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Techline: Your Top 4x4 And Off-Road Tech Questions Answered Here

Posted in How To: Tech Qa on May 11, 2018
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Atlas Centric

I’m building a 4x4 from scratch around an Advance Adapters Atlas transfer case. Are there any automatic transmissions that are better or worse as far as strength in the coupling to the transfer case? I’m running a Ford engine, but I am willing to adapt it to a GM TH400 or 4L80E if there’s any downside to using the Atlas with a Ford C6.

@davidfreiburger
Via Instagram @cappaworks

The Advance Adapters (advanceadapters.com) Atlas is a great versatile transfer case to start with. There are many different adapters, low-range ratios, and output options available to meet the needs of most 4x4 enthusiasts and professional off-road competitors alike.

Before choosing a transmission for your project, there are some things to consider. Reliability and adaptability should be top priorities. Other things to consider are off-road worthiness and aftermarket support. I’ll assume you are choosing between the C6, TH400, and 4L80E because you plan to throw a ton of power at it, your 4x4 will be heavy, you plan to beat on it pretty hard and need the heavy-duty drivetrain parts, or all three reasons. All of these transmissions can be found in 3/4- and 1-ton truck applications, making them incredibly durable in a recreational 4x4. Personally, I would skip the costly and complex overdrive transmission if you don’t need the road speed. However, if you plan to run this 4x4 on the highway for extended distances at higher speeds, the overdrive gear of the 4L80E will be nice to have. For a mostly trail-driven 4x4, a three-speed automatic will be plenty and it will save you a lot of money up front.

If you don’t have an aversion to using a GM transmission behind a Ford motor, the TH400 is probably the best dollar-for-dollar option. The stock C6 oil pickup is not desirable, even on moderately steep hills off-road. It will suck air and halt forward progress. Sometimes the transmission will quickly regain line pressure and shock-load the rest of the drivetrain, which can lead to other failures. I’m sure the C6 oil pickup can be modified, but the C6 also has other design features that make the TH400 a better choice.

There is plenty of aftermarket support for the TH400. You can build one entirely from heavy-duty aftermarket parts. Even a beefy case is available from Reid Racing (reidracing.biz). You can mate the Ford engine to the GM TH400 with a JW Performance (racewithjw.com) Ultra-Bell bellhousing. The power connection between the TH400 and Atlas transfer case is through the TH400 32-spline output shaft. This is one of the beefiest factory transmission output shafts available. If you do somehow manage to break the stock output, companies like ATI Racing (atiracing.com) offer a gun-drilled 300M output shaft.

You’ll likely want to mate your TH400 to a driver-drop Atlas transfer case. This configuration will offer more driveshaft clearance, which will be handy, especially if you build a low center of gravity suspension, want to rotate the transfer case up for bellypan clearance, or use a high-pinion front axle.

Belleview Winch Upgrade

My question is regarding the early Warn Belleview winches. Do you know of a way to upgrade the band braking mechanism so that it is automatic like the Warn 8274 or a solution for replacing it with the ratcheting brake used on the 8274?

@ring_shank
Via Instagram @cappaworks

The Belleview winch was originally manufactured by Belleview Manufacturing, a company that did a lot of fabrication and machine work for Warn Industries (warn.com) in the early years. Back then, Warn made a host of odds and ends, such as beer keg tops and taps, parts for Boeing aircraft, motorcycle parts, and even axles for mail carrier carts. Belleview Manufacturing never commercially marketed the winch. Eventually, Thurston Warn, the son of founder, Arthur Warn, bought Belleview Manufacturing and started to sell the Belleview winches under the Warn name.

Before the Belleview winch, most off-road enthusiasts used a PTO-style winch on their 4x4s. Of course, for a PTO winch to work, the engine has to be running, which as you can imagine wasn’t all that ideal when combined with steep hills and the carbureted engines available at the time. The ability to pull at any angle with the engine on or off was a big selling point for the Warn electric winch. The first Warn Belleview winches were called the Model 6000, or M6000. It was later discovered that the M6000 could actually pull 8,000 pounds, so the name was eventually changed to the M8000. Warn still offers winches called the M6000 and M8000, although they are modern low-profile winches.

