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  • Writer's pictureJames Wilson

The Top 10 Junkyard Axles - Auto Wrecking Gold

Calumet City Auto Wreckers (708) 868-6390

If you’ve never spent an afternoon roaming your local pick-a-part, you don’t know what you are missing. Just cruising the aisles of your local wrecking yard can give you budget ideas and a better grasp on what easily accessible parts are close by. Without a doubt, some of the most valuable parts to be had are complete junkyard sourced axle assemblies. While not all are worth the effort, there are plenty of cheap and easy-to-pull axles that make for a logical and budget-wise upgrade.

To give you a better guide to what junkyard axles to keep your eyes peeled for, we’ve compiled a list of our ten favorite and most tangible axles. Absent from this list are unicorn axles, such as kingpin Dana 60 front axles found under fullsize Ford and Chevy trucks. It’s not that the kingpin Dana 60s are not worth the hassle, but rather, it’s pretty unrealistic to find one in a local junkyard these days. If you do manage to stumble upon one, plan on paying a premium for it.

1999-Present Ford Super Duty Dana 60 Front Diff type: High-pinion, driver-side drop Bolt pattern: 8-on-170 Width (in): 69-72

A high-pinion Dana 60 front axle is one of the top upgrades for truck and SUV wheelers across the board. The 9.75-inch ring gear provides plenty of beef for running 39-inch and larger tires, and since it is a high-pinion front, the pinion churns on the stronger drive-side of the ring gear. The ’99-’04 models have a less invasive differential casting, which makes them a little easier to work with, but, most were equipped with smaller 30-spline outers. In 2005, Ford equipped the Super Duty platform with a radius arm front suspension, which makes the later units easy to spot. The later series Super Duty Dana 60s are fitted with slightly larger/stronger outer components, but the ’99-’04 axles are still easier to come by. All ’99-current SD front 60s are ball joint-type axles.

Maybe the biggest drawback is the unitbearing hub. The plus side of the unitbearing is that some stock and custom unitbearings can be made to work with ABS, and conversion kits to a more serviceable spindle-style outer are offered in the aftermarket. Another challenge is the 8-on-170 metric bolt pattern, which isn’t an issue if you opt for a Sterling 10.5-inch rear axle. Custom unitbearings or kits that convert to standard hubs can be opted with a more traditional 8-on-6½-inch bolt pattern, so don’t let the metric pattern hold you back. The aftermarket is rapidly growing for the Super Duty 60, with high-steer arms and heavy-duty ball joint options now available from multiple sources.

1999-Current Sterling 10.5 Rear Diff type: Low-pinion, full-float Bolt pattern: 8-on-170 Width (in): 68¾ (SRW)

We can’t mention the Ford Super Duty Dana 60 front without including the Sterling 10.5-inch rear axle . Since it’s one of the only full-float, 1-ton axle assemblies equipped with the 8-on-170 metric bolt pattern, it makes for a great pairing with the Super Duty 60 front axle. In stock form, you get 35-spline, 1.5-inch axleshafts, along with a massive 10.5-inch ring gear. The aftermarket is slightly smaller when compared to the GM 14-bolt or Dana 60, but there is still a range of differential lockers and gearsets available. One thing to note is that most 10.5 parts are interchangeable with the Sterling 10.25. Unlike the older 10.25, the 10.5 will have disc brakes. Aside from the metric bolt pattern, the biggest negative that we’ve seen with the 10.5 rear axle is the differential breaking away or spinning apart from the axletubes in high-torque applications. Welding the differential housing to the tubes and adding a truss can eliminate this issue, which few will ever experience

1973-Current GM 14-Bolt Rear Diff type: Low-pinion, full-float Bolt Pattern: 8-on-6½ Width (in): 63 to 73

You’ve seen us say it before, and you will see us say it again- the ultimate junkyard rear axle continues to be the GM 14-bolt. Found under ¾- and 1-ton fullsize GM truck and SUVs since 1973, the sheer number of 14-bolt axles produced continues to keep the cost down. The full-float rear axle has a max torque rating of 6,242 pounds, a beefy 10½-inch ring gear, and a massive 1¾-inch pinion that receives an additional bearing to prevent it from deflecting. Later models can be found with disc brakes, but your more common specimens will have the obnoxiously large and heavy drum brakes. There are plenty of disc brake conversions, so don’t let the drums slow you down.

