Land Cruisers have a pretty good name when it comes to reliability, and even at 27 years old we never really had any major issues with our 80 Series. I spend a fair bit of time and money maintaining my vehicles to a high standard; you look after them and they look after you. I guess a background in maintenance planning and mechanical fitting does come in handy.
However, despite good maintenance and carrying a fair chunk of tools and spares our Land Cruiser still ended up on a tow truck in between Steep Point and Denham.
The track into Steep Point starts off as bitumen, then turns to well maintained gravel road and deteriorates from there into 15km of bone jarring corrugations just before the first dune. From then on the track is pretty good; mainly a sandy track through the bush.
After camping for 9 nights at Steep Point, we packed up and headed for Denham. We had finally gotten Oliver to sleep, and made it through the dunes, past the nasty corrugations and over the little bridge at the Useless Loop salt ponds.
I suggested we pull over and air up a little for the gravel (tyres were at 15 PSI), but we decided not to as it would have woken Oliver up. Let sleeping babies lie!
We proceeded on, taking it carefully along the gravel road with lower pressures, until I came over a hill and put my foot on the brake pedal, where it sunk to the floor. I pumped it a few times and the brakes came back, as they often do when driving on corrugations.
However, when it happened again down the next hill, I knew something wasn’t right. We pulled over (with the aid of the trailer brakes), and I could immediately see something was wrong; smoke was pouring out from the front left wheel.
A quick look saw the manual locking hub had been destroyed and the wheel bearings had gone, leaving everything in a hot, greasy mess. Realistically, the only thing holding the wheel on was the brakes! I called over the radio, pulled off the road and proceeded to get the tools and spares out.
Initially I thought it we could change the wheel bearings and just temporarily cover the hub, but after pulling it apart it soon became apparent this wasn’t going to work. The actual spindle that the wheel bearings slide on was cracked, and the thread on both the nuts and spindle was badly damaged.
This put us in a difficult position; even with spare wheel bearings, grease and all the tools to reassemble it, we couldn’t do anything. We couldn’t even tow the vehicle either, as you need wheel bearings to put the wheel back on just to get it rolling.
With 13 people now standing around while we tried to come up with a solution, I was feeling pretty bummed. We went over a number of options, none of which were overly positive. Being over 150km away from Denham meant a run in and out again would take a long time, and possibly have no benefit if parts weren’t available.
I didn’t want to leave the vehicle there either, as it would get raided without a doubt. Luckily for us, we found a big hill where we managed to scrape one bar of phone range, and ring Denham Mechanical. They quoted $1.50 a km for bitumen and $2.00 a km for gravel to tow the vehicle in. A total of around $500 as we had to pay for the truck in both directions.
As much as I didn’t want to spend the money, the idea of camping by my 4WD for a day or two whilst everyone else relaxed in Denham wasn’t very appealing. We accepted the tow, and went back to the group, juggling trailers around so everything would get to Denham safely. Luckily a few other vehicles had electric brake controllers installed!
Daniel very kindly stayed with me, and we sat there for an hour and a half whilst waiting for the tow truck to arrive. We had to slap the bearings back on and the wheel in order to winch the car up the ramp, but you have to do what you have to do!
Denham Towing and Mechanical were fantastic; they dropped the vehicle at the house we had rented, and I called in the following morning. A quick chat and they ordered new bearings, seals, a spindle and arranged for new grease, gaskets and everything else. We even managed to grab two manual locking hubs from a 1982 Hilux which were the same (good old Toyota!) as the 80 series!
A few days later the vehicle was back on all 4’s, Denham Mechanical had been paid and we continued our holiday. It’s the first time any of my vehicles have been on a tow truck, and hopefully the last.
What caused the wheel bearing failure?
Looking at everything, I believe the spindle cracked as a result of the corrugations, which damaged the thread and allowed the locking nuts to come off. Once the bearings are loose, they would fail extremely quickly when you are driving. The lack of brakes happens when your wheel moves from side to side, pushing the brake calipers apart. Looking at the damage, I suspect the spindle may already have been on its last legs prior to the trip. It almost looked like someone had ground a piece out, but I’ll never know.
I had checked the wheel bearings before leaving; they were well lubricated and tight. I make a habit of checking the hub temperatures regularly, and they were always cool.
It’s just lucky the wheel stayed intact, or this could have been a very different story. I suspect had I have pulled over at the little bridge near the salt ponds it may have been identified, saving a lot of frustrations. However, who knows; its all done and dusted!
Have you ever had your fourby on a tow truck? What was the worst break down you’ve had?