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February 2010 Techline

Posted in How To: Tech Qa on February 1, 2010
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Where To Write
Address all correspondence to: Techline Four Wheeler, 831 S. Douglas St., El Segundo, CA 90245. You can also reach us by e-mail at; be sure to type the words "Tech Line" in the subject line. All submissions become the property of Four Wheeler, and we reserve the right to edit them for length, accuracy, and clarity. The editorial department also can be reached through the Web site at Due to the volume of mail, electronic and otherwise, we cannot respond to every reader, but we do read everything.

Wants S-Blazer Solid Axle Swap
I have a 2003 Chevy Blazer and I am tired of getting stuck all the time due to the low ground clearance and crappy IFS. I have saved my money and am ready to do a solid axle swap. Hopefully someone makes a kit to do this, and if not, can you give me some clues to help me get started? I would really like to retain the coil-spring suspension if possible.
Tom York
Golden, CO

A You're in luck-in fact, there is a just such a kit to install a solid axle as well as keeping your coil-spring suspension. Do keep in mind that once you have started on this conversion, there is no turning back, as there is a lot of cutting of the original brackets. You need to get in touch with Diversified Automotive Creations (810/227-4777,, as they have just the kit you're going to need. They make use of a Jeep Dana 30 or 44 front axle from a TJ . If you want to go with a different axle, they can supply custom brackets.

Because the two vehicles use a different wheel bolt pattern, you either have to swap out the rear axle, or better yet, use a special adapter they have developed and use the original Blazer brakes and hubs. That way, you keep all the ABS stuff. It's a pretty involved process, and the price of the kit is not cheap, but neither is the quality of the kit. A 6-inch lift will provide you room for 35-inch tall tires.

Sleuthing Dodge Ram Wheel Shimmy
I am having a steering problem with my 2005 Dodge truck, a 2500 series with the diesel engine. Whenever I hit a pothole in the road, I get what feels like a wheel shimmy. I have a buddy with an earlier truck that he ended up changing out the steering shafts because of wear in them. We looked at mine, and they seemed to be tight with no play in them. We also checked out the tie-rod ends, and they didn't show any looseness in them when the wheel was turned. I replaced the steering stabilizer.

I want to go to a larger tire and a lift, but I think I really need to fix this shimmy problem first. Could you tell me where to start looking? My buddy is a pretty good mechanic and has lots of tools, so maybe we can fix it ourselves.
Jim Crockenbush
Yuma, AZ

A You started out right by checking the steering components for wear. I did a check of Dodge truck Technical Service Bulletins and found one that did relate the steering problem; TSB # 22 05 06 deals with front-end shimmy. You might want to hit your dealer and see if the service guy will print one out for you. The first part deals with tire wear and proper air pressure. Then it goes on to check the steering damper and the tie-rod ends.

You changed out the damper, so let's go to the tie-rod ends. You're only allowed .045 inch of movement when you pry up on it. You're going to need a dial indicator to measure this, and a way to mount it, to get the proper measurements. Actually if you feel any movement, it just might be wise to replace the ends. Oh, and tighten the nut on the joint to 90 ft-lb.

I did some more digging and found that some of the trucks with the 9.25-inch axle-which I am going to assume your truck has-are prone to early upper ball joint wear. Moog has put out a service bulletin # 29007, which says that the upper and lower ball joints may not be perfectly aligned due to the installation process. The OE ball joint design deforms to comply as it is installed, which leads to what Moog calls "severe" wear from impact loads. Again using your dial indicator, mount it between the steering knuckle and the yoke as high up and as close to the ball joint as possible. You will have to get inventive here in figuring out how to hold it in place. You will need your buddy's help in doing this next step. Push in at the top of the tire and pull out at the bottom. Have your buddy check the amount of movement on the dial indicator. Do the same thing again, but this time pull out at the top of the tire and push in at the bottom. Add the numbers up and they should not exceed 0.060 inch. If it does, you need to replace the ball joint. Dynatrac ( now offers heavy-duty replacement ball joints for this application that are rebuildable and much more robust than the factory-style joints.

While you're at it, you might as well check out the lower ball joint. It's a lot easier if you put the axle on a jackstand and remove the wheel. This time, put the indicator on the bottom of the steering knuckle, and with a pry bar between the knuckle and the ball joint, pry upward. You're allowed 0.090 inch before replacement is deemed necessary.

