Home : Tech : Axle : Front Axle Upgrade Guide #4

Front Axle Upgrade Guide #4

Vehicle-Side Steering Components


There are a number of ways to convert your vehicles steering, if needed. Our project FJ40 had used a prototype front-to-back steering system with a 4” drop steering bar (S-Bar), similar to the steering on ’82-’85 Toyota Pickup trucks. While this prototype gave us power steering with little fabrication on our stock axle, it posed too many problems and limited steering. While we could have converted our rig at this point to a Saginaw steering solution, our budget was getting very tight and we opted to use a steering box from an ’87 Toyota 4X4 pickup truck. Here’s what it took to get the steering wheel to work with the box, and what it took to get the box to work with the axle.

Toyota IFS Steering Box (Salvage Yard, $75)

We opted to stay with a steering box that would mount in front of our grille and on top of the frame rail. This would give us a bit more clearance and admittedly, we already had a gaping hole in the grille from our last attempt at a power steering conversion. We picked our steering box up at a local junkyard for about 75 clams, grease and all!

OPTION: New (Rebuilt) IFS Steering Box: (All Pro Off Road, $399)

All Pro Off Road offers lifetime replacement warranty IFS steering boxes, which have been thoroughly examined, measured and checked. They also install all new seals and bearing.

Difficulty rating: 9
Time To Install: 10 Hours
Special Tools Required: Torque wrench, drill bits, welder
Notes, Hints, Tips, Gotchas: This is another tough install. You’ll need to measure everything 10 times, make templates and mock it up several times to make sure everything is lined up. Be VERY cautious of how far forward or backward you mount your steering box. If you mount your steering box too far back, the tie rod will hit the drag link upon suspension compression. If you mount it too far forward, you’ll change the steering geometry, not good. You’ll also have figure out if you need to space the gearbox away from the frame (up or out) to get everything to line up. We found that we needed to space our gear box out 3/8 of an inch, so we made our own scab plate and welded it to the frame. Lastly, make note of the angle that the gear box sits in conjunction with the intermediate shaft and check where your bolts can be located. All in all, this was our toughest portion of the installation and with a lot of patience and lots of measuring, we nailed it the first time.


Custom Power Steering Lines (Hydraulics Company, $42)

Since we have a Chevy V8 and Chevy power steering pump under the hood, we had to have our power steering lines customized so that they would have standard threads on the pump side and metric threads on the steering box side.

Difficulty rating: 1
Time To Install: .5 Hours
Special Tools Required: Line wrenches
Notes, Hints, Tips, Gotchas: N/A


Heavy Duty Pitman Arm (All Pro Off Road, $69)

Since the standard pitman arm on an IFS steering box won’t accept standard tie-rod ends or heim joints, we gave another call to All Pro Off Road and they sent us one of their heavy-duty pitman arms that they have manufactured exclusively for them.

Installation was a snap, but taking the old pitman arm nut off was a chore. The nut and arm was on so securely it took two days of soaking with WD40, a torch (to heat up the pitman arm and expand the metal), a big sledgehammer, a pitman arm puller and an impact gun to get it off.

Difficulty rating:

Time To Install: 3.5 Hours
Special Tools Required: Pitman arm puller, Lots of WD40, HD drill, 3/4″ drill bit
Notes, Hints, Tips, Gotchas: Be sure to index the center line of the old pitman arm and the sector shaft with a marker or soap stone. IFS Steering box sector shafts don’t have indexes cut into their splines, so save yourself a LOT of agony by marking this early on. Otherwise you’ll end up with too much steering on one side and not enough on the other. We also had to drill the rod-end side of the pitman arm to accept our larger-than-standard bolts for the heim joints.


DD Collapsible Steering Shaft / Intermediate Shaft (Borgeson Universal Company, $80 incl. shipping)

Borgeson supplied us with their collapsible intermediate. We could have used a section of tubing, but figured a bit of added safety would be worth its weight in gold if we ever had a front-end collision.

