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Old 01-07-2015, 08:57 AM   #1
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Jeep Commander Catastrophic Failure

Now that I've calmed down a bit, I guess I can tell you my story. DW and I left the day after Christmas for Gulf Shores, Alabama for a week getaway. We were headed south on I-65 a bit past Birmingham. It was time to walk the pups and grab some lunch, so we got off at an exit and took care of business. As always, I do a walkaround of the MH and toad and check everything before we hit the road. The only thing I did notice at that time, was quit a bit of what I though was soot on the rear tailgate of the Commander. But I really didn't think a lot about it as it picks up some soot from the tailpipe of the DP and it's winter and it was dirty when we started.

As we pulled back onto the interstate and accelerated up to speed, a car came up beside me blowing his horn. I did a quick check of mirrors, backup camera and gauges. Didn't see anything obviously wrong, but headed for the shoulder. I exited and did a complete walk around again, finding nothing. I also checked the Brake Buddy to make sure nothing there was wrong. Again, nothing hot, nothing smoking, no baggage doors open, MH was running fine, no leaks underneath. I was baffled. I got back in and told DW that I was going to take the next exit (which was in sight) and check the roof. I thought maybe something had flown off the roof.

Anyway, at the exit I found a little abandoned parking lot and pulled in. When I was making the turn, I felt a bit of a shudder and looked in the mirror and saw the drivers side rear wheel on the Jeep was jerking.

I shut it down and went outside to check. This time, I could smell the unmistakable smell of gear oil. I looked underneath the Jeep and could see oil slung all over the bottom near the differential. Uh oh. Dead in the water.

I went back inside and broke the news "we have a serious issue". While we sat and discussed the next move, I knew I needed to disconnect the Jeep. I gathered my wits and went back and put the transfer case back in gear and disconnected the tow bar. I started it and began to back up. It sounded like a bucket of bolts. I managed to drive it forward a few feet to get it out of the way. Upon examination, it appears that...somewhere along the way the pinion seal failed. At that point, all the gear oil leaked out and the rear end overheated and discombobulated.

We had to have a plan, so the first thing was to decide what to do with the Jeep. This is where smartphones are indispensable. We both began searching for repair shops in the vicinity. DW managed to locate a Victory Auto Repair. It was 4:00pm on Friday, so we gave them a call. Indeed, they were a NAPA shop and could work on the Jeep. I was amazed while I was getting directions that the manager asked me where we were located? I told him I wasn't sure, but I was just off the exit next to a Shell station. He laughed and said "look behind the Shell". There it was

We then decided to just try driving it there since we could make it without even getting on the highway. DW drove it and said that although it made quite a bit of noise while turning, going straight wasn't too bad. She walked it over there at about 5 mph.

Then, we needed to decide to continue and leave the Jeep or cancel the trip and stay there. We managed to find a rental car in Gulf Shores, so decided to continue on the trip. The manager of the shop said that they couldn't get it in until Monday, but he was sure they could have it diagnosed and fixed upon our return back through at the end of the week. So, we left the Jeep in their care.

On Monday, I got the dreaded call. Not only were the gears chewed up, but also the housing. We were going to need a replacement differential. I was quoted around $750 for the differential, plus installation so the total was going to be around $1600. I gave them the go-ahead. Attached are pics of the damage.

So...on Wednesday, I get another call. They got the replacement rear-end, but the gearing is incorrect, so they have to order another. This one, won't arrive until next week.

Now, I have to go back to Alabama this weekend to retrieve it. Anyway, my point of writing this is that I'm not sure of anything else I could have done to prevent this. It impossible to hear anything going wrong in the toad and I never felt anything. I believe that the reason I was flagged is that someone noticed the rear wheels locking occasionally, although I'm surprised I didn't feel anything in the drivers seat. Also, the tires didn't seem to indicate any sort of catastrophic event happening.
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Old 01-07-2015, 09:31 AM   #2
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Fortunately no one was hurt and the Jeep didn't get totally destroyed. Not sure how you could have prevented or known about this. That is one issue towing a car, the coach has so much power that its hard to tell if something bad is happening.

Point of curiosity on my part, do you have a TPMS with temperature readout? I am wondering if that might have given some type of warning that the rear tires were heating due to not turning. Of course even with this, at that point the damage would have been done.

Hope it all works out for you.
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Old 01-07-2015, 10:19 AM   #3
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I do have TPMS. There was no indication of heat, as a matter of fact when I did the initial walkaround on the side of the interstate I did the "hand test" to all wheels.
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Old 01-07-2015, 10:42 AM   #4
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Probably nothing could have been done before failure. Even if you were driving it by the time you felt something the rear end was done for. The shop seems to be doing OK and the gear ratios front to back have to match. Just one of those things.
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Old 01-07-2015, 10:56 AM   #5
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With flat towing I change the differential fluid more then recommended. I consider it akin to wheel bearings on a trailer. Plus I check them every month or so for leaks. Just poke my head under the Jeep, to see if the differential is dry.

