It Can Be Done
You've read it before, even in this magazine: Axle gear swaps are best left to a professional. This is wise advice, and for a lot of people, it's true. But if you're a hopeless 4x4 addict and a hard-core gearhead, the thought has no doubt crossed your mind to attempt a gear swap yourself. How hard can it be...it's just two gears, right?
Wrong. There's a heck of a lot more to it than a couple of gears, and getting it right is a heck of a lot harder than it looks. Even so, the thought of performing a gear swap at home had been kicking around in our heads for a few years and recently we grew the cajones to try it. We took an '88 Toyota truck that was hopelessly bogged down with stock gears and 33s, did some research, and then called Randy's Ring & Pinion Service. The crew at Randy's is very friendly toward the do-it-yourselfer, and each gearset comes with a booklet based on their years of experience that is vital for a first-timer. Read it, memorize it, and treat it as the gospel for gears.
What follows is a chronicle of our experience with loads of tips, tricks, and shortcuts for the do-it-yourself gear-swapper. We had never done a gear swap before and we did it at home, so you'll see a beginner's first-hand experience and not the typical look-over-the-professional's-shoulder type of thing. Also keep in mind the two axles used in this article are very similar to other types, and most of the tips seen here apply to any axle.
So were we successful? We've put almost 1,000 miles on the truck at the time of this writing with absolutely no trouble and, astonishingly, no gear noise. Maybe we got lucky or maybe we got it right. You be the judge.