1. home
  2. how to
  3. transmission drivetrain
  4. Budget 1-Ton Axle JK Swaps

Budget 1-Ton Axle JK Swaps

Tips and tricks from Jeep JK axle-swap pros

Bruce W. SmithPhotographer, Writer

Like a growing number of serious off-road adventurers driving JKs, the owner of this Jeep swapped out the V-6 in his lifted and well-accessorized Wrangler for a 385hp Chevy Silverado 6.0L LS backed with matching 6L80E automatic. At the same time the rig got 37-inch tires. Tough trail use and pounding the dunes led to a year-long battle with one axle-related failure after another: blown front and rear diffs, broken and twisted axle shafts, failed U-joints, burned bearings, and even a bent axle housing. It was obvious the Jeep’s axle game had to be stepped up. The owner decided to go with a high-pinion, 35-spline, 1-ton axle swap. The trade-off in increased unsprung weight would be worth the benefits the bigger housings bring to the table.

The out-of-the-box, bolt-in choices for 1-ton housings include Dynatrac’s Hard Core ProRock 60/60s, Spicer Ultimate Dana 60s, Currie’s RockJock III 60s, and TeraFlex Tera60s. The price to go this route would just begin at about $10,000 per set, depending on the brand and options—not including costs for labor and any related upgrades that go along with slipping heavy-duty running gear under a JK.

However, for those who have the mechanical and fabrication skills to undertake the job and are willing to put in the time, using Artec 1-ton swap kits with junkyard-sourced housings can save a whole bunch of build bucks. This saved money can be used for upgrading the shocks, suspension, tires, and wheels to maximize the performance gained from installing the beefy, do-it-yourself 1-ton housings.

We will follow the axle prep and swap process end to end, so to speak. A Dana 60 yarded from under an ’04 Ford Super Duty and GM 14-bolt rear from an ’07 Silverado 2500HD were cleaned, rebuilt, massaged with the CNC-machined Artec parts, and slid underneath in place of the stock 44s. It was a weeklong project in the Evolution Auto shop.

Why the 60/14 combo? “I like to use the ’99-’04 Super Duty front housing because its 69 1/4-inch width matches closely with the Rubicon’s track,” Scott from Evolution Auto explained, as he prepped both of the junkyard housings for the big swap. He continued, “And I like the GM 14-bolt out of that era’s Silverado/Sierra 2500HDs because that housing doesn’t create any clearance issues with the JK fuel tank like a Dana 60 would—and the 14-bolt is stouter than a Dana 60.”

Donor housings in hand, we began by dropping the JK driveshafts, removing brake assemblies, clamping off brake line hoses (it’ll get new discs/calipers front and rear), removing the suspension, and rolling out the factory housings. That was the quick, easy part. Nearly 40 hours of shop time later, our JK was ready to tackle whatever off-road challenges awaited.

The Artec conversion kits are generally well illustrated and the parts are laser-etched with numbers, so it’s easy to figure out which piece goes where. In essence, it’s a build-by-numbers process that involves a considerable amount of welding, along with the grinding, as not all pieces fit all housings exactly the same. As we planned from the start, the money saved by going the build-it-yourself route was then used for completing our big-boy axle swap with the appropriate shocks, tires, wheels, brake, and steering upgrades to take advantage of the 1-ton conversion.