I consider it cheap insurance against the problem you just had.


Not chastising, but giving an example some preventive action.

Your post reminds me to keep it up. Thanks for sharing your experience.
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Old 01-07-2015, 08:13 PM   #6
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Mark,
I am not familiar with your Jeep, however pinion seal failures are not a common failure. Before the internet most of us would probably never heard of your issue.

No one was hurt and your vehicle is repairable. How many miles on the Toad, Odo and towed? Sorry to hear about your misfortune.

The reason I ask is, I have a 99 Grand Cherokee with 160K on the odo and ~ 90K being towed. I have replaced the following running gear.

Front axle half shafts (CV joints)
Front Drive Shaft (joints again)
Rear axle seal on drivers side. (Small leak, but critical, also have to replace bearing at same time)
Transfer case drive chain. (My GC has full time 4wd so the chain is engaged full time)

With the mileage I have all of the above long with the front brake rotors are typical wear items in my opinion.

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Old 01-08-2015, 07:05 AM   #7
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My daughter's Jeep Liberty rear pinion seal is rusted and I have been keeping an eye on it knowing it will need to be replaced. I found this when the axle seal leaked and I had to take everything apart and pull the axles to swap the seals.
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Old 01-08-2015, 07:43 AM   #8
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My Commander has about 110,000 showing on the odometer, probably 20,000 not showing as towed miles. I've also replaced both front axles (recently), battery and water pump, but other than those items, just regular maintenance. It's my second Jeep. My first was a 96 GC that I towed over 50,000 miles with nary a hiccup.
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Old 01-08-2015, 08:41 AM   #9
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Mark, Sorry to hear about your problem and I agree there was nothing you could have done if you did not feel anything different while towing your Jeep. That is another reason why I like to haul my vehicle on a car hauler. The only thing that could go wrong is a bearing go out. a flat or blow out on the trailer. Trailer tires are cheaper to replace too. Backing is never a problem. I haul a Mustang GT or and Explorer 4WD, my choice depending on where we are headed.
The trailers are cheap enough but it does add about 1200 to 1500 lbs of weight to your toad.
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Old 01-08-2015, 02:57 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by camato5 View Post
Mark, Sorry to hear about your problem and I agree there was nothing you could have done if you did not feel anything different while towing your Jeep. That is another reason why I like to haul my vehicle on a car hauler. The only thing that could go wrong is a bearing go out. a flat or blow out on the trailer. Trailer tires are cheaper to replace too. Backing is never a problem. I haul a Mustang GT or and Explorer 4WD, my choice depending on where we are headed.
The trailers are cheap enough but it does add about 1200 to 1500 lbs of weight to your toad.

Charlie,
I agree on the trailer, however I have had issue of no where to park the trailer once I get to location. I never had that issue out west, but once I head east, the CGs tighten up and I have never stayed in a state park that allowed me to have a RV, trailer, and additional vehicle. I have stayed in a few places, where there was no room on site for my trailer without the extra car.

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Old 01-08-2015, 03:03 PM   #11
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This is one reason I've never gone the trailer route. It's one more thing to have to deal with when you reach your location. Also, my HOA does not allow the storage of the MH or a trailer, so the expense would be greater.

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Charlie,
I agree on the trailer, however I have had issue of no where to park the trailer once I get to location. I never had that issue out west, but once I head east, the CGs tighten up and I have never stayed in a state park that allowed me to have a RV, trailer, and additional vehicle. I have stayed in a few places, where there was no room on site for my trailer without the extra car.

Darin
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Old 01-09-2015, 06:36 AM   #12
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Originally Posted by topdownman View Post
This is one reason I've never gone the trailer route. It's one more thing to have to deal with when you reach your location. Also, my HOA does not allow the storage of the MH or a trailer, so the expense would be greater.
Topdownman and Darin, I never thought about the limited space in the state and national parks. I do not stay there much as I usually use KOA, Good Sams or other private CG's and usually get a big pad or ask if they have storage. That is a good point and one I need to keep in mind while travelling and want to stay in State Parks. Learned something new.
Storage is not a problem for me as I live out in the country and have acreage to park my stuff. But I can see where HOA's would prohibit storing too many "toys" in the neighborhood.
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Old 01-09-2015, 08:19 AM   #13
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It could be worse... My Church purchased a used tour bus (like a grayhound only a different company) in fact one of my co-workers at the time, a former bus driver,,, Used to drive it.

Seems the seller did the routine PM, changed oil in the pig (Differential) and only did half the job....... Delivered it with the pig dry as a bone.
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Old 01-09-2015, 10:19 AM   #14
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It could be worse... My Church purchased a used tour bus (like a grayhound only a different company) in fact one of my co-workers at the time, a former bus driver,,, Used to drive it.

Seems the seller did the routine PM, changed oil in the pig (Differential) and only did half the job....... Delivered it with the pig dry as a bone.

That ring and pinion and bearing set is going to be a bit more than the Jeep.
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