Fusion Dana 60/44 Hybrid JK Front AxlePosted in How To: Transmission Drivetrain on August 15, 2018
When it comes to axles for your hardcore 4x4, the solution to whatever problem you face is more often than not a Dana 60. They are strong, readily available, and adaptable to any number of applications. That’s the good news. However, such modern advances as ABS, traction control, wheel ends, and vehicle-specific bracketry have made once simple garage swaps out of reach for the average guy’s toolbox.
Fusion4x manufactures a full line of bolt-in Dana 60s for Jeep JKs using all brand-new components. They are available in multiple levels of insanity. This little family Jeep is getting Fusion’s 60/44 Hybrid axle, so we figured we’d take you along for a tour of the experience.
The Fusion 60/44 Hybrid uses Dana 60 centersection and tubes with upgraded JK outers. This product gets you most of the way to a full Dana 60, is very easy to install, and comes at a price comparable to other aftermarket 44s. At the other end of the spectrum, Fusion4x now also offers the mighty Kingpin-style Dana 60, made with all new parts and ready to slide under your Jeep. But that’s an axle for another time.
What’s Wrong With the Stock Stuff?The Jeep JK factory front axle is fine for a stockish Jeep and moderate wheeling, but for most JK owners, the magic number is 35, as in, “I need at least 35-inch tires.” This begins to push most factory JK axles hard. Now slap on heavier bumpers, skids, sliders, and a winch and those stock axles are screaming for mercy. Add horsepower or a heavy right foot off-road and you’re definitely on borrowed time.
Granted, the Rubicon comes with a front Dana 44 instead of the pedestrian JK’s Dana 30. While that sounds good on paper, the dirty little secret is that the Rubicon Dana 44 and JK Dana 30 share more parts than Rubicon owners want to admit, including: the same skinny Cs, ball joints, and flimsy 2 1/2-inch-diameter axletubes. The JK’s Dana 44 does have the nice “next-generation 44” ring gear diameter of 8.8 inches, which compares favorably to the meager 7.2 inches of the Dana 30. (Remember those numbers; there will be a test.) But in the real world, that added beef doesn’t seem to be making much of a difference because other parts generally fail before the ring-and-pinion does.
The main weakness of the JK’s axles are the tubes. Off-roaders, even under moderate conditions, have been consistently turning these into smiley faces with little effort. Once the tubes are bent, the Jeep will never drive right, things start to leak, and costly replacements are in your future. Sure, you can weld any number of high-quality trusses, axle sleeves, and gussets onto the factory axles, but those are little more than a Band Aid covering up the problem. If you are still wondering whether the tubes are that bad, know that Jeep, which counts every penny, considered the problem big enough that the new JL went to 2 3/4-inch-diameter tubes.
The next thing to fail in JK axles are the ball joints. It is not uncommon for even a moderately wheeled JK to eat a set of ball joints in a single wheeling season. Add big tires and harder wheeling and we find many people getting under 10,000 miles from the factory joints. After the ball joints, the next most common failure are U-joints and the embarrassingly flimsy axle brackets. Ring-and-pinion failure seem to correlate with engine swaps, higher horsepower applications, and gear ratios that start with a 5.
Even if we got our factory front axle to survive, we run into the main problem with any lifted JK: alignment. Stick with us here. This is important. Specifically, caster and pinion angle. There just isn’t enough separation between the angle of the Cs and pinion to get good caster with a lifted JK while maintaining the proper pinion angle. It will always be a compromise.
Justifying the NeedThe little family Jeep shown here was going to need some help. It had been running around on 35s for over a year, toting four people and two dogs all over the Pacific Northwest’s toughest trails. A very soft right foot combined with Artec’s excellent front axle armor kit kept our locked Dana 30 in one piece throughout last season. But 37s and a Chevy LS swap on the horizon forces our hand into a more serious solution. Our factory ball joints lasted 12,000 miles (3,000 miles on 37s) before self-destructing. And we hate changing ball joints. It was time for an upgrade.
The most common choice in this situation is to get an aftermarket Dana 44 from one of the many companies offering them. The recipe is mostly the same: custom Dana 44 centersection, 3-inch-diameter axletubes, beefier brackets, and more robust Cs. These will also have the proper C-to-pinion separation for a lifted Jeep. You can have one of these delivered to your doorstep, with a premium locker, ready to bolt in (just add ball joints and your current knuckles) for about $5,000.
For those wanting more, there has always been the Dana 60 option. The Dana 60 has over 60 years of proven service under countless Ford, Dodge, IH, and Jeep 3/4- and 1-ton trucks. The 9 3/4-inch ring gear makes it as close to indestructible for most off-roaders. And with ratios from 3.31 to 7.17, there’s something for everyone. Most modern Dana 60s have an axle diameter of 3 1/2 inches, ideal for bouncing off rocks. The U-joints, Cs, and ball joints are also a huge step up from anything in a Dana 44–sized package.
Now that you know you want a Dana 60, the build or buy question comes in. For builder, Ford’s Super Duty is the preferred donor. They are easy to come by and can be had cheap. Once you have the axle, then the real work starts: positioning and welding brackets; adding tone rings to get the ABS, speedo, and TCS to work; balancing master cylinder and caliper needs; steering; hubs; and different wheel bolt patterns. Also, the width won’t exactly match the Jeep’s, which may be important if you plan on keeping your tires anywhere under your flares. Width was a consideration for us, as our Jeep just barely fits onto the trailer and any more width would make it a no-go.
This is a great swap, but not for the faint of heart or an inexperienced mechanic. Nor is it cheap. Again, Artec makes an excellent bracket and tone ring kit for this.
