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I have a 2007 Toyota Corolla, and following my GPS, I foolishly drove onto an extremely rough dirt road. There was no way out other than to keep going. My car was flopping all over the place and bottoming out.

Once I made it out, the tire pressure light came on, which I had fixed at Les Schwab. Other than that, my car seems like it's running fine - no additional error lights have come on and no symptoms have appeared. I tried an OBD scanner, and it couldn't find any Diagnostic Trouble Codes.

I feel like I really messed up here, but I'm not sure if it would do any good to take it to a dealer and say "I think I broke it, but I don't know of any actual problems." Are there any additional tests I can do? Would it be okay to just keep driving it and assume that, if something is wrong, I will either experience symptoms or get an error message?

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    Welcome to Motor Vehicle Maintenance & Repair! I undeleted your question because realistically this could happen to anyone. I think an objective answer can be achieved. Don't be embarrassed by your situation ... believe me, it's happened to the best of us. – Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2 Apr 11 at 15:50
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    How fast were you driving? If your car is bottoming out, slow down. – Criggie Apr 12 at 3:00
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    @Criggie That seems to be totally obvious but... – jwh20 Apr 12 at 14:18
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    If you could drive in, you could've backed out. In the future if you find yourself on a road your vehicle isn't suited to drive on it's generally better to bail out early than keep going until you either reach the point you can't go forward anymore and have to back out a much longer distance or worse get stuck or disabled with broken parts and have to pay for a tow that's going to be a lot more expensive than a breakdown on pavement. – Dan Is Fiddling By Firelight Apr 12 at 16:02
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    I think this question would be much improved with a revised title. Driving "on dirt" is not the problem. Driving on "an extremely rough" road and bottoming out is (potentially) the problem. – Tim Sparkles Apr 12 at 19:48
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If you have no symptoms and no codes then chances are good there's nothing wrong with your car. If you had bent or damaged your suspension you'd most likely have a vibration, or your handling would have changed, if you had cracked your oil pan you'd most likely know it by now. It's possible that there could be minor or subtle damage which wouldn't show up in a code or have an obvious symptom, like a lost heat shield or body damage which could weaken the structure of the car or lead to it rusting out. It's impossible to say whether you have any of these or not, but you're probably absolutely fine - cars can take a lot of punishment.

If you really want assurance it would make sense to have a visual inspection by someone who knows what they are looking for, either a professional or knowledgeable amateur mechanic needs to get under it and have a good look around. There's no harm in looking yourself, although if you aren't mechanically minded you might not spot important things. 'I think I broke it' is a phrase that will have less scrupulous mechanics rubbing their hands together with glee, so if you do take it somewhere make sure you can trust them not to rip you off. Dealerships are famous for gouging, I would suggest you take it to an independent shop with a good reputation.

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Unless you're driving a luxury car you would have a bare minimum amount of sensors and most of which relate to combustion or the electrical system. If you happened to knock your O2 sensor loose then your car would let you know.

Check all your fluid levels under the hood and make sure none of them are low. If any of them are low then top it off and see if it drains quickly. Check for wet or oily spots on your driveway after leaving the car parked for a few hours.

If anything you very likely messed up your car's alignment. Drive it on a straight road and loosen your grip on the steering wheel. If your car pulls left or right then you need to get an alignment done.

Depending how much bumping you actually did then you you could have damaged some suspension components which your OBD scanner would not report. Bottoming out is likely to damage your exhaust, brake lines, oil pan, radiator, or gas tank.

You can take your car to a certified Toyota dealer and ask for a 160 point inspection. If they find anything wrong then they will let you know; if it's not life threatening then they will let you drive the car off the lot so that you can choose a mechanic you trust. Are you in New York? Don't wait for the yearly inspection or else you will suddenly find yourself with no choice other than to pay an exorbitant repair cost.

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  • Also, when you're testing on a straight road to see if it pulls, make sure there isn't a side wind. A strong wind can simulate the same effect as a bad alignment. – the_storyteller Apr 14 at 16:05
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    @the_storyteller To that end one would also need to suggest avoiding roads which have a slight slope for better water drainage to the ditch. And also make sure you weren't t-boned by a deer as it would also affect the test. Where should I draw the line? :-) – MonkeyZeus Apr 14 at 16:14
  • I'd just throw it in there as a bonus. Just as a friendly, "there are other things you should check before assuming you need an alignment." I've thought I had a low tire (same pulling behavior) before realizing there was just a side wind and I had nothing to worry about. – the_storyteller Apr 14 at 16:28
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    @the_storyteller That comment was in pure jest, please don't take it as an attack :-). One could write several paragraphs about all of the gotchas involved in testing your alignment. At the end of the day an alignment check is usually free but if does open up the door for a mechanic to convince you into various repairs. – MonkeyZeus Apr 14 at 16:32
  • No attacks or defenses were intended or necessary, just thoughtful comments. :P We need a "this comment should be read in <tone> of voice" button. Like stackexchange, but you click to hear the verbal comment stated by its original author. – the_storyteller Apr 14 at 16:56
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You haven't stated which country you are in, but if it has a statutory vehicle safety test, you could assure yourself by putting in for the test to a garage you trust, and ask them to show you any problems they find.

