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1997 Jeep Wrangler TJ - Project Teal-J II, Part 13

Left Front View
Robin Stover | Writer
Posted October 1, 2005
Photographers: Ken Brubaker, Bob Jara

Front axle issues solved - a 44 built for bind.

Back in Part 6 (May 2004), we swapped out Teal J's stock Dana 30 front axle for a bolt-in Superior 44 assembly. These axles feature larger 30-spline inner axleshafts and your choice of either a Detroit Locker or an ARB.

Project Teal-J II, Intro
Project Teal-J II, Part 1
Project Teal-J II, Part 2
Project Teal-J II, Part 3
Project Teal-J II, Part 4
Project Teal-J II, Part 5
Project Teal-J II, Part 6
Project Teal-J II, Part 7
Project Teal-J II, Part 8
Project Teal-J II, Part 9
Project Teal-J II, Part 10
Project Teal-J II, Part 11
Project Teal-J II, Part 12
Project Teal-J II, Part 13
Project Teal-J II, Part 14

It was one of those moments everyone fears on the trail. A loud snap followed by an explosive pop! Then an expletive from me. It meant our fun for the day was over and that Ken "Got the Shot" Brubaker and I should pretty much pack it up and head to the hotel.

Unfortunately for my ego, the carnage was witnessed by a sizable group of onlookers who had curiously stopped to watch me pilot Teal J through a rough section of Hump 'n Bump, near Logandale, Nevada. (See "Bling Relief," March 2005.) I inspected the damage and found one broken Warn hub and a failed U-joint. I looked back at the obstacle, wondering how it happened. One witness said, "As you began your front burn maneuver, the left front tire got bound up hard into the front bumper, and powie!" I then understood why people installed those short-style front bumpers on Jeeps. I guess it never dawned on me that the front tires could move that far forward.

Bewildered by the affair, I began to wonder if a front Dana 44 was strong enough for 37-inch tires. I had my work cut out, convinced the failure might have been avoided with the proper girth. I returned to work Monday morning with the mission to increase Teal's front axle strength. The results turned out killer, so follow along and see how to bulletproof a 44.

Carnage! As you can see, the light-duty cast Warn hub pictured here simply wasn't able to withstand the bind-up during the front burn maneuver. A "front burn" is a handy trick originated by the pros in rock racing. Simply put, the front axle alone is driven as generous throttle is applied and the wheels are fully cranked in the direction you wish to go. The outcome typically cuts a vehicle's turning radius in half.

Ouch! My guess is that the shock load destroyed the U-joint as the hub shattered.

Preventing a Repeat
The cause of all this breakage was due to the contact made between the driver-side front tire and the back of the old bumper. So I decided to replace it with a shorter Rubicon-series bumper from Hanson Enterprise (shown above). At 52 inches wide, the Hanson unit allows ample space between the front tires and the back side of the bumper. It's built from 3/16-inch hot-rolled steel plate and features double-welded seams and 1-inch-thick shackle tabs. I chose a durable satin black powdercoat finish to keep it looking good for years to come. A special thanks to folks at Moab Offroad, who sacrificed an afternoon during this year's Easter Jeep Safari to mount this new bumper on Teal J.

Wheels and Tires
Due to the fact that I have to flat-tow Teal J from place to place these days, I decided to switch to the more pavement-friendly all-terrain tread pattern. After much debating with co-workers on which tires to run, I chose the new Mickey Thompson Baja ATZ in a 37x13.50R18LT. The tires look wicked, and for what I plan to do in the company Jeep (i.e., rock, sand, and street), they should work just fine. For wheels, I went with a set of TrailReady slim-ring bead-locked 18x9.5-inch wheels to match our new 5-on-5 1/2 lug pattern. I like the looks of 37-inch rubber on 18-inch wheels, and despite much criticism from fellow staffers, I think my choice was a good one. The Jeep really hooks up on pavement, and the ATZs are extremely quiet.

The Goods
Lucky for Teal J, Warn makes a Premium Hub Conversion kit especially for the Dana 44 front axle. The difference between the Standard Warn Hubs and the Premium units are easily demonstrated by simply picking up each kind. The Premium Hubs are a lot heavier because they feature all-metal construction and are forged from a much stronger alloy steel. The standard hubs have cast bodies and plastic dials - which, as we've shown, don't play well with rocks. The Warn kit includes high-strength alloy stub axles, which also help increase frontend strength and durability. The kit also increases overall track width by 3/4 inch per side, always a welcome bonus. One thing you must accept when performing this conversion is that you lose your stock 5-on-4 1/2 lug pattern to the larger 5-on-5 1/2 lug pattern, which for us meant new wheels and tires as well as a set of wheel studs for our newly acquired Dynatrac ProRock 60 rear axle. Good thing we ordered that puppy with dual-pattern axleshafts.


West Chester, PA 19380
Warn Industries
Clackamas, OR 97015
Lynnwood, WA 98087
Superior Axle and Gear
Hanson Enterprise
CTM Racing Products
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