Home » How Fixing And Road Tripping A 230,000 Mile $500 Toyota Minivan Went From Pointless Disaster To Triumph

How Fixing And Road Tripping A 230,000 Mile $500 Toyota Minivan Went From Pointless Disaster To Triumph

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“This trip is totally pointless” I told my friend over the phone as I headed back to my motel after having wrenched all day in a cold St. Louis garage. “What am I even doing here?” I blurted, “I should be helping run the website and not trying to fix this steaming pile that nobody even wants.” I was doubting my decision-making skills; sure, I’d only spent $500 on the 2005 Toyota Sienna, but what was the point of spending all this time trying to fix a 230,000 mile former family-hauler and then driving it 1,000 miles? Where was I even going? I was in a state of mental anguish, but luckily, this would not last, for the high-mileage, totally “uncool” minivan would go on to completely steal my heart, helping me realize that it is perhaps the greatest bargain in all of cars. Here’s how an old van turned an ill-advised trip from a disaster to triumph.

Let’s rewind about a year. I’d just finished an utterly absurd relocation from Detroit to LA involving two cross-country trips, each time hauling a dilapidated junker on a trailer. I’d brought a spare engine, multiple spare Jeep axle assemblies, at least a dozen tires, loads of tools, and on and on — the amount of junk I’d brought was hilarious, and is something I look forward to sharing with you all soon. But for now, let’s talk about my second drive across the country, when I stopped in St. Louis and met a reader named Dave, who had told me he’d sell me his old Toyota Sienna minivan for $500. “I’m interested!” I’d told him before heading to the west coast.

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For about a year, David pinged me every now and then to ask if I was still interested, and for a year I told him “Yes, but I need a little time!” You see, $500 for an all-wheel drive Toyota Sienna was far too good of a deal, and as the editor-in-chief of this website, I know there’s at the very least content to be wrung out of it.

Anyway, after a year, the guilt became unbearable, and I knew I had to figure something out, so I contacted my colleague Jason’s wife, Sally, and asked if she wanted a nice, reliable Toyota, since her VW Tiguan kept breaking down and lord knows every car in Jason’s fleet is perpetually problematic. Especially in light of Jason’s recent health scare, the family needed reliable wheels, so that’s how I billed the Sienna: A nice-condition Toyota. And that is what I thought it was!

Flying With My Tools From LA To St. Louis

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With a future home established and Jason’s North Carolina house as a destination, I packed up my tools and hopped on an airplane leaving LAX for St. Louis.

 

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When I arrived, it was nine degrees Fahrenheit, and despite my blood having thinned in California over the prior 12 months, I learned one thing right away when I stepped out of the St. Louis airport into that frozen tundra: I’m a Detroiter, and there’s no taking that away from me. Nine degrees? Bring it on:

 

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I took a shuttle to a rental car agency, and which wheels did the clerk randomly offer me? A dark red Asian minivan, not unlike the one that had brought me there in the first place:

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I drove the rental to the “Pear Tree Inn” in Arnold, Missouri, arriving at 3 A.M. I crashed, and prepared for a full day of wrenching the next morning.

Realizing That Maybe This Was All Pointless

And it would indeed have to be a full day, as my Southwest Airlines flight had been delayed from Monday to Tuesday, and part of the van’s mission in addition acting as a reliable daily-driver for Jason and Sally was to drive around a military installation that The Autopian had been invited to. More on that soon, but the invitation was for Friday, and the facility was 17 hours away in Blackstone, Virginia,, meaning I needed all day Thursday and early Friday to make the journey. This left only Wednesday for wrenching. Things were tight.

 

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Before heading to Dave’s place, I dropped by what has become a major cultural center of the midwest: Walmart (I know this, as I grew up in Kansas). There, I snagged a cheap $70 battery, oil, an oil filter, an air filter, and some other supplies. Then I headed to Dave’s, and when I arrived, swapped in that 12-volt battery, first thing. The vehicle had been sitting for at least a year, and given how cold it was, there was no way in hell the old battery stood a chance, and even if there was a little life left in it, dealing with battery-related concerns wasn’t something I was going to waste my time on.

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With the new lead-acid hooked to the cables, one crank of the key fired up the 3.3-liter V6 under the Sienna’s hood; it ran great!

 

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But the issue with the van wasn’t powertrain related, it had to do with the suspension: Namely, the strut on the passenger’s side had broken apart (see below). This made for a horrible ride that just wasn’t worthy of a cross-country trip. So I drove the Sienna into Dave’s garage, and we got to wrenching.

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The broken strut

Before I continue on, I need to discuss a realization that I had just before that engine fired up: This minivan was in much worse shape than I’d expected, and this was a problem because I’d told Sally that it was actually quite nice. Sally’s no stickler, but she drives a modern VW Tiguan for a reason: She wants a decent cabin and not a junker. Sadly, as I sat there listening to that surprisingly beautifully-idling V6, I looked around at the cracks and the big chunk missing from the dash, at the hideously worn steering wheel and shifter, at the stained carpets, at the cracked seats, and at the cracked windshield: This thing was not “quite nice,” it was a bit of a heap.