The 18 ½” long intermediate shaft is designed to collapse 6 1/2″ on impact, lessening the chance of chest injury and allowing the driver to maintain control providing the vehicle is drivable. This also prevents binding with an off road vehicle that has some frame/body flex to it.

Difficulty rating:

Time To Install: 5 hours
Special Tools Required: Reciprocating or hack saw, welder
Notes, Hints, Tips, Gotchas: Be ready with your measuring tape again… this component seemed like it was going to be an easy install, but it required a lot of measuring, prototyping, tack welding, re-meausring, cutting, and so forth. We also struggled with the fact that our steering column U-Joint’s (firewall side) inner diameter was about a 1/4″ larger than the outside diameter of the intermediate shaft. That meant we had to shim over and over again until we were relatively confident that the intermediate shaft was true and centered in the u-joint before we welded it all up – very time consuming. Be sure to check for proper clearance between the intermediate shaft and your engine’s headers or exhaust manifolds. We had to shim our steering box outward to gain even 1/8” of clearance. The yellow paint on our intermediate shaft is turning brown from being cooked by the headers.

The mistakes we made / The gotcha’s to look out for:

  1. Hard brake lines too long – we made our hard brake lines too long so our braided steel brake lines tend to get bunched up and come too close to the tire.
  2. Steering gear box rag joint – The rubber-inserted rag joint that sits between the intermediate shaft and the steering gear box rubbed on the frame, so we had to ditch it all together and go with just a standard small u-joint. This will likely lead to increased wear and tear on the u-joint, so we’ll have to inspect this on a regular basis.
  3. Tires hit the steering box, frame, springs and shock hoops – Even though we went to a full length axle, the tighter steering radius of the ’78 Jeep Wagoneer Dana 44 means that our tires hit just about everything. We’ll likely have to install 1.5” or 2” wheel spacers to remedy this.
  4. Articulation – our front axle articulates pretty darn well, which is great for off roading, but presented some problems with the conversion. Our bump stops have to be lowered and modified to clear the u-bolts that now point up. We also noted that at full compression on the passenger side, our drag link and rubs the frame. We’ll have to give up some compression on that side to make sure we don’t do any damage.
  5. Be prepared – to do heavy-duty research, beg your significant other for money, and have your rig tied up in the garage for 3 or more weeks. We thought we had everything figured out but still ran into 5 or 6 problems we required more special tools, more time and more money to finish the project.

 The wrap-up

It should be reminded that this article is about converting axles, not swapping. There’s a big difference here as you can see above. This difference is particularly true if you’re changing from a foreign to domestic axle or vice versa, or if you’re converting from IFS to solid front axle.

All in all, the front axle conversion cost us about $1,200, NOT including the built axle itself. We calculated that it would also take the average do-it-yourselfer about 3 full weekends to complete the conversion as well. This isn’t an impossible task at any level, but does require some special tools, tons of research, a lot of patience and measuring everything many, many times. So stock up the fridge with your favorite cold ones and get to work!


All Pro Off Road
541 N. Palm Ave
Hemet, CA 92543
Phone: 909-658-7077
Web Site: http://www.allprooffroad.com
Borgeson Universal Company
187 Commercial Blvd.
Torrington, CT. 06790
Phone: 860-482-8283
Email: sales@borgeson.com
Web Site: http://www.borgeson.com/
Stage West 4-Wheel Drive Center
6700 Highway 82
Glenwood Springs, CO 81610
Phone: 970-945-5227
Email: 4by4@crimsonwireless.net
Web Site: http://www.stagewest4x4.com/
Tucson Differential
1102 S Venice Ave.
Tucson, AZ. 85711
Phone: 520-750-1309
Email: diffmaster@tucsondifferential.com
Web Site: http://www.tucsondifferential.com/




About Rick Webster

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *