The name of the game in the offroad world is traction aid devices. Mud tires, beadlocks, and unlimited suspension articulation are cool, but without a traction device, you still only have 2 wheel drive even if your truck is 4×4. Even worse with a 2wd truck that doesn’t have a traction aid is really only 1 wheel drive, you could get stuck in a field with one tire on a cow pie!
I don’t want you to have to go through that embarrassment, so here are some tricks and tips to make your vehicle more offroad worthy.
There are five main different kinds of locking differentials:
- Automatic Lockers – default locked, ratchets around corners
- Spool or welded differential – Locked all the time
- Air Locker – A locker that is activated by air pressure
- Electric locker – A locker that is activated by electricity
- Cable Locker – A locker that is activated by moving a shift cable
The one we will talk specifically about today is the spool or welded differential. A spool replaces the differential carrier and locks both axleshafts together. Spools still cost money though, so we are going to make our own spool by welding up the differential spiders within the differential. This will connect both axleshafts together to ensure that both tires on the axle will always spin at the same time. No more one wheel peels with this truck!!
Here is what I started with. The Chevy Corporate 14 bolt that I had somewhat recently converted to disk brakes.
The spider gears in an open differential are what allow the outside tire to turn faster than the inside tire on turns, which prevents unnecessary tire wear and chirping/barking from the tires scooting on the pavement. This is something that needs to be thought about before welding a differential instead of adding a locker. Of course if you are cheap like me, you already looked at the pros and cons, then decided that a free locker and extra tire wear is still preferable to dropping $1K on a selectable locker.
When reassembling, be sure to use some kind of locktite or other liquid locking compound then torquing to spec. I won’t lay the torque specs out here since your situation may vary (Google is your friend. If you can do this project yourself, then I trust that you can find a torque spec online).
The setup that I have found works best for me is a welded differential in the rear (locked all the time) and an automatic “lunchbox” locker in the front (default locked, ratchets while turning). Ol’ blue and the CrAzYbLaZe were both set up this way. The front automatic locker makes it a little easier to turn while in 4wd.
Since putting everything back together is boring, lets move on to the awesome things that lockers front and rear enable your vehicle to do!
If I could have given my 10 year ago past self a piece of advice before getting into wheeling it would have been this: “Invest in traction aids before investing in lift kits, bigger tires, offset wheels, etc.” I probably could have saved myself a lot of money, used smaller tires, gotten better gas mileage, and still had plenty of offroad capability.
There are so many obstacles that can be overcome with a modest relatively stock vehicle that has traction aids. So, before you order that lift kit and 33″ tires, maybe you should look into an automatic or select-able locker. If you are tight on money and you don’t mind some chirping and tire wear, you could even weld it up in your garage for the grand total of a couple of hours and some welding wire. Then proceed to walk up trails that your friends couldn’t make despite their bigger tires.