As for the mechanicals... if it ain't broke, don't fix it. If there are problems, I would not take it to a car dealer but to a competent repair shop.

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  • Les Schwab is a tyre chain in the western USA according to my googling. – Phil Apr 12 at 4:51
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    Is the distinction between servicing an automobile at a repair shop instead of a dealer based on something besides preference? I've always been pleased with the maintenance service I've received from my dealer. – maxathousand Apr 13 at 18:11
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    @maxathousand my experience with franchised main agents follows what GdD suggests in an answer: they are focused on your wallet and the 'customer experience'. There is an endless stream of marks coming through their doors to which they can make outrageous propositions like: "some people will prefer to replace the gearbox for peace of mind." They do not let the customers near the mechanics, yet the front staff know very little about the oily bits... – Weather Vane Apr 13 at 21:28
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    ... If you have an older car the main dealer should be a last resort because it will be the worst vehicle they have seen all day/week and likely will not respect it, or you. As for general car dealers, they might have a workshop where they do services and prepare the vehicles, but sales are their main interest. In contrast, my local garage does not sell cars and is in competition with a few other independents. I know I can trust them not to rip me off or other sharp practices, which are rife in the motor trade. – Weather Vane Apr 13 at 21:28
  • Agreed. I'd roll up to my local garage and let them have a look for a few minutes, just to be sure. Not the dealer. No way. This might be a regional/cultural thing, perhaps dealers can be trusted in regions other than ours :-) – Mast Apr 14 at 20:27
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Just because the car was taken over a very rough road doesn't necessarily mean it will have been damaged. Many vehicles live their whole lives on terrible surfaces.

Keeping an eye on the OBD codes, and being aware of any new symptoms or behavior, and watching the warning lights are all things a prudent driver and owner should do. If anything appears, you should address it promptly, as you did with the tire pressure.

You're doing just fine. Keep it up.

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Things that could happen if you drive a car off-road

  1. Dirt building up on the inside rim surfaces, causing imbalance. Symptom: vibration at 60-100km/h with the frequency of the wheel rotation. Cure: pressure washer.

  2. Hits on the bottom damaging things that are available from down under. Depending on the car, these may be:

  • the exhaust system (symptom: loud exhaust),
  • protective covers (symptom: parts hanging off the bottom),
  • engine oil sink (symptom: oil leaking from the car)
  • suspension (symptom: worse directional stability, bumping noises when going over potholes)
  • fuel tank and fuel lines (symptom: fuel smell, fuel leaking)
  • other things that car manufacturers put on the underside against the common sense, damaged

All these things can be inspected visually in whatever car workshop. Pressure washer advisable as well.

  1. Paint scratched from vegetation. Symptom: scratches on the sides. Cure: polishing and/or repainting (expensive, may as well not worth the hassle).

Probably nothing really bad happened. Just have the car bottom inspected.

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I'm not a regular poster, posting as a guest, but felt I needed to carm your fears without causing you to ignore any real problems. Driving on a dirt road, even a rough dirt road won't by its self cause you any issues. I have owned a 2007 Corrola since new and I live in the country and drive on dirt roads every day without any problems, save to say it gets dirty. Yes I have bottomed the car out many times, even on my driveway, the goat track that leads to my house, worst to happen my "sump guard" is non existent, but the car keeps on ticking.

But to your problem, your only symptom is a tire pressure warning light, this is not a standard feature on these vehicles so I can't speak to it specifically beyond saying that it coming on obviously points to a sign of abnormal air pressure in the tyre, could be high or low, simple as that, or wiring to the sensor was impacted by dirt or some mechanical injury. Forget any other issues that your conjuring up in your mind. You had this seen to and you say fixed, if your tyre pressures are OK then that's that, drive on.

Corrola's were developed by trial in rally car competitions, over very tough roads, all around the globe, they are tough as nails in this regard. So as others have advised, unless you notice something else unusual, I'd say your car is fine, just enjoy it as I have mine all these years.

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You went off road, so take it to an off road shop that services Japanese vehicles.

A dealer or conventional shop can replace damaged assemblies but will not be able to help with damaged components which connect the suspension to the body.

An off road shop will know how to look for fatigued suspension components such as control arm brackets showing early signs of failure and can reinforce them if needed. A body shop is another option but you'll be less likely to find knowledgeable dirt enthusiasts at one.

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  • With a welder??? That's what you do to a car on its last legs. Welding on a modern car is as likely to weaken heat-treated parts, and will certainly destroy its corrosion protection. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Apr 14 at 2:27

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