Unlike the winches of today, the Belleview winch did not have an automatic brake. It had a cable-actuated brake that was operated from within the vehicle's cabin. In addition, these winches only powered in; there was no power-out function.

Warn eventually replaced the Belleview winches with the M8200, but only for a short time. The M8200 looked like a combination of the older Belleview and the more modern M8274. In 1974, Warn introduced the M8274, which has an automatic brake, powers in and out, and has more durable components.

You can still find used Belleview winches for sale online and at swap meets. Unfortunately, Warn does not have many parts for them. However, Herm the Overdrive Guy (hermtheoverdriveguy.com) is a good source for complete, rebuilt Belleview winches and replacement parts.

We’ve never heard of anyone converting the old Belleview winch using parts from an 8274, but that doesn’t mean it’s not possible. However, it’s likely not a cost effective conversion, even if it is possible. You can pick up an older used Warn 8274 for $300-$500 and bolt it in place of your Belleview winch, which will likely be much easier and less expensive than the conversion you propose.

Crossing Over

I’m building a front 10-bolt axle for my ’88 K5 Blazer. It has 4.10:1 ratio axle gears and it had 8-lug wheel hubs. I’m swapping to 6-lug hubs from my old axle. I only plan to run 35-inch tires. My question is about crossover steering and high-steering. I am aware I can get ’76-and-older Dana 44 knuckles with the flat tops. Can I just buy a passenger-side flat-top knuckle to match the driver side with bottom up tapers? Can I use the factory K5 steering arm with the flat top? That way I would keep factory steering and raise the tie rod over the top of the springs. Or do I need to go full crossover with a Jeep-style pitman arm and a drag link that attaches to the passenger-side knuckle?

@kvarady77
Via Instagram @cappaworks

There isn’t really a safe way to retain the original solid-axle GM truck push-pull steering and mount the tie rod to high-steer arms on top of the flat-top knuckles. The factory push-pull steering system is not ideal off-road, especially on lifted applications. The design will cause imprecise steering and a lot of bumpsteer on-road too. The best way to eliminate this problem is to remove the push-pull steering and replace it with crossover steering. This conversion requires the 4x4 steering box to be replaced with a two-wheel-drive steering box and a different pitman arm. Fortunately, it’s a completely bolt-on upgrade and parts are available from Offroad Design (offroaddesign.com).

To complete the conversion you’ll need a flat-top passenger-side knuckle that has been drilled and tapped for the crossover steering arm. Companies such as Parts Mike (partsmike.com) offer used machined factory flat-top steering knuckles as well as a service to machine your flat-top knuckle if you find one locally. Reid Racing (reidracing.biz) offers new heavy-duty replacement flat-top steering knuckles that feature the machining needed to attach a steering arm for crossover steering.

You can retain the factory steering knuckle on the driver side. Unbolt the original push-pull steering arm and install a high-steering arm in its place. When combined with the new flat-top passenger-side knuckle and steering arm, you will be able to install the drag link and tie rod up and out of harm’s way above the leaf springs on your K5. Offroad Design offers a crossover high-steer kit that comes complete with steering arms, drag link, tie rod, tie-rod ends, and all of the hardware you need to make the conversion, or you can source the parts individually.

Long Box Envy

What steering boxes have a longer sector shaft to keep from needing to use a dropped pitman arm?

