Crossover Steering for Lifted Chevys
Q I am 15 years old and I have bought my first truck, a '79 Chevy 3/4-ton 4x4. I have a 400ci small block and a balanced flywheel for the four speed tranny. It has the NP205 transfer case, Dana 44 with lockouts, a limited-slip, and in the back has the full floating 14-bolt with a Detroit.
Did I make a good choice in buying this truck? I plan on putting a couple more thousand into it with a 6-inch lift and 36- to 38-inch tires. As of right now, it is in the shop getting long tubes and true duals installed. The reason why I ask is because I have been reading your magazine since I was 8 and trust the info you put in the pages of your magazine.
A If you like the truck, the way it rides, handles, performs, if it fits the trails that you plan on running, and it is in good mechanical condition, then you made a good choice.
While your truck has "3/4-ton" running gear under it-and the 14-bolt is a great axle-the weak link is the front Dana 44 axle. This is the same axle housing that is under the "1/2-ton" trucks and has the same axleshaft size. The only differences are the bigger brakes, larger hub/spindle combination, and naturally, an eight-bolt wheel pattern. The bigger hub and spindle give it a higher load rating. In other words, it is designed to hold more weight.
If you really have plans to use that large of a tire, I suggest that you also invest in a set of aftermarket performance axleshafts. In my opinion, the axleshafts are going to be the weak link. Yes, there are a lot of Jeeps running around running 44 fronts with that tire size, but they also weigh at a lot less and don't put nearly as much load on the axleshafts. Your other choice-and probably a better one-is to keep your eye open for a single-rear-wheel 1-ton frontend, which will be a Dana 60. It will be a direct bolt in swap and offers a lot more overall strength.
Let's talk about the lift a bit. First, I suggest you get on the Internet and look at the various lift kits available. When comparing prices, make sure each kit has the same parts, such as quality shocks, longer brake lines, steering correction parts and so forth. Then read their installation instructions, which generally are also available online, so that you understand just what tools and other equipment are necessary. When going to that much lift, I really suggest that you also go to what's referred to as "crossover" steering. If you're not sure exactly what that is, take a look under any 1972-or-later Jeep to see how it works. Yes, you can also Google it, but to save you some trouble, take a look at what Off Road Design has to offer (www.offroaddesign.com).
Larger tires and that much lift will put more load on steering components, so make sure that tie-rod ends are in like new condition, the wheel bearings are adjusted properly, and-most important of all-that the frame where the steering box mounts is not cracked. Having the frame crack in this location is quite common, even on a stock truck, and most likely will happen when the truck is lifted and sees serious trail use. Several companies (including ORD) sell a really neat brace to support frames that are not already cracked, or a repair plate for those that are. You might also look at their rear-spring shackle flip kit as a replacement for new rear springs or lift blocks. It's a much better way to go. In fact, they sell a complete 3-inch lift that will fit 33s-and, with a 1-inch body lift and a bit of fender trimming, fit 35s. A lift of this height may be better for you, considering what I am sure is a limited budget. This way, you don't have to go with new rear springs, crossover steering, new driveshafts, and very expensive tires. Going to 33s or 35s by now are starting to look a lot better financially.
Tire choices are abundant and overwhelming, as there are so many to choose from. My guess is that your truck is going to be a daily driver, so pick a tire that will work great on the street and good on the trail. Stay away from nasty gnarly tread designs, as it's better to compromise in your choice for better highway handling and wear.
My final piece of advice is to take your time, research as much as possible every change you intend to make, and don't depend on information off the various forums to make your final decision. While there is some good information to be found on these, not all of it is correct. Oh, and finally, if you can find a 4x4 club in your area, become involved in it.
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