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Ok so my rear differential axle seals were leaking and in reading here this seems common enough of an issue but there was a surprising lack of information on how to do the work so I figured I would write up a guide as there are some tricks a guy can use to make the job much easier. First of all I am going to say I am not a mechanic and I know I didn't do everything 100% correctly but hopefully this will be enough information to help some people considering doing the work. Doing this work saved me $650 on labour so was well worth it imo.

One thing I want to comment on is if you notice your seals are leaking do not waste time letting them leak. I checked my oil level right away and the oil was high enough and clean so I left it for a few days during which it was raining. When I changed my oil it looked like this...



So first things first, this is what my axle seals looked like...




Once finished diagnosing that you need to do the work these are the tools you will need.

3/8 drive socket wrench with long, short and universal extensions
1/2 drive socket wrench may be needed to break bolts free
Torque wrench
12,14 and 17 mm sockets (with one of the 17 mm sockets being shallow as possible)
10 mm hex bit socket(preferably 3/8 or 1/2 in drive)
~ 2 lb hammer
Large blunt chisel/punch(preferably brass)
Oil pump(like outboard leg oil pump)
Jack, jack stands and tire iron

Step 1: Crack wheel lug nuts, jack up car and set on jack stands. I used a hydraulic jack on the main suspension arm and put jack stands where you would normally place the jack that comes with car.

Step 2: Remove oil drain plug. You will need the 10 mm hex bit socket for this. If you are like me your only 10 mm hex bit will be for use on a 1/4 in socket wrench and if your plug is as tight as mine was you will probably break your adapters like I did. I advise buying a 3/8 or better yet 1/2 in drive hex bit... While draining you can remove wheels, when finished put drain plug back in.

Step 3: Remove rear exhaust. There are 2 bolts and 2 hangers. Use some wd40 or spit or something to lube up the hangers to help remove them. You may need to soak the bolts with some penetrant blaster.



Step 3: Disconnect "propeller shaft" or drive shaft depending what you want to call it. If you are doing this on a lift you will have to take it completely off, if doing this on the ground you won't need to unbolt it from the transfer case. Whichever way you do it do not bend the middle angle more then 20 degrees. Before starting make a mark on differential and shaft so you can line it up the same as before. Then remove 4 nuts and washers, I found a 3/8 wrench with long extension then universal joint then short 12 mm socket to work best for this. If it is like mine you are going to have to persuade it to break free from diff with a hammer(probably want to use a wood block or something). Leave it resting on the bolts for now.



Step 4: Remove bolts at joint in propeller shaft. Once removed slide rear section forward and lower unit to rest on ground making sure angle doesn't exceed 20 degrees. The front section should rest nicely on exhaust and rear section on ground keeping it fairly straight as seen below(ignore missing differential...).





Step 5: Disconnect suspension braces as seen below. I realized I didn't need to fully remove them, just loosen the front bolt and remove back one and they will fall out of the way.



Step 6: Loosen differential mounts(don't remove them completely yet though). When doing this loosen the bolts not the nuts. The passenger side front is straight forward. The driver side was a little more complicated as the bolt on my car could not be removed because it hit the fuel tank as seen below. What I did was leave that one loose(will need it loose) and then remove the two bolts where the support mounts to differential. The rear mount bolt is on backside of support and is tricky to get to, you will need a shallow 17 mm socket and at that will only be able to remove it part way then if you are lucky like I was you can remove the rest by hand or else will have to fight with trying to get a wrench up there. Now with all the supports loose move on to next step.





Step 7: Pop cv axles free. This was a royal pita on mine. Most people say to pop these out with a bar, I got one free this way but no matter how hard I tried couldn't get the other side. If prying them out make sure you pry on the supports and nowhere else. To get the one free I used a heavier hammer(~ 2 lbs) and a large blunt chisel. I didn't take picture of this but it is pretty obvious how to do it, just opposite of picture below. The hammer and chisel method was far easier then the pry bar method and would have saved me literally an hour or more(I tried every pry bar and orientation I could think of...). You won't be able to remove axles yet so time to step 8.



Step 8: Lower differential, This will be easiest with 2 people but can be done with only 1. You might be able to figure out how to use a jack but I opted for brute strength. After removing support bolts I brought the differential forward and angled it down onto my stomach. You won't be able to lower it too far because of the electrical and vacuum connections that need to be undone. The electrical connector is a squeeze to remove style and pulls out of the back and the rear clip will have to be undone. You should now be able to remove the cv axles with a little manoeuvring. With cv shafts out and electrical and vacuum hose unhooked the differential is now free to be removed. A good idea is to put cv axles in plastic bags to keep them clean.



