Vitara Tracker Permanent 4wd differential actuator fix 10


The dreaded blinking 4×4 light on Suzuki Vitara and Chevy Trackers is pretty common. I could diagnose and fix it, but I am going to take a different approach on this repair and make it permanent! In this article I will show you how to take the front differential out, disassemble it, and permanently engage the actuator in the front differential.

The 2nd generation 4 door Vitara ‘PJ’ I picked up a couple of weeks ago had this issue. The repair for the 4×4 light blinking could be any number of things such as blown fuses, bad wiring, air leaks, pump failure, etc. however I bought this truck to be a reliable 4×4 offroad machine, so I am going for the KISS method (Keep It Simple Stupid).

I did some light diagnosing and determined it was likely the pump that was having issues, but I am not going to take it apart to find out. I am more interested in permanently engaging the actuator so I never have to think about it again

While it might be more work to pull apart the front differential and weld the actuator in the engaged position, it will be well worth it since there will no longer be any of those systems to break on the trail or when I really need them.

On these little trucks, it is super easy to put manual hubs on. Now that the front differential is always engaged, I will just unlock the hubs so the shafts no longer spin when I don’t need 4wd. I will show how to install the manual hubs later in another article.

Vitara Tracker Permanent 4wd differential actuator fix
First step, drop the front differential out. Not hard but not necessarily fun. My passenger side CV wouldn’t come out of the differential… so I pulled the passenger side outer hub and snap ring off then pulled the whole thing out as one unit.

On a positive note, this differential is all aluminum and I can pick it up myself with no grunting required. This is nice, I am used to working on 1 ton axles that require jacks, people helping, and cherry pickers.

Vitara Tracker Permanent 4wd differential actuator fix
Unfortunately when I was pulling the diff out, I realized that the third mount up by the pinion was broken off and looks like it had been for a long time. There were dents in the oil pan above it where it had been twisting up and hitting it. Apparently this is also a really common weak area. More on the fix for that in another article once I get it done.
Vitara Tracker Permanent 4wd differential actuator fix
Out and on the table!
Vitara Tracker Permanent 4wd differential actuator fix
Using a slide hammer and CV shaft removal adapter
Vitara Tracker Permanent 4wd differential actuator fix
30 minutes later I had to break out a clamshell bearing puller, bolt it on, attach the slide hammer on one side and a pry bar for extra pressure on the other side. I also had to strap the differential to the work bench to hold it still since I was working alone.
Vitara Tracker Permanent 4wd differential actuator fix
Finally, after a bunch of racket the joint came out! As you can see I bungee corded it to the vice so when it finally came out it wouldn’t fall on my foot.
Vitara Tracker Permanent 4wd differential actuator fix
Here you can see the splines got a little boogered up. What happened was the c clip got stuck out of place and the reason it was so hard to pull out was because I actually broke the clip into multiple pieces when the shaft finally came out.
Vitara Tracker Permanent 4wd differential actuator fix
It wasn’t too bad to clean up the splines. About 5 minutes with a needle file got them ground down enough to slide back into the side gear easily.

A replacement c clip on this axle was actually REALLY hard to find. Auto parts stores these days are more interested in selling air fresheners than actual ‘repair parts’ so all they carry is an entire shaft. I was able to find the inner axle retaining C clips at the only remaining Suzuki dealer in town and the part number is: 44111-65D00. My dealer didn’t stock it on the shelf, so if you are planning on this project you might as well go ahead and order a couple.

Vitara Tracker Permanent 4wd differential actuator fix
The drivers side shaft was uneventful and came out of the diff with the c clip retainer intact.
Vitara Tracker Permanent 4wd differential actuator fix
Here is the differential 4wd actuator in the resting (disengaged) position.
Vitara Tracker Permanent 4wd differential actuator fix
Here is the 4wd actuator in engaged position. It pushes the mechanism to the left and engages the spider gears inside of the differential when air pressure is applied (~5-8PSI).
Here is a video showing me applying pressure and the differential engaging.

I have seen some people disassemble the diff and remove the actuator diaphragm from the right side when they weld the actuator in the engaged position. I really didn’t want to disassemble and have to re-set gear backlash, etc. So I decided to just leave the actuator assembly in there. It won’t hurt anything just hanging out in there.

Vitara Tracker Permanent 4wd differential actuator fix
In order to get a good weld, I cleaned the differential really well then used a small propane torch to pre-heat up the differential parts and remove any cleaner so it would weld better and not crack.
Vitara Tracker Permanent 4wd differential actuator fix
After cleaning and pre-heating but before welding, I covered the diff all except the part to be welded in heavy duty aluminum foil to keep most of the spatter out of the differential.

Safety Alert!

DO NOT weld gears up after using chlorinated brake cleaner!!! Choose a safer cleaner such as acetone. Also, always work in a well ventilated area.

” The chemical in the [Chlorinated] brake cleaner is Tetrachloroethylene. When this chemical is exposed with excessive heat and argon (used in MIG and TIG welding) it also produces phosgene.

Some Phosgene facts. Google Phosgene and read more!

It can be fatal with a dose as little as 4 parts per million.

Taken from this article. See this article for more information: https://www.brewracingframes.com/safety-alert-brake-cleaner–phosgene-gas.html
Vitara Tracker Permanent 4wd differential actuator fix
I used a universal technicians vacuum/pressure gauge and hand pump stolen from my wife’s sphygmomanometer (the little bulb on a blood pressure cuff) to engage the actuator with ~10 PSI (video was above). MAKE SURE THE TEETH ARE FULLY ENGAGED before welding, you might have to partially stick in one of the stub shafts temporarily into the side gear and turn it a bit to line up the teeth.

