I had a wet floor in the 2001 Toyota Camry again. Seems like every few years I need to do something about it. But I couldn’t remember what exactly I had done before. So I Googled “2001 Toyota Camry leaks” and found a very helpful post – that I had written in 2011! Gotta love it when a Google search sends you to your own blog for info. And after all, that is the point to a web log – to make public the appropriate parts of a journal. And a nice perk is that it is easily searchable.
Anyway, what is it I said to do in that post from 4 years ago? Oh yes, simply clear the drain holes at the sunroof. The primary problem is that the little drain holes get clogged with debris. And then all of the water that leaks in from around the sunroof, and there is a surprising amount that leaks in from around the seal, can’t get out the drain holes. Instead, it fills up the sunroof gutter, which unbelievably is interior to the car and just above the headliner. Therefore, when it overflows the gutter, the headliner becomes a conduit for water and it empties out at whatever happens to be the lowest point near the top of the windshield. As I wrote in the original post, this is a design flaw. A very stupid one, at that.
Okay, so I did what I had recommended then and cleaned out the debris in the drains. After disassembling the stuff screwed into the roof of the car and peeling back the headliner as I instruct in that post, I cleaned out the drain holes. I remember now that I had discovered before that the drain holes are hard to see from inside the sunroof hole when it is open. It is much easier to clean out from the back side with the headliner peeled back and with the clear tube removed. Then you can just jab in a coat hanger end and poke through the debris.
But this time, there didn’t seem to be that much needed to be cleaned. I got one side unclogged but the other side was already clear. And from what I can figure, the car was parked reasonably level at the time the floor filled up with water and if one drain was open, the water in the gutter should have drained into that open one, even if it wasn’t the one closest to where the water was coming in. So I wondered if the tube was plugged lower down. I decided to blow out the tube using compressed air. That seemed to go fine – didn’t appear to be any plugging at all. Hmmm…
At this point, I started wondering why I didn’t see any debris coming out from around the wheel well, where I thought the drain emptied out. But I couldn’t actually find the drain outlet. When I poured water directly in the tube for the sunroof it came out under the front door, as though it was dripping out somewhere and surface adhesion was encouraging it to drip along the chassis.
I dug behind the plastic trim inside the car near the driver’s left foot rest to see if I could locate the tube – no luck there; just a lot of electrical stuff. I took off the left front wheel and couldn’t find it in the wheel well. So I took off the wheel well cover and… I still couldn’t find it. What the hell. How is it possible for it to drain and yet not be visible at all? I had one more place to dig. In the first picture below, look in the lower center of the picture. There is a circular hole in the body work that has a rubber plug in it. I removed the plug as you can see in the picture.
Inside that hole is the answer to the mystery of where the tube ends. It ends inside the car’s frame. Not outside the car. Inside. If you look at the picture (and you can click on the picture to get it to open in a new window and see it full size), the yellow blob is a squirt of insulation that oozed through. To the right and slightly higher than the yellow blob is a hole that has the very tip of a slanted end of the plastic tube. The plastic is somewhat amber colored just from years of pollen tinged water running through it (or maybe it started off that way). I tried to reach in to pull it down so that it extended further into the space, but it was out of reach of every tool I had.
Look at the picture again. On the bottom, in the left 1/3 of the picture, you can see that the interior of the frame is wet. That’s the test water I poured from the sunroof draining into the frame of the car. And you can also see that there’s another hole in the bottom where the water is presumably draining out of the frame and working its way through the body sheet metal below it.
So on the plus side, there is definitely no clog in here. The tube seems to be running clear and there is no blockage at the end of the tube. On the negative side, the sunroof drains into the friggin car. By design.
Recapping, the Toyota design is for the sunroof to collect leaked water in a gutter and direct it to drain holes. Those drain holes are connected to tubes which carry the water from the gutter emptying it into the frame of the car and letting the water drain through the seams of the body to work its way out. And if the sunroof drain holes get clogged, as they are wont to do, the sunroof gutter fills up and the overflow finds the lowest point in the headliner to drain out – either through the A-pillar on to the electrical panel near the driver’s left foot or drips from the edge of the headliner on to the floor.
This is truly just awful engineering. Either that or it is a brillant subversive way to rust out the car from the inside. Granted, this is Toyota engineering from years ago – in fact, it was probably in the mid 1990s that this particular drain path was engineered. (And I’m using the term “engineered” loosely here.) So things may be better now. And yet, this Toyota was well into the era of Toyotas supposedly being well-engineered. Maybe if you look hard enough at any car, you can find a similar dumb flaw. But I remain shocked at how bad a design this is for a car that otherwise seems fairly respectable. And I do wonder if there is any carryover dumbness still lurking in currently manufactured Toyotas.
Oh, and one more thing. If you want to remove the wheel well interior cover as I did, you are going to have a battle like I did. Some of the fasteners are screws that screw into plastic clips and there are a few just push in clips which are easy. But there are also some of these evil things shown in the picture below. (Again, click on the picture to see the full size picture in a separate window.)
I imagine that when first installing, these things go in super quick and hold well but taking them out is really hard. There are two sort of wing things that would yield going into the square hole but need to be squeezed to come out. And of course since you can’t get your fingers on the back side to squeeze them to remove it, you have to do the squeezing from the front side which means you need to mangle the plastic washer it’s attached to enough to get needlenose pliers on the wings and start squeezing. I don’t know if Toyota intends these things to be used once and discarded if they need to be removed but it seems like a dumb idea to have disposable fasteners on a part of the car that collects debris behind it. I got out quite a pile of sludge when I removed the wheel well cover.