When it comes to simplicity and strength, nothing beats the stoutness and subtlety of a solid axle. But when the on-road compliance that modern America cries for took over, a fully independent suspension became the obvious answer. And thus a generation of IFS off-roaders was born.
While manufacturers have bolstered these fancy, freer-moving components significantly since their inception, there are still some inevitable and inherent weaknesses. In the case of our 2012 FJ Cruiser, it was the spindles that were the first to cry out in protest of our off-road adventures. A modern, tall design, the spindles are very thin and prone to bending (across all model years). A rapid pace over rough roads or even a significant boulder bounce can cause the top of the spindle, which supports the upper ball joint, to bend inward. This alters the spindle inclination and throws off caster and camber. The results of a bent spindle will register immediately on an alignment report and, in severe situations, visually.
Fortunately, the cure to this weak spindle problem is a simple set of spindle gussets from Total Chaos Fabrication. We tweaked our driver-side spindle enough that going down the road put the steering at more than a few degrees of list. The spindle could have been bent back, but instead, a replacement core was sourced cheaply on Craigslist. Follow along as we remove the spindle from the chassis, beef it up, and reinstall it for more wheeling to come.
Start by jacking up the car and setting it on a pair of jackstands. Shown is our set of 285/75/R17 Toyo Open Country M/T tires, which by now have about 15,000 miles and are holding up excellently.
Installing the gussets involves disassembling much of the FJ’s independent front suspension. Ours has Ballistic Fabrication wheel spacers on it to clear the 34-inch Toyos, so those had to come off in order to remove the brakes.
Start by removing the sway bar, then the wheel speed sensors and wiring attached to the spindle.
Once the brakes are removed, pop off the cap in the center of the hub. This will expose the 35mm axle nut that ties the wheel hub to the CV axle.
Our CV axles were stubborn and wouldn’t slide out of the hub. Sometimes a quick, careful blip with a pneumatic air hammer from the center of the stub shaft is all it takes, but we used a two-jaw gear puller to help press it out of the way.
Here are the Total Chaos spindle gussets. They retail for under $70 and are made from mild steel. They are formed to mate up with the slender Toyota spindles, supporting them across their neck and at the top ball joint.
The Total Chaos spindle gussets
The gusset will need to be MIG welded in place, but first the spindles need to be cleaned of grime, grit, and the factory coating. This is accomplished with an angle grinder and flap disk.
Two versions of the gussets are available; one clears the factory sway bar and the other does not. Our FJ will be rocking custom sway bar quick disconnects, so we made a small clearance window in the gusset. This is not necessary for other applications.
Here is a prepped spindle and gusset ready for welding.
Resident fabricator Curtis Mowery used a spare ball joint to help locate the gusset over the spindle. Get this location wrong when welding and the ball joint won’t pass through.
Mowery welded the gusset in place in short bursts, allowing it to cool in between. He took care not to overheat the spindle, which could cause it to warp, or melt the wheel seal, which was left in place.
After the spindle was welded, a quick coat of black paint was applied to prevent rust.
Reassembly of the spindle is the exact opposite of removal. The spindle gusset clears the Toytec Lifts coilovers and only requires that one of the 10mm wiring brackets be slightly bent to clear the gusset.
The gusset, because it wraps around the back of the ball joint, makes it difficult to reinstall the safety pin in the top castle nut. Our solution was to drill a hole through the existing ball joint safety pin hole and directly through the gusset behind it. We then tightened the ball joint and passed the safety pin through both the castle nut and gusset and bent it from the backside.