VA4WDA [Home] [About] [Events] [Members] [By-Laws] [4x4 Tech] [Forums] [Links]


XJ D44 buildup and install

Write up and work performed by Steve Leslie

***DISCLAIMER - Please note that this writeup reflects my experiences only and anyone using it for reference or as a guide, etc. does so at their own risk. You may link to this writeup, but you must obtain my permission to re-post it elsewhere.***

This writeup will cover the buildup of a Dana 44 out of an 87 XJ and the subsequent installation of that axle into a 97 XJ. The axle recieved new alloy shafts and a disc brake conversion. It was not regeared nor locked (both will come at later dates). There's a lot that has been "glossed over" in this writeup. If you have any specific questions on the work performed shoot me an email.

History and Objective
After our March wheeling trip, the XJ was brought in for an alignment. When it could not be dialed in correctly, the owner of the shop did some checking with a tape measure and level bar and discovered that the drivers side tube on my 8.25 axle was bent. Total deflection was approximatley 1 inch. Rather than just replace it with another 8.25, I began looking into upgrade options. A Ford 8.8 was briefly considered prior to settling on a D44 out of an 87-89 XJ.

Since this was an unexpected expense, after juggling some finances the decision was made to install alloy axle shafts, do a rear disc brake conversion and install a truss as well.

Some of the photos during the assembly were the first taken with a new (to me) camera. The light meter on it reads incorrectly and the pics came out a little underexposed.

Parts Aquired
The axle aquired is a D44 out of an 87 Cherokee with 3.54 gearing. It is completley open, which in the longer term is not an issue as it will recieve a locker (and re-gearing) when the Jeep gets it's next lift. The axle shafts were obtained from Superior Axle and Gear. New shaft bearings and seals were also installed as well as a new pinion seal. For the disc brake conversion, I went with caliper brackets from The Streetrod Mfg., calipers (with e-brakes on the calipers) from an EL-Dorado (among other GM vehicles), and rotors also from a variety of GM vehicles. Steel braided lines from Rubicon Express were used for the calipers as well as an extended line to replace the stock line from the body to the axle. A Warn diff skid was also installed and new 9/16"x8" Ubolts (thicker and longer than stock) were used to secure the axle to the springs.

Coming soon for the axle will be a custom truss assembly from DozerDan that will bolt on to the diff and weld onto the tubes.

The following tools were used for this project:
Factory Service Manual
Floor jack and 4 Jack Stands
1/2" drive Torque Wrench (ft/lbs)
3/8" drive Torque wrench (in/lbs & ft/lbs)
3/8" and 1/2" drive ratchets, breakbars and sockets in metric and imperial sizes (including 22MM)
Open end and box wrenches (metric and imperial sizes)
Bendix Drum Brake Spring Tool
BFH - 3lb
Rubber Mallet
Welding equipment (Flux Core welder was used)
Angle grinder with wire brush wheel
Bench Grinder
Vacuum Pump
Safety Goggles
Work Gloves
PB Blaster
Anti-Seize Compound

Teardown and Removal of axle shafts
After removing the brake drums, it was time to remove the old brakes, axle shafts and and backing plates. Before any of that though the axle was placed on saw horses to help make it easier to work on.
Drums removed

First, the bendix tool was used to remove the main springs. Then the shoe retaining springs were removed, allowing the shoes themselves to be taken off. This was followed by removing the remaining hardware as well as the e-brake cable, and the brake cylinder.
Brakes removed

Next it was time to go after the axle shafts themselves. After applying copious amounts of PB Blaster, the retaining bolts were removed.
Removing the axle shaft retaining bolts

Then the highly speciallized and hard to find "beater bar" was used to actually remove the shaft (this could also be done with a slaphammer but mine is currently and mysteriously MIA, so I had to improvise). The bar was slipped through the hole where the brake cylinder once was. After 2 or 3 firm taps with a hammer the shaft popped right out
Removing the axle shaft Axle shaft unseated

Finally the drum backing plate was removed by simply tapping it with a hammer to remove it from the studs.
With the drum backing plate Without the drum backing plate

The same exact proceedure was used to do the other side of the axle.
Ready for the new shafts

Assembly and disc brake conversion
The first step was to have the new bearings, seals and lugs pressed onto/into the new axles. Rather then mess with this myself, I coughed up $30 to have a local machine shop do it.
The new alloy shafts with bearings already pressed on

Now here's where the first problem occurred. While test fitting all of the parts acquired for the upgrades, I found out that the hubs on the new axle shafts were 0.625" wider than the hubs on the stock shafts, 6.75" vs. 6.125. This would not be an issue with drum brakes. However, the I.D. of the rotors is only 6.25", so they would not fit over the new axle shafts. I solved this problem by having the machine shop lathe 5/16" off the edge of each hub (another $30). This reduced the O.D. of each hub to 6.125 (same as stock).
Before lathing After lathing

Next it was time to break out the wire wheel attachment for the angle grinder to clean up the mating surface of the axle end.
Before After

Then the new retaining studs were installed as well as the spacer plate. The spacer takes the place of the backing plate to keep the proper preload on the seal.
Spacer and new retaining bolts

The axle shafts were then slid into the tube and the splines engaged.

