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Beef Up Your Axles

Posted in How To on June 1, 2001
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Contributors: Trent Riddle
Here you can see the comparison between a Dana 60 and a GM 12-bolt axle. The 12-bolt has an 8.875-inch ring gear and isn’t as strong in the pinion and bearing department as the Dana 60. Here you can see the comparison between a Dana 60 and a GM 12-bolt axle. The 12-bolt has an 8.875-inch ring gear and isn’t as strong in the pinion and bearing department as the Dana 60.
Two of the axles most commonly swapped into trucks are the Dana 44 (below) and Dana 60 (top), seen here. The Dana 44 has an 8.5-inch ring gear while the Dana 60 has a 9.75-inch ring gear. Dana 44s are also great front-axle upgrades for fullsize trucks and small Jeep-type rigs. The Dana 60 is preferred over a Dana 44 in the back, and they’re available as frontend units too. You’ll notice that the covers of the D44 and D60 look similar but that the Dana 60 is larger. Take care as you shop for Dana axles: Many of their covers look similar, so make sure you know what you’re getting before you buy. Two of the axles most commonly swapped into trucks are the Dana 44 (below) and Dana 60 (top), seen here. The Dana 44 has an 8.5-inch ring gear while the Dana 60 has a 9.75-inch ring gear. Dana 44s are also great front-axle upgrades for fullsize trucks and small Jeep-type rigs. The Dana 60 is preferred over a Dana 44 in the back, and they’re available as frontend units too. You’ll notice that the covers of the D44 and D60 look similar but that the Dana 60 is larger. Take care as you shop for Dana axles: Many of their covers look similar, so make sure you know what you’re getting before you buy.
The GM 14-bolt unit, pictured here, has a 10.5-inch ring gear. It is considered by axle experts to be stronger than the Dana 60. The only drawback with this axle is the limited availability of traction devices such as lockers and limited slips. The GM 14-bolt unit, pictured here, has a 10.5-inch ring gear. It is considered by axle experts to be stronger than the Dana 60. The only drawback with this axle is the limited availability of traction devices such as lockers and limited slips.
Ford’s answer to bigger rear axles is the Sterling, with its 10.25-inch ring gear. This axle is used in most late-model 3/4- and   1-ton Ford trucks. Ford’s answer to bigger rear axles is the Sterling, with its 10.25-inch ring gear. This axle is used in most late-model 3/4- and 1-ton Ford trucks.
Owners of Ford F-250 Super Duty trucks can replace their weak Dana 50 frontends with one of the direct-replacement Dana 60 units from Currie Enterprises. The Dana 50 has the same ring-gear size as the Dana 44 and won’t take the abuse that the Dana 60 units can. Owners of Ford F-250 Super Duty trucks can replace their weak Dana 50 frontends with one of the direct-replacement Dana 60 units from Currie Enterprises. The Dana 50 has the same ring-gear size as the Dana 44 and won’t take the abuse that the Dana 60 units can.
The Dana 44 is used in many 1/2- and 3/4-ton trucks and is a popular upgrade for anyone who has a Dana 30 frontend. The unit pictured here is a replacement Dana 44 for Jeep Cherokees, Grand Cherokees, and TJ Wranglers from Currie Enterprises. The Dana 44 is used in many 1/2- and 3/4-ton trucks and is a popular upgrade for anyone who has a Dana 30 frontend. The unit pictured here is a replacement Dana 44 for Jeep Cherokees, Grand Cherokees, and TJ Wranglers from Currie Enterprises.
A new option on the market of late is the high-clearance Dana 60. Here you see a stock Dana 60 compared to a Currie high-clearance unit. The added ground clearance might not be necessary on your tow rig but you’ll love it if you ’wheel in the rough stuff. A new option on the market of late is the high-clearance Dana 60. Here you see a stock Dana 60 compared to a Currie high-clearance unit. The added ground clearance might not be necessary on your tow rig but you’ll love it if you ’wheel in the rough stuff.
Land Cruiser owners can upgrade their rear axles to a non-USA full-floating unit like this one from Man-A-Fre. These rearends can be had with factory drum or disc brakes. Land Cruiser owners can upgrade their rear axles to a non-USA full-floating unit like this one from Man-A-Fre. These rearends can be had with factory drum or disc brakes.

Snap-crackle-pop might be good sounds to hear at the breakfast table, but you sure don’t want to hear them on the trail. You especially don’t 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 truck’s 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, you’ll 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 you’re upgrading only one axle at a time. Don’t 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 don’t 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 they’re the way to go if strength is what you’re 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 you’re 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?

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