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So I called Jason and Sally and told them my revelation. “I appreciate the gesture, but please don’t drive another junker into my yard,” Sally told me, kindly. I understood; Jason had already littered the yard with broken cars, and Sally’s nice Tiguan had started overheating. The last thing Jason and Sally needed was another heap on her hands, and sadly, as I looked around the car, “heap” is exactly what I saw.

At this point, my entire trip was pointless.

Wrenching On The Suspension Was Easy, Except For That Control Arm

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Still, the van belonged to me now, so even if I wasn’t going to Jason’s, I had to get the heck out of St. Louis, so Dave and I “hit the spanners,” so to speak. We jacked the car up, zipped off one of the wheels, then took the windshield wipers off, and unbolted the wiper transmission from the cowl to give us access to the upper strut bolts:

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The driver’s side strut wasn’t a known issue, I just figured I’d replace it since the passenger’s side strut had come apart; better safe than sorry. I figured while I was swapping the struts, I may as well change the wheel bearings, and since those are pressed into the steering knuckle, I just ordered a pair of knuckles with bearings pre-pressed for $183 shipped:

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I also snagged some control arms and inner/outer tie rod ends for $121:

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And of course, I bought a pair of struts (for $176):

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I figured the last thing I needed was to hand Jason and Sally a car that would require significant service, and front-end bits are often the things that go first. So, since I was already swapping struts, I bit the bullet and dropped $500 on suspension bits. At first, everything went well; the St. Louis winters hadn’t led to too much salt-induced rust:

 

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The suspension came apart without a fuss. Well, at least until it came time to remove the control arm.

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This was perhaps the most frustrating wrenching operation I’ve ever had to deal with (well, tied with the Chevy HHR’s front control arms); two out of the control arm’s three bolts are right there, easily accessed. On first glance, removing that arm seems like a breeze. But then you realize that the third bolt is under the engine mount, and to get to it you are expected to “remove engine assembly with transaxle,” per the instructions below.

That is absolutely absurd! You have to remove the engine and transmission just to get a front control arm out?! Come on!

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I spent far more time trying to solve this issue than I’m prepared to admit. It was just one bolt — the frontmost one and I was sure I could get that out by just shifting the engine mount. But no, that wasn’t going to work. I didn’t have the time.

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The good news was that the old control arms looked ok, and more importantly: The ball-joints are bolt-on, meaning I could just take the ones off my new control arms and fasten them to the old arms, so that’s exactly what I did (the old ball joints were on their way out, based on feel).

I Screwed Up So Badly With The Passenger’s Side Axle Shaft

As soon as I made the “reuse old control arm decision,” things came together nicely:

 

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Thanks to a realization that my Google Maps app had been set to “avoid highways,” the trip was going to take 12 hours and not 17, so timing was working out OK. I was on track to have that front suspension put together by the end of the night; I could get an alignment in the morning, and drive eight hours Thursday, and the remaining four hours the morning of that event at the military facility.

But then I made a series of idiotic errors; the first one seemed so innocuous: I just zipped off the axle nut on the passenger’s side:

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It may be hard to tell, but those axle threads shown above are totally ruined. The axle nut features a lip that one is meant to hammer down into a keyway in the axle. The lip deforms so that, if the nut tries backing out, the lip interferes with the axle keyway and keeps the nut in place. The problem is: If you just zip the nut out without bending that lip back, the lip completely ruins the axle’s threads.

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Luckily I had purchased a pair of axle shafts for $80 apiece (at this point, I was in this vehicle at least $1,200 — still not bad), so I had one sitting by waiting for its moment to shine. And that’s what it did; I pulled the old axle shaft out, shoved the new one in, and bolted everything back together.

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And so that was it; The car was done. I was ready for an alignment the next day, and then I was off to Virginia for that appointment at the undisclosed military facility.

Kidding. Of course I had to make another foolish mistake.

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After torquing both front wheels to spec, and putting the van into reverse so I could back out of the garage, I just heard clicking. The engine revved, and the clicking’s pace increased, but the van wouldn’t move.

“Yo, you’re leaking!” Dave called out.

I shut off the engine, ran to the front, and realized: The damn axle shaft had popped out of the transaxle/transfer case assembly, leaking fluid everywhere. It was late, and I was tired, so I just turned in to the ol’ Pear Tree Inn, and went to sleep realizing that there was a good chance I was not going to make the invitation in Virginia, and thereafter I had no place to take the van because Sally had made it clear that she doesn’t want a heap in her driveway. All the while, the website could use my help.

This trip had become a disaster — a complete waste of my time.

