Chick’s Corner: Fixing A Toyota Driveshaft With J.E. Reel

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The old adage goes, “It’s not off-roading if you’re not breaking something,” but I’m going to be honest, folks; I’ve never had anything break on a trail, and I’d really prefer to keep it that way. I’ve heard too many horror stories to think it’s fine to just let that ball joint keep taking hits, or ignore the ticking noise from under the hood.

Vibrations at 70mph were traced to the 4Runner's driveshaft.

Vibrations at 70 mph were traced to the 4Runner’s driveshaft.

In line with that thinking, I started noticing a vibration coming from my 2000 Toyota 4Runner at highway speeds. Seventy miles per hour or greater would trigger some very light shaking in the cabin. Eso no esta bien, I thought to myself. Eso es muy malo.

This was hot off the heels of the Truetrac upgrade I had done to the rear differential, plus a set of new U-joints had been installed just a couple of months prior. I became somewhat distraught and irritated that simply wanting some more off-road traction had resulted in this constant quivering, but I wasn’t about to let it get the better of me. Jim Reel at J.E. Reel Driveline gave me the thumbs up to head over and get the problem checked out.

The Expert Touch

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This was my first time visiting J.E. Reel’s operation, and it was impressive. With so many driveline parts and tools lying around, I had confidence Jim and his team could get my Toyota figured out and fixed without too much trouble.

The guys got to work, unbolting the driveshaft from the rear flange and sliding it out from the transmission. The driveshaft was placed inside of a balancing machine and spun at high RPM, allowing the technicians observe how straight the driveshaft was, and look for any signs of play.

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The driveshaft is ready for closer inspection.

First impressions pointed out that there might have been play in the U-joints, which could explain the vibration at high speeds. Scott, the main technician helping with the repair, saw the issue was in the front yoke of the driveshaft.

Scott examined and then disassembled the U-joints and yoke.

“Here, in the transmission yoke, we can see that the eye has completely worn out,” Scott said. “It has a good size groove in it where the cap could be loose, to where it would just spin and eventually eat through and break. This would cause all kinds of vibration issues right away. The yoke has just been worn out really bad, and it’s time to get it replaced.”

A close-up shot of the old yoke, which had visible grooves that let the U-joint vibrate.

A close-up shot of the old yoke, which had visible grooves and scars that let the U-joint vibrate at highway speed.

At the time, this 4Runner had about 180,000 miles on the clock. I asked Scott if this problem was normal or premature for the age and mileage, to which he replied, “Usually, this happens when a U-joint goes bad and doesn’t get changed right away. These U-joints look like somewhat new, and like you said, they’ve been replaced not too long ago. I would imagine the yoke was going bad before the U-joints were installed.”

The replacement yoke was used, but had no wear to the rings where the U-joint would sit. This would take care of the vibrations in the 4Runner.

The replacement yoke was used, but had no wear to the rings where the U-joint would sit. This would take care of the vibrations in the 4Runner.

Scott and I chalked the wear on the yoke up to binding and rattling that occurred before I had changed the U-joints, as the old ones had reached the breaking point when they were replaced. Had the old U-joints been fitted with a zerk fitting, I could have probably kept my yoke from getting chewed up, but since the old ones lacked zerk fittings, things took their natural course and now the yoke would have to be replaced.

The new U-joints were equipped with zerk fittings, and Scott recommended I keep them greased every 3,000 miles. “If you do it every other oil change, it’s probably okay,” he said.

New U-joints and caps get lots of grease before going back in.

New U-joints and caps get plenty of grease before going back in.

A brand new yoke was not on hand unfortunately, but a perfectly sufficient used one was. “I think you’ll be just fine with this yoke, as it won’t go bad unless the U-joint goes bad first,” commented Scott. “Toyota makes excellent OE parts, so you’ll be good to go.”

The “new” transmission yoke went onto the driveshaft, with its eyes deburred before the new U-joints were installed. A healthy dose of grease was applied, and then the driveshaft went back into the balancer for observation. It passed with flying colors, and was treated to a fresh coat of black paint – as well as a J.E. Reel decal – and it was off to the freeway to make sure the problem had been solved.

The driveshaft passed the balancing test with flying colors, then received a fresh coat of paint.

Good As New!

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The freeway drive proved the issue had been fixed. No longer did I sense any vibrations  when approaching the speed limit; all was as it should be. I could turn my music up and not feel as though I was ignoring a problem.

My takeaway from the experience had several facets: not only had I learned what caused my driveshaft to go bad in the first place, but I had also discovered the importance of why greasing the driveshaft U-joints was essential to keeping my Toyota going. Witnessing experts working and using advanced tooling was also enlightening, and watching the J.E. Reel operation firsthand was great, as it taught me a lot about what goes into the makeup and maintenance of these critical driveline components.

When it’s time for me step into a 4×4 and really do some off-roading, I’ll seek out the advice of Jim and his team over at J.E. Reel. You should too, by checking out the company’s website. Until next time, happy trails and stay safe, folks.

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About the author

David Chick

David Chick comes to us ready for adventure. With passions that span clean and fast Corvettes all the way to down and dirty off-road vehicles (just ask him about his dream Jurassic Park Explorer), David's eclectic tastes lend well to his multiple automotive writing passions.
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