Smelling oil after hauling my boat

I have a ‘96 Explorer XLT with 130M that I put a hitch on when I got it last summer, and have hauled my 19’ boat (slowly - I’m a newbie)upcape 26 miles and back. I noticed when exiting the car after each trip a smell of oil; or transmission fluid? Now that I think of it, I have smelled the same when airing up after coming off the beach. Fluid levels and operation of transmission seem normal. What should I be looking for, or should I just turn wait until something fails? No oil spots on the ground, either…

I would be concerned about a possible transmission overheating problem. An Explorer is really not designed to haul much of a load. When you DO haul a load like that, it’s not uncommon to need a transmission cooler added. This will help it deal with the extra work it’s doing to haul, otherwise you can burn up a trans real quick.

…so a 1500 lb boat or a drive on the beach (also slowly) in 4wd is too much for it, it sounds like…I’m sensitive enough to machines that I don’t think I’m abusing it. And the bearings and tire on the trailer are new, so it must just be that it’s not made to actually do what it looks like it’s built for. How else can I tell the transmission is overheating? Thanks for your response to this, it’s kind of a bummer but it’s helpful I had a '91 Trooper that I wasn’t nearly so careful about because it was so old and rusty, and it just kept on going in spite of actual abuse…

1500lbs is NOT too much of a load for an explorer…However WHY are you putting it in 4wd??? You run the risk of DESTROYING your transfercase if driving in 4wd on dry pavement.

Most vehicles have computers which control the transmission. If you do, someone should be able to talk to the trans computer with a Ford scanner, and then look at the temp. If you can plan for this, you can drive to the repair shop with your rig attached, they could verify what the temp is. It may not be too much for a newer vehicle, but with 130k miles, there is likely a lot of wear already in the trans.

I’m not putting it in 4WD on pavement, just on the beach. I’d gotten pretty good at getting around in my '91 Trooper on the sand without putting it in 4, then someone said it’s a greater strain on a transmission driving 2WD on sand so in the Explorer I always use 4WD when driving the oversand route to the beach, and I smell it then, too. And that’s NOT driving like I’m in a Jeep commercial, just puttering along.

The A4LD and 4R55 have a common problem with the front transmission seal leaking under high load. This seal is not prone to leaking because there should be no pressure on it. Under high load the drain hole back to the pan can be overwhelmed from worn out pump bearings causing fluid leak. This can go away for periods with normal driving, but a good indication the tranny is showing age. Replacing the seal will not solve the problem. Some people drill out the drain hole to deal with this leakage. An average transmission rebuild will not solve this problem.

Could the “check engine” light’s being on be signalling a problem in the trans? It’ been on awhile, through a couple of services, and replacing the speed control sensor, which the code indicated, didn’t turn it off. But it has nothing to do with the transmission, or does it?

Thanks, OperaHouse - that sounds like the most probable explanation. I got the Explorer from a relative who hadn’t put a hitch on it, and never used the 4WD, but drove it to FL and back from MA a lot. Sounds like a “baby it and crossaya fingas” situation, altho I will mention it to my mechanic. I do miss my old Trooper…

The transmission can set check engine light errors on lots of vehicles. Also, typically, your vehicle speed sensor is located inside the transmission. A speed sensor error doesn’t mean the sensor is bad, but rather the signal from the sensor has a problem. It could be a sensor, the wiring from the sensor to the computer, the computer processing the signal, or object in the trans the sensor is looking at.

You can likely go for a long time, but this is often associated with a transmission alignment problem. I consider this a difficult problem for most transmission rebuilders to correct since most just slap new seals in and shove it out the door. You can read more about this problem on a great site for explorer problems.