My Jeep
Rear D44 Axle Install

Dana44 Rear Axle Install

D44 Prep and Install | E-Brake mods | Used Gears

Dana 44 Prep and Install
By the Spring of 2004 I decided Stinky needed an upgrade. The Chrysler 8.25" axle in the rear had a pinion leak, and the axle design is limited to only 4.56 as the deepest possible gearset. Additionally, since it was a 1996 model, the axle could have had 27 or 29-spline axleshafts but a quick check determined it to be the earlier 27-spline version. While still stronger than the Dana 35 axle that was also an option in the Cherokee, the later 29-spline version is more robust and has more options available for lockers. However, this wasn't what I planned - I wanted a strong axle that I could gear deeper if needed. Fortunately, in 1987 Jeep put a Dana 44 under the Cherokee. The D44 is a strong axle found in 1/2-ton trucks and has been found in front and rear applications under many trucks for years.

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...
Axle Tube width
Dana35 2.62"
Dana44 2.75"
C8.25 3.00"

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.

Corroded after only one winter's use
MgCl corrosion on the center pin after only one year

Installing the axle is little different than any of the lifts I have done; after blocking the front wheels I lifted the back end securely on jackstands and removed the driveshaft. After loosening the u-bolts, and disconnecting the brakeline the axle can be rolled away since you left the wheels on. Slide the D44 underneath, and lift it in place. Switch out the u-bolts for properly-sized ones and modify the springplate if needed, and loosely connect the u-bolts.

Chrysler 8.25 Brake Junction and Vent Hose
Chrysler 8.25 Brake Junction and Vent Hose
The vent hose runs from the axle up into the framerail, but the location differs between the two axles. On the upper picture, the vent hose is plugged directly into the junction block of the brakeline. It may not look like it, but the hose is pressed onto a barbed fitting that passes through the junction block. Pull that off if needed, or just rotate the hose as you remove the bolt through the junction.
Dana44 Brake Junction and Vent Hose
Dana44 Brake Junction and Vent Hose
The D44 has a separate junction block and vent - at least on mine the thread was the same and I actually used the hollow connecting bolt from the C8.25 on the D44. The D44 junction block uses a separate bolt to hold it down, some versions may need a thick washer placed under the head of the bolt to help seal it in place.

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.

E-Brake cables
Note - this procedure is only applicable to 1998-earlier Cherokees

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.

Yes, those u-bolt ends have been cut shorter since I took that picture.

E-brake Cable Pull
The stock threaded rod on the cable pull isn't long enough to hold the YJ cables so it needs to be lengthened. Oddly, I needed to shorten the original rod by about an inch in order for this to work correctly since otherwise the cable pull bracket interfered with the connecting nut. I grabbed a 4" section of 8mm threaded rod, a few nuts, a long connecting nut and some red threadlocker to create this:
Threaded rod and connector nuts

Once the length had been worked out, I could add the cable pull and another nut to adjust the length.
Extended connector rod with cable pull
Extended connector rod with 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.

Used Gears
I made the mistake early on of trying to save a buck. After getting a great deal on the axle, I found what I thought was a good deal on some low-mileage 4.56 gears. That was mistake number one. I also paid too much money to a garage mechanic to have him set up the gears before I installed the axle. That was mistake number two.

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.

e-mail Jim
created: Aug 1, 2004
Updated Sep 19, 2005