Review: 4Crawler Offroad High Clearance Axle Kit Short Cuts

| Toyota Tech | Toyota Section | |

By: Tim Stucky. 8/2003

Stuck on the diff

How many times have you had your forward progress on a difficult obstacle or section of trail halted, only to look under the vehicle and see it stuck on one or both of the differentials? Have you ever wished for a little more clearance underneath the 3rd member without buying new tires? Even worse, have you ever lost a drain plug and had to retrace your path to find it? If you answered yes to any of the aforementioned questions, then 4Crawler Offroad Products has the solution for you.

After returning home from my last trail outing, I noticed the bottoms of my differentials were looking extremely beat up. A few days earlier on the trail, the drain plug had nearly fallen out due to scraping it over and over on rocks. Losing a drain plug on the trail can spoil a good day very quickly, especially if it is not immediately noticed. Fearing the idea of having to follow the trail of oil left on the ground by my plugless axle, then collecting it all for environmental reasons was more than enough persuasion to look for a solution to this potential problem. 4Crawler Offroad Products manufactures a number of high quality custom parts including, body lift kits, spring shackles, axle shims, Rock Sliderz and high clearance axle kits to name a few. These are products that have been thoroughly trail tested and are built to last.

Noticable difference
Pieces for the rear

The 4Crawler high clearance axle kit solves many problems in one shot. First and foremost, it incorporates a truly flat bottom with nothing that will hinder it from sliding over rocks instead of grabbing them. Instead of using the stock drain plug to drain the differential oil, the 2 bottom studs are just removed and replaced with bolts. Second, it is made of 1/4" thick steel which is a significant upgrade from the 3/16" thickness in the face of the housing. Finally, it gives a 3/4" - 1" increase in clearance which is nearly equivalent to a 2" tire size increase. In my case, it would be like switching from 35" to 37" models without having to raise the vehicle's center of gravity any higher.

Removing the studs

I received the kit one day after I placed my order and was glad to see the plates along with a template and fairly detailed direction sheet. The template makes life much easier and also ensures that you don't over cut and possibly ruin your housing. Eager to get started, I removed the rear axle from the truck drained the oil and began tearing it down. I removed everything until I had just a bare housing. After cleaning the inside of the housing out and properly disposing of all the gear oil, I removed the lower four studs that secure the 3rd member to the housing.

The next step was to mark the area to be cut and actually cut it. I took my time and was sure to make the first cut rather conservative in order not to cut too much out. Using the supplied template, I marked the bottom of the housing and prepared to make the cut. You can use a variety of tools including a cutoff wheel, plasma cutter, sawzall, or oxy-acetylene torch. For lack of having a plasma cutter on hand, I grabbed the oxy-acetylene torch, fired it up, took a deep breath and started cutting. About a minute later I had a large hole in the bottom of the axle housing and it was time to start grinding.

Set in nicely
It took lots of grinding!

I purposely made the cut a bit small so I could make sure that I got the plate to drop in just right. I spent about 3 hours grinding to get the plate to drop in as perfectly as possible. The better the plate drops in, the easier time you'll have welding it back up with a smaller chance of leaks. After much grinding and sweating (it was about 103 degrees in the shop) the plate fit in nicely and was ready to be welded back up. For this step, 4Crawler recommends to first tack weld the corners, double check the fitment, then weld short sections at a time giving the housing ample time to cool in between welds. This is to prevent the housing from warping from the extreme heat of welding. I also put water in the bottom (top actually) of the housing which seemed to help soak up some of the heat. Before long I was ready to start grinding down the welds in order to really get the bottom smooth. This isn't absolutely necessary, however, if you're going to go to all the work necessary to get it this far, you may as well finish the job so you're happy with it in the long run. I ground the welds down until there was no apparent seam between the plate and the stock housing. Next, I flipped the housing over and filled the bottom with paint thinner to check for any leaks. I noticed one small leak so I drained the paint thinner, rewelded the area with the leak and repeated the process until there were no leaks that I could detect. Once I was satisfied that there were no leaks, I finished the job by welding the skid plate on. This plate will protect against any incidental rock bashings that could dent the housing and damage the ring gear.

Cutting a portion of the axle housing off and rewelding in a new section is not for the faint at heart, novice welder, or first time mechanic. It takes a considerable amount of time, effort, and patience to make this modification work correctly. 4Crawler's kit makes it much easier than making the parts from scratch. What seems like a small axle upgrade actually solves multiple problems often associated with the stock Toyota axle housing. The bottom is smooth, allowing it to slide over rocks, the bothersome drainplug is gone, and nearly an inch of clearance is gained depending on where measurements are taken. If you're into rockcrawling and are looking to eliminate a potential weakness in your rig before it becomes apparent on the trail, take a good look at 4Crawler's High Clearance Axle Kits.

Tacked welded, ground smooth, and the finished product before the skid plate.

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