Getting the Shaft: Replacing an Axle Shaft
[an error occurred while processing this directive] Short Cuts

By: Jeff Yokomura - 9/2001

Time for an Upgrade!

Photo by: Jeff Yokomura
Notice the trail of gear oil that has leaked past the axle shaft seal.

A bent or broken axle shaft is a problem every one one of us will probably run into sooner or later. It can leave you wobbling or even worse three wheeling it back to camp. It is also common when using salvaged axles, so they should be checked before hand. Last year, you may remember we installed a 1989 XJ Dana 44 into a 1992 Wrangler, "Big Beef Axle Supreme." After a few trips to test the new Jeep, we noticed a slight wobble in one of the shafts. With the naked eye, it was barely noticeable but once the 35" tires were mounted, there was a 1/2" deflection in either direction. The brake drum never came in contact with the backing plate, but now the pads were out of alignment. The self-adjuster stopped working properly, which made the pads drag. To add to the problems, the axle shaft was causing the outer seal to leak, causing everything in the drum to be coated in gear oil and brake dust. (We'll talk about how we fixed the brakes next month.) The axle worked fine in the dirt, but on road it would wobble mildly when going below 20 mph. Above 20 mph and it turned into a vibration. It did not effect handling or tracking but was noticed by a few fellow drivers. In other words this was an all-around bad situation.

Photo by: Jeff Yokomura
To remove the axle shaft the access hole in the axle flange must be aligned to get to the bolts behind it.

The XJ and MJ Dana 44's were used from 1987 to 1990 with some Metric Ton or Tow Packages and are considered rare. Despite that, we still needed to get ours fixed. Generally, a New Old Stock (NOS) axle shaft would seem to be the first place to look. Since it seemed likely that the dealers wouldn't have the right parts, they were a no-go. A few shops do deal specifically with Jeeps and NOS replacement parts, but it can be difficult to get any clear information from them. Our next bet was to see if anyone made a Heavy Duty aftermarket axle shaft. If all else failed we would have to have someone make a custom shaft built to the same measurements as the original shaft. We contacted Superior Axle & Gear for some help. They not only were able to answer most of our questions but also confirmed a hunch we had. The XJ Dana 44 was built to the same widths as the Dana 35c. With the reintroduction of the Dana 44 (known as the 44-3 for being the 3rd Dana 44 used in a Universal), we speculated that the axle shafts were carry-overs but were never able to confirm it until now.


Photo by: Jeff Yokomura Photo by: Jeff Yokomura Photo by: Jeff Yokomura
There are no C-clips used with this Dana 44 so the axle shaft slides out once the retainer bolts are removed. The Detroit locker can be seen inside the housing. Notice the bearing race is still in place. The race should not fall out with the axle shaft. A gear puller was used to get the bearing race out.

This was great news since the TJ Dana 44 is a much sought-after option and many companies make replacement shafts and other kits for them. Superior Axle & Gear also let us know that they made a Heavy Duty replacement axle shaft. Also, the new Super 44 kit that uses 33 spline shafts would soon be available. The Super 44 Kit would have been a nice option but we had already re-geared and had a Detroit SoftLocker in the axle. Because of the increased axle spline count, 30 to 33 splines, the Detroit would have to been replaced. Originally, when we installed the axle we wanted to go with a Warn Full Floater Conversion kit but they had stopped all production on the XJ Dana 44 kit. They currently have one available for the TJ Dana 44. Even though the XJ and TJ axle shafts are the same there are possibly other differences which might complicate things.

Photo by: Jeff Yokomura Photo by: Jeff Yokomura Photo by: Jeff Yokomura
The axle shaft seal was in two pieces which allowed oil to leak past past it Over the years rust had formed on many of the parts Timken bearings were used on both shafts. Both shafts are 30 spline with a 1.30" Diameter. Dana 44's were also available with 19 splines.

We finally went with the Superior HD axle shaft. It cost only a little more then a Dana replacement but is a lot stronger. Superior does not sell directly to the public. To order the axle shaft we contacted Drivetrain Direct. They were very helpful and sent us everything we needed to install the axle. They are also able to ship the axle "Pressed," with the retainer plate, bearing, seal and wheel studs installed for a small fee. We found this extremely helpful since we didn't have to press the parts onto the axle shaft ourselves.

Photo by: Jeff Yokomura
On the left is the original axle shaft. Next to it is the new Superior Heavy Duty haft ready to be installed.

Since the XJ Dana 44 lacks C-clips, removing the old axle shaft was easy. Once the axle is in the air and the brake drum removed, there are only four bolts in your way. To get to the bolts you have to align the hole in the axle flange with the bolt. Once all four bolts are removed the axle shaft can be pulled out of the housing. When the axle shaft is removed the bearing race is left in the axle tube. This has to be removed before the new axle shaft can be installed. The race usually requires some help in extricating it from the axle tube. A slide hammer is usually used. But because we lacked the right tool, we improvised and used a gear puller with some extra parts from a bearing remover tool that was too small for the job. Once on, the gear puller was able to move the race a few millimeters at first. The arms of the gear puller weren't able to get a good grip on the race and would fall off after each try.

Photo by: Jeff Yokomura
It's done, well not quite. The retainer needs to be bolted to the housing flange so the shaft doesn't walk out.

Once the bearing started to move it became easier to remove. With the bearing out, the new axle shaft is ready to be installed. The new bearing race falls into place with the axle shaft so no special tools are needed. The bolts to the retainer are then reinstalled and torqued to the recommended specification in the Service manual. Once the axle shaft is back in the brake drum, the tire can be remounted. That's it. No more people honking and flagging you down to tell you that your tire is about to fall off. Also, you'll have the assurance that the new axle shaft is stronger then the old one it replaced.

Contacts Related Links
  • Superior Axle & Gears
    3954 Whiteside Street
    Los Angeles, CA 90063
    Phone 888-522-2953
    Fax 323-268-9085
  • Drivetrain Direct
    1477 Davril Circle
    Corona, California 92880
    Phone: 888-584-4327
    Phone: 909-272-0158
    Fax: 877-550-4327

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