Small Ideas: Essential Rav4 Maintenance

We dip into some much-needed Rav4 maintenance with the need-tos between the want-tos

Feb. 25, 2009 By Justin Fort

The Rav4Trucklet Comes Clean

Set aside the fun things and think, just for a moment. Stop dreaming of big tires, shocks, bumpers, power-adders and weight reduction, and every other sort of sound and/or fury that makes your trail rig super swingin’ sexy. Consider something else: maintenance. Booooo. Yes, we know what you’re thinking how droll and boring this can be.

Well, permit us to ring your bell: without maintaining the small stuff, you’re bound to find yourself up Ship Creek when a neglected bit of whatever conspires with bad timing or Mr. Murphy himself to take away your paddle. If not preventing you from being creek-bound, maintenance items can add up to minor improvements in livability for your truck (or trucklet) that make being in it that much nicer.

For the rowdy little Rav4-Crawling we’ve been experimenting upon for the past two years, there had been a few parts whose demise was telegraphing itself. This is the sign of a well-crafted automobile, in our opinion, when pending breakage/100 percent wear declares itself so prior to doing so. Toyotas, in their engineering quality, have a sense of that capacity for part-demise self-awareness. Just like tires have wear-bars, clutches have their chatter, power steering has its whine and bearings have their shudder, a failing motor mount has its clunk.

Let It Die Peacefully

This is not to imply that we were losing all of those, and it’s not Toyota’s fault if a tire wears out, but the motor mounts were getting mushy and everyone knew it (left).

You can tell by a few distinct hints that apply to most vehicles: clutch engagement had grown jittery when the vehicle was cold, the exhaust pipe (pre-catalytic) would rattle against the skid plate during decel (it didn’t happen when new – the engine had started to shift a little more than usual), and you could see the shift lever move slightly more than usual under throttle-load.

We ordered all four motor/trans mounts, but after replacing the front and rear ones, every bit of shimmy and shake went away, and uptake of the clutch went smooth. Fixed! Of course, Toyota won’t let us return special-order parts. Who needs new motor mounts for the starboard and port sides of a gen-one Rav4?

You’re Not As Dumb As You Think

The next time you reach for the owner’s manual to clue in on what sort of fluid, or which denomination of chemical-approval certification is necessary for said fluid to serve as your pressure delivery medium, write it on the reservoir (above). Do you own a Sharpie? Do the same with oil changes, either on the filter or someplace obvious. Perfectionists do it twice, just to be sure.

Can Cushions Have Multiple Personalities?

Ha! This one is so simple we should have figured it sooner. Are the seat cushions getting soggy on the driver’s side but still tight on the passenger side? On expressly multinational vehicles like your typical Toyota, lots of parts are universal from left to right. If you can remove the cushion from the driver’s side (left-hand or right?) without removing the seat rack, try it against the passenger’s unit. Our trucklet is such a delight to wrench upon, we thought it was worth the effort because there wouldn’t be much … effort. In an hour, we’d swapped the wonderfully snug right-side seat body (back and butt sections) into the place of the tired 158K left-side units, and vice-versa. We have since heard examples of this being possible with most Toyota trucks.

10mm, 12mm, 14mm, 17mm

While working in pinchy seat gaps to reach concealed bolts, the value of a ratcheting box/ combination wrench became patent. How did we live before these things? With a few minutes spent grinding on our favorite Cornwell dealer, we picked up the 12-pack of metric ratchet-combos for 100 smackers. Of course, if it’s a Toyota you’ll only use four of them.

Maintenance Is Not the Plague: Clean Something

If you need an excuse to water your lawn but have nothing to clean, try soaking your floor mats. It sounds stupid, but these things carry a ton of grossness and need to be cleansed once and a while. Want proof? This is a true story – a friend of ours who makes his living as a Mercedes mechanic actually picked up a flesh-eating bacteria/virus from the floor mats of a ‘Benz he was repairing. Turns out the owner had a friend with a farm, and that friend tracked some chicken crap into the ‘Benz’s owner’s house, and it went from there to the car’s owner’s shoe and into the floor mat. Add water, soak the rug, sprinkle on some car soap, spend a few minutes with a stiff brush and let the mat drip-dry hanging in the sun.

Better Sound Via Fluke Opportunity

Another naturally occurring trait of the Toyota is its uncanny knack for convenient disassembly. Say you’re into a minor project somewhere, such as reinstalling a set of shocks that were being clunky, and it was just easier to remove the whole inner-quarter plastic cover panel – six or seven screws and a bolt or two. Boom, there’s the speaker – that horrible little tone-deaf coaster of a speaker. Sorry, Toyota, these OEM “upgrade” speakers were one step less useful than a Frisbee with a quarter glued to its center. Consider this maintenance because the originals were broken from the day they left the factory headed for a ship in Nagasaki.

We’ve been upgrading the Rav4’s system in bits and pieces and here we were, with the opportunity to keep modding rather than put things back together. We had some 6.5-inch two-ways that needed a home, and Bob’s your uncle. The added bit that might have made the biggest difference, though, was getting rid of the booming emptiness behind that speaker – the inner-rear fender cavity – by stuffing it. You can buy synthetic pillow stuffing at craft stores for the change in your ashtray, and if you fill gently but thoroughly you can pack two doors (mind the window mechanisms) or two fender cavities with one bag. Make sure it’s nylon so it’s not affected by moisture, cold and it won’t degrade.

This is the easy stuff, the little stuff, the stuff you should be doing at the same time you’re lifting, building and upgrading. Don’t skimp on the maintenance. Newsletter
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