Snap-crackle-pop might be good sounds to hear at the breakfast table, but you sure dont want to hear them on the trail. You especially dont want to hear those sounds if they come from under your truck. To avoid the sounds of popped U-joints, snapped axles and cracked ring gears, consider upgrading your trucks front and rear axles.
The first option many think of is to swap in heavier factory components from the same family of truck as you own. For those with Dana 30 frontends this can mean finding a factory Dana 44. If you have a 10-bolt rear axle, you may want to upgrade to a factory Dana 60 or other heavy-duty unit. Upgrading to HD factory parts is a great way to go when that option is available. But while this type of upgrade is easy on your pocketbook for the initial purchase, youll often find hidden costs. Remember that the biggest axles are from ¾- and 1-ton trucks and will require that you upgrade to 8-lug wheels, too. This can add to your bill, especially if you have aluminum wheels now and you want to stay with that cool aluminum look. One way to do this without having to buy new wheels would be to have a shop convert a ¾-ton axle to a ½-ton bolt pattern, but this also adds cost. Finally, you have to get a used unit with a gear ratio to match your truck if youre upgrading only one axle at a time. Dont get us wrong, upgrading to a Dana 60, GM 14-bolt, Ford Sterling, or Chrysler 9¼-inch rearend is a beefy upgrade, and well worth the effort. Just dont forget the added costs that may be involved.
As you research your options, you may find that the aftermarket offers upgrades for your rig that will suit your needs without the need to swap out the entire axle assembly. Axle upgrades are offered for early GM 10-bolt and Ford 9-inch rear axles to convert from 28-spline to 30-spline, a move that gives you added axle strength. Jeep owners can get flanged axle upgrades for the AMC 20 and a wide range of upgrades for the Dana 35-C rear axle. Toyota owners can upgrade the differentials in their four-cylindered trucks to those used in the V-6 trucks, and the FJ80 units can be dropped into the V-6 trucks and FJ40s to get a high-pinion unit with larger bearings.
If you have a Ford 9-inch rearend, you can upgrade to a high-pinion unit. For frontend applications, some of the same upgrades can be done if you have a removable carrier. In addition, you can upgrade the axleshafts. Forged front axleshafts are stronger than stock and these custom axleshafts can be had with larger-than-stock U-joints to boot. The final step in upgrading your axles is the custom-built unit. These tend to be spendy, but theyre the way to go if strength is what youre looking for. For the most part, 1-ton trucks came from their respective factories with Dana 60 frontends, but you can have one built for any rig. Custom rear axles also are available to strengthen your rig. The big advantage offered by custom axles is that you can have them built to the spec you want, with gearing, lockers, and width to match your needs. Special axles such as hybrid 9-inch housings with Dana 60 outer ends are only available from custom builders.
If youre planning to upgrade your axles, ask yourself How much do I want to spend? Do I need to replace my current axles, or just add upgraded components to them? Do I need a factory HD axle or a custom-built unit?
Some upgrades can be done with a few hundred dollars and others take thousands. Strength can be bought. What you have to decide is, how strong do you want your truck to be?