Differential ON FIRE today....
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This is a discussion on Differential ON FIRE today.... within the General Maintenance, Troubleshooting & Accidents. forums, part of the Tech & Modifying & General Repairs category; 2002 WRX. So I get a flat (rear) today. I read the manual just to be sure even though I've ...

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    Differential ON FIRE today....

    2002 WRX. So I get a flat (rear) today. I read the manual just to be sure even though I've changed many flats back in the days when cars used to get flats. Nothing special, make sure the OEM never used donut is 60 PSI (did that), stay under 50 (did that), don't drive it far (didn't). So I am on the highway at 45 with the 4 way flashers on, about 10 miles from home, 15 miles / 20 minutes from the flat tire, and I smell smoke and look behind and see LOTS of smoke. Immediate pull off, look under the back, and lots of OPEN FLAME coming from the differential. Got it put out with water that I carry in the car, flat bedded home and it is at the dealer's waiting for it to open tomorrow. I re-checked the manual word by word... "If your vehicle is an AWD, automatic, non-turbo model" you must put the fuse in, etc. etc. NOTHING about my 5 speed, turbo model at all, just the automatic AWD non-turbo. Checked and re-checked. Car has 69,000 miles, 7 years old, out of power train warranty. Do I have recourse from Subaru on this issue?

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    Admiral Ackbar mycologist's Avatar
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    Wow, that sucks, sorry to hear it!

    I don't think you have any recourse.

    Are the wheels and tires that are on there stock size?
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    Mace Windu devilfluff's Avatar
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    I would be

    Please update us with what the dealer says.
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    Dealer says the differential is ruined and wants about 1700 to replace it. Offered no explanation as to why. Said should only have gotten into problems with the donut if I drove "thousands of miles" on it. Said he had "never heard" of anyone frying a differential with a donut before. Said there was still fluid in the differential but it was fried anyway because "it must have gotten too hot."

    PS Yes everything is stock sizes; the donut is OEM unused and the tires are the standard 205 55 16 size that the car came with although different brand of course. Am only owner of the car and it has been serviced regularly by the book.
    Last edited by danacastro; 10-12-2009 at 07:15 AM. Reason: addition

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    Mace Windu devilfluff's Avatar
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    Call SOA and ask if they are willing to help out. Sometimes w/ appropriate service records, they will extend "good will" and cover all or part of a repair.

    Your vehicle's mileage & age may exclude you from assistance, but a phone call that may save a couple hundred dollars is certainly worth the time investment
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    If you are capable of changing it, a used rear diff can be had for as little as $250. It's really not that difficult.

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    Fire from rear differential

    I have a 2004 Impreza Outback, and I also had a fire after driving about 20 miles on a donut. Because I had a manual transmission, I couldn't shut off the AWD. I drove slowly, usually under 35 mph, never close to 50 mph, since the car didn't feel right. The assessor and the repair shop said the heat from the differential caused the undercoating to catch fire. The driver in the car behind me said she saw a large, sudden burst of fire from under the car. I was fine, and the car is okay now. But there was a lot of damage besides the differential itself. I also contacted the dealer and the manufacturer, and both claimed they never heard of such a thing. I like my car, but the company and the dealership don't even want to hear about the problem.

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    Resident meany-rator 06wrx4me's Avatar
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    My hypothesis is this.

    OP or original owner had mismatched tires on wrx for long time. Tire goes flat, spare goes on, last straw and flamo.

    Also was the diff fluid ever changed? That diff under normal conditions gets pretty hot, and the fluid helps cool. It only holds like .8 QT's of fluid.

    Oh and like TR said, change it yourself.
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    reply to hypothesis

    My tires have never been mismatched. I'm the original owner, and I never replace fewer than four tires at a time. I also have four snow tires.

    I don't recall whether or when the differential fluid was replaced. But I've always brought the car in for the servicing recommended by Subaru.

    The more basic problem is this: Subaru must know that there's a problem with using a donut even for a very short distance and at low mph with AWD. Otherwise, they wouldn't recommend in the manual to shut off the AWD in vehicles with auto transmissions when a donut is put on. But for some reason, they failed to permit a shut-off of the AWD in vehicles with manual transmissions (like mine). That's where I got into trouble. My lesson from this incident is this: Unless you carry around a matching, full size spare in the back of your car, call AAA for a tow if and when you have a flat in a Subaru. Don't put on the donut and drive the car. Subaru should say that in the manual.

    From my experience with the dealer where I bought the car and the corporation, I think it's clear that Toyota is not the only Japanese car company that tries very hard to ignore evidence of safety issues.

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    Not Asian Ying's Avatar
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    Subscribed to see if this has been a problem with more people. Haven't had a flat yet, but I guarantee you if i get one, I'm calling the dealer before I drive it anywhere.

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    Registered User T.J.'s Avatar
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    Sorry to hear about your cars, guys. For what it's worth, I have used my original doughnut several times on my 5sp '02 to drive to the tire shop after a flat. No problems.
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    Moderator Donkey's Avatar
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    My guess would be poor maintenance or leak. Either low or old fluid. I change both the transmission (5 MT) and differential fluid every 30K.
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    more about differential causing fire

    It doesn't make sense that it was a problem with the fluid. Like I said, I've taken this car in for all the recommended maintenance. And it's too much of a coincidence to think that the fluid problem peaked precisely when I got a flat. No, the donut was the problem. The insurance assessor and repair shop guys agreed on that. The interesting point is raised by T.J. He hasn't had the problem after several flats. Maybe that has something to do with the size of our tires compared to the size of our donuts. I do have large tires. Maybe the donuts are all the same size. Or maybe it had something to do with the country roads I drove on. Hard question.

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    Quote Originally Posted by phoebe View Post
    The more basic problem is this: Subaru must know that there's a problem with using a donut even for a very short distance and at low mph with AWD. Otherwise, they wouldn't recommend in the manual to shut off the AWD in vehicles with auto transmissions when a donut is put on. But for some reason, they failed to permit a shut-off of the AWD in vehicles with manual transmissions (like mine).
    You cant shut off the rear diff though. Even if somehow you managed to turn off the power being sent by the center diff to the rear diff, the rear diff can still get hot.

    If its a limited slip diff (which I believe the OP's was), then with no power being sent to it, a mismatch of tired size WILL start to heat up the clutches in the diff.

    FWIW I have a 2004 automatic WRX and this summer I had a bad flat. So I swapped on my spare tire and drove it home (about 10 miles) at speeds never above 45 mph. When i got home i reached under my car and felt the diff with my bare hand. It was hot, but not too hot for me to touch. My tire size is 225/45ZR17.

    I remember taking rough estimations of the distance of the center of the rim to the ground for each of the rear two, and letting a little air out of one of my tires (can't remember which one) to get the distance to match up.

    If possible (it wasn't for me) next time you get a flat, move your spare to front where you have an open differential. That's the safest move.

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