go. The carport is on a hill side, so when I looked under there, I was looking at sunny blue sky, and thought the jack was where it should be, but it wasn’t. So, the unibody behind the jack point was pushed up.

I take responsibility for my mistakes. If it costs a lot, I will live frugally the next year and no depression over my stupid error and no crying. Life is filled with mistakes, and when one makes a mistake, if no one is killed or injured, spend your time and energy fixing it as best you can, and for certain learn from it. Life is too short, especially when you are 75, to spend a lot of time beating yourself up because you messed up.

So, here are my questions. Does anyone who knows about unibody or whatever you call it, believe I have just totaled my car?

Or, can the guys who patch up all the smashed taxis that run into trees and rocks and things in the area deal with unibody as well? Or, if they start to weld back there, are they going to blow up the gas tank or set the car on fire? I realize you can’t know because you are not looking at the car, and you don’t know the body repair guys here, but if you know body repair, you may well have an idea what is involved. I don’t.

Do I need to flat bed it, or if I drive it a short distance at low speed, like 35 mph, will the tire wells at the first pot hole drop down on the tires?

Once I realized it was a visual error, not a stupid factor as such, except I should have looked at it from the side the first time, I thought, well it was a pretty stupid thing to make such a visual error, but all my errors do not approach the big error in October, 1966. And, life goes on.

Any other comments that are productive? I know very well it was a stupid error not to look at it from the side.

First, stop beating yourself up. It was a human error, nothing more. It might cost a bit, but you’ve harmed nobody.

It’s only speculation without actually seeing the vehicle, but I cannot imagine that you could have done more than dent some sheetmetal, possibly the floorpan. Not only can a unibody accept this type of damage, it can readily be pounded back out if you choose to. I’d be absolutely amazed if it in any way affected the alignment or integrity of the unibody itself. Remember that these structures are designed to be able to keep the passenger cabin intact and uncrushed in head on collisions, and they generate far, far, far, far greater forces than you could possibly generate by jacking the vehicle up.

Your best bet is to take it to a reputable body shop for an opinion. But I’d be truly, truly amazed if you’ve done more than dent the floorboard. Post back with their assessment. A photo would be nice too if you can take one.


do you suppose you could post some pictures of the damage?

Without even seeing the damage, I’m inclined to agree with mountainbike. I doubt you did enough damage to affect the way the vehicle handles

We all make mistakes. I make them, and will continue to do so. To say otherwise would be dishonest. I try my best to do things properly, but there will be times when I mess up.

learning from them is important. That way, you won’t keep making the same mistakes over and over again


I am older than you and legally blind in one eye so my depth perception is not very good. When I use my floor jack I keep feeling the jack point and jack cup as they approach each other. Just jacked up and remover the wheels 4 days ago to check the brake pad wear and discovered one rear caliper is not working properly, outside of rotor is rusty where iy should be shiny. I had removed that caliper last year, cleaned and lubed the slide surfaces on the fixture and pins last year so now I will replace that caliper.

I had a 76 Aspen, also unibody and visited some friends in farm country, about 50 miles from our house. Their son had a job picking large rocks out to the stony fields and piling them all in one place so they would not wreck the plow or disc pulled by the tractor. My wife wanted a rock garden around a tree and the farmer gave us permission to take all we wanted. I loaded all I dare and we headed home. Our usual route was blocked by a disabled freight train and I took an unfamiliar side road heading uphill in the right direction. There was a R.R. Crossing at the crest of the hill that sent me airborne. The rocks also became airborne and permanently changed the shape of the trunk floor but it didn’t hurt anything else. I never even thought about having it fixed, gave me more trunk room.


I’m with the others. I’d be amazed if you did any significant damage at all. I even suspect the seat problem is unrelated - maybe something’s jammed in the mechanism.

I think he probably just needs the seat removed and some hammer work to get the raised part back down.


I think I agree. It’s just sheet metal bent a little. Hammer it back down to where it should be and seal the opening. Sounds like a good application for Por15 and fiberglass cloth so you don’t get any heat distortion.

Talk about make my day! I am pretty tough when it comes to unexpected disasters. Like most folks, I have had several disasters in my life. I have learned to simply accept it the best I can, and work through it. But, it takes years to get that attitude under control. And, your words assure me there is a chance of no major damage. I will try tomorrow to get a picture under there. It sounds like I can do what I decide to do at my convenience.

At this time, based on what you say and a look underneath, I will probably take some low speed trips (there are no other possible here, where I live maximum limit is around 38 mph) and keep an eye on things.

