- Article/photo's courtesy of:
- Steven Hunt (AKA Waxer)We all have read and seen the many many postings about upgrading our axles. All we hear about is the 14 bolt this and 14 bolt that. Well that’s all fine and dandy that we upgrade our rear axle to a 14 bolt, but what about the front axle that is still 6 lug? Not everyone can afford the time/money to swap it for a D60. So we are left with either carrying 2 spare tires (1 per axle) or researching on how to upgrade our front axle to 8 lug.
6 Lug to 8 Lug Conversion
In this article I will explain how to swap a D44 6 lug axle into an 8 lug version. It will work the same for the 10 bolt axles that some of you have. There are 2 versions of Dana 44 axles in which the later version you can still use the 1/2 ton spindles, but the earlier version you must upgrade to the 3/4 spindles. One call to Border Parts (address & phone number listed below) will tell you which version you have. It is by far is one of the easiest upgrades I’ve done. The hardest part is obtaining all the necessary parts to complete the job. To eliminate any confusion, a list of parts follows:
1: D44 ¾ Ton spindles.
2: D44 ¾ Ton backing plates (also known as Caliper Supports)
3: D44 ¾ Ton hub/rotor assemblies. (can be purchased separately, but easier just to get them together).
4: D44 ¾ Ton bearings/races. (Timkens are the only brand I use, but its your own preference here).
5: New seals for the axle shafts should be considered, especially since they are only $5 each side and also come with the necessary bushing that goes in between the spindle and axle shaft.
6: 2 locking nuts and washer per side which also come in a pack for around $13.
7: Your existing locking hubs can be used on the ¾ ton hubs no problem as they are the same diameter.
8: Last but not least, some good marine grease. Marine grease is recommended as it has fantastic water repelling properties which are very useful for water crossings, mud holes, etc. that we encounter with what we do out there.
All these parts can be obtained NEW from local parts stores that KNOW what they are doing. I found mine at a shop in San Diego called "Border Parts". They ran me roughly $575 for everything. Now I know that every part listed can be found in the local junkyards for a fraction of the cost that I paid, but keep in mind that certain things should just be bought new regardless, i.e. bearings/races, and seals. I had NO luck at all finding a donor axle in any of the local junkyards around me. After searching for over a year I just said to hell with it and bought it all new. Grim Reaper can vouch for me on that (especially since I bugged him every time I saw him to keep an eye out for these parts)… thanks anyways Grimmy.
Tools required to do this swap aren’t extravagant or complex. Most of your basic tools will get it done, but the most important tool to have, and if you don’t have it then don’t even bother starting this job is the Hub socket. It can be purchased from your local parts store, NAPA carries it, and even JC Whitney (who I bought mine from) carries the socket. Costs around $15 and it’s a necessity. You’ll need it in the future to repack your wheel bearings or to do a simple brake job anyway, so ya might as well get it.
1. Find a nice level area and park your rig with the parking brake on, or if ya don’t have one then put blocks in front and back of your rear wheels. Remember, Safety first…
2. Jack up the axle and put it on jack stands. Remove your wheels, then the calipers and secure them out of the way. Don’t just let them hang from the brake line, actually secure them as that could damage the brake lines.
3. Remove the locking hubs with an allen wrench, then use a small screw driver or pick to remove the inner and outer lock rings to get the inner splines out. Then use a couple of the allen bolts that held the locking hub in and screw them in so you can pull out the inner spline.
4. Now here’s where you grab your Hub Socket and take off the first lock nut. Remove the washer and the second lock nut and you can pull the rotor/hub assembly right off. At this point you can see the 6 nuts that hold the spindle & caliper support onto the knuckle. Remove the 6 nuts and the small bolt (if equipped still) that holds the splash shield to the knuckle as well.
5. Now depending on how long that spindle has been on there, you might have to get a rubber mallet and give it a couple whacks to break it free from the knuckle. I have no rubber mallet so I used a 2x4 so it wouldn’t damage the spindle.
Remove 6 Spindle Nuts
6. Once you get that out of the way you should see a bare knuckle. Take a scraper and remove any rust, crud, mud, or whatever that might be on its flat surface. You want it to be clean so when you put the ¾ ton spindle on, it mates flush with the knuckle surface. I used some WD40 and a scrub pad to get it cleaned up.
Removing Spindle Nuts
7. Also, now is a good time to replace that rubber seal that is on the axle shaft. Clean up the surface where the seal mates as crud could prevent it from sealing up right.
Cleaning Up Knuckle
8. Now get your ¾ ton spindle and put a handful of grease on its backside. You will see an outer lip, you want to fill it with grease up to the lip. There’s no such thing as too much grease here. When you mate that spindle, all that grease will be pressed into the spindles bearings and also make it easier for the next time you need to get that spindle off.
Replacing Rubber Seal
9. Put the spindle on the knuckle first, then the ¾ ton backing plate/caliper support. Before you put the 6 nuts back on, it’s a good idea to put some lock-tight on the bolt threads. Those bolts are critical as they are what hold your wheels onto the axle. Now you can tighten up the bolts in a back and forth sequence. The same as you would your tire lug nuts. So you get an even fit.
10. If you got your parts new you’ll have to install the bearing races into the hub assembly or if you got used ones from the boneyard now is the perfect time to get new bearings/races as well. You can tap out the old races with a punch, but when you put the new ones in you MUST use a brass drift so you wont damage the new races as they could chip.
Installing Spindle to Knuckle
11. Once you get the races in, you just pack your bearings with some fresh marine grease and put the inner bearing in the hub with the seal tapped into place. Now you can install the hub onto the spindle. Put the outer bearing in and start threading the inner locknut. (inner locknut has a pin that points outward). Other than that, they look the same so don’t get them confused. There is a particular torque setting that is applied when you initially tighten up so you properly seat the bearings. You’ll have to consult your Haynes manual for it but I’ll give the general description. Tighten the first lock nut while spinning the wheel so the bearings seat properly, tighten till its snug (not too tight where the wheel wont turn anymore) but tight enough that the wheel starts to slow down a little bit after you spin it. Then the tricky part comes where you play "Line up the ducks" with the washer. You might have to tighten or loosen up the lock nut to align the pin with the washer but once you got that you’re set. Outer lock nut goes on and then you can put your locking hubs back on. Don’t forget the inner and outer lock rings (been there, don’t do that).
12. Now all that’s left is the caliper. New pads would be a good idea as everything else is basically new. After you get the calipers on you’ll have to put the 8 lug rim up there to see how much of the caliper you may need to grind off, if any. It looked to me that the top edge of the caliper and part of the caliper support needed to be grinded off, most cases you will not need to grind unless you are installing a Dana 60 with the larger brakes.
Packing Bearings with Fresh Grease
13. After the grinding is done and you get the wheel up there with out it touching anything your job is now done. You can break out the beers and pat yourself on the back for you did an excellent job and upgraded your front axle once and for all. Well maybe not for all, you might want to bother with a D60 one day.
Clearance Between Rim and Caliper
Caliper May Need a Little Grinding
Like I said in the beginning, this upgrade was by far one of the easiest I have done. I can now carry only 1 spare tire and have the peace of mind knowing everything is done, and done right. I added strength to my axle by way of 2 more lugs, larger bearings, thicker spindle, and beefier caliper support.