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The next morning I grabbed some automatic transmission fluid and gear oil for the transmission and transfer case, respectively, and headed to Dave’s.

Draining and filling the transmission was easy, but draining the transfer case was a pain in my ass that required a 45 minute tool run to Home Depot, and 20 minutes of strenuous pumping:

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Then around noon on Thursday, with a full transmission and transfer case, with a new axle shaft with shiny new threads firmly shoved in place, with fresh engine oil (I did that for good measure), with a fresh air filter, with new wheel bearings, with new inner and outer tie rods, and with new struts, the van was ready to begin its 1,000 mile trek.

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Dave bid me adieu, and I headed east.

Driving East. The Van Proved Its Mettle In The Icy Hills

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The van cruised beautifully, especially given that I hadn’t had time to get an alignment done (I’d just eyeballed it). The five-speed auto shifted great, the engine — aside from a little serpentine belt squeal on startup — was nice and quiet, and the ride quality was exceptional.

With that said, pretty much every possible type of check-engine-ish light was making itself known on the dashboard — the Vehicle Stability Control light was on, the Maintenance Required light was on, the Check Engine Light was on, and the airbag light was flashing:

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Since I’d left my scanner in LA, I stopped at Autozone, where an employee read off the fact that my O2 sensors were triggering my check engine light:

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I bet the VSC light has to do with the ABS sensors and maybe the new knuckles/the new CV axle on that one side. Not sure what’s going on there. And the Maintenance Required light probably just has to be reset, and the airbag light…well, that’s just a common thing on many old Japanese cars, I’ve found.

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It didn’t matter, because the van cruised beautifully down Interstate 64, where I saw a notification on my Google Maps App. Apparently there was a Winter Weather Warning for that night up ahead, so I did what I always do when I have weather concerns: I call my brother, Ben, who loves weather more than, possibly, anything.

Ben routed me through Bowling Green, to Nashville, then eastwards through Knoxville. “Yeah, you gotta get down south ASAP, as the rain is going to start freezing the farther north you are. And definitely stay out of West Virginia!” he warned, noting the snowy and icy conditions expected in those hills.

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So south I went.

As darkness fell, so did more rain. I kept a watchful eye over the van’s exterior temperature reading in the overhead console; it hovered around freezing, though it seemed like the rain on the road was still in liquid form due to the ground’s thermal mass.

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The Toyota’s HID headlights were a godsend through the hills of Kentucky, as there was no street lighting whatsoever, and I was starting to touch a bit of black ice here and there. Was this a great time to try to stretch the fuel tank well beyond its “0 miles of range left” indicator in order to get to Buck-ee’s? No, definitely not, but I did it anyway:

 

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With a stomach full of brisket, I eventually made it past Bowling Green, where temperatures remained comfortably above freezing. But not for long; as I headed east and approached Knoxville, a combination of higher elevation and the fact that it was now later in the night meant the road became sheet-ice. Like, legitimately scary stuff:

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The van’s tires weren’t amazing. They were less than 10 years old and had plenty of tread, so they were technically safe, but they were still all-seasons, and lightly stabbing the brakes as I like to do to check wintery conditions eventually led the wheels to lock up. When all it took was a touch of the left pedal to get the tires to skid, I knew it was time to hang up the keys for the night and duck into a Best Western.

To make my appointment in Virginia, I had to leave the next morning at 5 AM. There in the video above you can hear me extol the virtues of the van’s excellent all-wheel drive system, which I’d used to rip some nasty donuts in the hotel parking lot the prior night. Sadly, I have no footage of these donuts, but they happened, and they surprised me.

A minivan that can legitimately rip donuts? Just awesome.

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The drive to Virginia that morning was a bit of a slog given how tired I was, but I was determined. I had to get to the base by noon, and hopefully I’d be able to take the van on the special off-road course.

I Got Turned Away In Virginia

After five hours of driving that morning, I made it to my destination on time, but was immediately turned away at the gate by security because my tags were out of date (I’d just bought the car). Sonova!

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It was at this point that I realized I should have just stayed home and spent those three days running the site and getting you, dear readers, the sweet, sweet content you deserve. This trip was pointless! I’d spent $1200 and multiple days to drive to a Virginia military base that didn’t want the van, and then to North Carolina to a family that didn’t want the van. Should I just sell the machine and call it an L?

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I did get to go on the base (in a different vehicle) and ride in and drive a Toyota Tacoma off-road. Plus I got to hang out with Matt, Parker Kligerman, and my friend and talented cameraperson, Erica. It was honestly a nice pick-me-up, but it didn’t detract from the fact that this van trip was a huge waste.

But then, that night, I drove to Richmond to see my brother and college friends. I stayed the night with a buddy from the Virginia Automotive Club that I had co-founded with my college friend Steven, and then the next morning we — Richard, Richard’s brother, Steven, their families, and I — had breakfast, and the guys asked if I could take them around the block in the minivan. “Sure,” I replied.

