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Okay, I admit... I probably should have been a little more attentive to the folks at Jiffy Lube, where I get my LOF's. But after having religiously changed my last van's oil at every 3,000mi. intervals and being pleased with their service, there was no reason to think that they'd change. Until...

I had recently returned from a couple of hundred mile trip over the weekend, driving primarily at highway speeds, when I started to hear a howling noise, coming from the vicinity of the rear-end. I parked it overnight, only to use it the next day, were upon the start of the drive at highway speeds, the noise level of the howling increased to the point were it drowned out the radio. I pulled it in to the Jiffy Lube were I generally have my LOF's performed and asked the attendant to check the fluid level in the differential and top-off, if necessary. The first attendant, after a few minutes under the van, announced that the fluid level was fine... Whereas upon asking if he was able to pull the plug and physically check, replied, No! I ask that he remove the plug and inspect the fluid level, please! He struggled with a 3/8 drive wrench for a few minutes, until he gave up, announcing that he would have to get help to remove the plug. Another attendant, proceeded to pull the pull with relative ease and upon insertion of a probe, found there to be no "reachable"-fluid in the rear-end! I about flipped! I couldn't believe that it could be low enough for a tool, not to get a pick-up, AND for this noise just to have occured in the last couple of days... The attendant then proceeded to fill-up to and over capacity, until it was obseved spilling-out into their pick-up tray. He then let the extra fluid drain and replaced the plug. Upon my driving away, I observed the noise has not changed in pitch, nor loudness.

1. Has the differential suffered damage, by being run low on fluid?
2. And if so, how did it occur, so fast, when the noise was not present, before a couple of day's ago?
3. Or, is there another explanation to the howling being emitted out of the area of the rear end?
4. Is my planetary and pinion gear toast, or?
5. Where did ALL the differential fluid go, in the first place?
6. What are my options now? How should I approach it?

I would appreciate any/all comments-specifically addressing the differential, it's ability to sustain low oil/no oil-situations, what damages occur and what other sounds from this region could also be it the culprit. Anybody have an idea as to the cost of correcting the problem? Rebuilding the existing rear-end or swapping-out a rear-end from a wrecking yard... Perplexed in Seattle, WA.
 

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First, look at the inside of your rear wheels, and at the front of the differential, there will be signs of oil, no other way for it to get out. Unless not filled at the factory (this does ocasionally happen)

As long as the gear can reach some oil, it will throw it around enough to keep rear end quiet.

So can be pretty low and not cause a bad problem, although wear is increased.

At this point, rear end needs rebuilt, the gears will also normally be damaged, since few mechanics can actually set up a rear end correctly, I say find a good rear end in a wrecking yard, same ratio, and have it installed with fresh synthetic oil and new brakes, axle seals and if the axel was removed for any length of time, put in new wheel cylinders also. If there is any evidece of pinion leak, then have new pinion seal installed, but if not leaking, leave it alone, some mechanics will not follow the rules for these and mess up the rear end.

Sorry about your troubles. Another reason why I change all my own fluids. Besides being cheap!

Rod
 
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