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Nuts & Bolts: 4x2 to 4x4 F-150

Posted in How To: Tech Qa on February 2, 2016
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Photographers: 4-Wheel & Off-Road archives

Another 4x2 to 4x4
I was recently given a two-wheel-drive 1995 F-150. In speaking to numerous people about how I wish it was four-wheel drive, some have informed that these Fords (1987-1996) are a direct bolt-on to convert to a 4x4. I am confused as to what I will need in the front end in regards to the suspension, crossmembers, and so on. I know that I will need a transmission out of four-wheel drive as well as a transfer case. I've been a subscriber for years but do not remember an article of this nature, as it did not apply to me at the time. I'm hoping I can pull one from your archives. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

We get this question or ones like it a lot, and it's something we almost never recommend. Converting a truck to four-wheel drive is a lot of work. There are a many details and parts to address, and it's usually very expensive. In just about every case you are better off selling the 2WD truck and buying a 4x4. Or, if the body of the 2WD truck is pristine and you find a rusty 4x4 donor with a good frame, then even doing a body swap is easier. This scenario is really no different.

That being said, you are not misinformed, as 1980-1996 4x2 and 4x4 F-150s and Broncos are nearly identical in terms of suspension. Both use coil springs and twin-traction beams with radius arms for the front suspension, the difference being that a 2WD truck uses blank beams while a 4x4 uses a drive axle with high-pinion Dana 44 guts. The suspension mounting points are largely the same, eliminating the need for heavy fabrication.

At minimum, you are going to need the complete hub-to-hub front axle assembly from a similar-year 4x4, along with the front springs, shocks, radius arms, brake lines, steering linkage, and front driveshaft. You'll also need to source a transfer case and decide whether it's better to use a donor 4x4 transmission or convert your truck's existing transmission to accept the transfer case. If you go the latter route, you'll need a 4x4 tailshaft and an adapter that matches your existing transmission along with a transmission shop to install the parts. You'll also need the shift linkage or the wiring and dash bezel to control the transfer case, along with lots of other small parts. Because of all the parts needed, you are usually better off purchasing a complete wrecked donor (one that has been hit in the rear) rather than trying to source everything from a junkyard because you will inevitably miss something you need.

Once you have all the parts on hand, the swap is mostly bolt-on. But then you have a twin-traction beam 4x4 truck, which has a mixed reputation. A lot of people would argue (correctly) that a solid-axle swap would be more worth the effort, although an SAS requires quite a bit more fabrication and a donor front axle, which is getting hard to find. This should give you a better idea of what's needed, but ultimately you'll need to decide just how badly you want your free truck to be a 4x4.

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