Richard took the keys, and drove us around the block.

“Yo, this thing rules!” he said aloud. “It shifts nicely, the engine’s got plenty of power, and it rides great!”

Oh yeah, and see that button right there? That’s adaptive cruise control,” I told him. “And this is a DVD player,” I said as I folded the screen down from the headliner. “Oh, and those are heated seats,” I pointed out.

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I Realized That, Even If The Trip Was Pointless, This Van Was Incredible

My friend’s enthusiasm for this van had me realizing: This thing is actually legit! Sure, the trip may be pointless, but that’s not the van’s fault. The van is an absolute gem of a machine. It had driven over 750 miles without an issue, its engine felt powerful, its all-wheel drive system had proven itself in the snow, the adaptive cruise control had worked beautifully, the heated seats were clutch in freezing weather, and honestly: The thing was filled with luxury features I never would have dreamed one could get for only $500.

Yeah, the interior was a little rough, but this van was worthy of love. And as I made that drive from Virginia to see Jason and Sally in North Carolina, I realized that indeed had fallen in love with this thing. It was so comfortable and practical and not horrible on gas (over 20 MPG) and capable in adverse weather and just lovely. Driving it had been a true joy, even if it had been completely pointless.

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“You know what?” Let me stop by this Walmart and see if I can clean this thing up a little. I bought a steering wheel cover, some floor mats, and some cleaning supplies, and I headed to the nearest car vacuum/wash.

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Vacuuming and then scrubbing the carpets, and installing floor mats had helped, but the biggest game-changer was that steering wheel cover. After doing the best job that I could on the interior and exterior, I drove to Jason’s house. Upon getting there, I couldn’t stop talking about the van.

The Van Has A Loving New Home!

“It’s not pretty, but seriously it’s incredible. The number of features you get in this thing — and they all work!” I told them. “And honestly, the thing drove here flawlessly!” I said, smiling. “I’m blown away. It’s got 230,000 miles on it, it’s filled with luxury features, and it all works. And for $500!”

I think Jason and Sally could tell how smitten I was by the van.  “Let’s have a look at it,” they said.

Sally immediately liked it! “Oh yeah, this thing is great!” she said. “You said it was a junker. No no, it just needs a little bit of love. It’s got tons of potential!”

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WHEW!

What a relief!

This whole trip’s purpose had been to get Jason and Sally a good, reliable vehicle, and the road trip had proven that the Sienna fit that description. But because the van was in worse shape than I’d initially thought, I was convinced it’d be turned away. But who was I to doubt Sally’s vision for true potential? She married Jason, after all!

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Before I flew back to LAX, my friend and Autopian contributor Stephen Walter Gossin swung by to help swap the front brakes and the valve cover gasket; the front rotors had been vibrating a bit on the highway, so I figured I’d spend another $80 on new rotors and pads; why not? The valve cover gasket was leaking oil onto the exhaust manifold, causing smoking, so we took care of that for $20 and 20 minutes.

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Jason and I took the van to the airport, but not before making this video, which has garnered over 1000 likes:

 

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Come on, how can you not be convinced? $500 for a power moonroof, power rear vent windows, power seats, heated seats, a DVD player, a CD player with navigation, adaptive cruise control, HID lights, power mirrors, power side doors, a power rear hatch, and so much more. This van was the deal of the century, it had proven itself as unstoppable on that 1,000 mile road trip, and though it wasn’t minty inside, Sally loves it! Just check it out!:

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In fact, after Jason took the vehicle to get an alignment and to swap out the seized slide pins that I should have handled during the brake job, Sally took the van on a trip to Virginia and back, and it was flawless! According to Jason, Sally’s been driving it around all the time, cleaning the interior, enjoying the project.

And I’m just delighted. Thoroughly, thoroughly delighted.

I have no doubt this machine will serve them well for years to come. (As long as that timing belt doesn’t snap before I can swap it next summer. Gulp!).

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Jalop Gold
Jalop Gold
2 months ago

Wait; she’s back to “friend” level??

Awesome i3 shirt, and I hope Jason made you watch the amazing creation that is Firefly.

EricTheViking
EricTheViking
2 months ago

David,

First of all, thanks very much for subtitling the Instagram video clips! This means a lot to the deaf and hard-of-hearing audience. Of course, more and more hearing people like the subtitled video clips on their smartphones. Sometimes, it’s hard to understand the dialogues due to the accents, background noises, or mumblings.

Do keep up with great work!

The Mark
The Mark
2 months ago

Everyone should be so lucky to have a friend like DT.

