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June 2009 4x4 Truck Repair Questions - Nuts & Bolts

Posted in How To on June 1, 2009
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Submission Information
Confused? Email your questions about trucks, 4x4s, and off-roading tech using "Nuts, I'm confused" as the subject and include a picture (if it's applicable). Digital photos must measure no less than 1600 x 1200 pixels (or two megapixels) and be saved as a TIFF, an EPS, or a maximum-quality JPEG file. Also, I'll be checking the forums on our website (, and if I see a question that I think more of you might want to have answered, I'll print that as well. Otherwise drop it old-school style with the envelope addressed to the address below. Letters published in this magazine reflect the opinions of the writers, and we reserve the right to edit letters for clarity, brevity, or other purposes.

Write to:
Nuts & Bolts
4-Wheel & Off-Road
6420 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90048-5515
fax 323.782.2704.

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Lost In Lug-Town
Question: I own an '86 Chevy K20 that I bought from a guy who put the wrong lug nuts on it. On page 36 of your Nov. '08 issue is a picture of some lug nuts, and the second one from the left looks almost exactly like what I need. The wheels on my truck are referred to as hurricanes--they look like the wheels off the car in Dukes of Hazzard. Any help in this matter would be greatly appreciated.
Nancy S.

Answer: Those lug nuts are commonly referred to as standard mag wheel lug nuts. That style wheel you have is known as turbine. Gorilla Automotive (323.585.2852, or Custom Wheel Accessories (800.222.4292, sells them, but you may need to find either a specialty tire store, or an old-time tire store depending on what size wheel studs you are using, and how thick the wheel is. I installed some on a 1-ton axle and the only local shop that had the correct lug nuts had them in 9/16-inch, so I was required to change all my wheel studs up from 1/2-inch just to run those wheels. Be sure to use the proper mag lug washers and plenty of antisieze when installing them. Personally I wouldn't recommend these style wheels if you can find another style, as they are difficult to install.

First 4-by
Question: I'm 15. I'm sure you remember dreaming of your first truck, and that's exactly what I'm doing. I'll be turning 16 soon, and I'm trying to decide which kind to get. I am a Chevrolet guy, and I was thinking about something a little smaller and cheaper, such as the S-10. Also, I've been looking at Toyota Tacomas and the Ford Ranger. I would like to have four-wheel drive because it snows here a lot and because my friends and I hunt and fish and mess around in the mud a lot. I have to work with a 15-year-old's budget. My parents are the kind that won't buy me a truck because they say I won't take care of it as well as I would if I bought it. Any suggestions?
Michael B.

Answer: Your parents are right. You should buy your own 4x4. I bought mine by saving up, and even though it was a rust bucket that was never really safe to be in on the highway, I sure did learn a lot wrenching on it. I have never owned an S-10 myself, but they are great vehicles. But as with any model, there are good and bad versions, and I would definitely get the 4.3L V-6 if I were getting an S-10. The Ranger and Tacoma are both good options, but Tacomas usually hold their value longer, so it would be more expensive for you to purchase one used. Any of these trucks can be built for extreme wheeling. The Toyota and Ford have more performance suspension parts available than the S-10, but the reasonable cost of a used S-10 would make it a great first 4x4 for you.

Jeep Gears
Question: I have an '05 TJ Rubicon with a 3.5-inch long-arm suspension and 33x12.5 tires. The transfer case just decided to suicide-bomb itself, the driveshaft, and rear yoke while driving down the road.Now that I must replace things, what transfer case would be a stronger unit, or is the NP241 just fine?

The Jeep is my daily driver that needs to go off-road on the weekends totake a bath in the dirt and mud.I like the Atlas II but what gearing?Ienjoydoing the work on my own, until I get in over my head. Is a transfer-case install homegrown or shop-prone?What else should I look to replace in the name of strength and durability?
Smokey D.

Answer: In my opinion the Atlas from Advance Adapters is a stronger transfer case than the NP/NVG 241OR in your Rubicon, but then again your case does have some redeeming qualities. Check out the 231 buildup we did last issue for some upgrades ("Building a Better Box," May '09), though most of them do not apply to your Rubicon case.

I would say that swapping in another 241 would be no problem for the at-home mechanic. The Atlas will take some more work--it's still possible to do it--but you will also need to purchase driveshafts and deal with the new shifter linkage.

That being said, my vote is for the Atlas if you are already breaking the Rubicon 241.

General's Gears
Question: I have recently acquired a Ford reverse-rotation Dana 60, and I am not sure what route to take. I would like to put it in my '85 Chevy pickup. My truck has an SM465. What is the best way to put a driver-side transfer case in my truck? I have vast resources of used parts. Can I somehow put a transfer case out of a newer truck in, ordo I need a Ford NP205 and an adapter kitfrom Off-Road Design?
Alex R.

Answer: Look for an SM465 transmission and the Aluminum NVG241 transfer case out of an '88-'98 GM truck. This will have a driver-side front output and will bolt up to your engine. Unfortunately it uses a different output than your current SM465, so you will need to swap the transmission as well as the transfer case. Shop around, but you may find that the Ford NP205 with the Off-Road Design adapter is cheaper and stronger in the long run.

