Subscribe to a magazine

Building Your Dana 35

P64128 Image Large
John Cappa | Writer
Posted January 1, 2001

How to Avoid Disaster

Step By Step

View Photo Gallery
  • The stock shafts measure in at 1.18 inches with 27 splines (left). The Super 35 shafts in comparison are a whopping 1.31 inches and have 30 splines for a strength gain of over 35 percent.

  • The floater assembly has a clear-cut advantage when it comes to flat-towing. But the floater kit is more susceptible to failure stemming from a bent housing.

  • A full-case Detroit Locker comes in the Super 35 kit. If a shaft breaks in the boonies or you don’t want a locker, you’re hosed.

  • C-clips are used to retain the axleshafts on ’90-plus Dana 35s. The button on the tip has been known to snap off in rare cases on stock axles. The shafts usually break at the end of the splines. The Super 35 shaft (shown) features a forged one-piece unit with rolled splines and a slick Duracoat finish.

  • Perhaps the weakest part of the floater assembly is the locking hubs, although ring-and-pinion failure may occur first. Solid drivers are not available if you want to retain the 5-on-4 1/2 lug pattern.

  • A Dana 44 has an 8.25-inch ring gear (right). The Dana 35 ring gear (left) is 7.62 inches in diameter. It’s only slightly larger and stronger than the tiny 7.2-inch ring gear of a Dana 30. Something to think about before you bolt on those 35s.

  • If your Jeep has ABS in the rear, you’ll need to retain the tone ring for it to function properly. The Super 35 kit has provisions for the rings; the floater kit does not.

  • The 44 pinion gear (right) is almost identical in size when compared to the 35 gear (left). The strength difference is probably minimal. However, 4.88 are the lowest gears you can get for a Dana 35. A Dana 44 can be stuffed with up to 5.89s.

  • We broke a 27-spline shaft and an in-carrier locker with our 35-inch tire’d four-banger Wrangler. We added this truss in hopes of eliminating any axle flex. It seems to be helping.

We’ve 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. We’ve 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 doesn’t provide a strength gain, but it will usually cause oil leaks around the bearing and flange area...so save your money.

Boom-Proof

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 don’t 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.

Shaft Wrapper

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.

It’s 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.

Sources

Superior Axle & Gear
Rancho Cucamonga, CA 91730
888-845-0470
www.superioraxlegear.com
Drivetrain Direct
Corona, CA 92880
909-272-0158
www.drivetraindirect.com

Comments

Advertisement