A Gear Oil Spill Turned Me Into an All-Weather Floor Mat Convert

You know what you never hear anyone say? “Gee, I sure do love the smell of gear oil.” In fact, you know what people usually do say when they smell it? It’s more along the lines of “Dude, that smell is horrendous, what the hell did you do here?”

So what did I do? Well I made the mistake of trusting the seal on a cheap oil catch pan after changing my differential fluid, ending in my trunk flooding with used gear oil — the result of which was not only a horrendous stain, but a persistent stench that I couldn’t escape until I finally sold the damn car.

This was in my 1992 Mustang GT. My buddy and I were doing a 31-spline swap in the 8.8 and installing a Powertrax No-Slip. When we opened the diff cover to drain it, it was pretty clear that the oil had never been changed, or at least not within the decade. We drained it into the catch pan and set to work trying to figure out how to remove the C-clips (which took an embarrassing amount of time), and hopefully get everything done and buttoned up before I had to drive it to work on Monday, because of course young Garrett did all these stupid things on his daily driver. I mean, come on, some guy on the forums said it only took him two hours. Even if it takes me twice as long I’m in good shape, right?

Powertrax No-Slip Locker

Wrong. This was one of many projects that lead me to the point I’m at now, where I over-budget time and money for all but the simplest projects. Making this adjustment is the only reason my fiancee stuck it out with me – I’m sure many of you can relate.

We started this job on Saturday morning and naturally got everything back together and solid by Sunday around midnight. After getting everything sorted, I took it on a test drive to see how the Powertrax handled, hoping I hadn’t just doomed myself to perpetual low speed tire squeal for having the audacity to make a low speed 90-degree turn into a parking spot. Can you tell I had a Brand X locker in another car before this? They lose their cool factor pretty quickly when you daily drive them.

Lucky for me, the Powertrax was everything I wanted and barely made any noise. The threshold for chirping the tires when turning was much higher, and it still achieved full lock-up when I needed it. My build wasn’t anything crazy, maybe 300 horsepower to the wheels, if that, but for a 21-year-old’s daily driver, it was plenty.

So what happened next? Well, I sealed up the catch pan with the cheap plastic lid and drain plug intact and put it in the trunk with every intention of dropping by my local auto parts shop before work to have it drained. But of course, come the next morning, I forgot all about it and drove to work with it in the trunk. It wasn’t until I came out to my car after work, and sat down in my hot car that had been sitting in the hot August sun all day, that the smell hit me.

Yep. At some point during my 20-minute morning drive to work, the seal on the drain plug of the oil catch pan had failed. Essentially all of the gear oil contained within had spilled out, entirely soaking the carpet, making its way between the seats and soaking into the cloth of the back seats. It even somehow traveled part way up the carpet backing of the seats.

You know how humans retch when they smell dead bodies? You think this would be the smell that robots would find revolting and offensive. The smell of neglected machinery.

Anyway, the cleanup was not fun. After pulling out the rear carpet and shampooing it, I found that the gear oil made its way down to the spare tire compartment, completely soaking the cover in the process. After trying to clean that up, the smell remained. So I pulled out the rear seats and carpet, and cleaned off the oil from the bare metal underneath. Some of the oil had somehow made it all the way under the front passenger seat. I still have no idea how that was possible, but it did it.

I ended up replacing the carpet and finding another set of rear seats that matched my interior for fairly cheap. Yet still, the smell lingered. I was at a loss of what to do. At least it wasn’t nearly as severe at that point, but it was still bad enough for people to comment on it when they got in my otherwise meticulously maintained car. After a year of this, it was time to move on to other projects and I sold it to a father and son looking to turn it into a drag car. Only then was I finally rid of that curse of a smell.

So what should I have done instead? Well, first things first, I’m a lot more careful with my catch cans now, and don’t generally go for the cheapest possible. The other solution? You better believe my next project ended up with a decent rubber all-weather cargo mat in the rear and matching floor mats. This being my daily driver, Mustang or not, it’s not just a fun weekend car. It’s also a parts runner, junkyard find hauler, and Friday night date transportation. Keeping as much crap and smell out of the carpets as possible makes it feasible for this one car to do all of those things.

So what floor mats should you choose for your Mustang? Lucky for us, we’re pretty spoiled for choice these days. I wish I had all of these choices with the Fox-body, but now we’ve got companies like Husky and the ever-present WeatherTech making great, exact-fit rubber cargo liners and floor mats for just about everything with wheels. Plus, they tie into factory grommets, clips, and hold downs so they stay in place just as well as your factory carpet.

My saving grace could have been a simple all-weather cargo mat that featured custom fit, with a lip to contain most any spill, dirt, or debris (within reason). Having some texturing and/or voids for loose crap to fill while providing grip to whatever you’re hauling is icing on the cake. It’s another reason that I tend to lean more towards the Husky Liner approach in using semi-rigid rubber for the mats over the albeit sturdy plastic that companies like WeatherTech use. But at that point, it all comes down to preference.

If you’re using your toy as a makeshift pickup truck, Uber, and daily driver, this might be something to look into. Of course you really can’t exchange the soft, cozy, OEM feel of carpet, but no one’s saying you have to throw those out. Just swap them out when you need to so you don’t end up like me with a headache that just won’t go away.

Editor’s note: this content was provided by Auto Anything, however, we felt it was worth sharing.

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About the author

Garrett Davis

Garrett has something of a sickness when it comes to cars, working on everything from Jeeps, to sports cars, to over-engineered German nightmares. Currently he is embroiled in an Audi Allroad offroad project, and is slowly losing his grasp on sanity.
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