Jeep TJ Lockers: Which Is Best for Snow?

    Techline: Is a selectable locker the right choice for this Wrangler with a Dana 30 front axle, Ford 8.8 rear axle, 4.0L engine, and 35-inch tires?

    I'm from southeast Washington. I'm building a '97 Jeep TJ Wrangler Sport. It has a 4.0L engine with an automatic transmission. I'm swapping the Dana 35 rear axle for a Ford 8.8, and the low-pinion Dana 30 for a non-disconnect high-pinion Dana 30. I'm adding 4.56:1 ratio gears and tires no larger than 35 inches. With no front locking hubs to disengage, am I going to need a selectable locker in the front axle? Is there another option that will work? The Jeep is primarily for snow but will be on the pavement getting there.—David Brock, via email

    Best Jeep TJ Locker?

    Your axle and gear ratio swap plans are sound for 35-inch tires. Selecting a locker for your combination requires some consideration. You can run an automatic locking differential in a non-disconnect front axle, but you will likely feel some feedback through the steering wheel, even when the transfer case is not shifted into four-wheel drive. For many people this is a nonissue.

    Locker Performance in Snow and Ice

    For off-road use in the snow, an automatic locker will help keep you from getting stuck, but in most cases an automatic locking front differential is not desirable in the snow and ice on the street. If you use four-wheel drive on slick, icy, paved roads, you will for sure notice the drawbacks of a front automatic locking differential. When under power, the lack of differentiation can cause the vehicle to push through corners instead of turning. Releasing the throttle to coast through corners can cause strange handling that could send you into a ditch. Running an automatic locker on snow and ice on the street in the front or rear axle takes some skill. You won't be comfortable tossing the keys to just anyone. If that's not a concern and you don't mind the Jeep being a little bit of a handful, then go with the automatic front locker. It's a less expensive and less complex option than a selectable front locker, but ideally you should be running a selectable locker in a non-disconnect front axle. The on-road handling would be more predictable, and driving in the snow and ice on the street will be much more enjoyable when the transfer case is shifted into four-wheel drive. You can leave the locker unlocked on the street, and even off-road in the snow, until you really need it.

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