How to Avoid Disaster
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Weve all seen Wranglers driving down the highway with 35-inch tires on the stock axles. Is the Dana 35 rearend stronger than most people believe or are these road-wheelers driving a grenade with the pin pulled? Lots of Dana 35s hold up in conditions that they were never designed for. Others die grizzly deaths leaving gear oil and broken chunks of metal as a testimonial to the abuse. Fortunately, just about any axle can be doctored up, and the 35 is no different. Everything from C-clip eliminators to full-float kits are available for the 35. Weve put together all the information we could find to help you decide which modification is best for your Jeep. Check the What Do You Need? sidebar for specifics.
Riding the Splines
The first Dana 35 components to fail are usually the axleshafts. The tiny 1.18-inch 27-spline shafts that are only marginally bigger than the 1.16-inch shafts found in a Dana 30 front axle. In most stock applications, they will live indefinitely; however, adding a locker and larger-than-stock tires or driving abusively can snap them. If you have broken a stock Dana 35 shaft, you will surely do it again. The 87-89 Wranglers and 84-89 Cherokees have non-C-clip axles. These are semifloating axles, so if a shaft should break the wheel will remain on the vehicle, at least for a short time until the axle bearing fries. The 90-and-later Dana 35s have C-clips that retain the axles in the housing. If a C-clip shaft snaps, the axle, wheel, and brake drum will liberate themselves from the housing if you try to drive on it. Upgrading a C-clip axle with a C-clip eliminator kit doesnt provide a strength gain, but it will usually cause oil leaks around the bearing and flange area...so save your money.
There are two options when upgrading the 35 shafts. Superior Axle & Gear offers its Super 35 kit and Warn has a full-float kit. The Super 35 kit is available for both C-clip and non-C-clip axles. The kit replaces the smallish shafts with 1.31-inch 30-spline pieces that are over 35 percent stronger than stock. These are the same size as the shafts found in many Dana 44s and even some Dana 60s! The kit may seem a little pricey when compared to a floater, but the Super 35 kit includes a custom full-case Detroit Locker to match the 30-spline shafts. A full-float kit with a locker will set you back about $200 more than the Super 35 kit. If you dont want a locker then the Super 35 kit is not for you. By the time you read this the Super 35 kit will be available with a 5-on-5½ lug pattern as well as the original 5-on-4½ pattern. The larger pattern is beneficial for those performing front axle swaps. If in the unlikely event you break a Super 35 shaft it will have to be replaced with another Super 35 shaft. No wrecking yard shaft will fit. Needless to say this may be difficult to find in the boonies. The Super 35 kit requires disassembly of the differential for installation. Special tools and gear setup knowledge are needed to install the full-case locker.
Warn replaces the C-clip and non-C-clip axles with full-floating pieces, similar to what is found on 1-ton trucks. Your vehicle can be flat-towed without spinning the driveline when the hubs are unlocked. If a shaft should snap, the wheel will remain on the vehicle and it can be driven with the broken pieces removed. In a pinch you could remove the floater kit and reinstall stock axles. The main drawback to the full-floater is the strength of the locking hubs used with the 5-on-4½ lug pattern kits. Warn offers a floater kit with bigger hubs that uses the more common 3-inch locking hubs and even a solid-driver option if you go with a 5-on-5½ pattern. The larger pattern will require the front axle to be changed, too, or the front and rear lug patterns will be different. A floater kit can be installed using common handtools.
All of the components in a Dana 35 are well balanced. The ring gear, pinion, bearings, shafts, and housing are all light-duty parts. The Dana 35, like its predecessor (AMC 20), has a housing that has been known to bend. Superior Axle & Gear says that the housing would have to be severely bent for the bearings, locker, and shafts in its Super 35 kit to be damaged. Warn recommends that you check the straightness of your housing at an alignment shop before installing a full-float kit. Warn cautions that a bent housing will cause leaks, and the locking hubs will wear excessively. Severe bends could snap a shaft.
Its been our experience that the Dana 35 flexes quite a bit. While replacing a broken 27-spline shaft in the field with the suspension twisted up, we were barely able to pound the new shaft into place, so we figured the housing was bent. Once we got back to the shop and put the Jeep on a hoist, the shaft would slide in and out easily. We believe that the flexing can cause locker and shaft damage. An axle truss will help combat the housing flex and possibly prolong the life of the Dana 35 assembly in more abusive conditions.