|Ultimate Jeep Wrangler Dana 30 - Warn axle shafts||Short Cuts|
|by: Ron Hollatz
|Check out the ears on the axle shafts|
|Stock vs. Warn inner axles|
|Notice the U-joint cap size between the stock 260X (top) and new 297X (bottom) U-joints|
|Now I have traction with 3 wheels on the ground|
When Spicer 260X U-joints just aren't enough
At the time I ordered my hub conversion kit it was available with either Spicer 260X or 297X U-joints. I would have liked to upgrade to the larger size U-joints but at the time there was just no easy way to do it. I had been told the 1995 Wranglers came with the larger size but I would have had to come up with an inner axle shaft for both sides. Jeep XJ Cherokees also used a Dana 30 front axle and some were available with a 1-piece passenger side inner axle (instead of the vacuum disconnect 2 piece) but I was never able to get a definite answer if they would be a bolt in swap.
Warn now offers a kit to convert the axle to a 5 on 5 1/2 bolt circle using premium hubs and a modified CJ brake rotor. I really wish this had been available since my rear axle shafts are drilled with both bolt patterns. For the first year the stock U-joint size worked great but my wife and I had just relocated to Minnesota so I never really had a chance to stress the axle.
In the spring of 1999 I made the trek to the Easter Jeep Safari in Moab with a group of friends from Minnesota and my troubles began. While on the Hell's Revenge Trail I decided to try the optional Mickey's Hot Tub obstacle. On my second try I gave it a little more gas than required and brought both front tires off the ground as I rocketed out. Although it looked really impressive, the drivers-side U-joint disintegrated. It was cool having my picture in a magazine, but I would have preferred if it were of my whole Jeep instead of just the front axle. I could have unlocked the hubs and driven out, but I had the needed parts along and our tailgunner thought it would be best if I changed it then.
Our next trip was to northern Minnesota over the Fourth of July weekend. There was nothing real challenging but I did wander into a hub deep hole filled with concrete-like mud. As I was being strapped out, the passenger side U-joint let go. This time I decided to drive back to camp and clean off the first couple of inches of mud that covered everything below the tub. After disassembly we noticed the ears on the stock inner axle had been deformed while the Warn outer shaft looked like new, which really demonstrated the difference in materials.
Our final trip of the summer was going to be The Dakota Territory Challenge in the Black Hills of South Dakota. This event has been described as one of the toughest in the nation. I knew something had to be done or it was going to be a real long weekend.
After a quick call to Warn I decided to upgrade to the larger 297X U-joint and their 4340 alloy inner and outer axles. I really hated scrapping the year old outer shafts that had come with the hub kit but I needed the extra strength.
While speaking with the people at Warn I found out they were also planning on selling the 1 piece passenger side inner axle shaft as a kit. This would include the axle shaft, 2 seals, and a block-off plate for the vacuum-disconnect motor. With the factory setup, gear lube is allowed to flow from the differential to the vacuum motor to allow lubrication of the vacuum assembly. A seal is located inside the axle tube that needs to be changed to one matching the diameter of the new shaft and another seal is added in the pumpkin on the passenger's side. I also changed the driver's side since I've seen a lot of Wranglers leaking lube through the stock seals after the axle shafts have been removed and reinstalled a couple of times. We fabricated a tool (pictures are included with Warn's excellent instructions) with a piece of threaded rod and a couple of washers that made this real easy.
The differential carrier needs to be removed to install the seals, but this does not affect the ring and pinion settings as long as the carrier bearings remain attached to the carrier and the pinion is left in the housing. Just make sure you mark the bearing caps so they can be installed in the same position. It's a good idea to measure the preload and backlash before and after as a sanity check. Here's a hint: Remember there is an inner axle shaft which needs to be pushed out of the way before the carrier comes out. If the carrier does not come out easily with a little persuasion do not hook up you tow vehicle to apply more pressure (right John?).
The reassembly is straightforward as long as you have the correct shafts. Warn reversed the part numbers for the outer axles in their catalog so I had to wait a couple of days to put the shafts back in. I have nothing but good things to say about the way Warn treats its customers. They have always been quick to respond and will do everything in their power to keep you satisfied. The vacuum motor is removed during the disassembly and the plate provided by Warn is installed in its place. I just plugged the vacuum lines for now, but I'll eventually remove them completely. The way it is setup now there is no 4WD indicator light but I may try to devise something up in the future.
Another feature of the Warn axle shafts is the option of using full circle retaining rings instead of the traditional "c"-clip. I chose Spicer solid U-joints for the front axle. U-joints with a grease fitting are convenient but I made the decision to change them more frequently as part of my maintenance schedule. I'm sure I'll hear from people who think that is excessive, but this way I know they are undamaged.
While it's apart let's put in a Detroit Soft locker