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Nuts & Bolts: Solid Axle Dreams

Posted in How To: Transmission Drivetrain on February 10, 2017
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Solid Axle Dreams

I own a 2005 Dodge Dakota 4x4 V-6. It is my dream to fit 35-inch tires under it. I’ve managed to get 32s under it by putting a 3-inch lift in the back (in the form of an add-a-leaf) and a 2 1/2-inch leveler in the front coil springs. It is kind of a general-purpose rig, from trails to blasting through upstate New York's notorious Adirondack winters to hauling firewood. The truck is also my daily driver. I've come the conclusion that a solid axle swap may be the best route to achieve my goal. Plus, if the new front axle has lockout hubs I could possibly gain some gas mileage over a nonlocking hub. My question is what should I use for a donor vehicle for the axles and other necessary parts, or do you have another idea on how to achieve my goal? Any help would be great.

Joe
Via nuts@4wheeloffroad.com

No company we are aware of offers an off-the-shelf lift kit that would accommodate 35s for your truck, partially due to low demand and partially because the front suspension and axle would have a tough time handling the added stress. Though your proposed swap is intriguing, it is going to take a lot of work as well as a ton of trial and error. Though a solid platform, your Dakota is not a particularly popular one for heavily modifying. As a result, you are going to be largely on your own when it comes to the finer but critically important aspects of the swap. On the mechanical side of things, you are going to need a driver-side drop front axle that’s close to the right width of your Dakota’s 63 inches. A fullsize Jeep’s 65-inch track width is pretty close, and these were available with a driver-side drop differential to match your Dakota’s NV233 or NV244 transfer case. There’s a chance your donor axle might also have the correct 5-on-5 1/2 bolt pattern of your truck’s rear axle, but if not, it would be easy enough to swap in wheel hubs with the right pattern.

From there, you will need to decide what suspension you want to run and custom-fabricate all of the mounts in order to mount that axle under the truck. Leaf springs are easiest, but since it’s all custom-fabricated, you can go as simple or as complicated as you want. You will also need to replace the stock rack-and-pinion system with a traditional steering box and fabricate a mount for it. You’ll also need to custom-fab all of the steering linkage.

Once all of that is done, you’ll need to figure out how to make all of the electronics happy, including the ABS system, traction control, and more. The truck is going to freak out if it can’t see front wheel sensors and the multitude of sensors that are on the stock steering rack, so the electronics is probably the biggest hurdle of all. Unfortunately, that’s also where the knowledge base gets fuzzy because you will be outside the realm of common swaps.

Anything is possible with enough time, effort, and money, but realistically you need to look at your skillset and budget, then judge just how badly you want the swap to happen. The swap is way beyond the abilities of the average weekend mechanic, paying a competent professional shop to do it is going to be very expensive, and either way the result will probably not work very well as a daily driver. We don’t want to discourage you, but it would also be a shame to cut up your perfectly good daily driver. Remember that you could also take less money than would be required for your proposed swap and buy a secondary vehicle that would be a much more common platform for 35s, of which there are many.

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