I sucked up my pride and dropped it off at the neighborhood shop this morning. They said they'd throw it up on the lift and give a listen; as long as they could diagnose it on the lift quickly, they'd give me a free diagnostic. They gave me a decent deal on pulling my right rear wheel and solving the slow leak (just a dirty bead; they cleaned it up and remounted it for $25).
They state the noise is coming directly from the transmission, not the transfer case or the rear diff. Their bet is the "main" input shaft bearing (front or rear, I don't know... I'll ask for clarification when I pick it up tomorrow; I'm not sure they'll be able to differentiate between the two simply by listening). Seems the 5MT has a bad rep for this, looking over the forums.
I can say that there's always been light noises from the transmission centered around what I expected was the throw out bearing (see http://www.ultimates...ad.php?t=131656
). I just never got around to address it, and those noises never got worse. Well, until a new noise showed up
So now I'm thinking about pulling the transmission and following the guide here: http://www.ultimates...ad.php?t=90182
to take a look at that input shaft and its bearings. I get the impression that if the garage is correct that the bearings are bad, and the shaft itself isn't worn badly as a result, I can have a shop press new bearings on fairly economically.
If the shaft is worn, I ought to be looking for another transmission. If I totally botch the job splitting the transmission and looking at its guts, then I can chalk it up to a learning experience and replace it.
On the bright side, I expected transmission issues when I bought the Baja. The price was good enough that I could factor in another transmission and still come out cheaper than a comparative Baja in the Northeast. I'd rather not spend the money if I didn't have to (we're saving up for a downpayment on a house purchase), but if I gotta do it, I won't cry.
Update: My sister offered up her garage, a three hour trip away. It'll be better than trying to do it in mine (asphalt floor, not a level spot in the place). It'll just have to hold together for the drive. There's a local Pick A Part (U Pull It) yard there, too, offering up transmissions for $125. I'm thinking it might be worth it to pull one just to have it handy and have more options than simply replacing the bearings on my existing transmission.
Edited by the_bard, 03 December 2012 - 11:04 PM.