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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
UPDATE - It looks like it's the axle seal.

If noises are hard to describe and locate, smells surely must be at least as difficult. But I'm hoping someone has some good advice. The last few times I've driven a while, I've noticed a "hot" smell that seems to be from the rear of the Xterra. It doesn't linger very long, but dissipates away after a few minutes, so it's been tough to pin down.

2006 OR AT with 114K miles. No indications of overheating per dash gauge and ScanGauge. The radiator was replaced with a Koyo a couple years ago, not transmission bypassed. Doesn't feel sluggish, seems to be running fine, MPG's are normal. I have not changed the spark plugs yet so that is really the only overdue maintenance.

It does not smell to me like coolant, nor oil, nor transmission fluid. No visible leaks.
Levels and condition of these seem normal; the oil and AT fluid don't smell burnt. All have been changed within normal recommended time frames.

I don't notice any wheel or tire being especially hot. You can hold your hand on the rims after driving, so I don't think I have a seized caliper, although it's possible it's dragging.

I don't have my service notes with me here, but I've only owned it for 25K miles and I have done the differentials and transmission fluid changes, so those have less than 25K. I have added the rear diff breather and routed to the tail light as many others have.

No sign of rodents or any other critters cooking on the exhaust. I don't see anything touching the exhaust that shouldn't be.

I checked the muffler and the exhaust tip immediately after driving, using a non contact thermometer. The hottest reading I got from the muffler was 400F and inside the exhaust tip 250F. I have no idea if these are elevated or not.

On last weekend's camping trip we had to get fuel from a one pump station in a small town, but it seemed to run fine.

Not sure where to go from here, or what else I'm overlooking. Thank you in advance for any advice you can offer!
 

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Using that non-contact thermometer - check the back two brake calipers after you park.
I suspect- given the rest of the testing you've already done- this is a very likely culprit.... could be just dragging up against the rotor.
 

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Also, be sure nothing landed on exhaust...prob already did, but ya never know, esp if you went offroad.
 

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Discussion Starter #5
Thanks gentlemen.

I see you did the breather mod but the axle seals are a wear item and if they fail you'll end up with a hot gear oil smell which is really distinctive from regular oil. Look on the inside of the rear wheels for oil spatter and see if your e brake is working. Here's how it went for me http://www.thenewx.org/forum/11-powertrain-driveline/205250-hot-gear-oil-smell-when-towing.html
I think you may have nailed it Longboardr. While I don't see oil, I see a lot of dust and dirt adhered to the inside of the hub on the passenger side. On the driver side I don't see anything except some light surface rust.

Drivers side:


Passenger side:


So based on this, the culprit is probably the axle seal, correct? Thank you.

Using that non-contact thermometer - check the back two brake calipers after you park.
I suspect- given the rest of the testing you've already done- this is a very likely culprit.... could be just dragging up against the rotor.
Thanks. I neglected to explain that I did check the brakes with the thermometer and they didn't appear especially hot.

Also, be sure nothing landed on exhaust...prob already did, but ya never know, esp if you went offroad.
Thank you. Briefly looking over the exhaust didn't turn anything up, but because this thing spends as much time as possible off pavement I've definitely gotten some stuff slung around under there before.
 

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Thanks gentlemen.



I think you may have nailed it Longboardr. While I don't see oil, I see a lot of dust and dirt adhered to the inside of the hub on the passenger side. On the driver side I don't see anything except some light surface rust.

Drivers side:


Passenger side:


So based on this, the culprit is probably the axle seal, correct? Thank you.
Looks like it could be it. Pull the rotor and you'll know. Since you've got an OR you'll have a M226 axle. If it is the seal and if you want to fix it yourself look on the thread I linked before to see what you can get from Napa for seal, bearing and bearing retainer.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
Looks like it could be it. Pull the rotor and you'll know. Since you've got an OR you'll have a M226 axle. If it is the seal and if you want to fix it yourself look on the thread I linked before to see what you can get from Napa for seal, bearing and bearing retainer.
Hopefully I get some time in the next few days to pull the rotor. So you're saying it will be self evident it's the axle seal once I do that?

Looking over your thread and others makes me think I may not want to tackle this myself. I am comfortable with fluid changes, bolt on parts, basic stuff like that, but haven't done anything quite like this. But I need to do a bit more reading up on the threads.

Thank you again.
 

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Hopefully I get some time in the next few days to pull the rotor. So you're saying it will be self evident it's the axle seal once I do that?

Looking over your thread and others makes me think I may not want to tackle this myself. I am comfortable with fluid changes, bolt on parts, basic stuff like that, but haven't done anything quite like this. But I need to do a bit more reading up on the threads.