About replacing them: You have to take the complete knuckle off. Then you're going to need a special ball joint removal tool. It looks like a heavy-duty "C"-clamp with some specialized cups that are used to press out the ball joint. If your buddy doesn't have one, perhaps you can rent one at a local auto-parts or tool-rental supply house. It should come with instructions. If not, perhaps you can again get friendly with your dealer's service writer with a box of donuts and see if he will print the instructions out of a service manual. Oh, and as another thought, most large public libraries have service manuals, and some even have them online.

Someone's Got a Loose Screw
In regards to "Random Beeps from LJ Rubicon" ("Techline," Sept. '09): I had a somewhat similar problem in my then-fairly-new 1990 Wrangler Sahara. The problem was a loose grounding screw located on the sheetmetal behind the left headlight which I had loosened to install a ground line for an accessory. Tightening the screw securely resolved the problem, which has not recurred during the past 17 years.
Ken Kramer
Baltimore 4 Wheelers
Baltimore, MD

A You're right-thanks for the reminder, and to every one else that wrote in. Poor and improper grounds can cause strange things to happen. Everyone who has fought with trailer wiring can testify to this. I have no idea why I didn't mention this as a possible solution. When troubleshooting electrical problems, the first place I always go to is the ground connection. I even got a phone call from fellow writer Jimmy Nylund, asking me where my brain was when I answered that letter. He pointed out that the problem developed after the installation of an ARB bumper. That should have been a big clue. ARB does an excellent job of powdercoating their products, which most likely acted like insulation, preventing it from making a good ground contact with the vehicle's frame. A ground wire between the frame and the bumper most likely would solve the problem.

Then again, maybe the wattage draw from the additional lights in the system is acting like a gremlin.

ZJ Transfer-Case Options
I have a 1993 Jeep Grand Cherokee with the 5.2L V-8 and full-time four-wheel drive. I would like a part-time transfer case. Is there a Jeep transfer case that I can swap in?
Red Hook, NY

Yep, there are lots of transfer cases you can use. On our "Project Ain't it Grand-er" ZJ, we swapped in a modified NVG231 'case that had the planetaries (six instead of three) and the wider drive chain from an NVG241 transfer case to gain us a extra bit of strength. We had to use a shift rod and control arm from an XJ Cherokee to get the linkage to work properly. It's a direct bolt-in, other than the fact that Grands used three different lengths of input shaft and two different spline counts. We were able to give the build number to our supplier (All-Trans of Portland, Oregon), and they were able to determine what we needed without having to pull out the transfer case beforehand.

The only problem we have is that the "low-range" light comes on when in both high-range and low-range four-wheel drive. The people at Rockland Standard ( tell me that they have the right switch and wiring to correct this, but it is not something that bothers me. The NVG231 is the same length as the transfer case that's presently in your Grand, so no driveshaft changes are needed.

Cracked Manifolds On '90s F-Series
I have a '96 Ford F-350 Crew Cab 4x4 long bed with the 460 V-8. I had a small fire and need to replace the plugs, wires, and ignition. The engine is stock except for the K & N air filter and three inch exhaust pipe. I also keep cracking the driver-side manifold. I need to know what kind of performance parts to buy to get my truck running again. My goal is to have the engine breathing and running efficiently.
Jimmy Shubin
Porterville, CA

A It's not all that uncommon for the exhaust manifolds to crack on the '88-97 Ford 460s. A company called 1A Auto ( has a newly designed manifold that is said to solve the problem. You didn't say where the exhaust manifold is cracked, but I would also look over the exhaust system quite closely to see if the header pipe that connects the manifold to the muffler is misaligned and putting a strain on the manifold.

Another good idea is to make sure you're tightening the bolts properly. A loose bolt can cause warping, which will eventually lead to cracking. The later-style manifolds, after '95, have the bolt mounting holes elongated to allow the manifold to grow a bit without causing the cracking, plus they're a bit different in design. Perhaps one of our Ford enthusiast readers can answer this question in greater detail.

However, if you're after better performance as you indicated, by all means go with a set of tubular headers. Forget about the shorties, as they really aren't much better than the stock manifolds, performance-wise. L&L Products ( has a really nice set, and while they're a bit on the expensive side, they do offer a lifetime warrantee against rust-out. They are nickel-plated, have thick flanges, and are made of 14-gauge material. Yes, I would guess that they are a pain to install.

As to any other performance parts, well, one could say that the sky is the limit as there are a lot of performance parts for that engine. Speed costs money, so how fast do you want to go?

