So my truck failed inspection. How can I fix this?

My 1994 Ford Ranger 3.0l V6 failed inspection. The inspector said the left rear seal is leaking.

I took it to the mechanic who said the brake seal is just fine - no signs of a leak. The brake fluid reservoir is still at full. Brakes are firm and do fine in a sudden stop. The brakes did fail about 18 months ago and we fixed it then including new brake lines. The area was cleaned so its not like this is old brake fluid spattered about.

Mechanic said maybe it is the differential. He suggested we thoroughly clean the area and then drive it around for a couple weeks. Done. No signs of leak.

Inspector says its leaking, and to fix it. Mechanic says its not leaking and there is nothing to fix.

My random not-a-mechanic thoughts:

  • its a differential leak but so slow that its not evident after only two weeks of driving. If so, is this really a problem?
  • I assume any new brake leak would be evident after a couple weeks. Could it have leaked and then stopped on its own?
  • its some other fluid? But what? Chicken or crab guts from roadkill? We get land crabs here and there are more wild chickens than you can imagine!
  • the inspector has a vehicle he really wants to sell me?
  • I need a new mechanic?

So… anyone got other bright ideas?

Have you taken it back to the inspector since the mechanic looked at it?

Take it back to the inspector. Tell them your mechanic can find nothing wrong. Ask the inspector to specifically point out and show you what he thinks is leaking and where.

What state do you live in that does such a thorough vehicle inspection?

Some advice: Call the state office and explain your problem. Tell them that you have taken your vehicle to a mechanic and that they have noted no discrepancy in your vehicle. Ask them what the next step would be.You may have to get a note written by the shop were you took the vehicle and take that back to the inspection state.

Honestly, unless you are wedded to a 1994 vehicle, if you have to spend thousands to get it to pass inspection, it may be cheaper to simply buy another car. Or find a county in your state where you don’t have to get inspections and register it there. Both would be cheaper options than trying to get a 20-21 year old truck to pass a vehicle inspection.

If he said your left rear seal is leaking he is talking about your wheel seal not your brakes. As a rule if the leak is bad enough to get on the brake lining it requires fixing. Might be best to pull the wheel and inspect the seal. Most of the time the inspectors do see something that mechanics will often miss. If you pull the wheel and see no leak have the mechanic write a ticket describing what he inspected.

Can you take it to a different inspector?

Since 1976 I have been certified to sign off on safety inspections. Very few times have I found the inspectors to be wrong, maybe 1% of the time. About 30% of the time the mechanics can’t seem to find the problem.

There’s the answer.

A little seep of gear oil is pretty darn common on older trucks with solid axles and it usually isn’t a problem. It could just be that you’ve found an especially zealous inspector who by god is going to check the box that says “leaking rear wheel seal” if there’s a leaking rear wheel seal no matter how little it’s leaking, whereas your mechanic sees a small seep on every older truck he looks at so doesn’t think it’s noteworthy.

Of course, we can’t see your truck and I don’t know what normally does and doesn’t get by inspection wherever you are. Worst case a wheel seal should only be a few hundred bucks to change, which is a nuisance, but probably not cause to scrap the truck!

It’s an old truck, but perhaps I keep it longer than I should for sentimental reasons. I inherited in from my brother when he died.

I live in Cayman. Very limited options for getting the inspection done. There is one government inspection location on my island and a few mechanics licensed to do inspections. There is no separate supervising office to appeal to.

As others have said - a leak around the seal - I assume this means axle seal - has nothing to do with the brakes or the differential. Pull the wheel and look around the axle shaft behind the hub - that’s where the inspector’s comment seems to refer to.

Replacing an axle seal is a pretty minimal job. Unless you have to open the differential to remove C-locks, it’s a matter of removing the brake assembly, four bolts on the axle retainer, removing the seal and bearing, installing a new seal and bearing, and bolting it all up again. About a 2 on the scale of 10, and only then because driving a new seal in place can be a bit tricky. (You could skip a new bearing but as long as you have it all apart, it’s worth replacing and wear there could be what caused the seal to leak. Bearings do have to be pressed on and off the axle shaft, though, so maybe just the seal will get you by.)

…meant to delete second paragraph above, but the edit expired. Replacing rear axle seals and bearings varies a lot and those details might not apply. I pit short edit windows. :smiley:

I looked around on a Ranger specific forum and it seems I would have to open the diff housing. I don’t really have the tools to do this and worry about getting sand in everything while I have it apart.

OK. I think I am understanding. The inspector said either brake or differential oil. Maybe its neither. The wheel seal is very cheap. Labor is the cost.

Hmmm… I had good luck with a mobile mechanic who replaced the water pump for me. Maybe he could do this job while my truck is parked at work.

There is a plug on the diff housing you can use to add fluid. If you can’t get any more fluid in it’s probably not leaking.

Personally I’d take it back to the same inspection station and tell them you’re mechanic fixed it. If they fail you again pay for an inspection somewhere else.

They will shine a light through the inspection plate and look for signs of oil on your brake shoes or drum. If they see any oil at all they will not pass you. Less than 1 oz of oil will saturate the brakes, about 1/4 of an ounce is all it takes to show up on the shoes. I would shine a light in there and see if you can see oil then make a decision what to do about it.

Tell the inspector that your mechanic cannot find the leak he mentioned. Ask him to point it out to you so that you can point it out to your mechanic.

Also, consider second opinions all-around: get Midas or somebody to do their “free brake inspection” and see if they can find the problem your mechanic can’t, and see if another inspector finds the same issue.

Decades ago the state I lived in didn’t have special garages for the inspections or anything - vehicle inspection took place in a parking lot. They weren’t required to do inspections if it was raining, but if the rain stopped for 30 minutes they had to start inspecting.
I quickly learned that if the ground is wet, your car will fail inspection. Then you had a choice: repair what they marked off and get re-inspected for free, or come back on a sunny day and pay for inspection and find out how much of what he marked down was just payback for making him kneel on wet pavement (to check your ball joints).

Get some brake cleaner, or engine de-greaser. Clean the hell out of the entire area, preferably with a pressure washer. Drive up to West Bay and back, and re-inspect. Is there any oil? Just a drop?
Head for the inspection station, spray it clean next door and go get inspected.

If it’s truly leaking, this is not a hard job. If you do have to open the diff, it is a small pain in the ass, and will take a couple of hours, but it is easily done with hand tools. Don’t worry about sand. Work on a tarp, have a towel or similar to cover the differential cover when you set it aside, and one to cover the diff while it’s open.

Youtube has several videos showing the entire process. Watch a couple and decide if you feel you can do this yourself.