The biggest downfall of the 14-bolt is the size of the differential housing. Depending on which casting you come across, there are a few methods of shaving or chopping the bottom of the diff to gain ground clearance. Aftermarket support is excellent for the 14-bolt and the 1.5-inch, 30-spline axleshafts are pretty stout from the factory. If you need width, look for the 73-inch-wide van axle. While there is a narrow 63-inch-wide version, the more common ranges span between 65-67 inches.

1995½-1999 Jeep Cherokee Non-Disconnect Dana 30 Front Diff type: High-pinion, driver-side drop Bolt pattern: 5-on-4½ Width (in):60.5

Not everyone needs ¾- or 1-ton axles. In fact, if 35s are all you are looking to run, then the high-pinion Dana 30 front is a great option. While the high-pinion 30 spanned the Cherokee line for many years, the non-disconnect units found in the ’95½-’99 XJs are the best of the bunch. The fact that it is a bolt-in swap for TJ, ZJ, and XJ Jeeps, also makes the HP 30 an easy upgrade.

The aftermarket support for the HP 30 is tremendous and they often make for great solid-axle option for rigs such as the S-10 series trucks and SUVs, and early Ford Ranger and Explorer platforms. A few drawbacks are the somewhat weak unitbearings and light-duty axletubes. These axles can bend easily, so if the 30 you are looking at is under a rolled or heavily damaged rig, pay close attention to the camber of the axle.

1995-2001 Ford Explorer 8.8 Rear Diff type: Low-pinion, semi-float Bolt pattern: 5-on-4½ Width (in): 59½

The Ford Explorer 8.8-inch rear axle is one that makes a great fit for Jeep Cherokee and Wranglers in need of an inexpensive rear axle swap. Equipped with 31-spline, 1.31-inch axleshafts, and a large ring gear, the 8.8 has garnered excellent aftermarket support. While a few variations of the 8.8 can be found under the Explorer, Ranger, and Bronco, we like the post-’95 Explorer axles the best, since they are fitted with disc brakes.

Some of the downsides of the 8.8 are its slightly narrow width, C-clip axleshaft design, and tendency for the differential centersection to twist in the tubes. Opening up the cover, you may find your junkyard 8.8 is fitted with a limited-slip. These units were OK in stock form, but we would plan on ditching it for a more effective traction aid if you’re running tires much bigger than 31s.

1971-Present Dodge, Ford & GM Dana 70, 70U, and 70HD Rear Diff type: Low-pinion, full-float Bolt pattern: 8-on-6.5 Width (in):65-74

A 70 rear is similar in strength to the Sterling 10.5-inch rear and the mass availability makes them a great low-budget option. There are actually quite a few renditions of the 70. All are equipped with a 10.5-inch ring gear, but the 1.50-inch ’shafts will have 23, 32, or 35 splines, depending on the model. An unreal 8,800-pound max output torque rating was available with the 70HD, and gear ratios span 3.07:1 to 7.17:1. The aftermarket is strong for the 70, but not as wide compared to the 14-bolt. Look for a smooth snout on the 70U, 70HD to be cast into that models diff housing, and a B cast into the top of the basic 70.