Solid-Axle Answers
Question: I have an '88 Toyota pickup with the IFS front end, and I want to swap in a solid front axle. But I don't want leaf springs, and I don't want to four-link it. Everybody and their brother has leaf springs where I come from, and doing a four-link is too complicated to do by myself. I want to coil-spring it, and I was going to use some parts out of a Ford Ranger or an F-150 (spring hangers, radius arms, and the crossmember that the radius arms go into). I have a few ideas on how to mount the front end, but I'm not sure how to do it, and I can't find anything on the Internet about it. Do you have any ideas?
Garrett M.

Answer: Solid-axle swaps are much more common these days than just 10 year ago, and yes, leaf springs are the most common and easiest method for swapping a solid axle into a previously IFS truck, whether it's a Toyota mini-truck or a GM fullsize. I also understand your view that a four-link is too complicated. It takes a fair bit of work to get the links mounted in a way that works, clears everything, and allows for a safe yet agile off-roader. Your idea to use radius arms isn't bad. Many four-wheelers have used radius-arm suspensions with great success. Getting these parts from a Ford truck shouldn't be too difficult.

However, going from the Ford truck to your Toyota will be just as complicated as doing a four-link or a three-link with a track bar. When it's all said and done, it just might be cheaper since you can get these factory parts. Personally, I think the three-link with a track bar is the best option when using a steering box. The triangulated four-link works best with full hydraulic steering since it is complicated to make a steering box and a four-link suspension coexist without bumpsteer.

After those two choices, I would then choose leaf springs for simplicity and then a straight four-link suspension with a track bar. My final least-favorite choice would be the radius-arm suspension. Radius arms inherently bind during articulation, resulting in less wheel travel. That is fine for a primarily street-driven vehicle because the binding that hinders off-road use actually helps cornering and stability at speed--acting similar to a sway bar.

Now even though radius arms are my least favorite type of front suspension, they are fine for normal use. Be sure you replace worn bushings, get the track-bar and steering drag-link angles as close to parallel, flat, and equal length as possible, and make double sure your welding of frame mounts is strong. Radius arms apply multiple-direction forces on frame mounts compared to the single-direction forces found with four-link suspensions.

Question: I have a '97 Jeep Wrangler that has a 2-inch coil-spring spacer lift, a 1 1/2-inch body lift, and a Powertrax locker with 33-inch ATs. I started to notice that when I shift gears on the highway, the Jeep turns slightly to the left. I didn't know if the rear axle is loose or what so I checked it out and everything looks tight and not worn out. It seems to be getting worse. What should I do? I was thinking of removing the locker, replacing the lift with a real one, and changing out the bushings.
Wayne H.

Answer: I've had this same thing happen to me. First, double-check that your rear wheels are exactly the same air pressure. The locker is causing this, because it recognizes a difference in speed from one tire to the other and is locking and unlocking at speed. If your tires are the same air pressure and the same size side to side, you shouldn't have any more issues. No need to get rid of the locker; you'll appreciate it later when you hit the trails.

Dis Traction Action
Question: I'm running Rockwells in a '77 Ford and the engine is pushing a little over 500 horses, and I need traction bars to help put the power to the ground. It's strictly a mud truck and won't see pavement or touch a rock. Can you please tell me the ups and downs of traction bars that mount directly from the axle to the chassis over ones that have a shackle attached? Four-link suspensions get thrown in the conversation a few times, but I don't really need that much flex.

Answer: Traction bars are for use with leaf springs, while four-link suspensions are for use when the spring cannot locate the axle, such as with coil springs, airbags, air shocks, coilover shocks, quarter-elliptic leaf springs, or leaf springs with shackles at both ends. A traction bar is designed to keep your axle from twisting or wrapping under throttle.

Axlewrap is the occurrence when the pinion moves in the opposite direction of the tires (for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction), usually under hard acceleration. If the axle wraps, the truck isn't moving forward until something binds like your springs, and oftentimes the driveshaft will bind before the springs. Then your driveshaft U-joint will break and you'll be getting towed home or laying in the mud fixing your truck.

The reason you want a traction bar with a shackle is because it will allow more suspension travel while still fighting axlewrap. As your axle moves up or down through the suspension travel, it also moves forward and back because it is mounted in the middle of your leaf spring--and as the leaf spring flattens out and the leaf-spring shackle swings, it moves that center point of the spring (where the axle is mounted) toward the front or rear of the truck. Since the traction bar is solidly mounted to the axle, it also moves toward the front or rear of the truck, so the frame end of the traction bar needs a shackle to allow this movement.

Cheap Chebby
Question: Your Cheap Truck Challenge from a few years back was such an awesome idea. When are you going to bring it back?Your magazine inspired me to combine the CTC with a flavor of the Ultimate Adventure: a $1,500 budget, but also a 1,500-mile roundtrip. I've pulled a '74 Blazer out of a grove of trees, got the engine reliable, added 33-inch tires, shocks, and seats. The truck's current form has plenty of power and clearance for the trails and roads here on the Plains, but could have a difficult time in the mountains. I'm leaning toward finding better axles for better gears and bigger tires.

