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April 2012 Nuts & Bolts

Posted in How To on April 1, 2012
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Scout Out a Transfer Case
Q: I picked up a ’73 Jeep Commando a few months back, and the guy I bought it from knew very little about it. He said that the transfer case was a Dana 20 out of a Scout. I want to swap in a Dana 300 so I can do 4:1 low range gears. Is there a difference between the Dana 20s/Dana 300s from Scouts and the ones that came in Jeeps?

A: The Scout/Jeep Dana 20 has what is known as the Texas bolt pattern because it sort of look like the shape of Texas; this is shared with the earlier Jeep Dana 18 and only the Scout Dana 300, not the Jeep Dana 300. As such, the Scout Dana 300 should bolt up where your Dana 20 currently is. However, you will need the proper input splines. If you have an automatic the input will have fine splines, a manual will have coarse splines. The problem arises in that the Scout Dana 300s are getting harder and harder to find because they were only made for one year, 1980.

If you have a manual transmission then you could use a 3.15:1 low range gearset from Teraflex ( for your Dana 20 and not even go looking for the Scout Dana 300. If you can’t find the Scout 300 you can use an adapter kit from the Texas bolt pattern to the circular Jeep Dana 300 bolt pattern, but you may need to change the output shaft of your transmission and change your driveshaft lengths.

Gear Broke
Q: I recently had to have the rearend rebuilt in my ’98 Dodge 1⁄2-ton. I was almost enraged at the price. It seemed to me that two-grand is too much to spend on nothing more than a new ring-and-pinion. I was wondering if I could do that repair myself, as I have had some automotive schooling, but we never covered axles. I was just wondering if there are any special tools needed since I have seen some guys rebuild axle gears on the trail.
Nathan S.

A: Sorry, Nathan, if you have to ask then you’re not smart enough to do a ring-and-pinion.

Just kidding. We know how you feel. Setting up ring-and-pinions is akin to automatic transmission rebuilds when it comes to a feeling of black magic, but the fact is you can do your own ring-and-pinion. The trick, just as with basketball and ballroom dancing, is practice. The guy who gets paid to set up ring-and-pinions has (hopefully) the experience to set them up and get a perfect gear mesh after years of practice and hundreds of installs.

The problem is you want to set up your gears, you have never done it before, and you don’t have the years to dedicate to learning the details of a gear install that axles guys get from days upon days of rebuilding rearends. Don’t fret. First read the book Differentials by Jim Allen and Randy Lyman. It’s available from Randy’s Ring & Pinion (, which also sells a complete line of tools and gauges to set up your ring-and-pinion, such as pinion depth tools, dial indicators, bearing pullers, and setup bearings.

If you take your time, follow the instructions, and double-check everything, you can set up your own gears, but the cost of the tools, parts, and install kits as well as the time to get it done right may make you reexamine the “expense” of having a shop do it for you.

30 Low-Budget Issues
Q: I’m a low budget Jeeper and I have been breaking my YJ front axles regularly and wearing out unit bearings frequently. I’ve done some searching on the web and found that I could put XJ or TJ axles in my housing to get the larger 760 size U-joints, but I would still have the unit bearings. I was looking for a better answer, bigger U-joints, bigger ball joints, rebuildabe bearings, and lockout hubs. Is it possible to put Dana 44 outers onto my Dana 30? I know lots of people would say to just put a Dana 44 under the Jeep, but I already have a locker in my Dana 30 and I don’t want to lose ground clearance.
Grant & Lisa Brower

A: Yes and no. You can put a Dana 44 knuckle on a Dana 30, but not your Dana 30, only those in CJ-era Jeeps with open knuckles, not the newer YJ and TJ-era Dana 30s. However, you can get these Dana 30 knuckles from Reid Racing Inc. (

These allow you to upgrade to a removable spindle/rebuildable bearing hub setup from an earlier Jeep or Chevy with a six-bolt spindle, but this means you can only get 5-on-51⁄2, 6-on-51⁄2, and 8-on-61⁄2 bolt patterns. Your YJ is 5-on-41⁄2, and you’ll need different wheels for the front, and then your rear axle will not match the front. Cost is $260 per knuckle plus all the spindle, hub, brakes, stub shaft, and so on, meaning it is not a low-budget Jeeper upgrade.

Nissan X-Tow-A
Q: I have an ’02 Nissan Xterra, standard shift, four-wheel drive with auto hubs. I would like to tow it using front wheel dollies. I have asked the dealership and others about this and am getting different answers. It has the VG33 engine, five-speed tranny, and the box that is 2H, 4H, N, 4L. The front wheels will be about 12 inches off the ground when on the dolly. The owner’s book says I need to leave the transmission in N and the transfer case in 2H. Do I need a driveshaft-disconnect to keep miles off the odometer and keep the gears from spinning? I was also told to put the box in N and all would be good, however that’s not what the manual says. Will I need some kind of auxiliary oil pump to the transfer case and transmission as it is being towed to keep the gears lubed?
Steve J.

