Changing your own axle gears isnt as easy as installing a CB radio and it is certainly more difficult than bolting on a lift kit. But if you think you have the ability (and patience) then you would run into your first problem way before the scent and stains of gear oil pollute your clothing. You cant just go down to Joes Auto Parts and find the tools you need to tear down and rebuild an axle. You could drive around town and chase one of those specialty tool trucks but dont grab your keys and a map just yet. Matco Tools now offers its complete line on its Web site. You can easily order tools from your computer at work, home, or at a buddys house. And dont worry, were complete computer idiots and we could easily get through the online catalog.
We called West Coast Differentials for the ring-and-pinion and other internal parts and to get some advice for our first gear swap. Since we were working on a Dana axle and it still had the original Dana gears in place, West Coast Differentials recommended that we use genuine Dana replacement gears to make setup easier. With some ratio swaps it will be necessary to change the carrier but we didnt need to. We also ordered a complete master install kit and an extra set of bearings (well explain why later). The kit comes complete with bearings, shims, marking compound, ring-gear bolts, a new pinion nut, and an installation manual with all kinds of cool tech info on many different axles.
There are four measurements that need to be correct for a ring-and-pinion to be set up properly: pinion depth, pinion bearing preload, carrier bearing preload, and backlash. Once you have the correct pinion depth, the rest of the install kind of falls together and makes sense. To make sure we didnt screw up, we ordered video number 1600 (Differential Rebuilding) from Technical Video to get some more info. The video shows shortcuts along with the teardown and buildup of several more popular axles. After reading, watching, and thinking, we headed out to the garage to get dirty. Heres how we set up our gears at home and how the tools are used. Dont forget to check out the Tool Town sidebar to get a description of each tool that youll need and how much it will set you back.