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Softroad Damage: Opinions Wanted

The reason I installed the skid plate earlier this week is because I was going to spend twelve miles on what the Forest Service labels a “high clearance” road, and I wanted a little extra protection given that my Volvo has only 5.2 inches (13.2 cm) of ground clearance. I got back from the trip last night, and given how the skid plate looks now, I’m very glad I put it in.

Above is how the skid plate looks now. You can see scratches along the entire length, and the opening on the right has been noticeably banged up. For reference, here’s how the skid plate looked immediately after installation:

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It’s definitely done some work. Let’s take a closer look at the damage!

Above you can see some scratches on the passenger side, stretching nearly the entire length of the plate (the opening on the top is the leftmost opening in the first two pics, for the oil pan drain). Below are some similar scratches on the driver side. The skid plate is definitely doing its job here.

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But let’s take a look at that rightmost cutout, where the bottom of the transmission bolts into its structural support:

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Yikes! You can clearly see that a chunk of the mounting fin of the transmission is missing. Here are some closeup shots of that damage:

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This does make me a bit nervous. How worried should I be about this? Is it gonna just crack without warning? Is it something I should keep an eye on in case it gets worse over time? Or is this what engineering safety margins are for?

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Outside of the area protected by the skid plate, there was remarkably little damage. I was a bit worried about the cat, but that does benefit from being loosely suspended rather than bolted in, so it has room to flex out of the way when a rock hits it. There was a bit of damage to the heat shield surrounding the cat:

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I did my best to work it back into place by hand, but it’s scrunched up pretty good:

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I’ll have to do some research, but from a quick look around, replacing this doesn’t seem too hard to do. If so, I’ll probably do this myself before my next softroading adventure in a month’s time.

I’m really glad I have this plate protecting the oil pan, but the amount of damage on my first trip out does give me a little pause. I’ll certainly take it even slower next time (I was slightly cavalier in spots where I should have been more careful). My main concern right now is how bad that chunk out of the transmission really is. Let me know what you think! And if there’s anything I could do short of replacing the transmission.

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