Real Dana 44s for your Jeep
In the March and April '05 issues, we fitted a set of 35-inch tires on a four-cylinder Jeep TJ with no suspension lift ("No-Lift TJ"). Since the article went to print, we added a used Lock-Rite to the front axle, spent some time on the trail, and even more time driving down paved roads. The low-slung Wrangler proved itself very capable and stable on- and off-road. Our only gripe was that the factory 4.10 ring-and-pinions were too high for the 2.5L four-popper and 35-inch tires. No surprise there, now how do we fix it? We could have re-geared the stock Dana 30 front and Dana 35 rear to the lowest available 4.88 ring-and-pinions, but that's not much of a change-and nowhere near enough gearing. Plus, we would still be stuck with the boat anchor Dana 35 rear axle found in most Wranglers built since 1987. Another option was to drop some major green on a set of low-geared aftermarket axles. However, that is assuming we had some green. Not so. The third option involved saving ourselves some money by looking for a pair of stronger junkyard axles that would accept the super-low gearing we needed.
Our rear axle was pirated from an unlikely source. The victim of our scavenging: an Isuzu Rodeo or Honda Passport. Many of these Japanese SUVs have been driving down the highway with good ol' American Dana 44 iron between the rear wheels since the early 1990s. These Dana 44s are an almost perfect swap for the rear of any TJ, YJ, XJ, ZJ, WJ, or even a KJ. At 60 3/4 inches wide, this axle is almost the same width as a TJ (61 1/2 inches, wheel-mounting surface to wheel-mounting surface). They are commonly found with Trac-Lok limited slips and either 4.30 or 4.56 gears. Other pluses are disc brakes complete with mini-drum parking brakes and larger-diameter axletubes (2 3/4 inches as opposed to 2 1/2 inches for TJ Dana 30s, 35s, 44s, including the Rubicon's Dana 44s). The only real fly in the soup is that this Dana 44 comes from the yard with a 6-on-5 1/2 lug pattern, same as late model FSJs, Toyotas, Nissans, Mitsuwhatever, and other Isuzu/Hondas. There are several ways to get around this problem. You could have the shafts re-drilled for 5-on-5 1/2 pattern and match your Jeep's front lug pattern with adapters or a hub conversion. Or you could do what we did and also swap the front axle for another junkyard piece with the same 6-on-5 1/2 pattern-a swap that we'll show you in the next issue.
Adding the Brackets
TJs, ZJs, and WJs all need a series of brackets to line up with the rear four-link suspension, shocks, and coil springs. We got our brackets from Dynatrac. These brackets are made from some serious metal and feature welds that should make you drool. Adding brackets to a junkyard axle has to be done with some understanding of pinion angle, caster (for the front axle), and should only be undertaken by someone who is competent with a welder. If you fit this description, here are a few tips we learned when we added brackets to our junkyard axles.
1. Place the new axle near your Jeep or next to the old axle so you can compare them easily.
2. Set the pinion angles equally.
3. Find the center of both axles for reference.
4. Now start placing the brackets on the new axle. Use an angle finder to make sure they are sitting correctly on the new axle.
5. Use the old axle to check that the brackets are lined up properly and measure side-to-side placement several times before tacking the brackets in place.
6. Check placement and angle again before finish-welding.
7. Adjustable arms, upper and lower, are a must for an axle swap like this. They allow you to easily set the pinion angle and get the axle straight under the Jeep.
8. If you don't know how to weld or question your welding skills, have someone who is certified in welding do this for you.
Finding an Isuzu Rodeo/Amigo or Honda Passport to pull this axle out of is easy. There are probably several rotting in your local junkyard or the parking lot at work (beware of protective owners who yell a lot when you look under their truck). First, make sure you have found a 4x4 with rear disc brakes. The '98-'04 models have an aluminum differential cover and a four-link rear suspension, which might prove to make for an easy way to four-link your YJ or other Jeep.