Dana44 Rear Axle Install
Dana 44 Prep and Install
I found a nice low priced Dana44 that came out of a low-mileage 1987 Cherokee, and after negotiations concluded there was a shiny 'new' axle sitting in back of my Jeep. D44s came in some '87 Cherokees, and are rumored to have been in 88s and 89s, but after years of talking about them to others I have yet to run across someone who can verify that they found a Cherokee Dana44 as anything other than a 1987 model.
The axle on its way to a new home...
Make sure you get the right u-bolts to go with the D44; the springplate should fit regardless of the axle model although you may need to open the holes up slightly. Although intended for the C8.25", my old u-bolts with a 3" inner diameter will fit the smaller D44, but don't rely on it. Get new u-bolts that are the correct size for the axle.
To me, the most irritating part of the D44 installation had nothing to do with the axle. If you read my 4.5" RE6130 install, you may remember that when I installed it I ground the center pins down to fit the 8.25" spring perches. After installing the Dana44 I decided it was time to correct that so I ordered new u-bolts and center pins to go with my 4* shims. I was surprised to find that after only a year in the axle, the Colorado Department of Transportation's moronic idea to use Magnesium Chloride (MgCl) on the roads had taken its toll on the center pin. The result below is actually the better-looking of the two; the passenger-side one actually was missing a good deal of material that had simply rotted away. They required immediate replacement and I'll have to pull my leaves annually to inspect them now.
MgCl corrosion on the center pin after only one year
Once the axle is in place, the brake junction block and vent hose need to be connected as seen above. Tighten down the u-bolts, bleed the brakes, reconnect the driveshaft and wheels, and there ya go...ready to run but you still need a way to hold it in place when stopped.
One of the downsides to the 4.5" lift was that the stock e-brake cables were stretched too far, requiring the use of longer ones. I had heard various reports that later-model YJ Wrangler e-brake cables are the answer, but there were conflicting reports about whether 91 or 92 was the right year for the changeover. I avoided all that and ordered two passenger (right-side) '94 Wrangler cables, Raybestos p/n BC94371 from a local auto parts store.
One of my sources of inspiration was this writeup on 4x4wire.com, and the author says a '91 and newer passenger-side YJ cable is the way to go. This info is only accurate for the 1998-older Jeep Cherokees, since those cables run up the transmission tunnel and are activated by a center-mounted e-brake handle. Around that time the e-brake cables were moved to the driver's (left) side framerail, and are no longer equal-length. If you have the later-model e-brake with the framerail bracket, check out MadXJ.com for a solution.
Once you've got the cables, they need to be routed. In the original application they exit the wheel backing plates and run forward and up away from the axle, meeting in the middle over the driveshaft where they are held close to the body by a pair of springs on each side. This design puts them at risk to being snagged by branches and trail debris.
The YJ cables are actually long enough that there wasn't room underneath to follow the stock path. To make up some of that space I decided to cross the cables before they moved forward. I removed the driveshaft to more easily work in this area, and looking toward the rear of the Jeep you can see that the cables cross over each otherover the axle before heading forward.
Believe it or not, there's a method to my madness. The cable coming from the passenger-side wheel is the lower one, and I used it to help keep the driver's side cable away from the exhaust after the crossover. I still had two of the original springs so used those in the forward locations to hold both springs up.
The YJ cables had a metal hanger around them, but the angle was wrong to mount anywhere so I bent them a few times to remove them and then clipped the cables in place with the stock XJ bracket.
In the above photo, you can see the forward cable ends. These will hook into the original e-brake cable pull after I modify the threaded end.
E-brake Cable Pull
So that's it...fairly simple, no? The Dana 44 offers a strength upgrade over the Dana35, and allows more gearing and locker options than the Chrysler 8.25" while also eliminating the c-clips that have caused problems with other axles.
What I learned soon afterward is that once gears have been set up in an axle they begin to break in with a particular pattern. Moving them to another axle will result in noise since the exact pattern off the original housing cannot be duplicated. Allow me to repeat that, moving broken-in gears to another axle will result in noise. Unless the axle is going to be used on a off-road only rig, or if you have selectable hubs that let you disengage the gears I would strongly advise you to use only new gears.
I have since corrected the original mistake by taking the Jeep to Off-Road Innovations (ORI) in Centennial, Colorado to let Chris and his crew do the install on some new Spicer gears. It ended up costing more in the long run, but they did great work and I wouldn't hesitate recommending them in the future.
XJ D44 axle lengths aren't quite mirror images of each other; they measure 29 1/8" and 29 3/4", with the driver's side being the shorter of the two.