While you're replacing the spark plug wires, I would suggest that you purchase one of the better performance brands. I have always had excellent results with MSD products ( along with their technical service. You have to replace most of the ignition system, then consider using not only their spark plug wires but also their coil, harness, and ignition box.

258/727 Swap For Old Willys
I want to swap the 258ci I-6 engine and the TorqueFlite 727 transmission into my '62 Willys. I have the motor and tranny and can get the 4x4 tailshaft for the 727. After I bolt up the Dana 300 transfer case, how long will the rear driveshaft be? I have a small lift and 33 inch tires. Would the driveshaft be too short and bind up on me?
Coshocton, OH

I assume that you are planning to use the 4x4 shaft, adapter and 300 transfer case from a Scout to make this swap. You don't say what model of Willys that you are going to install it all in, so again I will assume that it is a CJ and not a utility wagon or pickup. Here is where the problem comes in: the engine compartment is really not long enough to handle the conversion without really cutting up the firewall and moving the engine back into the passenger compartment. While this can be done-and I have seen it done-it really takes up a lot of legroom. The real downside of this is that with a CJ-5 you virtually have no room for a rear driveshaft. Well, one that will be able to cycle though much suspension movement, anyway. Now if you are talking about a Willys wagon or pickup of the same year, then yes, you can do it.

As to how long the driveshaft will be, I am sure you have a tape measure, and because you have access to these parts you can measure them. By my calculations, from engine mounting surface to the yoke on the transfer case, it's about 35 inches. Your T-90 trans and transfer case is, what, maybe 20 inches? Apply this information as to where the engine has to mount, and roughly figure the length of the driveshaft. However, I would not take my final driveshaft measurements until you have the engine and trans/transfer case actually installed.

4Runner Rear Locker Won't Engage
I just bought a '97 4Runner Limited V-6. It has a factory electric locker which will not engage. The local dealer says it is no good, and the cost of a new one is over a thousand dollars here in Canada. I called the previous owner, and he said he never even used it once. If you could see this truck, you would believe me. It is in perfect shape. He never used it off-road and needed the four-wheel drive just for winter driving. The truck has 170,000 kilometers on it, but the locker should be just like new. Is there any way that the actuator could be freed up without having to replace it? There are not any dedicated 4x4 shops in my area, and most mechanics here are not familiar with lockers. Any information would be awesome.
Doug Booker
Hartland, New Brunswick

A Did the dealer actually pull the unit out and physically look at it, or did he just make a wild guess that the unit was bad and figured he could make a few bucks by replacing the whole thing? You do realize that it will only work in 4-Low, right? Nor will it engage at speeds over 5 mph. There is an ECM that controls all that in the driver-side foot kick panel.

If it was mine, I would start by finding the fuse that sends power to the switch and make sure it is not blown. If it's good, then with a simple test light (the kind with a light in the handle, a probe on the end, and a wire for a ground) make sure that there is power going in and out of the switch. Then, with the switch on and shifted into low-range, I would probe the connection at the actuator to check for power there. The actuator is nothing more than an electric motor that moves a control arm that in turn locks the side gear. I have been told that Downey Off Road made a cable kit that eliminated all the electrics. However, they are now out of business. Something else you might want to try is a Google search for "Toyota locking differential." I took a quick look and found quite a few sites that you may find helpful in solving your problem.

Wants Stronger, Longer Driveshaft
We own a 1979 1-ton Crew Cab long bed 3+3 Chevy and have a driveshaft question. The rear driveshaft is a two piece driveshaft with a midshaft bearing. We are putting approximately 12 to 13 inches of lift under it and are concerned about the driveshaft having enough strength and durability. Our question is what will be the best way to upgrade the driveshaft for the best strength and durability? Do we lengthen the rear half of the driveshaft (keeping the midshaft bearing), lengthen both halves (keeping the midshaft bearing), or remove the midshaft bearing altogether and have a one-piece driveshaft made?
Shane and Heather House

A Wow, that is a lot of lift, which also results in lot of driveshaft angularity. One long driveshaft would be out of the question. While it would take care of the angle problem, there would be way too much "whipping" motion as the driveshaft turned at highway speeds. I spoke with Joe Gould at Drivelines of Missoula (800/411-4116), and he said that not too long ago he made some driveshafts for something very similar to what you're building. The center mount had to be lowered about two inches, and two special driveshafts using a CV joint at each end were built. Sorry to say, but these shafts are going to be very expensive when you're finished.