The substitute for time and skill is, as always, money. For about $8,000 ($3,000 more than a built Dana 44) you can have a locked and ready-to-run Dana 60 delivered to your door from any of the usual suspects. These are all beautifully done units and come with Dana 60 axles, hubs, brakes, and ball joints. You will want to ensure that your master cylinder and booster match the needs of the big 60 calipers, so add that to the bill too.
The Fusion ChoiceFor those who want most of the advantages of a Dana 60 without the huge bill and hassle, Fusion has a truly elegant solution. The company’s Dana 60/44 Hybrid gives the strength of a Dana 60 centersection and axletubes with the easy installation of using stock JK knuckles and brakes. All this for about the same price as the other guys’ bolt-in Dana 44. Fusion does this by sourcing all new Dana centersections and tubes for assembly on state-of-the art equipment. The company’s location in Detroit puts them at the heart of the auto industry, allowing them close access to OEM suppliers, resulting in significant sourcing efficiencies. Fusion guarantees everything it sells and even works on limited contracts to help certain OE suppliers as needed.
Install Tips & TricksEven the most straightforward swap can benefit from some experience. When smashing together parts that were all born in different places together, sometimes things get weird. But this was all so simple that even a hack like me could make it happen.
Our axle came to us on a pallet ready to go. This was nice. What we didn’t anticipate is that the thing weighs twice what the old axle did. Bring a friend, preferably two.
The Rare Parts ball joints are works of art, worthy of display on your coffee table instead of under your Jeep. They need some love to work correctly. The top ball joint needs to be preloaded with the included hex wrench once the vehicle is back on four wheels. Don’t forget to do this.
We had an unforeseen interference issue with our tie-rod ends and our oversized brake rotors. The huge tie-rod ends cleared, but only by a hair’s breadth. At this point, suspicion goes to the extra beefy Rancho knuckles bringing the TREs a bit closer to the rotor than stock. A quick call to Synergy had one of the company’s sweet Double Adjustable Chromoly Tie Rods on the way. The stock GM truck ends that Synergy uses allowed sufficient clearance for our oversized rotors. Fusion advised that this wouldn’t be an issue with Rancho had we used the stock brake dust shields, which would have kicked everything out a bit farther.
This axle is 1 inch larger in diameter than stock, which brings everything up a half-inch, including your bumpstops. The axle included nice 3-inch units to go in the threaded spring perches. Our MCE fenders allow lots of uptravel, and we ended up with 2 1/2 inches of bump on the right and 1 1/2 inches on the left. Cycle the suspension without coils to be sure you aren’t hitting anything, especially the drag link on the left-side frame rail if you are running a drag link flip.
It’s almost too nice to hide under the Jeep, but here’s the completed install showing the RCV shafts, steering, and knuckles. Stock brake configuration and wheel ends make installation a snap. Note that this wheel end is now the weak point of the whole setup. The good news is that catastrophic failures are very rare, and that these things are cheap and easy to replace.
Rare Parts Ball JointsRare Parts might be the most amazing little company you’ve never heard of. Need kingpins for your 1931 REO Speedwagon FA? Rare Parts has them in stock! How about a custom 4140 chromoly pitman arm for your next steering swap? If they don’t have it they’ll make it. Rare Parts is filled with automotive craftsmen and enthusiasts who can make anything happen.
Rare Parts is well known in the Chevy truck community for the G2 HD Tie Rod Assemblies & Extreme Duty Steering Components, which make the notoriously weak IFS front-ends survive larger tires and horsepower upgrades.
It is the Rare Parts Dual Load Carrying Ball Joint design that really makes our Fusion 4x4 Hybrid 60/44 axle a workable solution. We all know that the stock JK ball joints are marginal at best. Add 35s or bigger tires and you have just pulled the pin on the grenade. We also know that there are other quality upgrades available, but while those would be an improvement over factory, they are still based on the stock design. With the stock (and all other) ball joints, the lower ball joint takes 100 percent of the load. The Rare Parts ball joints are engineered to move about 20 percent of that load to the upper joint, which significantly improves their life.
Rare Parts provides an impressive limited lifetime warranty, and the company claims exactly zero field failures. So even if you are going to stick with a stock axle or a traditional aftermarket 44, the Rare Parts ball joints should be on your must-have list.
RCV AxlesNobody hates changing busted U-joints in the dirt more than we. RCV was the natural answer. RCV is not only a premier supplier to the off-road industry but also a division of Aircraft Gear Corp., which makes aerospace and automotive drivetrain components. Real rocket scientists.
RCV’s signature product is the patented CV axle conversion, which replaces traditional U-joints with stronger CV joints. These axles have been tested to be twice as strong as original equipment axles. They’re just as tough at a straight angle as at extreme angles, where U-jointed axles are at their weakest. Best of all, the RCV Ultimate CV Axles come with a “no questions asked” limited lifetime warranty. Whether you have a stock Dana 30, Dana 44, or any modified axle, these shafts are an amazing upgrade. If you are prone to fragging U-joints, these are definitely for you.
Rancho KnucklesRancho needs no introduction, but these knuckles may. Reasonably priced, easy to install, and great-looking, these knuckles were a no-brainer for our project. We were previously running stock knuckles that were reverse-drilled for our drag link flip. These knuckles come predrilled for top-mount drag link, are extra beefy, and, best of all, position the tie rod 1 1/2 inches higher to reduce a common JK scrape point.
Synergy Manufacturing Tie RodLocated in beautiful San Louis Obispo, one of my favorite surfing and cycling towns, it’s amazing that the folks at Synergy Manufacturing get any work done at all. But somehow these guys have cranked out the most amazing collection of Jeep and Ram truck suspension and accessories. The tie rod we used here is adjustable on the rig, uses common replacement parts, and installs with common handtools. The silver p-coat is nice eye candy too.