The money loss would be the least troubling thing. We are far from rich. In fact our income makes us poor in the US, but it doesn’t make us poor here. The stress comes in trying to buy another one. This one took many weeks, what with the hard-headed US banker who simply refused to supply requested documents, apparently assuming things were the same all over.

And, then the smart aleck salesman stole a bunch of stuff out of the car, including the nice chrome plated lug wrench. He apparently thought the standard bent tire iron would take off lug nuts. Not on aluminum wheels.

In Mexico, you need to have the money transferred from the US bank, but then the payer for the car also needs to supply a document supporting the transaction. Just putting the money in their name doesn’t let them withdraw the money. I am not sure if this is a money laundering rule, or what.

And, the US banker refused to comply with simple directions as to what was needed.

Anyway, on with my day’s plans. And, thanks a billion or maybe trillion for taking time to answer. IF I can remember it, I need to read up on Unibody.

Just being nosy here. You keep saying 38MPH, is the speed limit 60 KPH?

Not too bad. Sometimes I fix things about as well as other people break them. I had replaced the floor in front of the driver’s seat. The year after, I jacked the car a little and missed, pushing the floor up. Stomped it back where it should have been and walked away. The sealant came off and when I drove through a puddle I got a surprise. That water hit the ceiling!

Get the big hammer out

You live in Mexico, do you see all the old cars down there on the street? Not a one is probably better off than yours, and yes I agree it is like a dent, enjoy the ambiance, pound it down and drive on.

Since I got my first hydraulic floor jack, I have always used a foot long 2x4 block of wood between its cup and the vehicle. It serves a few important purposes. The first and foremost is that it spreads the load. Now I can place my jack just about anywhere (within reason) and lift the car. Then I can put the stand under the preferred location and lower the car so it rests on the stand. It became so commonly used, I actually removed the jack’s cup and bolted the 2x4 to the lifting arm from underneath with a lag bolt and some fender washers. I leave it slightly loose so it can be swiveled to match what I’m lifting.

When unit body construction came along, with the structural seams as jacking points, I had to make some modifications. Mainly because the seam could crack the wood block along the grain lines in it. So I added a “plate” of plywood to the top of my 2x4.

By spreading the load out, I can safely jack forward or backward of the preferred stress point and not have any distortion of the body. Even after all these years, I watch carefully as I lift to make sure the entire car is going up along with the jack. :wink:

is the speed limit 60 KPH?

Out in the boonies, yes. And, if you go into the second biggest city in the state, a main boulevard with heavy traffic has the same 60 hph limit. I am one of the few who follows that 60kph in the boonies. If the traffic cop stops a Mexican, he expects maybe $10 USD. If he stops me, he expects more like $50 or $100 USD. It is not worth it.

I believe I wrote somewhere about destroying three tires in a few days. I put on the old Coopers which came with the car, and today went and ordered 4 new ones, not expensive ones, Cooper CS-5. If I am going to wipe them out in a few hundred miles, I might as well go bottom line. They will be a bit over $200 total for the four.

By the way, when those guys helped me and then demanded $10 for helping me, I couldn’t find the fourth lug nut. I looked all over the area. They were very narrow nuts, apparently universal for generic aluminum wheels, with small holes to put them in.

So, I stopped at Autozone on my next trip to the city, and bought a pack of four. When I got to the car, I decided to see if the “key” really worked. And, you guessed it. In the key was the missing lug nut!

I said to myself, “Self, maybe you should rent a Thinking Brain Dog[tm] for a few days.” :smiley:

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Sorry you are having this difficulty OP. Hard to say what’ involved to fix the jacking dent. Be cautious in the meantime as a fuel or brake line might have been affected. Likewise, wiring harnesses.

Your post reminds me of the time a buddy came over and asked me to help rotate his tires. I’m not really a tire rotating specialist, I get mine rotated at the tire store for the most part, but I said I’d be happy to help him give it a try. So I bring out my floor jack and jack stands, breaker bar for the lug nuts, etc. Then I ask him where the jack points are located. No clue. So I ask him to show me the owner’s manual, there’s usually a diagram in there. Lost it. So I put the equipment back where I found it, and we head to the tv room to watch sports, drink beer, and eat potato chips. Overall, it worked out pretty well! … lol .

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I went out and looked and after driving it several hundred miles, the seats don’t seem to be so far up as they were. I have a mental image of something underneath going BOINNNKKK! while I drove around. I will probably just leave it for now and see what happens. Thanks for tips and encouragement.

I would have had a very good idea where to put the jacks and jack stands, even without the owner’s manual

Glad you had a good time

:beers: :tv:

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