1980-1991 Jeep Wagoneer Dana 44 Front Diff type: Low-pinion, driver-side drop Bolt pattern: 6-on-5.5 Width (in): 60

The Jeep FSJ Dana 44 front can be had in a wide-track (FSJ pickups and Cherokee Chiefs) or narrow-track front (standard Cherokee and Wagoneers). Unless you really need the extra width, the narrow-track Wagoneer frontend makes for a great swap. Typically, we prefer high-pinion axles in the front of our rigs, but the low-pinion Waggy axle has a lot going for it. Along with a wide array of aftermarket support, the axletubes are pretty beefy, and when fitted with selectable hubs, can preserve the life of your parts. Be sure to avoid the vacuum-disconnect versions from the mid-’80s models, and don’t let the six-lug-pattern discourage you, as five- and eight-lug conversions are possible using wrecking yard parts.

1974-1986 Ford F-150 (’78-’86 Bronco) 9-Inch Rear Diff type: Low-pinion, semi-float (drop-out third member) Bolt pattern: 5-on-5½ Width (in): 65-68

The classic Ford 9-inch is becoming increasingly harder to find in junkyards across America, but there is still plenty to be had. The aftermarket support for the Ford 9-inch is unmatched and hot rodders and wheelers alike tend to covet the drop-out-style rear axle. The wide width makes them great for full-width conversions, and extra pinion support allows the Ford 9-inch gearset to easily handle high horsepower. We’d search for the 4x4 and ’80-and-later 4x2 versions, since they received 31-spline axleshafts. The stronger nodular-iron third member models can be easily identified by an N that is cast at the top of the centersection. For any minor negatives (drum brake, semi-float, and so on), there is an aftermarket solution.

1968-Current Dana 60 Rear Diff type: Low-pinion, full-float Bolt pattern: 8-on-6½ (most common) Width (in): 65-69 (most common)

The full-float Dana 60 rear axle has been around since the ’50s. Found under Ford, Dodge, GM, and Jeep platforms, it’s an easily-sourced junkyard find. The early axles were fitted with 16-spline shafts, but you will likely run across the more common 1.31-inch, 30-spline axles. Placed in the rear, the 9.75-inch ring gear is well suited for large tires, but you’ll probably need to spend some money buying parts and possibly boring spindles to upgrade to 35-spline shafts to make it live a long life with big treads and power. Since most are fitted with heavy drum brakes, we’d plan on a disc conversion. Look for smooth-bottom housings, as they offer more clearance and have less to grab when moving over obstacles.

1993-2004 Isuzu Rodeo/1994-2002 Honda Passport Dana 44 Rear Diff type: Low-pinion, semi-float Bolt pattern: 6-on-5.5 Width (in): 58

One rear axle that isn’t under high demand, but can be found plenty in the import aisle of your local pick-a-part, is the 58-inch-wide Dana 44 rear. The relatively narrow width tends to keep some away, but the fact that many came with 4.56:1 gears and disc brakes, makes them primo for the picking in our book. Sure, you will likely have to run wheel spacers, but a modest set can be attached to your vehicle safely. Since it’s a Dana 44, the aftermarket is immense.

2½-Ton Rockwell Front/Rear Diff type: Double-reduction top loader, full-float Bolt pattern: 6-on-8¾ Width (in): 69½ to 79½

The massive 2½-ton Rockwell axle is a staple for rigs running over 44-inch-tall tires, and for good reason. Don’t expect to find a set of these in your local junkyard, but there are plenty to be had at military-specific wrecking yards. And yes, you will be buying these as a set. With a double-reduction differential that delivers a final-drive ratio of 6.72:1, massive 1.62-inch, 16-spline ’shafts, and a 700-pound axle weight, this axle is as tough as they come.

We’d look for steering axles that are equipped with the more serviceable U-joint-style axleshafts, and when possible, try to rotate the yoke on the third member to see if it is tight or has an exorbitant amount of slop. This will give you an idea of what kind of shape the internals may be in. The biggest drawback to the Rockwell is the sheer size of the axle. The aftermarket support is surprisingly large, but we would never consider these suitable for a daily-driven rig. Dropping the drum brakes is a must, and brake options are plentiful.

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