Hub conversions are nothing new. Off-road enthusiasts have been doing hub conversions before unit bearings were even found on 4x4s. Guys would piece together their own packages to add bigger spindles and bearings onto weaker-equipped Dana 44s. When Jeep, Ford, and Dodge started using unit bearings as factory equipment on front solid-axle 4x4s, aftermarket drivetrain companies were quick to address the demand by enthusiasts to disconnect the axleshafts from the spinning wheel and tire.
Why would 4x4 owners want to do this? South Bay Truck & 4x4 in Hawthorne, California, tells us that for most owners it’s a concern about the drag of the drivetrain. Fuel economy is increased and wear is decreased when [locking] hubs are “disconnected” from the front drive axles (not to mention the fact that the kits add a rebuildable hub in place of a throw-away unit bearing). On older unit bearing-equipped 4x4s, unit bearings were weaker (some even dangerous if failed) and doing a hub conversion greatly increases strength and reliability. Unit bearings found on current vehicles are much more robust than their predecessors and can match rebuildable hubs in strength and longevity.
A hub conversion is not a cheap endeavor and the question of cost of conversion versus cost of a complete axle swap obviously comes into play. But sometimes you want to keep the axle your vehicle came equipped with. If we were always after the cheapest and strongest, we’d all have 14-Bolt rear axles under our trucks. Modifying your stock axle better ensures proper fitment, adaptability to other aftermarket products, and usually keeps costs down since you’re building your existing axle.
But unit bearing-to-hub conversions are only made for select vehicles—ones that are popular with off-roaders who will buy the kits. That meant the Dana 30 (Jeep) and Dana 60 (Dodge and Ford) were covered. No one had yet addressed the ’94-to-’01 Dodge Ram 1500 Dana 44 unit bearings until Yukon Gear took notice and designed the Spin Free kit that converts a failure-prone unit bearing to a Ford Dana 44 style hub and spindle. For a half-ton Dodge guy, this is the best (and only) way to keep your Dodge front outers together with prolonged off-road use.
Is It Worth It?
Well, that depends on the condition of your ’94-to-’01 Ram 1500 4x4. We’ve seen these trucks sell for $1,000 (running) and an owner of a thousand-dollar Ram would probably scoff at a $1,300 kit for his front axle. But the owner of a nicer Ram—maybe one that already has a locker in the front axle and a truss on the housing—might want to stick with his stock axle and do the Yukon locking hub conversion.
A Dodge Ram owner could find an old Ford axle with locking hubs and the correct 5x5.5 lug pattern to swap in, but all new suspension mounts and steering provisions would have to be made, and that would likely make swapping out the entire axle more costly than just adding Yukon Gear’s Spin Free kit.
Bottom line: If you are keeping your Dodge Ram’s front axle, then it’s definitely worth doing the Yukon hub conversion. The strength and added safety make the kit almost necessary if you off-road your half-ton Dodge.