Solid Axle Swap Part 3- Steering Short Cuts

| Toyota Tech | Toyota Section | |

By: Harry Wagner- 2/2003

Part 1 Replacing the IFS with Leaf Springs| Part 2 Custom Dana 44 | Part 3 Hydraulic Assist Steering


When we left off, the narrowed Dana 44 had been rebuilt and hung under the Toyota. Now the steering needed to be addressed. Since this is a custom application, there is no kit on the market. If I had used a Toyota axle, I could have chosen from a number of aftermarket steering systems. Instead, I had to fabricate custom parts, which in turn lead me to contact several different vendors.

Steering Arms

The passenger side knuckle, milled and drilled for the steering arm.
The OTT Industries steering arms are a work of art.

To allow the crossover steering to be located above the springs, you may recall that the flat top passenger side knuckle on our Dana 44 was milled and tapped by Niles Enterprises. OTT raised steering arms where ordered from Inchworm Gear for this purpose. The OTT raised arms were chosen for their beefy construction and use of two tapered holes on the passenger side, allowing both the tie rod and the drag link to be mounted directly to the steering arm. I feel that this setup is preferable to using the Chevy tie rod end tapered to accept the drag link end (PN ES2233L) because with higher lifts the tie rod can rotate down under steering input and result in vague steering.

The driver's side arm mounted on the knuckle.

While I am pleased with the quality of the OTT steering arms, they are a poor choice if you are in a hurry. Jim Christiansen at Inchworm Gear told me this ahead of time so there were no surprises. The raised steering arms allow the tie rod to clear both the springs and the frame through a full range of motion. I had an issue with the OTT arms because I wanted to use large, 1 ton Chevy tie rod ends. I did not specify this to Inchworm or OTT and and received arms tapered for the smaller, earlier Chevy tie rod ends (PN ES150). While OTT offered to retaper the arms free of charge, I decided to purchase a tapered reamer and modify the arms myself due to time constraints. I was able to find a reamer in the correct size and taper at a local hardware store for $50.

The stock pitman arm modified with the FROR insert.

The stock pitman arm was reused with the addition of a Front Range Off-Road Fabrication tapered insert to fit a Chevy drag link end. The spring pins on the All-Pro springs relocate the axle 1 forward from stock, which is good for tire to fenderwell clearance but can create interference between the tie rod and pitman arm. I was hoping to just run a bumpstop to eliminate interference, however this will severely limit my compression travel. In order to alleviate the tie rod and pitman arm interference it will be necessary to position the steering box further forward on the frame. Another option would be to use a different pitman arm. Other Toyota owners have replaced the stock pitman arm with a shorter, modified FJ-80 arm from Front Range Off-Road Fabrication or aftermarket arm from OTT Industries or Sky Manufacturing. The shorter arm will slow down the steering and provide less of leverage but offer more clearance. Additionally, the shorter arm may not provide a wide enough range of motion on an open knuckle Dana axle, even if the range is sufficient for a close knuckle birfield equipped axle.

Tie Rod & Drag Link

I do not own a 7/8-18 left hand tap, so I purchased left and right hand threaded inserts from Avalanche Engineering. The ends were TIG welded into a 41 long piece of 1.25 .125 wall DOM tubing and then loaded with new Moog tie rod ends (PN ES2234R and PN ES2233L) from Summit Racing. The drag link was similarly made, but is only 26 long and capped with Moog drag link ends (PN ES2026R and PN ES2027L), which offer a wider range of motion than tie rod ends. All of the ends are from a one ton Chevrolet application. Note that only end ES2026R comes with a jam nut (or at least that is the only one I got with a jam nut). The 7/8-18 nuts (Chevy PN 14024805 and PN 14024806) are extremely hard to find, I ended up getting mine from Parts Mike. If you are in a hurry for steering components, I highly recommend that you contact Parts Mike. I ordered my jam nuts Thursday afternoon and they were waiting for me when I got home for work the next day.

Different shots of the steering during the setup process.

Hydraulic Assist

West Texas Off-Road rebuilt and modified my stock steering box.
A fixed mount for the ram was built on the spring plate.

Due to the Detroit locker in front, I opted to add hydraulic steering from West Texas Off-Road. My stock steering box was rebuilt and tapped for hydraulic lines, which connect to a 1 x 6 steering ram. OTT provided me with a driver's side steering arm with two tapered holes at my request. This is an application they make for right hand drive vehicles overseas. I ended up not using the extra tapered hole on the steering arm, but its addition does not cause any problems. I wanted the ram to be mounted exactly parallel to the tie rod and have the mounts on each end be as short (vertically) as possible, as they will experience extremely high loads. My only complaint about the West Texas Off-Road hydraulic assist system is that the hoses that it comes with do not have swivel fittings on them. This makes mounting and positioning the hoses more difficult than necessary.

I finally decided on custom mounts made out of the tabs sent from West Texas Off-Road. For the fixed end of the ram a spring plate was fabricated out of out of steel with tabs for the ram. Ideally I would have liked to mount the ram to the axle tube, but I opted for the spring mount because it kept the ram out of harm's way and parallel to the tie rod at all times. On the steering end the tabs were TIG welded directly onto the tie rod, with gussets to resist bending.

Steering Costs (suggest retail)

The elusive 7/8-18 jam nut.

Steering Arms- $310
Studs and Cone Washers (3)- $20
Tapered Insert- $20
Tie Rod & Drag Link Inserts- $50
Tie Rod & Drag Link Material- $25
Tie Rod & Drag Link Ends- $140
Jam Nuts- $25
Hydraulic Assist- $450
Ram Mounts- $20


The final component to complete the axle was a long travel, CV front driveshaft. For $289, High Angle Driveline reworked my original front driveshaft for more travel and added a 12" slip and the correct flanges for my application. I don't expect the driveshaft to produce any vibrations, even at highway speeds.

The collapsed front driveshaft is unassuming...
but look at the awesome spline travel when extended.

The entire expense for the new components was nearly $3000. While this is not cheap, the price is comparable to using a Toyota solid axle. Compromises could be made with regards to the carrier, brake rotors, front driveshaft, ring and pinion, and steering. These would drop the price dramatically. The end result is stronger than a Toyota axle and provides better braking and turning radius, with the option of adding chromoly axle shafts and super u-joints in the future if deemed necessary.

Sources: Related Links:
  • Avalanche Engineering
    9844 Titan Ct. #11
    Littleton, CO 80125
    Telephone: (303) 777-4820
  • Front Range Off-Road Fabrication
    24192 Red Feather Rd.
    Red Feather, CO 80545
    Telephone: (970) 881-2418
  • Inchworm Gear
    421 N. Buchanan Circle, #14
    Pacheco, CA 94553
    Telephone: (925) 766-6555
  • High Angle Driveline
    805 Elliott Rd., Suite G
    Paradise, CA 95969
    Telephone: 530-877-2875
  • Niles Enterprises
    225 Hillview Dr.
    Fremont, CA 94536
    Telephone: (510) 792-0660
  • OTT Industries
    Telephone: (604) 764-7871
  • Parts Mike
    750 Perry Ranch Rd
    Auburn, CA 95603
    Telephone: (530) 885-0673
  • Summit Racing
    PO Box 909
    Akron, OH 44309
    Telephone: (800) 230-3030
  • West Texas Off-Road
    6305 U.S. Hwy 277 South
    San Angelo, TX 76905
    Telephone: (915) 651-5010

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