The Dodge has been through so many changes over the years, I’ve lost track. From now on any big mods are going to be cataloged by year and occurrence. So I give you “Dodge Ram version 15.1”!
After many years of ownership, countless “patch jobs”, an incalculable amount of parts and money, as well as endless hours of exhaustive research; I finally figured out how to fix the factory Dodge steering and suspension woes…
Remove the stock Dodge axle along with all associated steering and suspension components down to the bare frame rails and discard!
Seriously, there are so many things wrong with the 2nd gen Dodge front end this may seem drastic but it’s where I ended up. Here’s a list of some of the problems and possible repercussions:
- flimsy stamped control arms with eccentric bolts for caster adjustment (adjustment bolts are prone to seizing)
- two piece driver’s side axle shaft with vacuum operated sliding collar instead of locking hubs(axle failure and vacuum leaks preventing 4×4 engagement, also increased drag and reduced mpg due to constant drag of rotating internal axle components while in 2 wheel drive)
- unit bearing hubs (expensive to replace and have been known to fail catastrophically while driving, also almost impossible to replace roadside as the center nut is torqued to 240+ ft lbs)
- under sized track bar with ball joint end (premature wear causing “death wobble”)
- undersized y-link configuration tie rods (vague steering feel and premature failure)
- un-braced steering box (vague steering and premature steering box failure)
- undersized ball joints (huge problem on these trucks: premature wear causing a myriad of problems, big repair bills and possible catastrophic failure)
- inadequate bushing assembly in bottom of steering column (premature wear causing vague steering feel)
- undersized steering shaft (premature wear causing vague steering feel)
- seriously low quality undersized shocks considering the weight of the Cummins diesel engine and the weight these trucks are designed to carry (premature failure and inadequate size cause poor ride and vehicle control characteristics as well as increased tire wear)
- I’ve also heard of the two piece, Dodge Dana 60 axle housings bending under severe use but I have not experienced this
I’m sure I’m missing something but those are the basics. This probably makes the Dodge engineering sound really bad, and it is, but truthfully most American made trucks are no better and if you actually use your truck, repairs/upgrades are inevitable.
The biggest piece of the puzzle was a custom front axle assembly built by John at Hillbilly Wizard. John answers his own phone and is more than willing to think outside the box and build you what you need. John and I agreed the stock housing was adequate for my needs and proceeded from there. In addition to the “fixes” a gearing change was needed along with a traction aiding device. What John built for me is a hybrid of Dodge, aftermarket, and 80s era Chevy K30 parts. I warn anyone trying to duplicate this axle build that John had a lot of parts incompatibility issues and machine work to do to put this axle together. This was not a bolt together project for him! Luckily for me however, the finished product did bolt in place. The two biggest drawbacks to this approach were a loss of ABS and a little less powerful front brakes, neither of which have posed a problem and the gains in strength and reliability far outweigh the disadvantages.
The axle build:
- stock Dodge Dana 60 housing
- 4.10 gears and ARB air locker
- 35 spline, 4340 chrome moly inner and outer axle shafts with a 1 piece passenger side shaft
- tube-end axle shaft seals
- Chevy kingpin inner C’s, kingpins, steering knuckles, roller bearings, brakes, hubs, etc
- bronze upper kingpin bushings
- Yukon locking hubs
- 1.5″ x .25″ DOM tie rods with Chevy 1 ton tie rod ends
- the high steer arm in the picture ended up not working out with my steering geometry, but that was due to my bad calculations
Other parts in the front end rebuild include:
- Great Lake Off Road diff cover
- Ruff Stuff Specialties y-link steering kit
- custom made upper shock towers from Extreme Articulation (I had to modify these a bit but that was due to a miscalculation on my part)
- Borgeson steering box, pump, hoses, and billet steering shaft along with a Mr Gasket power steering cooler
- heavy duty replacement ends for existing DT ProFab track bar
- custom made PMT Fabrication adjustable control arms set 1″ longer than stock (ask for the “Dalton Highway spec”)
- Rock Solid Ram Truck Steering column bushing
- Sway-A-Way 2.5″ reservoir shocks with custom tuning from Ryan at AccuTune Off-Road (more on the shock tuning coming in another blog entry, short version: awesome!)
- slightly modified existing DT ProFab steering brace
- Buckstop front bumper that I’ve been running for several years had to be modified to clear the new 37″ tires and longer control arms
- Daystar bump stops
That pretty much wraps it up for the front end. No small feat!
A lot of other things got done on version 15.1 also:
- rear axle received new 4.10 gearset, ARB air locker, and Great Lake Off Road cover
- Sway-A-Way 2.5″ reservoir rear shocks
- transmission was overhauled with billet torque converter and shift kit added
- transfer case was rebuilt
- 37×12.5×17 Mastercraft Courser MXT tires
- stock 3rd gen Dodge 17″ steel wheels
- LED backup and driving lights
- air tank and ARB compressor to activate lockers and inflate tires
- re-installation of camper box that I built a few years ago
- new windshield
- unplanned was a radiator, hoses, thermostat, and oil pan gasket replacement
- I’m sure there’s something I missed after almost 6 months of work
So good for another 16 years and 180,000 miles right? We’ll see, I was actually still working on the truck 2 hours before we left! Reports on whether or not this round of modifications worked are coming soon.
Many thanks to John at Hillbilly Wizard and Ryan at AccuTune Off-Road for listening to what I needed and delivering awesome custom work!