A: Follow the owner’s manual. If you put the transmission in neutral and the transfer case in 2-Hi, this will keep the transfer case gears spinning and throwing oil to lubricate the case. If you are worried about miles then you should probably pull the rear driveshaft altogether, but following the owner’s manual should be sufficient.

Off-Road Trailer Opinions?
Q: I read about your trip across Russia last summer, and you didn’t seem very pleased with your Adventure trailer [“Suzukis Across Siberia,” Mar. ’11]. Was there a problem with that trailer specificly, the suspension, or all off-road trailers? I’m trying to determine if a trailer is right for behind my Dodge truck with slide-in camper. I have a basic camper with no kitchen, and with a wife and two kids it gets crowded. We’re considering an option for camping and exploring. My Dodge is a diesel with a utility bed with toolboxes that I use for work, but then I haul the family in it for weekend trips. What is my best option so I can camp but still go exploring?
Bret P.

A: The trailer we towed across eastern Russia was built by Adventure Trailers (, which has since informed me that the suspension was supposed to be set to ride height upon my arrival in Russia. This may have made some of the issues with the trailer obsolete, but not all of them. I feel that off-road trailers are cumbersome, and towing one tells me you either have too much stuff or too small a vehicle.

For example, I think a properly outfitted 4x4 can support four people, giving them places to sleep and stow their gear, and will travel off-road better than a smaller vehicle with a trailer. I’d take a Suburban with a rooftop tent and a mattress in the way back over a four-door mini truck or Jeep towing a trailer in this situation.

The Suburban’s big power, the ability to more easily back up, and the simplicity of fewer tires on the ground make more sense to me. That being said, everyone has his own degree of comfort. Some families could cram in a CJ-5 with a few ground tents, a cooler of drinks, and a bag of beef jerky, and be happy as clams for weeks on end. Others need bathrooms, running water, fresh coffee, hot meals three times a day, and TV/Internet or they’ll be miserable. I crossed Australia years back with a large group, and there was a cook truck with a trailer that they set up and cooked everyone’s meals out of. That was pretty cool, but they were feeding a dozen or more people.

If you wanted to set up a base camp and then go explore in your 4x4, that is a different situation. That’s where I can see a trailer being useful—say, one fitted with a tent, kitchen, coolers, where maybe part of the family stays and hangs out while the rest go on a drive-about. But you could, as a different option, bring a truck with a massive slide-in camper with beds and kitchen and tow a small 4x4 to go exploring with. Again, you have to decide what’s enough and what’s too much.

There are always situations when you may need a trailer. Say you only have a small 4x4 and must haul people and gear. Adding a trailer is a cheaper option than, for instance, upgrading to a larger vehicle. In your case, your camper is the bedroom, but you need a place to cook and eat. I think outfitting the camper with a canopy and putting a folding table or two, a small cook stove, and a cooler in the side toolboxes would make for a more svelte and compact exploration vehicle. A trailer behind won’t simplify what you bring; it will just allow you to bring more stuff.

1⁄2-Ton Solid
Q: I have an ’01 Chevy 1⁄2-ton and want to do a solid-axle swap on it. I have not been able to find anyone with a kit for it, only for the 3⁄4- and 1-tons. Someone told me that the frames on the 1⁄2-ton trucks are weak. If I do a solid-axle swap will the frame bend and twist?
Josh H.

A: We actually did a solid-axle swap on a 1⁄2-ton Chevy back in 2008 for the Ultimate Adventure. The work done on our truck was accomplished at Off Road Evolution ( and helped the company develop a link and coilover shock kit for these trucks. However, those guys will admit that the project is very involved and requires a serious investment of time and money to install, as they plated and supported much of the frame with crossmembers and additional metal.

Off Road Direct ( and Sky’s Off-Road Design ( also offer kits that can be made to work on half-ton Chevys using leaf springs. The frames of half-ton trucks can be thinner material, and as such, plating them for added rigidity isn’t a bad idea, but care must be taken because too much welding can itself cause frames to warp and twist.

