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Build a Better Dana 30

Here’s How to Make Yours Almost a 44

Ben StewartPhotographer, Writer

Let’s face it—drivetrain breakage is a natural part of four-wheeling. And for many Jeep owners, one of the first steps to combat this is to install a Dana 44 front axle. However, this may not always be necessary. Dana 30s in newer Jeeps have the same-size U-joints as Dana 44s: the 5-297X. This is the most common weak link and broken part on an axle. Though Dana 44s have a larger ring-and-pinion and larger-diameter inner axles, a Jeep running 33-inch tires and a fairly stock 4.0L would have a hard time breaking these components on an OEM Dana 30—especially if the driver is reasonable with the go-pedal.

With the release of several new products from Warn, owners of stock model-30 axles have the opportunity to make a good axle even better—without ponying up the big bucks for a custom Dana 44.

One of our first steps to building a better 30 was to install a Warn front-hub conversion kit. Dana 30s in newer Jeeps are a full-time unit-bearing design. This means that even in two-wheel drive, everything in the front axle turns all the time. Our frontend is equipped with a Lock Right locker, and though we have not felt any negative feedback on the street in our full-time frontend, we were excited about the prospect of our TJ tracking and steering better with the new locking hubs. Additionally, when we do break another U-joint (which is inevitable considering the trails we drive), it is comforting to know we can simply unlock that hub and limp back to camp in three-wheel drive to fix the part—without damage to the axle. Since we were going to delve into the hub conversion on our Dana 30 anyway, we decided to install Warn’s high-strength alloy axles at the same time. The hub conversion comes with high-strength outer axles, so we ordered the inner axles to match. In addition to the added strength in the axle material, the Warn shafts are machined so that full-circle clips can be used to install the U-joints. This increases the durability of the U-joint assembly and is a worthwhile upgrade for any front-drive axle.

This front-axle upgrade was handled by Conejo Off Road in Thousand Oaks, California, and it required a full day to complete. Our TJ had composite rotors, so we needed to purchase new front rotors and have them machined to accept the larger hub assembly. It should be noted that the track width increased by ½ inch per side after the locking hub conversion. Once everything was tight, we piled on a little more than 75 miles before we returned for retorquing. Though we noticed our steering was slightly lighter on the street with the hubs unlocked, it was not dramatic. We would imagine that on a daily driver with less aggressive tires, the difference would be more noticeable.

On the trail, everything worked just as we expected. After a few runs, we can report the setup works well, and we haven’t broken anything yet. Since it took us almost 4 years to break our first U-joint on this vehicle, we anticipate many more trouble-free miles with this much-improved Dana 30.