Engine vs. Motor: What's in a Name?
Several times in your column, you have referred to vehicles having "motors" instead of an "engine." I was always taught that a motor was driven and an engine was the driving force. What is your take on this?
Fred Landrov
Bangor, ME

A That's a good question, and one that is often debated around the campfire. Consider these, then make your own decision:

Motorhome, motorcar, motorway, motor machinist , motor Mac (old Navy term for one who repairs engines), motorboat, outboard motor, Motor City (in reference to Detroit), motor cop, motorcycle, City Motors (in reference to a repair shop), motor's manual, motor camp (an early campground), Motor Trend magazine, Motor Age magazine, motor court (i.e., motel), motoring cap (a hat worn by early motorcar drivers), motor oil, motor carrier (trucking company), Motorcraft ( spark plugs, oil and air filters, etc.), Department of Motor Vehicles, and car dealerships that use the word "motor" in their name. For now, I will stick with calling the propulsion unit in my Jeep a motor.

• Tech Letter Of The Month
Old-School Ford V-8 Swap Options

I have an '85 Ford F-150 with a 300 straight six. I've been told that a Ford 302 will bolt to my bellhousing. Is this true, and how much work will it be?
James I Mathis
Magna, UT

Yep, you have been told right. Just for you Ford fans, here is a partial list of some of the other engines by Ford that also share the same block bolt pattern.

240 I-6 351 Cobra Jet V-8
300 I-6 351 Windsor V-8
250 I-6 5.0L V-8
289 V-8* 5.8L V-8
351 Cleveland V-8

*(made after August 3, 1964; six-bolt bellhousing)

As to how much work is involved-well, quite a bit. As you know, the 300ci Sixes of that year used a carburetor, but in 1985 Ford went to multiport injection on the V-8 engines. To meet federal emissions laws, you must install an engine of the same year or later. So this means that you will have to obtain the computer and the complete engine wiring harness that matches the engine. While time-consuming, it's not an impossible task to make this swap. Naturally, you will have to put in the V-8 engine mounts [motor mounts?-Ed.] and move the radiator rearward.

Willie's Workbench
Some Thoughts on Brakes and Fluid

Let's take on the subject of power brakes first. The brake booster indirectly allows better stopping ability by allowing a person to develop the necessary line pressure with less leg pressure. I am not sure if you can even buy a vehicle any more that doesn't come equipped with power brakes.

Just keep this in mind: If the brakes are sized properly (that is, the master and wheel cylinders match the drum/caliper size), a booster is not necessary. While it's nice to have, what happens when the engine stalls on steep descent? You generally get one good push of the pedal. After that, it's both feet on the brake pedal when trying to stop. I recently pulled out a buddy on a long, steep rocky trail when his fuel pump failed. In fact it was about 12 miles of trail that was mostly downhill but quite rocky. I guarantee you that he had sore legs and back when we got to the trailer.

When I built my very-modified flat fender, I decided that I was not going to use a brake booster. I spent a considerable amount of time figuring lever-arm ratios and master cylinder size. I do have to push the pedal further than if I had power brakes, but it does provide the proper braking with just a bit more effort. Race vehicles don't use boosters, and they stop a 4,000-pound Nascar vehicle from 200 mph quite nicely, thank you.

A larger-bore master cylinder will push more fluid down the brake lines than a smaller-bore cylinder does, but keep in mind that the brake line and wheel cylinders can only accept a given amount of fluid in direct proportion to their given total capacity in cubic inches of volume. However, a larger-bore master cylinder will move more fluid than a smaller-bore unit, given the same amount of piston stroke, i.e., pedal travel. In other words, with a larger-bore master cylinder (say a 1-inch versus 7/8-inch diameter), the pedal requires less travel to move a given amount of fluid, but will require more pedal-pushing power to gain the amount of line pressure to stop the vehicle. The reverse happens when a smaller bore cylinder replaces a larger one. It takes less pedal-pushing power but more pedal travel, as the piston must make a longer stroke to move the same amount of fluid as in the larger-bore cylinder.

A classic example was when one put 11-inch brakes with their corresponding larger wheel cylinders on an early Jeep to replace the original 9-inch brakes, but retained the stock master cylinder. Instant power brakes! Both were due to the shoe size and to the change in master versus wheel cylinder ratio. The downfall was that it was necessary to keep the brakes fully adjusted. Otherwise, one could push the pedal dangerously close to the floor.