Step 9: Plug cv axle holes with paper towel and remove axle seals and install new ones. If you are like me you won't have the right tool for this. I carefully pried them out with a pry bar then installed the new ones very carefully with a hammer and punch(I used a little bit of oil on seal edge to help it slide in. Before removing take note of how far they sit into differential to know how far your new ones should sit.




Now for the cause of all this. My breather valve was completely blocked off due to rust/scale. Unfortunately I didn't take a picture until after I had cleaned it. To clean it I broke the cap free and then twisted it until it had chewed most of the rust away.



Now all you have to do is put it back together!
 

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Discussion Starter #2
Putting it back together is pretty much opposite of removal.

Step 1: Install cv axles. When installing the cv axles put a little gear oil on the splines first. Orient them so cutout portion of snap ring points downward and then insert until you can feel the gears start to mesh. At this point you will have to tap it in the rest of the way with a hammer and chisel/punch. I found it easier to get only one cv axle started, lift diff into place, insert mounting nuts to hold everything steady before driving axle into diff and then lowering to do second one. Make sure you remember to hook up the electrical and vacuum before putting diff in place for final time.



Step 2: Install mounting bolts. The rear bolt can be a bit of a pita but is doable. The rear bolt is supposed to be torqued to 103 ftlbs, my torque wrench didn't go that high so I maxed it out and then put on a normal wrench with breaker bar and snugged it up a bit more. Front mount to diff bolt torque to 41 ftlbs. Front mounts to chasis torque to 63 ftlbs.

Step 3: Install suspension brackets. Torque bolts to 44 ftlbs.

Step 4: Lift propeller shaft into place and realign diff to match marks. Rest on bolts and install middle bolts first making sure not to exceed 20 degree angle on joint. Torque middle bolts to 27 ftlbs and diff bolts to 26 ftlbs.

Step 5: Install exhaust. Supposed to use a new gasket but I didn't have one so left old one in place. Doesn't seem to leak but if it does could easily get a new one and put on later.

Step 6: Manual says to put new seal on diff drain plug, I didn't have one so again used old one and hoped it didn't leak. Supposed to torque to 29 ftlbs.

Step 7: Fill with SAE 90 hypoid gear oil. You will need some sort of pump to do this. I used a pump that I have for changing my leg oil on boat outboard.

Step 8: Insert plug, install wheels and lower car. I then removed plug and let excess oil drain out(because will overfill being on an angle when jacked up) and then put plug back in.

Step 9: Pray nothing is going to leak and start vehicle and check exhaust for leak and take vehicle for short test drive and check for oil leaks.

Hopefully this helps some people that weren't sure about doing the work themselves. As mentioned before I am not a professional and I am sure I did some things wrong/used the wrong tools but I wanted to share the few tricks I learned along the way.
 

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Discussion Starter #5
One thing people might want to try and attempt even if their seals aren't leaking is jacking the car up and then feeling around on top of the diff until you can feel the breather valve(only round thing sticking out of top). Try twisting and wiggling it to see if it is loose, twisting it will chew away any rust/scale build up which could avert or at least postpone the seals blowing out.

It is difficult to get your hand up there but it could save you a lot of money if you don't think you would want to attempt this work yourself(dealer quoted me ~$700).
 

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Can you just spray some rust proof oil around that area as a preventative measure?
Doing something like that might help but I doubt you could spray it without dropping the diff. I could barely squeeze my hand up there and just feeling the breather valve was a challenge.
 

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Good write up. My seals were leaking and was nearly bone dry. I might have attempted this myself, but time was not on my side and I had a few hundred miles to travel for work the next few days.
Cost me about $450 at the dealership (getting it fixed as I write this) and my extended warranty did not cover seals. LAME! I might have to cancel that warranty plan, that's pretty bad. The previous warranty company covered it and saved me $2,500.

Side note: my RAV has recently been making a strange buzzing noise during low speed braking (less than 5mph) so we will see if this solves that. I will try and update.
 

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rea diff. bearings/sea

My 2006 Rav has a substantial leak on the passenger side with a fair bit of bearing play and evidence of metal dust in the fluid. Can the side input bearings be changed or is it better to find a good used diff? Great posting btw with very complete instructions...better than Haynes!
 

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2011 Rav4 Limited V6 with 47,000 miles.
I had the rear differential driver’s side axle seal leaking. I replaced both of the axle seals since I had it off. The instructions were great. I was not going to replace the seals myself until I saw your write up and pictures. It took me a total of 8 to 9 hours to complete this over 2 days, from taking out the tools to cleaning and putting away my tools. I can probably do the job in 4 hours now. Not hoping to test that.
It was leaving a drop or 2 every other day in the garage. It has been 3 days and about 100 miles with no leaks.
I ran into the most difficulty reinstalling the axles in the differential. I didn’t have the c-clips in the 12 o’clock position as instructed. Once I had the c-clips in the correct position the axles went in with no problems.
I used Beck/Arnley 052-4057 Axle Seals. I looked up the part number at Beck Arnley Online Parts Catalog . It has a cross reference that I used to get the Beck/Arnley part number from the Toyota p/n 90311-37004. I found the Toyota p/n from Toyota Online Parts | toyotaonlineparts.com which I found here on the forum on another discussion.


