My vehicle has about 55K miles on it. About a month ago, I noticed it was leaking gear oil from underneath the rear differential. The leak is small. I went to change the rear differential fluid, but noticed something while I was underneath: The seal around the axle on the right side is leaking a little, then dripping down onto the differential's lowest point. I'm going on vacation next week, and we know a mechanic close to where we're staying, so we made an appointment.
My question: Assuming the fluid is leaking from the axle seal, is it gear oil from the rear differential? Because I just replaced it, I know my vehicle only holds 3.5 pints of synthetic gear oil. If I just top it off, do you think it's safe to drive about 2.5 hours? FYI, when I changed the differential fluid, it didn't look low, and I don't hear any whining noise from the rear end, and I don't notice any problems while driving.
The leak on the axle seal may be minor if you did not notice the level to be low when you checked it. I cannot say it will last for 2 and a half hours of driving, since this is when the differential will get the hottest and may leak worse. I suggest having a mechanic diagnose your oil leak and have it repaired before going on the trip, since a cheap repair now may become an expensive repair if you drive it and the rear end locks up after it lost all its oil.
In the meantime, feel free to read more on differential/gear oil in this article.
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