Are there some junkyard axle options that are simple bolt-ups, or should I look for something else to improve the truck's capabilities on the Cheap Truck Ultimate Adventure?
Brad B.

Answer: Cheap Truck Challenge wasn't a once-in-a-lifetime event, but it did require each editor to buy and build a 4x4 for under $1,500 and then go wheeling together. That is a feat, considering the schedules of everyone on staff. We will surely do another CTC, but we haven't nailed down a date yet.

Your Blazer sounds like the perfect CTC/UA truck. It's popular, so parts are abundant and cheap, plus it's big enough to haul gear but small enough to fit on most trails. You can simply regear the axles you currently have (a Dana 44-bolt front and 12-bolt rear) if you want lower gears, but upgrading to 1-ton front axles and a 3/4-ton rear axle from a '76-'87 Chevy or GMC truck will definitely give you stronger parts to build off. These axles will bolt in without much work, but if you are sticking with the 33-inch-tall tires, I wouldn't bother with the swap. I'd just give the engine your standard tune-up.

I'd buy some quality suspension seats for a comfortable place to sit, the best shocks you can afford, and a rear locking differential. All these parts plus the 33-inch tires will be hard to have for under $1,500, but if you watch the classifieds and visit some swap meets, you'll probably do all right.

Another great option for cheap parts is your local 4x4 shop. Stop by, tell them your plan, and ask if you can post "parts wanted" on their bulletin board. It may actually help them sell some bigger tires to the next customer if they know you'll give a few hundred bucks for the guy's old tires. Good luck and send us that photo from the peak.

Nuts, I'm Confused
Steering Soldier
Question: I am currently deployed in Kuwait, and before I left the states I got an '85 GMC High Sierra. I was wondering how to rebuild the steering system. The truck is in poor condition and it needs to have the whole steering system rebuilt along with most of the drivetrain to handle 35-inch tires. I have a very limited budget for this project.
Pfc. Landmesser

Answer: Steering and brakes are the two most important parts of your vehicle so don't skimp on them. On the GM 1/2-ton steering system the pitman arm attaches to the steering-box sector shaft with a cross-bolt that clamps it on. The steering arm is the "C" shaped piece that is bolted to the steering knuckle on the axle with three large studs. The drag link connects the pitman arm and steering arm, and on your '85 GM the drag link is just two drag-link ends with an adjuster sleeve in the middle. The long rod assembly under the leaf spring that ties the knuckles together is the tie rod and on your '85 it should be a threaded tube with a replaceable end on each side that's secured with a jam nut. The steering stabilizer is the shock that is bolted to the tie rod and axletube.

The first step is going to be making sure all the steering joints are good, which from your description of the truck means replacing them. The tie-rod ends and drag-link ends are just parts store replacement parts so pick your favorite store, get new ends, and screw them in. The drag-link adjuster sleeves don't fail unless they're just rusted beyond use and the tie-rod tube will also work fine as long as you don't bash it too hard on rocks and stumps.

You should also check the steering stabilizer; it's a bit of a Band-Aid but can really help you run parts that are less than brand new but still good. If the stabilizer is shot, a parts store replacement will be fine. A 35-inch tire isn't hard enough on the stabilizer that you need to buy a dual kit.

I'm going to assume that you have a 4- to 6-inch lift on the truck already to accommodate the 35-inch tires and the steering correction for that lift height should be a raised steering arm. It'll be the same "C" shape as the stock arm, but will rise up to the drag-link connection instead of dropping down. If you don't have a raised steering arm on the truck, you will need to get one. It'll drive better and the ends will last longer with it installed.

So far all we've done is refresh the factory parts, which really is fine for a 35-inch tire and mild use. The GMs had pretty beefy steering systems to start with. The real problem point with any early-GM steering is the frame strength behind the steering box. Sooner or later, they all crack out, but Off-Road Design (970.945.7777, offers a bolt-in brace that really is essential for any truck with bigger tires. When you install the brace, check the frame around the box and its mounting holes for cracks, and if you find any, weld them up and plate them over with a weld-in repair kit.

This should give you a relatively cheap, safe, and reliable steering rebuild that will get you through the next couple of years with the truck, and leave you with some cash to keep it running. And by the way, thanks for your service to our country. Keep safe and come home soon.

Guess what, Private? You're serving our country and you're an off-roader, and to show our thanks I'm picking you as this month's Nuts, I'm Confused letter of the month. Your prize will be a set of BDS Suspension (517.279.2135 9500-series shocks for your truck. These high-pressure gas monotube shocks are designed to eliminate foaming and lag time for instant control, they have a brushed stainless appearance with top clearcoat for long-term performance and they include urethane bushings for increased shock performance, an all-weather convoluted boot, and rolled closed ends for leakproof construction. We hope you'll make it home safe and you'll be out wheeling again soon.

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