GreatFallsGreen
GreatFallsGreen
2 months ago

Oh, that interior doesn’t look nearly as bad as you made it sound. I’ve seen leather seats in worse shape in cars with half the mileage, and for the wheel the wood trim helps minimize the amount you have to touch it too without the cover. A thorough leather clean & condition won’t solve it all, especially the cracks, but would help for sure. In the vid last vid the driver’s seat has a sheen like Jason & Sally may have done so? But no wear on the buttons or anything like that is a big plus. A cargo mat tossed where the 3rd row stows will help obscure that grime if desired. Weathertech still has a liner listed, although it’s also a fifth of the van’s purchase price, so.

If not already done so…that front center console is removable and can be put between the rear captain’s chairs, maybe check that nothing else is lurking under there.

Lardo
Lardo
2 months ago

I like Sally.

Freelivin1327
Freelivin1327
2 months ago

Great work! This is awesome

The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
2 months ago

> flawlessly

With all the idiot lights flashing, and burning fluid :p

David’s face in the top shot may be the greatest DT picture in history.

Last edited 2 months ago by The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
Taxi maniac
Taxi maniac
2 months ago

I want more crazy content with Dave fixing old high mileage neglected non sexy vehicles then doing crazy trips with them.

The bmw warrantee battery stuff was interesting but rusty stuff that most people consider junk is just more exciting.

Don’t worry about the website. Get an intern to take care of it!

Greensoul
Greensoul
2 months ago

Dear David, why do you enjoy mechanical pain so much. Are you ok? Are you a mechanical/masochist? And why did you spend so much time on a vehicle with such little rust? I’m worried for you. Now touch the scale model and let me know where it hurt you

Clubwagon Chateau
Clubwagon Chateau
2 months ago

????

Michael Beranek
Michael Beranek
2 months ago

David, I’d like to point out that I warned you about the control arms a month ago when you proposed this lunacy. I also warned you about the axles popping out of the transmission! Just hire me already.
I think the 2004-200whatever Sienna is gonna end up a legend. Ours has never let us down and really doesn’t look or drive like a 20 year-old car.

Michael Beranek
Michael Beranek
2 months ago
Reply to  David Tracy

OH I completely forgot about those. I haven’t seen them on mine since the originals.
Which means your axle nuts were probably factory, and all that stuff you replaced was factory too.
It was really cool to read about you doing exactly the same work on a car I’m soooooo familiar with.

Echo Stellar
Echo Stellar
2 months ago

The best thing for melted away Toyota steering wheel leather is a light sanding followed by a few coats of flexible SEM Classic Coat. Looks and feels like new and lasts for years. Truly incredible chemical, and they sometimes have the matching OEM colors.
I’ve used it on seats too, but it doesn’t fill cracks that well and I didn’t have time to test for longevity before selling the car.

Toecutter
Toecutter
2 months ago

David, I’m glad that Jason and his family graciously accepted your gift after all. You’re a good friend for helping them in their time of need.

All up, including the flight, fuel, and repairs, you’re probably under $2,000 and maybe 40 hours work for everything. Considering what you’ve got, that’s a bargain. If that timing belt lasts until it can be replaced, I suspect this vehicle will offer a decade more of daily use.

Parsko
Parsko
2 months ago

In light of that time of year, TOUCHDOWN!!!!!!!!!

Taxi maniac
Taxi maniac
2 months ago

Dave this is awesome. Been waiting for this story. Very impressive. You are a machine.

But you made one serious serious mistake….

You replaced oem toyota tie rods and ball joints with aftermarket. (Were they failed? If so then it makes more sense )

I’ve been running toyota taxis in salty new england and taken about 10 of them to 300 to 450k.

Never has a inner or outter tie rod failed. I have no idea how that’s possible. But it’s amazing.

On my ford/ Lincolns, dodges and even honda I have had to replace the tie rods every 50 to 75k it seems. Motorcraft is better they moog… but nothing close to toyota oem.

I tried the detroit axle tie rods and got about 15k outta them till the they developed play. I was disappointed.

Detroit axle brakes, loaded struts and shocks have been good to me and I recommend them. Never again will I use ball joints, sway bar links and especially tie rods that come from a “suspension kit”.

Curious if any other readers have similar experience on oem toyota parts vs aftermarket. How toyota tie rods have lasted me so good is like mind boggling. I’ve had to replace all the other goodies but never the tie rods and only one ball joint. Oem toyota sway bar links seem to last me till about 300k.

Bearings can make it 250 to 330k (don’t know if they original but I think so)
I’m running my first Detroit axle knuckle with bearing and hoping it lasts. Only have 10k on it but I loved the value. Toyota bearings don’t seem to be any better then the other oem manufactures but everything else they sure are.

I don’t bother bending the axle nut back out but I clean the threads and lube it then rock it back and forth with the impact and I’ve managed to never trash the rusty threads. That’s an important step. You’re lucky the axle didn’t have a carrier bearing or you weren’t gonna be driving that van.

