Your 4x4 Tech Questions Answered
Q I have a slight dilemma with some 16.5-inch wheels. I have been looking for a set of Kelsey-Hayes factory steel wheels. They are 16.5x9.75, and I think they look pretty sweet when they are cleaned up and powdercoated. They would look awesome on my K30, but I have noticed a significant decrease in the number of tires available for 16.5 rims. I was wondering if anyone makes a weld-on kit that could convert them into 17s, or if I just need to buy something else. I love the look of these wheels and would like to use them without breaking the bank.
A No, you cannot get a kit to make a 16.5 wheel into a 17. The tire bead on the 16.5 is different, and the 17-inch tires will require more than just welding on a 1⁄4-inch ring. Plus, it’s not a safe method for running different tires. In fact, every tire I’ve seen specifically states not to run it on a rim size different from what is approved. And the fact that the tire bead is different on a 16.5 means it is less likely to stay on the rim at low air pressure, making them less desirable for off-road use.
I do understand your desire for some simple steel wheels for your K30. The problem is you want a tire that is slowly becoming obsolete and you want to mount them on a wheel that is becoming obsolete. It isn’t gone yet. BFGoodrich, Interco Tire, Pit Bull, and Firestone all list something for the 16.5, but it’s hard for me to recommend that you find and fix up a special wheel if it requires a tire size that is fading. I’m not saying the 16.5 size will die—it probably won’t—but the list of companies making it is dwindling. The Kelsey-Hayes wheels are very similar to these 16-inch wheels I had on my Suburban project (see photo A) but in a wider version.
So what is your best option? I think if you want those Kelsey-Hayes wheels you should get them. It may not be the best investment in the long term, but I don’t think 16.5 tires will become obsolete any time soon. But the number of options will decrease. And maybe that is the bigger question. What tire do you want to run?
The next option is to find a 17-inch wheel that you like. One might be the steel wheel on the Dodge truck (see photo B), as they are pretty simple-looking, or another GM eight-lug spare steel wheel, but these are not usually very wide, about 17x7. You could also look for a 16-inch wheel in a wide size, as there are still a good amount of 16-inch tires available, but again, the availability of this size is decreasing.
There are custom wheel manufacturers out there, such as Stockton Wheel Service (stocktonwheel.com), that could maybe make you a 17, but most of their wheels that look like the Kelsey-Hayes are only listed as a 16, and custom wheels can be expensive.
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Q I am new to four-wheeling, but after buying an ’86 K5 Blazer I can’t get enough. I have been reading up on engines, axles, suspension, and everything. One thing that I’m still a bit confused about is automatic transmissions. My truck has a TH400, and it works fine, but I like to understand how stuff works in case there is a problem. Do you recommend any books on how they work and how to rebuild them? My parents don’t care about 4x4s, so they can’t really teach me like some other kids’ dads can. Most of my friends aren’t into cars either, so I’m sort of on my own. What recommendations do you have for a guy like me who’s just trying to learn more?
A I understand your predicament, but don’t worry. There are lots of places to find info on your 4x4. The basic shop manual is great for beginners, and although an automatic transmission rebuild isn’t simple your Blazer’s TH400 isn’t the most complicated transmission either.
One item you should check out is the How to Build a TH400 DVD sold through Summit Racing Equipment (www.summitracing.com). This step-by-step DVD will help you get inside the transmission without ever crawling under your truck. In fact, Summit has a variety of how-to DVDs and books for everything from engines to axles.
As for other options, I think you may be the perfect candidate for joining a local 4x4 club. If you can find one it may help you network with like-minded wheelers. You can find lists of clubs on the United Four Wheel Drive Association website (www.ufwda.org). You can also check out the website of the BlueRibbon Coalition (www.sharetrails.org) and Tread Lightly (treadlightly.org) and find events to attend and meet other people.
Of course, there a plethora of websites about every make and model vehicle 4x4 out there. You could contact a company or shop that specializes in your vehicle and find out which sites they recommend to browse for info and contacts. As with everything, you need to take any info on the web with a grain of salt, but it is a good place to discuss your project with other interested vehicle owners. Our magazine also has a new website in the works, but during construction you can still access it at www.4wheeloffroad.com. Visit our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/4wheeloffroad. Also, you can just search for local 4x4 shops, trails, and events and go find other 4x4 owners to meet and wheel with. I hope that helps you find friends to learn from enjoy your hobby and learn about your 4x4 and your transmission.
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Q I have a Dana 35 rear axle from a Cherokee XJ. Did these have a low pinion standard? I am at the tail end of a build and had a moment of confusion, so I am looking for this answer. Also, does the pinion engage the ring gear on the right side standard when looking at the differential from the opposite side of the yoke?
A Yes, the Dana 35 is a low-pinion axle and the pinion is on the right/passenger side of the axle when looking at the diff cover side. I hope you didn’t install it upside-down.
Q Great, thanks for the help. But not great because I welded my truss and coil mounts on the wrong side.
A Oh bummer, dude, that sucks. That’s not going to work, but you’re not the first. I have heard of guys who installed a rear axle in the front during a solid axle swap because they didn’t know front axles had knuckles. Other guys have flipped their low-pinion axle over thinking they could make a high pinion and then wondered why their tires turned opposite directions front and rear. Plus, numerous gearheads have built engines, axles, and so on and forgot to add oil on their first test drive, only to smoke their new parts. Don’t worry; they make torches, cutoff wheels, and grinders to fix this problem. It just takes metal and time to cut, grind, and reweld. Or maybe this is the 4x4 gods trying to tell you to invest in a Dana 44 or Ford 8.8 instead of that weak Dana 35. Good luck!