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Axle Strength, Front vs. Rear
In Willie Worthy's "Tech Letter of the Month" (Oct. '09), he addresses several reasons why rear axle strengths usually exceed front axle strengths in four-wheel-drive vehicles. There is another reason that he did not include. Most 4x4 trucks have the engine in the front and are designed to accommodate most of the load variation on the rear axle. Consequently, the rear axle load capacity usually exceeds the load capacity of the front axle. At maximum GVWR, the rear axle carries more weight than the front. The most extreme example I could easily find is for a 1980 Jeep J-20 Pickup Truck. That vehicle has a GVWR of 8,400 pounds, with a maximum front axle load of 3,500 pounds and a maximum rear axle load of 5,500 pounds. Clearly the designers were expecting the rear to carry more weight than the front. A less extreme example is a 2004 Dodge Durango 4x4: 6,600 pounds GVWR, 3,600 pounds front axle maximum, and 3,900 pounds rear axle maximum.
The heavy engine in the front creates a more constant load for the front axle. Because most of the passenger and cargo load is added closer to the rear axle than the front axle (or even behind the rear axle), the rear axle picks up a bigger share of that additional load. This is why the rear seems awfully light at minimum load, but becomes much more inert at maximum load.
Dale Gedcke, Ph. D
Oak Ridge, TN
Wants Best and Cheapest Suspension Lift
I have a brand new set of 35/15.5-16.5 Super Swampers with rims that I've had for years. I also have a '92 F-250 that I want to put them on, but as you probably know, they're not going to slide right on. I've been looking at some lift kits, but I'm not sure what's the best and cheapest. I have a really low budget, but would like to put a 6-inch suspension lift on it. Can you please point me in the right direction so I can get the best bang for my buck?
Via the Internet
Generally speaking, when it comes to suspension lifts, the words "best" and "cheapest" are mutually exclusive. The best suspension kits out there are typically subjected to rigorous testing by the manufacturers, and are only released to the public after extensive amounts of research and development (not to mention the battery of lawyers who need to give the kit their legal thumbs-up, too). All of which, of course, you end up paying for in the purchase price of the kit. In addition, your particular truck poses certain challenges, not so much for the availability of kits-there are some 6-inch suspension systems available for the F-250, and they typically run around $2,000-but for the labor-intensity of the work. A number of stock components in the Ford TTB frontend are both bolted and riveted in place, and each individual rivet needs to be punched out before the components can be removed. There are literally dozens of them on your truck, so if you're going to pay someone to help you install the new kit, figure on slightly higher labor costs. If it were up to us, we'd budget at least $3,000 for a quality kit and for any and all ancillaries that you may need later, such as bigger shocks, longer driveshafts, and extended brake lines.
Explorer V-8 Swap Options
I have a '98 Ford Explorer with the SOHC V-6. Now I want to upgrade to a V-8. I know I can get a V-8 from another Explorer, and bam-done. But that's not what I want. I was wondering if you could give me some tips on engines because whatever engine I get, I want to supercharge it. I'd like to stay with Ford engines, but I want something that will give me power and look good at shows.
First question: Why not simply swap in a 4.6L V-8? It's more or less a drop-and-drive job (relatively speaking), and used Explorer donor vehicles are plentiful. And because your vehicle came from the factory with that engine as an option, you shouldn't have to worry about grenading lots of drivetrain parts since your transmission, axles, and transfer case were all engineered at the factory to stand up to the extra power. You won't have to relocate any gearboxes or have new driveshafts made, and you probably won't have any serious clearance issues involving the exhaust, oil pan, crossmembers, etc.
Beyond that, if you've got to have a V-8, your swap choices are going to be limited. For emissions reasons, you're pretty much limited to '98-and-newer engines, so that excludes the older big-blocks like the 429 and 460 V-8s. A later-model ('98-2000) 351 Windsor/Boss 302 or even the new 5.4L truck engine could probably be made to fit, but in any case you'd need to swap out the rest of your drivetrain as well (not to mention your cooling system), and you'd need to fab up all your own motor mounts, brackets, crossmembers, etc., since nobody we know of makes a conversion kit for this kind of swap. If it were up to us, we'd probably sell the Explorer and use the money to buy an older F-series or Bronco, both of which offer a greater number of buildup options via the aftermarket.