Matching spray paint does wonders to clean up old cracked dirty toyota leather seats. Duplicolor makes it. You can make that interior beautiful again.

You don’t have to take the engine out for control arm, you just take off a few bolts on top of the engine (can’t remember exactly which ones but they near the abs pump I think) and you jack the engine up a few inches to get clearance for the control arm bolts. But I would not touch control arms till they cluncking around.

Autophix makes a good scanner for toyota that reads all those codes.

Those siennas are amazing. They warrant ever minute of time you gave it. Odysseys from that Era were the nicest riding with best interior but the transmissions are time bombs. The dodges are better choice to give to a friend then a Odyssey but that sienna is a gem and 5 times better vehicle then either if you trying to keep a van till infinity.

10 years ago I didn’t get as long of life out of toyota parts as i stated here, but we have less salt and sand on the roads now which seems to really extend their lifespan for me.

Last edited 2 months ago by Taxi maniac
LTDScott
LTDScott
2 months ago
Reply to  David Tracy

I recently discovered how out of touch I am with labor costs. Just last weekend I finished rebuilding the front suspension in my new to me 2004 Sequoia – upper and lower control arms, all ball joints, steering rack, and sway bar links/bushings. It ended up being a weeklong job waiting for parts (discovered the steering rack was leaking and decided to replace it at the same time).

The wheel bearings and upper ball joints are pressed into the knuckles, and while I could have searched for the right loaner tools from Autozone to press them in and out myself, I didn’t really have time to do this during the week, so I took the removed knuckles and OE Toyota bearings and ball joints to a local shop that my company uses for repair work. I stupidly didn’t get an actual quote, but they said about 2.5 hours labor. When I returned to pick them up I was shocked to hear the total was $425! Labor rate is $170/hr! Apparently my brain is stuck in the early 2000s because I was expecting to walk out the door for like $250.

I didn’t realize that “loaded” steering knuckles with bearings already installed were a thing until your article, but looks like they don’t offer one for my truck anyway.

DadBod
DadBod
2 months ago

You take David Tracy out of a backyard full of heaps, but you can never take the backyard full of heaps out of David Tracy.

The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
2 months ago
Reply to  DadBod

The man is such a pile aficionado he’s now exporting piles to other people’s homes

El Jefe de Barbacoa
El Jefe de Barbacoa
2 months ago

Johnny Clunkerseed, himself.

DadBod
DadBod
2 months ago
Reply to  DadBod

You [can] take David Tracy… 🙂

Crank Shaft
Crank Shaft
2 months ago

Fantastic job again! You are indeed a true Mensch. Nice brakes (for now).

Dear Lord, what is being done about the timing belt?! Talk about your time bombs.

VermonsterDad
VermonsterDad
2 months ago

“It was at this point that I realized I should have just stayed home and spent those three days running the site and getting you, dear readers, the sweet, sweet content you deserve.” . . . David, this is the content we want. Thank you for another good read and good deed.

LTDScott
LTDScott
2 months ago

I can’t speak 100% for the Sienna, but on my 2004 Sequoia I learned that a check engine light also triggers the VSC lights even if there are no problems with the VSC or ABS systems. Clearing the check engine light also cleared the VSC lights. I’m guessing Toyota REALLY wanted to get your attention when there’s a problem.

Pappa P
Pappa P
2 months ago
Reply to  LTDScott

On my ’06 Rav4, an active CEL for an O2 sensor will take out the VSC, AWD, and cruise control.

Torque
Torque
2 months ago
Reply to  LTDScott

I have a 2004 Sienna XLE (2wd), a suspected cat or 02 sensor issue Will cause all 3 dash lights to come on

Dar Khorse
Dar Khorse
2 months ago

I hate to say “I told you so” (who am I kidding – I LOVE to say that!), but I predicted when you first told us about this van that it would be a huge success. And I’m sure it will give Jason and Sally and Otto years of great service!

Thanks for the great story, David. It was a real pleasure to read about your journey (both physical and metaphysical) and see the joy and triumph at the end.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
2 months ago

I am constantly amazed and harping on the Autopian staffs ability to ignore economic sense. So a few points I got reading here.
1. You say you are still a Detroiter yet you worked on the car in a garage. That’s not the DT I know.
2. How bad must your fleet be if DT actually dismisses it.
3. If you fly out to get the car you must consider the cost of plane tickets and rental cars, especially when it is a tax write of as a business deduction. Please even if you won’t consider having an economic guru checking articles please get one for taxes.
4. I believe a good detail is the best investment in selling a car.
5. If JT and Sally didn’t want it selling it for a equal amount and content is a win.
6. COTD for slamming JT as a bogus prize for Sally.
7. A description of reliable and dependable by a car journalist that requires 3x the cost of buying to fix it not considering labor.
8. How did you not consider your rental as a parts vehicle even for filters? Take the insurance and swap parts.
And these are just a few of the things that make me go hmmmm.

