Drop-In Locker Shootout
Lunchbox or drop-in lockers are often overlooked by the off-road rags. Much of the time we know we are going to bigger tires, regearing and so forth, so replacing the entire differential makes sense. Then there is the "drop-it-off-at-a-shop" method of building project vehicles, which makes it real easy to forget what a normal guy goes through to build a vehicle.
Here at Jp magazine, we do much of our own work in our driveways. Just like you guys, when we are in the middle of an install with some cool new part and we get to something that needs a specialized tool, either we make it or go buy it. After years of working on Jeeps, we have a pretty good selection of tools and skills (including specialized differential tools), so we think nothing of swapping differentials and gears.
Well that's great, but what if you don't have a dial-indicator, an inch-pound torque wrench, setup bearings, or bearing pullers? These things aren't cheap, and unless you start doing gears for friends it doesn't make sense to buy the tools for one Jeep. Besides, not all locker installs come with a gear-swap. By the time you got done buying a locker, gears, and a setup kit (not to mention tools), you are easily looking at $750, not counting the actual install itself. These lunchbox lockers are a fraction of that price, and if you decide you don't like the quirks of an automatic locker, you can put your spider gears back in and go back to an open differential.
A lot of experienced Jeepers kind of look down their noses at drop-in lockers. Many guys forget what it was like starting out with minimal tools and minimal money. Not us. You can install these things in your driveway in an afternoon, and they are relatively cheap. Get one, put it in, and see if you like having your Jeep locked up or not.
So we got together all the lunchboxes we could for the most common Jeep axle ever, the Dana 44. We took our test-mule Jeepster with a swapped-in 30-spline CJ Dana 44 and slogged through a couple of weeks' worth of 105-plus-degree days of installs and testing to bring you this shootout.
The Aussie Locker is a relative newcomer to the Jeep market. Bill Cole took his knowledge from off-road racing and from being a co-founder of the company that originally produced the Lock-Right to start Torq-Master Technology, and designed a new lunchbox locker with some improvements. The big thing we noticed was that its design makes it a little easier to install, as there is only one set of springs and there is no fishing involved.
The center section gears are bigger than the Lock-Right and the Spartan, which is a good thing. However, in our application with our J-truck-sourced carrier, we had to grind a little bit to get the center section in. Since the stock carrier is the weak point, grinding the carrier was out of the question. We ground less than 1/8-inch off the edges of one side gear and it still ended up bigger than the others. The company tells us that what we saw wasn't normal, and with thousands of units out there, they have only seen it a few times with the Dana 44. It is somewhat more common with the Dana 35 and could have possibly been because of the old design of the carrier.
It was also easier to install than the Lock-Right thanks to the slots for the springs and pins. While the pin is stepped to center the spring, we wonder if it being much easier to put together means that it will also be easier for those springs to pop out of there. We asked the company and were told that they have not had any such complaints, so we are just passing along information.
Once installed, the Aussie Locker worked great, with minimal clicking around corners on-road, and it seemed to be always locked off-road.
Technology, IncModel: Aussie Locker
Part number: XD-14430
Use thrust washers: Yes
Pros: Great instructions, low price
Cons: Possible to lose springs, didn't fit carrier