How to Trar
Q: I am thinking of doing a project with an ’85 Chevy 4x4 regular cab truck. The body is shot, but the running gear is in excellent shape. Is the wheelbase on a short box frame the same as a regular box frame? I am also thinking about putting an ’83 Firebird body on a 4x4 frame; are there any good articles on that subject?
Rodney B.
Friend, NE

A: The ’85 Chevy longbed wheelbase is 1311⁄2 inches. The shortbed wheelbase is 1171⁄2 inches. An ’83 Pontiac Firebird has a wheelbase of 101 inches. As such, neither frame will line up perfectly with the Firebird body, but that doesn’t mean this Trar (truck/car) project won’t work. Issues you’ll encounter are body mounts, steering, pedal, and shifter controls as well as fuel tank and brake plumbing. A Trar project hasn’t been done in this magazine in years, but we admit we’ve considered a few in the past. If you really think we should do a piece on breeding a car with a truck, send us an email with the subject “Build a Trar!” to and tell us the frame, engine, axles and most importantly what car you want to see on top. We aren’t promising anything, but we aren’t saying it’s out of the question.

Nuts, I’m Confused
Broke & Bandaged
Q: I knew running 35s on my Jeep TJ would be hard on my stock axles, but I wasn’t quite expecting the dramatic failure I recently experienced when my rear pinion bearing exploded. I read in your magazine about the “TJK” axles, and I always figured that was the route I would go when my stock axles eventually wore out, but they failed more dramatically and sooner than I planned on. So, long story marginally less long, I don’t have the money to buy new axles right now. I need to cobble together the old POS axle.

I’m not going to be able to park the Jeep in the garage until Christmas break, so how much and in what particular manner am I messing up my Jeep by driving it around in front-wheel drive?

When the pinion bearing disintegrated, I pulled the rear driveshaft and pinion in a parking lot and drove it home in four-wheel drive. When I got home, I cut the top off a bottle of brake fluid and RVT’d over the hole where the pinion should be, so I could fill it up with fluid and not fry carrier bearings. I’m not too worried about the rearend, but I’m worried about what I might be doing driving the Jeep in “front-wheel drive” on dry pavement for a month or so. I don’t go on the highway, I’m not going much more than 35-40 mph, and I only drive 50-60 miles a week, but I’m still worried I might be ruining something else in the meantime.
Joel Schudlich
Bellingham, WA

A: Brilliant trail fix. And though we give you props for the patch job, we’re not big fans of your running down the highway for a month with that rear axle. It should be fine as long as you pulled the whole pinion out and sealed it up as you say, but remember, if that rearend locks up you could be making a high-speed U-turn, so keep the speed down.

Next is the transfer case. If you do not have a slip yoke eliminator (SYE) on it you could be pumping gear oil out the tailhousing. Our research shows an SYE kit sells for $200-$300 depending on where you shop. However, if you do not have the SYE installed already you’ll need a different rear driveshaft when you rebuild your rearend because the stock shaft doesn’t work with the SYE. If you can somehow cobble a plug for the back of the transfer case, or check it routinely for leaks and top it off, you may be able to limp it for the next month until you can repair it.

You’re at a turning point between upgrading and repairing, but our advice is to scavenge a seal and bearing and fix your rear axle and get back on the road safely. Then keep saving up for the new parts you want, like the TJK axles and SYE.

Since your repair is great for a trail fix and we like your never-give-up attitude and style, we’re awarding you the Nuts, I’m Confused letter of the month. You’re getting a big box of nuts and bolts. The Copper State Bolt and Nut Company has a great trail box of various fasteners and such all bundled in a small tackle box, perfect for stashing in your Jeep in case more trail carnage strikes. Unfortunately for you, it doesn’t contain a pinion bearing, seal, or slip yoke eliminator kit, but it does have a variety of fasteners and wiring and plumbing tidbits to keep you moving. Copper States offers both metric and inch bolt kits. For more info about these kits call 602.272.2384.

Yes to Big-Blocks
In our Dec. ’11 issue we asked whether you were interested in big-block engines or the price of fuel had you leaning toward smaller-displacement engines. The response was a resounding yes to big-blocks. Here are a few comments we received.

“I love my ’87 GMC 1 ton 4x4 with the TBI 454.” —Peter Bauer

“I have a ’91 7.4L waiting to go into my ’68 Gladiator. Yes, fuel is expensive, but to your point, when you place the skinny pedal on the floor, there is nothing like the feeling of pure horsepower putting you in your seat.” —Mike Parker

“I will never get rid of my big-block.” —David M. Vianu

“People always ask ‘Wow, what does that thing get for mileage?’ I say, ‘Who cares!’” —Derek Hanscom

“I love that Big-Block power! Funny thing is I’m getting the same mileage out of the 460 as I was getting out of the 302, go figure?!” —Matt Campbell

“I use my 2500 big block Avalanche as my tow rig. I have over 30,000 miles towing, all in excess of 10,000 pounds, including one trip of nearly 1000 miles with a 16,000 lb trailer over the biggest passes in Colorado.” —Aaron James

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, 831 S. Douglas St., El Segundo, CA 90245 fax to: 310.531.9368 Email to:

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