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Jeep Wrangler Axle Wrangling - Part 2

Posted in How To: Transmission Drivetrain on April 21, 2014
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When it comes to modifying your 4x4, the line between need and want can be a tad blurry. Sometimes, you’ll get lucky (or unlucky depending on your point of view) and your 4x4 will give you a clear sign that an upgrade is warranted. This usually comes by way of broken parts. For us, our upgrade omen came by way of Dana 44 axles that were no longer up to task for our ’97 Jeep Wrangler TJ.

Last month, we gave you the rundown on our search for a rear axle upgrade for our V-8-powered TJ. The requirements for our Jeep included being able to handle 37- to 42-inch tires, easily support 5,000 pounds, and of course, gladly absorb spirited full-throttle assaults courtesy of the rig’s 5.9L Dodge Durango-sourced engine. In our previous installment, we narrowed our axle options to two all-new and two junkyard rear axles. Each axle carried a list of pros and cons, but ultimately only one made the most sense for our 4x4.

That rear axle of choice was the East Coast Gear Supply semi-float Dana 60. What made the East Coast Gear Supply 60 stand out from the pack? For starters, it’s fitted with all-new parts and made to bolt under the rear of a ’97-’06 Jeep Wrangler TJ. No scrounging in a junkyard or custom machining needed on our part to make it work. The fact that we could opt for it in a custom width rear axle was also desirable, mostly so we could create the exact track width we wanted.

East Coast Gear Supply has been building, servicing, and selling differential parts of all types for years. Owned by wheeling-enthusiast Chase Perry, the company is well-known for its budget-friendly TJ 8.8 rear axle conversion. Currently, ECGS offers an assortment of bolt-in axles for a variety of Jeep applications. Since our Wrangler has a few unique aspects and components (such as our custom coilover setup and wheelbase stretch), we were fortunate to have their team of top techs and fabricators help merge the company’s standard-issue axle into our not-so-standard Wrangler.

While the 9.75-inch Dana 60 ring gear isn’t as large as the 10½-inch gear found in the junkyard heavyweight 14-bolt, it is more than enough to handle our tire and power needs. The fact that the Dana-sourced smooth-bottom 60 housing that East Coast Gear Supply uses has more clearance than the 14-bolt (and typical junkyard 60) also made it more suitable for running “smaller” tires, such as a 37. By now, I’m sure some of you are curious as to why we opted to go semi-float instead of full-float. The answer is simple. We don’t need the load-carrying capacity of a full-float axle.

A semi-float rear axle creates a lighter package overall, and when using a large Set 20 axle bearing (commonly known as a big bearing end) it is more than capable of supporting our platform and then some. Aside from the fact that a full-float axle adds weight, a typical full-float Dana 60 rear found in a junkyard would likely only have 1.31-inch, 30-spline axleshafts, which wouldn’t be a major upgrade over our outgoing Dana 44. Going with the custom semi-float 60 from East Coast Gear Supply provided us with extremely strong 1.50-inch, 35-spline chromoly ’shafts which are equal-length and extremely easy to source in the aftermarket.

To get even more detailed information on the East Coast Gear Supply Dana 60 rear axle, and place it under our Wrangler, we took a trip to the company’s headquarters in Raleigh, North Carolina. While there, we followed along as our new heavy-duty rear axle went from the builders table to the back end of our TJ. Be sure to check back next month as we finish out our Jeep Axle Wrangling series with a new front axle that has some clever tricks of its own.

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Eaton Corporation
East Coast Gear Supply
Yukon Gear and Axle
Oliver’s Custom Drive Shaft

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