The seal puller I found in my tool box, that I do not remember buying but glad I had it. I was able the remove the old seals easily. I used a 1/4” drive extension to slowly tap in the new seals.


Thanks for the guidance on this. My next project it to flush the transmission and change the filter
 

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One thing people might want to try and attempt even if their seals aren't leaking is jacking the car up and then feeling around on top of the diff until you can feel the breather valve(only round thing sticking out of top). Try twisting and wiggling it to see if it is loose, twisting it will chew away any rust/scale build up which could avert or at least postpone the seals blowing out.

It is difficult to get your hand up there but it could save you a lot of money if you don't think you would want to attempt this work yourself(dealer quoted me ~$700).

I know this is an old post but the info is still valid. My mechanic checks this breather/vent to make sure that it turns freely every time he does an oil change. He said that if they get plugged up the result will be a leaking seal. He already found one plugged up causing a seal leak on a Rav4. He said that it should be free enough to be able to be turned by hand.
 

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My breather vent was moving freely. I am not sure what caused my seal to start leaking at the low mileage on the car.
There was a black ooze that leaked out when I pulled the axle that was leaking and little black bits that were stuck to the seal. The non leaking side look just fine.
 

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Thank you guys for these excellent instructions. I have this same problem as well and I am going to order the shaft seals. Would you recommend that I would order the snap rings too?
 

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Sooo... UPDATE.


I forgot about this thread. I sent Toyota headquarters in California an email of my situation of how the seals have blown twice now and they decided it was a bad enough defect and reimburse me for the entire repair. Thank you Toyota!! That says a lot.

Also, the buzzing noise was from rippling in my front rotors. I replaced the pads/rotors myself and all is good!
 

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A very good tutorial. This used to happen quite a lot on some of the trucks I used to work on. In those cases it was always worth cleaning the breather and see if the oil leak stopped. It is only the pressure increase from heat that pushes oil out. I have seen in some extreme cases that the pressure flips the lip of the seal but it is rare.
 

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Thanks for the detailed steps/pics to address a failed seal, they were great.
I tackled this project which took 8 hours start to finish.
The PITA's with this were exactly as described, couple that with a 7 yr old vehicle exposed to the Chicago area winters and associated corrosion.
Penetrating Blaster was a must with this.
Some differences:
I used a floor jack with a 2/4 across the plate to control diff and wrestle the axles.
The chisel method was best of popping the CV's as well as breaking drive shaft loose from the diff
To set the seal, a 1 1/2 PVC couple fitting fits perfect.
To fill, snaking a poly tube between the wheel well and side fill hole worked w/o a pump. The lube bottle had a tapered tip and was secured to the end of the tube and elevated to fill.
Impact tools were a help with the dismantling end of this.
Anti-seize was applied to the bolts, I have a feeling the same will happen down the road.

As to the cause, yes that lame breather was rusted solid. Using penetrating oil, the breather was cleaned up. Additionally since the cap is only crimped at the base, I removed it and also cleaned the hole into casing; which was also rusted up.
The pathetic part with the breather was one seal was previously replaced by the dealer while under an extended warranty and concurrent with suspension arm recall from two years ago. I guess the dealer mechanic had no interest in addressing the problem and only took care of the symptom.

One issue was with the seal obtained from the local parts store. The local Toyota dealer was out of stock and wouldn't get one for a few days - Thanksgiving holiday. Web surfing did find an aftermarket from a local parts chain. Though the seal looked correct in size and shape, it was not a match - once everything was apart. Calling around another Toyota also came up empty, but at least this one took the effort to verify a third one in the area did have one.
 

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Why do you have to lower the differential to do this repair? The CV axle and seal area seem relatively accessible. I only need to replace the passenger side seal and was hoping that the job would not be so involved (lowering diff, removing exhaust, unhooking drive-shaft, etc...) Thank you for your excellent instructions!
 

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this is what I did to get at the back diff bolt, make sure you have the right size grommet for the hole saw you use, thanks for the pics and information it made it a lot easier
 

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This back bolt is tricky thing. There is an access to it with shallow socket but- once you start undoing it it gets pushed against the body and eventually stacks. The trick is- undo all the front brackets first so when you turn the back bolt it pushes the diff forward instead of bolt itself going back. Assembly in reverse- back bolt first (one could curse the japanise desing genius million times doing this job) and front brackets after that.
Appretiation to topic starter- it would be near to imposible to complete the job without his instructions.
 
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