@stanfield19
Via Instagram @cappaworks

An aftermarket dropped pitman arm is used to correct the steering geometry of the drag link after installing a lift kit on solid-axle 4x4s. While the idea of using a steering box with a longer sector shaft rather than a dropped pitman arm may seem like a sound one, there really isn’t a viable way to do this. There are several steering boxes with longer sector shafts available; however, the mounting hole locations in the steering box body don’t really allow them offer any more drop than a traditional steering box in most cases. To get the kind of drop you are talking about you would need to build a custom steering box mount to lower the steering box on the frame. This opens up a whole slew of issues. The new mount will need to be robust enough to hold the steering box in place, and the farther it’s mounted away from the sturdy frame, the more reinforcement it will need. Also, steering boxes with long sector shafts are not always ideal. The leverage caused by off-roading and larger tires can cause them to fail. A long sector shaft is more susceptible to failure because of the increased leverage. Although, there is one advantage of long sector shaft steering boxes. The design of the long sector shaft-style steering boxes usually places the body of the steering box directly above the frame and out of the way of turning tires and other components in the inner wheelwell and engine compartment.

If you decide to try and use a long sector shaft steering box, the easiest one to find is likely the ’07-’18 Jeep JK steering box. PSC (pscmotorsports.com) even offers the Big Bore XDR with a heavy-duty large-diameter sector shaft specifically designed for larger tires. Other options include using the steering box from a two-wheel-drive ’65-’79 Ford F-100 and F-150, ’86-and-up IFS Toyota pickup and 4Runner, and some International Harvester models. Sometimes a combination of parts can be put together to alter the direction the pitman arm faces and the turning rotation. Companies like AGR (steerco.com) can mix and match parts to build you a custom long sector shaft steering box with the pitman arm location and rotation you need for your application.

Rod Ended

I’m thinking about using rod ends on my steering. Are the tapered bores in the knuckle and steering arm drilled straight through to accept the bolt for the rod ends? Is single-shear adequate? What bolt grade should I use? What size drill bit should I use? Do I need misalignment spacers? Should I even do this?

@erik_says
Via Instagram @cappaworks

Ultimately, the decision to go with rod ends or not is up to you. As with any aftermarket modification, the use of rod ends on your steering or suspension linkages has its share of pros and cons. First and foremost, you have to remember that rod ends are race car parts. They were never designed to last 100,000 miles or more like a traditional OE ball-in-socket tie-rod end. In a properly applied 4x4 enthusiast application a rod end will likely last less than 20,000 miles. In a high-movement, heavy-load race application, a rod end could be worn out by 1,000 miles. Rod ends are generally not desirable in wet climates or in areas where the roads are salted in winter. If you frequent mud and water crossings, you’ll likely be better off with traditional greaseable tie-rod ends. The protective rubber boots and grease will help keep contaminants out and prevent corrosion of the joint. However, in the Southwest where it’s dry, rod ends can live a longer life.

When installing a rod end in a steering application, you can drill the tapered holes out to 5/8- or 3/4-inch, depending on the application and how much meat is around the hole in the knuckle or steering arm. A reamer is better than a drill bit because the drill can get jammed up in the tapered hole. Drilling from the small end of the taper is usually easier. We sometimes prefer to use steering rod ends with misalignment built into the ball, such as FK (fkrodends.com) HRMX-T series rod ends with a 5/8-inch hole and a 3/4-inch shank. If we need more angularity on the drag link we’ll use the proper traditional 3/4-inch rod end with 5/8-inch misalignment spacers. Companies like RuffStuff Specialties (ruffstuffspecialties.com) offer rod end kits with the correct misalignment spacers and a threaded weld bung. The company also offers do-it-yourself tie rod and drag link steering kits complete with tubing, rod ends, spacers, and the other necessary hardware.

Use Grade 8 or better fine-thread hardware and a good lock nut. We prefer steel lock nuts over nylon. Do not use lock washers or coarse-thread bolts. Ideally, you should shoulder and trim the bolts for each hole and install safety washers to capture the rod end should it fail. Companies such as Poly Performance (polyperformance.com) offer rod end safety washers. Also, use red thread locking compound to keep the hardware from coming loose. Of course, using a double-shear mount with your rod ends is ideal, but it’s not always practical or necessary. If you do decide to use rod ends on your steering, you should make a habit of inspecting them regularly and replace them when they become worn.

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