Light-Duty Dodge Axle Upgrade
"Work hard and play hard" is an expression we've heard for decades and something most truck owners live by. While many wheeling enthusiast often push their 1/2-tons to the limit, a few actually manage to break beyond the light-duty drivetrain's capabilities. This is often the result of larger tires, power upgrades, or a general no-nonsense approach to driving and heavy-duty work expectations. So what's a 1/2-ton wheeler to do?
When buying a new 3/4- or 1-ton truck isn't in the budget, most turn to the junkyard for a beefier set of 1-ton axles. Since 1-ton axles are of a full-float design they can handle extra weight, power, and oversized tires more easily. And when you factor in bigger brakes and massive differentials it's easy to see why dropping a set of 1-tons under your 1/2-ton pickup is a worthwhile investment.
Though flashes of fabricating axle brackets and new suspension components often scare many away from attempting a heavy-duty axle conversion, a few light-duty platforms allow 1-ton axles to practically bolt in place.
A great example of this is the '94-'01 Dodge Ram 1/2-ton 4x4. Since both second-generation light- and heavy-duty Ram trucks use a coil-sprung solid front axle and a leaf-sprung rear, they are relatively easy to interchange.
To test this theory we stripped the axles out from our buddy's '94 Dodge 1/2-ton pickup and replaced them with a Dana 60 front and Dana 80 rear from a second-gen 1-ton Dodge. While this swap is mostly bolt-in, a little cutting and welding are required. Overall, it is possibly one of the easiest 1-ton axle conversions we've ever encountered and a great upgrade for the '94-'01 1/2-ton Dodge.
There always seems to be a catch when a swap is going too smoothly. Ours came in the form of a mismatched gearset. Luckily, we were looking to regear, so we upgraded the ring-and-pinions with 5.13 gears from Superior Axle & Gear. For the driveshafts we had the front shaft shortened by JE Reel Drivelines, and the rear shaft was pulled from under a '98 1-ton Ram we found in the salvage yard.