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Is A Solid Axle Right For You?

Posted in How To: Suspension Brakes on May 1, 2012
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Luddites were English textile workers who opposed technology because it reduced labor. As a form of protest they burnt down factories. Often the term Luddite is applied to anyone standing in the way of the progress and evolution of technology. We may be Luddites, but we’re here to say we still like solid axles, and don’t think we will stop burning some metal as we cut out IFS and weld in a solid front axle. Even though we are now down to just three new vehicle models available with a solid front axle in the U.S.—Jeep Wrangler, Ford Super Duty, and Ram heavy-duty trucks (four if you count the über-expensive Mercedes G-class)—we’re still huge proponents of the driven beam axle construction for off-road use.

But hold on a second. If every manufacturer is offering an independent front suspension (IFS) in its 4x4s and some are even offering an independent rear suspension (IRS), then are we just being ignorant cavemen by still cheering on our heavy, strong, rock-simple solid axles? We admit we have serious respect for IFS and IRS, as can be seen by the Ultimate F-150 we built last year and the Land Rover LR4 that won our previous year’s 4x4 of the Year contest. Both are fitted with IFS, and the Land Rover is also fitted with IRS.

So where does this leave you, dear reader? The options for a 4x4 trail rig platform with IFS far outnumber the solid-axle vehicles, but the aftermarket support for serious off-road use and abuse is stacked in the corner of solid-axle vehicles (mostly behind the Jeep Wrangler). If you have an IFS 4x4, are you out of luck? Are you destined to chop, grind, and weld a big chunk of steel where your wishy-washy A-arms or twin traction beams used to live? Or are the winds of change blowing and the heavy caveman clubs of Dana 44s, 60s and all the other massive unsprung axle weights destined to be buried by the sands of time?

Every new small-body and 1⁄2-ton 4x4 truck and most SUVs currently sold have independent front suspension (IFS), meaning their front wheels move independently of each other. IFS has the benefit of less unsprung weight and, in turns, improved ride quality over a solid front axle. IFS is commonly assembled with two A-arms and a knuckle per side, though twin-traction beam is an IFS suspension found on some older Ford vehicles. Torsion bars, coils, or most commonly coilover shocks are the spring of choice on IFS vehicles.

Spoiler alert! There is no right answer, but read this before you spark that torch or order those long-travel A-arms.

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Currie Enterprises
Corona, CA 92880
Huntington Beach, CA 92647
RCV Performance
Loves Park, IL
Fox Racing Shox
Watsonville, CA 95076
Spidertrax Off-Road
Longmont, CO 80503
Randy Ellis Design
Phoenix, AZ 85017

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