I then MIG welded the gear in the engaged position. There are 4 slots like the above and I welded across all 4.

UPDATE: the weld above is not enough, make sure you really weld it good

About a year after I made this repair, I was at an offroad park beating on PJ pretty hard up a steep hill, heard a clang, then no 4wd anymore. No visual damage from the outside so I figured I had broke my weld. Took it apart when I got home and sure enough I didn’t have good enough penetration on my welds. The second time I took it apart I removed the carrier from the housing then drilled holes and plug welded around the outside in addition to welding what I could reach on the inside (without affecting the spider gear movement).

Broken welds:

Here is a video of me going through the parts of the differential while trying to figure out how I was going to fix it for good

Here are the pics I posted on Instagram of the second repair:

If what I did below doesn’t make sense, watch my youtube video above. The part I plug welded was the inner carrier part to the outer carrier. These are the two parts that get locked together when the 4wd actuator engages the collar. All we are doing is permanently engaging it by welding it all together. The outer big part of the differential carrier is easy to drill, the inner cage that holds the spider gears is hardened and can’t be drilled. It is still an open differential and the spider gears work like they always did.

Vitara Tracker Permanent 4wd differential actuator fix
Once done welding I used my slag hammer and a magnet to get any spatter and collect it without it falling into the differential.
Vitara Tracker Permanent 4wd differential actuator fix
On the outside of the bottom of the diff is where the line exits and would go to the air pump behind the front bumper. I just took off the air line and put a small vacuum cap on it to keep dirt out.

After that, we are done. Just need to make sure any weld spatter or dirt that got in the case is cleaned out, reassemble using gray permatex RTV, then throw it back in the truck and fill it up with differential fluid. We have an offroad trip coming up soon, so I will get a chance to try out the new mods!

Other resources

Additional generic 4wd pump diagnosing and repair discussions:

https://www.suzuki-forums.com/2g-1999-2005-vitara-grand-vitara/24778-4-wheel-drive-problems-include-early.html

In case you don’t feel like going to all of this work, the last post in the link below talks about purchasing used 4wd actuator pumps from the junkyard and rebuilding them. Rebuilding your actuator pump is free, getting a working one from the junkyard is probably ~$25, but a new pump is ~$170:

https://www.zukiworld.com/forum/suzuki-grand-vitara-vitara-chevy-tracker-(gen-2-platform)-1999-2005/actuator-pump-repair-wpics-added/

Conclusion

Vehicles and their upkeep don’t ‘have’ to be expensive. Do some research, build up your tool inventory, and do it yourself when you feel comfortable with it!

Now YOU, go work on something AND save yourself some money.


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10 thoughts on “Vitara Tracker Permanent 4wd differential actuator fix

  • Barry

    Inquiry:: I read your article on permanent tracker front diff fix and am progressing with the job. I have removed the diff and drive shafts and have fitted the after-market support bush in the diff housing on the RHS. The seal is 10mm wide and with the bush fitted there is only 10 mm width left for the seal which will make it flush with the diff housing. (the tech bulletin with the bush from Suzuki also shows 10mm after the bush is fitted.) The Suzuki workshop manual says to fit the seal 3mm below the diff housing but that is now impossible. Do you have to modify the spacer/seal cover that fits on the end of the drive shaft to compensate for this? Otherwise it will probably rub/interfere with the seal? Appreciate you comments seeing you have done this before. Thank you from Australia, they are called Grand Vitara’s here.

    • Paul Post author

      Honestly, this was a while ago and I don’t remember if I ever found it. During this mod I never removed the carrier so I think I just found what I could with a magnet and let the rest stay in there. Not a best practice, but I didn’t want to take it apart further at the time.

  • Barry

    I followed your plan and when complete, all seemed ok, with all 4 wheels off the ground when 4wd engaged front wheels would turn with hubs engaged but a few weeks later front wheel drive ceased to operate. No noises just no more front diff. Have to remove and see whats wrong.

    • Barry

      I followed your plan and when complete, all seemed ok, with all 4 wheels off the ground when 4wd engaged front wheels would turn with hubs engaged but a few weeks later front wheel drive ceased to operate. No noises just no more front diff. Have to remove and see whats wrong.

      • Barry

        Have removed the front diff (again) and found that the weld shave actually broken. SO I really don’t want to go down that road again. Does anyone know where I can obtain a “spacer” to place infront of the actuator to have diff fully engaged? I have read mention of these spacers but can’t find where to get one. Off the road until I find a fix.

        • Paul Post author

          Hey Barry! Sorry to hear it broke on you. There is only one company that I know of that made these but now that I look them up their FB says permanently closed and they took down their website… here is the link: https://m.facebook.com/FKDupFAB/

          I need to update this article, I actually broke the welds on mine too. I ended up taking mine back apart and welding it to death. I drilled and plug welded around the carrier and on the inside. I have since plowed snow and done many clutch drops and donuts with it and haven’t broken it yet. I posted pictures of the fix on my Instagram account: https://www.instagram.com/diymetalfabrication/

          • Barry

            Thanks Paul, all makes sense. If I can source a “Spacer cone” and clean up the old welding remnants that will be my preferred fix. If not, looking for a second hand diff with a working actuator.