|Building the ultimate Wrangler Dana 30||Short Cuts|
|by: Ron Hollatz
|Stock Wrangler hub and bearing assembly|
|Warn hub and new brake rotor|
|The easy way to break a U-joint in Mickey's Hot Tub during the 1999 Easter Jeep Safari.|
How can I upgrade my Wrangler's stock Dana 30?
One of the most frequent questions I see in Jeep forums and newsgroups is, "how can I upgrade my stock axles?" Most Jeepers agree the factory rear Dana 35 in Jeep Wranglers needs to be replaced as soon as possible, but there is a lot of disagreement about the front Dana 30. The Dana 30 has been used in the front of Jeeps and other vehicles for many years, but the Wrangler version is unique. Since its introduction in 1987, the Wrangler Dana 30 has used a reverse-cut gear set but the pinion was changed in the 1997 and later TJs. From 1987 to 1994, the smaller Spicer 260X U-joints and a problematic axle-disconnect was used. The 1995 and later Wranglers use the larger Spicer 297X U-joint and the axle-disconnect was replaced by a 1-piece passenger's side axle shaft. The Wrangler also used a unique steering knuckle design that makes axle shaft swaps from most other vehicles impossible. Many people consider the lack of locking hubs to be the major shortcoming. I'm going to concentrate on the upgrade options for my 1994 Wrangler, but most of these upgrades can be made to any Wrangler Dana 30 and I'll try to include any differences as I go along.
The story of my Dana 30 starts during the summer of 1996 when I purchased a basic (except for a 4.0L) 1994 Jeep Wrangler. Never think you are just going to add a little bit of lift to put on some larger tires, it's a never-ending spiral from there. Within a couple of months I installed a 4" lift and found out I needed to change the gears to compensate for the 33" tires. After speaking with quite a few Jeepers I decided to put a Dana 44 in the rear, an Atlas transfer case, and Detroit Truetracs with 4.56 gears in both pumpkins. I suffer from a condition fellow staff writer Jefe Reynolds calls "incrementalism". This means I have spent more money upgrading my Dana 30 over the past couple of years then I would have spent swapping in a Dana 44. For some people these gradual upgrades will make sense but if you are thinking of doing them all at once just say no, your credit card bill will be much lower in the long run.
The Beginning: Warn locking hub conversion
At the SEMA show a few years back, Warn introduced a kit to convert the non-serviceable Wrangler hubs to Ford Bronco II type locking hubs. I ordered this kit as soon as it was available to the public and I've loved it ever since. The kit is not cheap, but to me the advantages were worth it. Warn spent a lot of time designing this kit and it works really well. A lot of people have expressed concern over the durability of the Bronco II type hubs but Warn used a new alloy in the manufacturing that is said to be twice the strength. I ordered an extra hub with my kit and have been carrying it around in my boonie box but I've never needed it. Since I flat-tow my Jeep to events it really is nice to just unlock the hubs to reduce drag. I can also run any locker I want in the front and not worry about fighting it on the streets. I also gained a couple of miles per gallon that is not easy to do on a vehicle shaped like a brick. If I do something really stupid off-road, like that's ever going to happen, I can unlock the front hubs and limp out in 2WD.
I'm not going to get into the installation details, since Warn supplies a very detailed instruction booklet they will fax or mail to you if you give them a call. The kit includes the hubs, 27-spline outer axle shafts, spindles, Spicer U-joints, and all the required bearings and seals. You can get the kit with 260X or 297X U-joints. If at all possible go with the larger size, it will save you a lot of grief.
The outer axle shafts are Warn's special alloy with a lifetime guarantee and I haven't heard of many breaking. I've broken the U-joints on both sides and wrecked the ears on a stock inner shaft but the Warn shafts still look like new. I did have to change my front rotors from a composite rotor to the earlier solid rotor and had to have the center hole machined out. It's a good idea to replace the brake pads and rotors anyway, but you should figure in that expense up front. Getting the center hole machined proved to be a challenge in the small city in which I live. I was on my 8th and last machine shop in town before I found one to do it. I tried doing it over the phone, which probably made it more difficult. Next time I'll make the rounds of the shops with the brake rotors to show what I need done.
The only other difficult part was removing the old U-joints to swap the outer axles. Since I don't have a press I did it with hand tools. Later on I found a local shop that will install them for $5.00 a piece. I now use their services, my wife feels it's money well-spent. The only special tool needed is a Dana 44 sized spindle nut socket to put everything back together. It's nice to be able to disassemble the front axle and grease the bearings, something you can't do with the stock sealed bearing units.
When Spicer 260X U-joints just aren't enough