Last edited 2 months ago by Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
2 months ago
Reply to  David Tracy

Thank you, you have no idea the honor I feel by your response. And no despite my nomination despite guire there is no sarcasm in my response

Dr Buford
Dr Buford
2 months ago

Bravo! Bravo!

Mark Tucker
Mark Tucker
2 months ago

One bolt you can’t get to is sort of a Toyota signature. The ’93-97 Corolla has four engine mounts. Three of them are cake; the fourth, the rear one, requires either the subframe to be lowered, or the engine/trans to be lifted, and the front exhaust pipe to be removed either way.

And why, you may ask? Because that mount has 1.5″ long studs welded to its baseplate, instead of being secured by bolts coming up from the bottom like the front one. If it used bolts, you could swap it in ten minutes. As it is… it’s an all-day job.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
2 months ago
Reply to  Mark Tucker

Or now car are designed by CAD not people who work on cars. It’d just all shoveled in their to fit in small spaces and causes recalls..

An article IDEA does modern CAD design cause more errors, recalls, and repairs than good old common sense. Do safety designs also cause more deaths than they save but blame drive errors because you can’t see out of a car anymore?

Rollin Hand
Rollin Hand
2 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

It could also be a case of efficiency of manufacturing. What is hellish to pull apart often makes the car much easier (and cheaper) to put together.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
2 months ago
Reply to  Rollin Hand

I have no reason to doubt that but a few of my mechanic friends are not big on modern designs. Just yesterday one friend was cussing saying before designing a person should be a mechanic for 10 years. Trying to drain the cooling system of a Dodge. If I heard right they no longer include a drain cock to change fluids?

Rollin Hand
Rollin Hand
2 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

And BMW won’t let you use a dipstick to check the oil.

For the drain cock, it could be simply a cost cutting measure, or it could be a way to reduce breakage. The Car Wizard on You Tube said in one video they break a lot, and if it doss, you’re into a new rad as well., so they just pull the hose.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
2 months ago
Reply to  Rollin Hand

My Isuzu Vehicross doesn’t have transmission dip stick. Irritating as heck. I wonder if it saves all that much consideration it is not a tech part or cost heavy. I wonder if it is more of a make us unable to diy repairs and/ or save a quarter but risk lives that many automobile manufacturers are so well known for.

Captain Muppet
Captain Muppet
2 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

Hi!

I design car parts on CAD. I can also twirl spanners well enough to do Frankenstein engine swaps.

We aren’t all clueless idiots, but we do often have priorities that outweigh service access, like cost, factory assembly sequence, carry-over assemblies or horrific management. Mostly it’s some variant of cost, not because we’re bumbling morons.

CAD isn’t the problem, it’s that reliability has got good enough that the people who actually buy new cars don’t have to work on them, so it’s a low priority.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
2 months ago
Reply to  Captain Muppet

Well I get that point, it makes sense. But they aren’t doing enough cost savings to make cars affordable.

Captain Muppet
Captain Muppet
2 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

My newest car is twelve years old. I understand how expensive new cars are. I also understand how much it costs to make them. There’s a reason car makers go bust all the time.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
2 months ago
Reply to  Captain Muppet

My newest is a 2001. I realize everything gets pricier but cars went up faster than anything.seems like $20,000 to $44,000 in 5 years.

PL71 Enthusiast
PL71 Enthusiast
2 months ago

Bwahahahaha Toyota taking it a step above the Germans with that “remove engine” to swap a consumable.

Taxi maniac
Taxi maniac
2 months ago

Nah. I had a 2003 bmw 325 convertible for 30 days once. Was excited to buy it.

But was waaay more excited to sell it.

Dropping the exhaust to replace a starter was fun… but I think it’s more fun when you don’t need to do that. The coolant system required a special bleed procedure to get it working as well. But at least that was easy.

Never again will I try a German car unless I’m filthy rich and it’s a new Porsche but I think I’d miss my toyotas if I ever did that.

I’d be stoked to own a bmw if someone else was maintaining it.

PL71 Enthusiast
PL71 Enthusiast
2 months ago
Reply to  Taxi maniac

My strategy with the starters on my V-shaped Audi motors is to just pray they don’t fail.

I have no idea how BMW managed to make a starter on an inline engine difficult to replace.

JumboG
JumboG
2 months ago

If you pull the intake manifold it’s not so bad. I’ve done it both ways (from underneath and above.) Are you removing more stuff? Yes. But it winds up being easier, if slightly more time consuming.

Hondaimpbmw 12
Hondaimpbmw 12
2 months ago

Let me tell you about the $12K + I’ve spent on parts and consumables for my “12 E93. And I haven’t replaced the brakes or starter.

PL71 Enthusiast
PL71 Enthusiast
1 month ago
Reply to  Hondaimpbmw 12

But how many of these things were in no way related to the engine and required a partial removal!?

