Getting the Shaft: Replacing an Axle Shaft
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By: Jeff Yokomura - 9/2001
Time for an Upgrade!
|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.
|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.
|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.
|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
|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.
|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.
- Superior Axle & Gears
Los Angeles, CA 90063
- Drivetrain Direct
Corona, California 92880
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