Thank you again.
No problem, forum members helped me find it too.

It will be very evident when you pull the rotor, the inside will be a big mess from the gear oil if the seal is leaking.

There used to be a writeup on Club Frontier for putting seals in the M226, but they had lost all their pictures last time I checked. Going off memory the M226 is a variant of the Dana 44, which Jeeps use. Search for a writeup on putting seals in one of those, I remember finding a very good one that showed everything with pictures. We don't share the same parts with the Jeeps but the assembly is laid out the same and you can see if it's the kind of thing you want to do. I'd say it would take me under two hours a side since I've done both side in mine, but I did have a hydraulic press to make life easier.
 

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If it is it means you'll be replacing your e-brake shoes too. :crying:
I didn't replace mine, just gave them a soak in mineral spirits. Two years later the X still has the best parking brake I've had in any vehicle.
 

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Discussion Starter #14
OK here's an update. I took off the wheel, caliper and rotor to see what I could see. It does appear to be the axle seal.





To make sure the differential wasn't low I topped it off; it took maybe 3-4 ounces of fluid before coming back out the fill hole. The fluid looked pretty clean and didn't smell any worse than it normally smells. I cannot remember exactly how I filled it before (what angle the diff was at) so it's hard to say exactly how much fluid was really lost.

Obviously my parking brake isn't super effective right now. The disc brakes seem to not be as affected (yet) but I will be taking care of the axle seal very soon, hopefully early this week.

I don't feel comfortable doing the axle seal myself, so I'll be taking it to a shop. On Friday afternoon I spoke with the owner of a Jeep shop that's very near my work. I figured they had probably done many D44 Jeep axles and would be familiar with the seals, even though there are differences in the Jeep v. Nissan parts. He has done some work on Xterras and seemed to think it'd be no problem. He quoted me $250 labor to do the axle seal. That seems reasonable to me, though I have another shop I've used before that I will call tomorrow when they're open.

In addition to the axle seal I'm thinking the following might be in order:
New rear rotors
New rear pads (bummer because I did just replace these pretty recently)
New ebrake shoes. Or maybe just thoroughly clean the existing ones?

I feel comfortable doing the brake stuff so I'll have to decide how much of that I would have the shop do while they're in there.

Anything else I'm missing? Thanks again!
 

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Discussion Starter #17 (Edited)
Just make sure the diff breather isn't clogged first, no sense changing seals to have the same issue. Consider doing the diff breather mod. When the diff breather clogs it causes premature seal wear. Also do not over-fill the diff, again will end up leaking out your seals.
^^^ THIS!!!!
Thanks guys, my first post was really wordy so this would have been easy to miss, but yes I have the rear diff breather routed to the tail light.

I pulled the tail light the other day, and while the housing of the filter on the end of the hose had a light layer of fine dust, the filter element within looked quite clean. That said I will double check the breather / hose / filter to make sure it's not clogged somehow.

The previous owner had the whole rear axle replaced under warranty in '09 at 31K miles. When I bought it in 2014 with just shy of 90K miles, the cap used for shipping was still on the axle... there never was a breather vent to remove when I did the breather mod a few years ago.
 

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Thanks guys, my first post was really wordy so this would have been easy to miss, but yes I have the rear diff breather routed to the tail light.

I pulled the tail light the other day, and while the housing of the filter on the end of the hose had a light layer of fine dust, the filter element within looked quite clean. That said I will double check the breather / hose / filter to make sure it's not clogged somehow.

The previous owner had the whole rear axle replaced under warranty in '09 at 31K miles. When I bought it in 2014 with just shy of 90K miles, the cap used for shipping was still on the axle... there never was a breather vent to remove when I did the breather mod a few years ago.
Ha! WOW!!! Well no wonder your seals didnt last long!
 

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I just did my passanger side(replaced the whole assembly). I washed my shoes with dish soap and water. They work fine now, they were drenched in gear lube.
 

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Discussion Starter #20 (Edited)
Ha! WOW!!! Well no wonder your seals didnt last long!
Yeah no kidding. It sucks that they forgot to do something so simple and cheap on a >$3000 axle. Ironically though it wasn't leaking when it was sealed up, this only started recently as far as I can tell.

I just did my passanger side(replaced the whole assembly). I washed my shoes with dish soap and water. They work fine now, they were drenched in gear lube.
Thanks for the info. The shoe set is about $50 so it's not bad but I would rather clean them up and reuse if I can.

I am now trying to decide between just buying the whole assembly for about $450 (sounds like that's what you did) versus getting the seal, spacer and bearing (about $120 in parts) replaced.
 
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