Brake fluid: Okay, what is the big deal about all the different brands of brake fluid? What is the difference between DOT 3, 4, 5, and 5.1? Mineral oil base versus silicon versus synthetic?

Let's start out with DOT 3, 4, and 5.1. The DOT stands for Department Of Transportation. This is a "big brother" that watches out for us and sets standards for such things that affect safety, such as brake fluid and tires. These fluids are made from what are called polyglycol ethers. Their drawbacks are that they have the ability to absorb water, a quality that is often referred to as "hydroscopic." Water, however, is not a good thing, as it causes corrosion and lowers the boiling point of the fluid. It doesn't take much moisture to lower the boiling point of brake fluid. DOT rates the boiling point on two different scales. One is called the dry and the other is the wet. "Wet" means the fluid has absorbed just three percent water by volume. This chart will give you an idea of just how they compare. As you can readily see, it doesn't take much moisture to cause a big effect.

Fluid type Dry boiling point Wet boiling point
DOT 3 401ºF 284ºF
DOT 4 446ºF 311ºF
DOT 5 500ºF 356ºF
DOT 5.1 518ºF 375ºF

Okay, but what is wrong with the boiling point being lowered? The big thing is that if it should boil, it causes little bubbles to form. Bubbles can be compressed. When they are compressed, it takes more pedal pressure and movement to apply the brakes-so much that the brake pedal may go all the way to the floor. Some people refer to this as "brake fade," but it actually should be called "fluid fade." Brake fade occurs when the friction material gets so hot, they start off gassing their binding agent. This gas forms between the drum or rotor, and the shoe or pad, and prevents full contact. Would you ever get the fluid that hot? Yes, you could on a long downhill grade, especially when towing or carrying a heavy load and you're using your brakes a lot, or when playing racer on the street or in the dirt.

How does moisture get into a sealed system? First off, every time you take the cap off the master cylinder to check the brake fluid, you're allowing moisture to get in. The same goes with the cap on the can. Can't believe that? Air usually has a moisture content (i.e., humidity) of anywhere from five to 99 percent, depending on where you live. Polyglycol-type fluids love to absorb this moisture. Ever spill some on your hands? Notice how it dries out the skin as it pulls the moisture from it? It's really important that you keep the lid on the master cylinder and the can, except when adding brake fluid to the system. Also keep in mind that while it is supposedly a sealed system, the seals are designed to keep the fluid in as pressure is put on them. When they relax, air-and the moisture in the air-can sneak past the seal.

Oh yeah, and speaking of air. As we learned in high school, while air can be compressed, a liquid cannot. However, in some cases it can be, strange as it sounds, especially in the case of polyglycol- and silicone-type fluids. However, the polyglycol types are two times less compressible than the silicone type fluids.

Let's go back to the DOT ratings for just a minute. Keep in mind that these DOT ratings are the minimum boiling points. In fact, some fluids in all categories have a much higher boiling temperature than those listed under the dry rating. Mainly used in racing, they may not have a higher wet boiling point. So they may or may not have a DOT rating.

Now, let's not forget the DOT 5 rating. These are silicone-based (sometimes referred to as "synthetic") brake fluids. Silicone-based fluid has several disadvantages and advantages. For starters, it has a higher-rated boil point both at wet and at dry. Now this wet boiling temp is something that I don't understand, as synthetic brake fluid will not absorb water, so why the lower boiling point? Must have something to do with the way it's tested. This means that you don't have the corrosion problem, and it doesn't react to paint and work as a stripper. Classic car and show-car owners love this stuff. DOT 5 does not mix well with polyglycol fluids, so you cannot mix them and must flush the system out completely if you plan to use them. I believe that the military uses synthetic DOT 5 fluid due to the fact that their vehicles often sit in storage for long periods of time.

Now for the bad or major disadvantage: For some reason, the stuff is compressible and will give you a somewhat spongy pedal. I tried it some years ago and didn't like the way the pedal felt. Race vehicles do not use synthetic fluid. If you somehow should get any moisture in the system, it will not be absorbed and will give you what's referred to as a "water/fluid/water/fluid situation." So as the water boils at 212 degrees and the brake fluid boils at, say, above 518 degrees, the water will form vapor bubbles of steam that can be compressed and will really cause a drop in pedal application. As they expand, these steam bubbles can also push against the system, causing the pads to push outward against the calipers, cause drag, and even lead to higher fluid temperatures.

Next month, we'll go into more about brake fluid, why you should periodically change it, and the proper way to bleed the braking system.

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