Hondaimpbmw 12
Hondaimpbmw 12
1 month ago

Oh, probably $2.5K or so. I have not actually removed the engine, but I have removed the front subframe to get at and remove the turbos and the oil pan.

In fact I looked again and found I misread my Fuelly summary page and ASSumed that the bigger number was service/repairs. I have actually spent more on fuel over the last 75k miles and a mere $9800 on parts, oil, tires and reg/insurance. I didn’t include the cost of my medium -rise 2 post lift (always a good idea when you own a BMW). Owning a BMW kinda requires that you own another car to drive when the BMW pulls up lame (like when I ruined a tire when a bolt entered the tread. It took a week to get replacement tires in our little podunk town.). Sadly, the backup car is a VW GTI. (Lol)

PL71 Enthusiast
PL71 Enthusiast
1 month ago
Reply to  Hondaimpbmw 12

Haha, I have 3 high mileage german cars (need a back-up for the back-up).

I may have a twisted idea of what is reasonable, I probably have nearly the entire value of the car put into parts in my pretty run-of-the-mill A4.

Pappa P
Pappa P
2 months ago

Those control arms aren’t consumable.
The real lesson is that you don’t need to change them.

PL71 Enthusiast
PL71 Enthusiast
2 months ago
Reply to  Pappa P

That’s a fair point, I can imagine that German control arm bushings might not last as long as Toyota ones.

Mike Smith
Mike Smith
2 months ago
Reply to  Pappa P

Louder for those in the back! (OEM’s, especially BMW, evidently) “Control Arms Are Not (Should Not Be) Consumables!”

PL71 Enthusiast
PL71 Enthusiast
2 months ago
Reply to  Mike Smith

I’m not convinced there’s a way to design a bushing that won’t need replaced eventually.

Mike Smith
Mike Smith
2 months ago

Tell that to my ’78 Mercury. The bushings are cracked and degraded, sure, but 1) that wear has not ever resulted in clunks/bad noises or dangerous handling degradation, and 2) all the bushings and ball joints are replaceable with reasonably common tools (ball joint separator and a press are the most specialized things you might need) – the control arm itself is not a consumable.
Or my ’89 F150, or my ’02 Yukon XL… all of the above have lots of years and lots of miles under their belt (in some cases lots and lots and lots… the Yukon is more than halfway back from its round trip to the moon, mileage wise). But my ’05 Magnum needed a bunch of front end work over its lifetime, my ’13 Mustang needs a bunch of stuff right now (and has needed for a while, currently at 165k miles),
This whole concept of hard suspension parts as consumables seems to have cropped up in the late 90’s / early aughts – it makes me wonder if it corresponds to bushings that were engineered to have different stiffness in different directions, and as such need to be oriented correctly in the control arms, so they were vulcanized directly in place… but they’re too damned soft in the ‘soft’ direction and just tear instead, then start clunking around everyplace. It sounds like just the kind of ‘have your cake and eat it too’ designer’s wet dream that turns out to be lousy in practice but is just too tempting in theory for any OEM to give up on. Besides, they only fail outside of warranty mileage, right?

Hondaimpbmw 12
Hondaimpbmw 12
1 month ago

I replaced the control arm bushings on my ‘96 Impala SS at about 65k miles. Of course that was when I discovered that the choices of 255/50X17” W tires was quite limited.

Rollin Hand
Rollin Hand
2 months ago

Ford spec’d dropping the engine to change the spark plugs on my Thunderbird Super Coupe. The spark plugs.

That heavens they shipped with double platinums from the factory.

PL71 Enthusiast
PL71 Enthusiast
2 months ago
Reply to  Rollin Hand

Are they under the cowl? I don’t understand why ford does that on every vehicle.

Rollin Hand
Rollin Hand
2 months ago

No, they were just reall hard to get at. The engine was the 3.8 lump that they used on everything with a supercharger et al. It was OHV, so the plugs were down near the exhaust manifold.

People did change the plugs without pulling the motor, but it was apparently not easy.

https://www.tccoa.com/threads/changing-the-spark-plugs-on-an-s-c-motor.51753/

JumboG
JumboG
2 months ago
Reply to  Rollin Hand

4th gen Camaros and Firebirds are pretty difficult, although with a combination of extensions and swivels I was able to change the spark plug in my landlord’s Firebird.

Hondaimpbmw 12
Hondaimpbmw 12
1 month ago

GM sez “Hold my Beer”. Have you looked under the hood of an F body or the last of the B bodies?

Gee See
Gee See
2 months ago

and the airbag light…well, that’s just a common thing on many old Japanese cars, I’ve found.

Great write up! I do hope you ran the VIN via Toyota’s recall website.. https://www.toyota.ca/toyota/en/owners/recalls I know there are less and less Takata airbags on the road, but never hurt to double check.

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