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Nuts & Bolts: Lockers for My 1984 CJ-7

Lunchbox Lockers

Lunchbox Lockers
I have a 1984 CJ-7 Jeep with a six-cylinder, a four-speed, and 33s. I put a lift and tires on it and just got a winch, so now it's time for lockers. I'm confused about what lockers to use. I plan on driving it on the highway a little and play in the snow, mud, and local trails. What should I use front and rear? ARB Air Lockers are out of my price range and I need something on the cheaper side. I believe the axles are stock for the Jeep. Any help is greatly appreciated.
Dylan M.
Via nuts@4wheeloffroad.com

It sounds like you have a nice Jeep. Driver-selectable lockers like ARBs (arbusa.com) are nice and really the best choice for a dual-purpose daily driver/weekend wheeler, but all the extra components that make them selectable also make them a bit expensive. Since it sounds like the majority of your use is off the pavement and budget is a concern, it would be hard to go wrong with a drop-in locker, often referred to as a lunchbox locker. These lockers replace the side and spider gears in an open differential carrier. Because the carrier is retained, they are less expensive and there's no need to reshim the ring-and-pinion during installation. There are several brands of lunchbox lockers on the market, but we've had the best luck with the Powertrax Lock-Right (powertrax.com). The company has a similar product called a No-Slip, but we prefer the plain old Lock-Right. They hold up to a surprising amount of abuse without the slipping and chattering that we have experienced with some of the other brands, and you can buy a pair of them for a little over half the price of one ARB.

Lunchbox lockers are not without their drawbacks, however. Their strength is limited to the factory differential case, which is not going to be the same as a full locker that replaces the differential carrier. We've also had a few that introduced an uncomfortable amount of drivetrain slop and did an awful lot of popping and banging around corners. As long as you’re willing to put up with these quirks and understand their strength limitations, Lock-Rights are an excellent value for the money.

One word of caution: You need to make sure your Jeep has open differentials front and rear, as a lunchbox locker will only work with an open differential carrier. If you discover that one or both of your axles has a limited-slip differential, then you might want to consider a more conventional locker for that axle, as having to buy a Lock-Right plus an open differential carrier is close to the same money as conventional automatic locker.

Also keep in mind that lockers place a lot more strain on the axleshafts, so you might want to save up for upgraded shafts, especially for the front. We'd also suggest adding a rollcage if you haven't done that already because the lockers will get you places that an open axle won’t and thus a rollover is more likely.