Then a wood block and hammer was used to gently tap the bearing and seal home.
Seating the bearing Seating the bearing

Next, it was time to install the brackets. The bracket system consists of a base bracket, which bolts to the axle tube at the retaining plate and a caliper bracket, which bolts to the base bracket with spacers inbetween. The caliper bracket is spaced to the inside of the Jeep away from the rotor.
Caliper bracket assembly

This took a lot of trial and error as they can install to orient the calipers in a number of different positions and it took some time to figure out exactly what position would be ideal for brake line and e-brake cable routing. In addition, finding the correct spacing to use so that the caliper would fit over the rotor corrrectly took additional time and patience.
Caliper bracket assembly

After everything was correctly fitted, it was time for final assembly of the rotors and calipers. Pretty straightforward at this point, since it had all been pre-fitted in the last step...slip the rotors over the hub, then install the calipers onto the brackets and bolt them into place.
After installing the rotor After installing the claiper Caliper and rotor assembly

The axle with the completed upgrades.
The complete assembly

After the brakelines retainers were welded on, the brakelines were run and the diff cover skid it was time to bolt this thing into the Jeep!

This was pretty much a bolt in job, but axles are not exactly light and I was doing this by was not too bad though.

I started by jacking up the Jeep, chocking the front wheels and using jackstands to support it at the "frame". The tires were then removed and it was time to start unbolting stuff. First the shocks were disconnected at the axle. Then, the e-brake cables were removed at the frame by loosening the tension nut until enough slack existed to remove the cable ends from the housing. This was followed by removing the drive shaft at the axle yolk (tape was used to keep the cups from falling off the u-joint while it was disconnected).

At this point I decided that I should probably start taking pictures. Rolling Eyes You can see all of the above disconnected in this one.
Everything disconnected

Next the rubber brakeline was disconnected from the hardline at the body (I put a can down to catch the fluid as it dripped out of the line). Then, the bolts on the diff cover were loosened and a catchpan was used to drain the fluid out of the diff.

Now it was time to get ready to drop the axle out. First, a jack was placed under the diff to support it.
Supporting the diff

Then the u-bolts and nutplates were removed.
U-bolt nut removal Nut plate and u-bolts removed

At last the old, bent, POS 8.25 was dropped out of the Jeep. The drums and brakes were removed to extract the e-brake cables for re-use.
Out with the old...

Now it was time to install the new axle.
...and in with the new

This was kind of an adventure lining it up on my own. What I ended up doing was getting it under the Jeep using the floor jack and then setting it on jackstands. I would then shift it around on the stands and reset the floor jack. After a couple of resets I finally had it lined up and installed the new u-bolts/nutplates as well as the shocks and connected the driveshaft and brakeline.
The axle bolted in the truck

Now, it was on to the e-brake install. The parking brake is incorporated into the caliper. You can see in this pic where the parking brake cable goes. The cable runs through the spring and connects to the lever.
Emergency brake lever on the caliper

This step could not be skipped as the rear calipers adjust off the parking brake. The rear calipers utilize a one way clutch inside the caliper pistons. When the parking brake is applied the clutch senses when there is .030" or more clearance between the friction material and the rotor on the inboard side. When there is more than .030" the clutch turns inside the piston adjusting it out keeping the rear brakes adjusted. If the parking brake is not set every time the Jeep is parked, it will start to lose brake pedal (low and spongy) and the adjuster mechanism will not work any longer.

Although, it sounds like it was really just a matter of installing the cables onto the was a bit more than that. The springs on the stock cables have to be removed as they will bind up with the system on the GM calipers (which was a PITA to do). In addition, the stock, drivers side cable is just barely long enough to reach from the frame to the caliper when the axle it at full droop. It will no longer reach when I lift the Jeep further, so I will eventually need to have some longer ones made.
Completed install...sans tires

The final step was to bleed the brake system. Since most of the fluid had dripped out of the main line, first I used a vacuum pump to draw fluid back to the calipers. I started on the passenger side which is furthest away from the master cylinder. While constantly checking the master cylinder fluid level, I used vacuum to keep drawing fluid until no more air bubbles were present. I then did the same for the drivers side.

Next, since calipers (especially rears) have all kinds of crevices that can trap air, it was time for a gravity bleed. To do this I removed the caliper from the bracket, then holding the caliper so that the flex hose was going up hill and the bleeder screw was at the top, I opened the bleeder and tapped the caliper with a rubber mallet a few times to knock any air loose. This procedure was repeated for the drivers side.

After one more, quick bleed with the vacuum pump (and filling the diff with synthetic gear oil), it was time for a test drive. There is a noticeable increase in stopping power, although the pedal was a bit lower then it had been. I'm going to keep an eye on how the rear pads wear over time to determine if I can bring the pedal up by adding some residual pressure.

Proportioning feels fine and there are no weird pulls or anything, even under hard/emergency braking.

Overall, I am very happy with the I just have to git 'er offroad! Mr. Green

***DISCLAIMER - Please note that this writeup reflects my experiences only and anyone using it for reference or as a guide, etc. does so at their own risk. You may link to this writeup, but you must obtain my permission to re-post it elsewhere.***


 [Home] [About] [Events] [Members] [By-Laws] [4x4 Tech] [Forums] [Links]

Jeep®, Wrangler, Cherokee, Liberty, Grand Cherokee, Unlimited and Rubicon are copyrighted and trademarked to Daimler-Chrysler Corporation. is not in any way associated with or endorsed by the Daimler-Chrysler Corp.
All other content is copyright FM2CD 2004-2008.

For problems or questions regarding this web contact The Webmaster.
Last site update on 06/15/2008