Ram project continued

I took the transfer case off, cleaned it thoroughly, and discovered that while there is a hole for the position sensor, it hasn’t been drilled all the way through. I asked on Cummins Forum whether anyone had seen that before, and after three days no one had replied. Not a particularly good forum, though I guess I’d prefer no one replying to someone who has no clue but replies anyway.

I measured carefully and decided a 9/16″ drill bit would do the trick, but I didn’t have a big enough tap for the sensor (approximately 5/8″). We looked at Home Depot, Auto Zone and O’Reilly. O’Reilly had the best selection of taps, by far, but nothing big enough, so I decided to not install the sensor at this time.

We had to buy a bigger pair of retaining ring pliers to get the ring off the rear shaft of the transfer case, and we had to buy a set of cold chisels to finally get it open. It took a lot of hammering, and the chisels damaged the mating surfaces. Kevin and I cleaned it and scraped it very well, and I filed down the damaged areas. We put it all back together with Permatex Ultra Black, finger tightening fasteners until it just squeezed out of the gap a bit, then waiting an hour and tightening to spec. You’re supposed to wait 24 hours before exposing the new gasket to oil; if I install the case tonight, that’ll be more than 48 hours. I also replaced the damaged output shaft seal and dust boot with a new one ($40!!). We fashioned a seal driver from a #” schedule-40 PVC join section that cost $3 at Home Depot, and it worked great.

So the transfer case is now ready to put back on the truck. I had considered filling it with oil and letting it sit to see if it’s really leak-proof, but that would introduce further delay to the project that I don’t want to deal with. So I’ll wait until it’s back on the truck to fill it.

The shop manual calls for ATF+4 to go in the transfer case. ATF+4 is a Chrysler-specific oil, and from what I’ve been able to find, this particular transfer case, an NV271, should be perfectly happy with the generic SuperTech Dexron III/Mercon I’ve been using since I got the truck. Their performance is similar and apparently Dex III/Mercon won’t negatively impact the NV271/273’s seals (be aware, however, that Dexron V or VI probably will — but that’s not likely to be an issue considering how expensive that is). This is a good thing, because ATF+4 is both hard to find and expensive, and I have a lot of Dex III/Mercon on hand (hopefully, after this is done, though, I won’t need to keep refilling my transfer case every two months or so).

I replaced the front shocks with new Bilstein 4600s. The old shocks were just loose in their holes after I undid their top nuts and the shock tower nuts. The new Bilsteins, by comparison, have to be compressed a lot to get the shock tower nuts attached — and this makes the job nearly impossible for one person to do. Good thing I had Kevin’s help.

The old front shocks were basically dead. You can completely compress them with very little effort and they have to be encouraged to even rebound at all. I don’t think they were doing anything anymore. They’re just plain black and I don’t know what brand they are.

Then we replaced the rears, also with Bilstein 4600s. Those came strapped, so they didn’t have to be compressed much (but they still did, a bit). The old rear shocks weren’t quite as dead as the fronts, but they’re still basically dead — easy to compress, don’t want to rebound. The rears were a silver color and one had a “Reflex” brand sticker on it (which is made by Monroe).

I took apart the driver’s side of the front axle. Since I replaced the unit bearing / hub-bearing seventeen months ago, and put everything back together with generous amounts of anti-seize, it came apart quickly and easily. the rotor came off with no effort and all I had to do to get the hub off was to back off its four bolts about a quarter-inch, then tap on them with a hammer and socket extension. Easy. The driver’s side rotor is in good shape, no grooves that I can feel with my fingernail. The driver side half-shaft came out no problem.

The passenger side was a completely different story. In April 2015, I replaced its rotor, but did not replace its unit bearing. I don’t think I even took the hub off when I replaced the rotor. Well, I got the rotor off without much trouble (having put anti-seize on its backside when I installed it). But then the spindle nut would not come off. I stood on the end of the 3/4″ torque wrench; I used a propane torch to heat everything (completely ineffective); I used lots of PB blaster, and it still took 2+ hours of soaking with PB blaster and standing on the wrench to finally get it to let go. I don’t know if I’ve ever had as hard of a time with a nut. Then getting the unit bearing off was difficult too; I had to use the power steering-as-a-press trick with one of my impact extensions. It got the hub off (rusted as hell), but also bent my extension at the point where the ball bearing fits. It’s still usable, though. I also bent the heck out of my long crowbar, which I was using to brace the hub to keep it from rotating while I cranked on the spindle nut. It takes a lot of force to bend a crowbar. Since I weigh about 210 lbs and was standing on the end of my 3/4″ torque wrench is 33.5″ long, that’s nearly 600 lb-ft of torque I was putting on that nut (and the crowbar tried, unsuccessfully, to hold).

Then I was able to get the passenger side half shaft out, also without difficulty. It’s pretty rusty — actually, that whole side is, don’t know why.

And at the bottom of the passenger side steering knuckle, where there’s a ring groove above the bottom ball joint, there were a half-dozen sheared needle bearings from the passenger side axle U-joint. Bad news. Not only did they fall out of the U-joint, they were also damaged. Good thing I’m replacing it.

So at this point, I’ve got both driveshafts and both axle shafts in the garage, ready to have all eight U-joints replaced.

I tackled the sway/stabilizer bar connecting links and frame bushings. The end links’ nuts came off without difficulty. It’s a good thing I bought some three-jaw pullers at Harbor Freight, because I don’t have any idea how I would have gotten the end links out of the stabilizer bar otherwise. You carefully crank on the puller until — BAM — the end link explodes out of the stabilizer bar. It’s kind of scary.

The stabilizer bar bushings, now — that was another story. It seems the bushing brackets, which are attached to the frame, are bent out of shape on my truck. I don’t know if the bar got hit on something, maybe a boulder — but they’re screwed up to the point where you can only get a torque wrench on one bolt and not the other. The driver side one wasn’t too much of a problem to replace the bushing, but I had a hell of a time with the passenger side one — I had to hammer it back into some semblance of correct shape to finally be able to torque down the two bolts correctly. I’m glad that’s done.

I tried and failed to replace the torsion/track bar bushings. I got the driver’s side bushing hammered out of the bar, only to find that apparently the ones Moog sent do not fit! (I did more research and found that you really need to use a press to install these, so I’ll take the whole bar off and use the hydraulic press to replace both ends).

So at this point, what remains to be done is:

  • Replace the stabilizer bar links with new.
  • Take the front and back rotors to O’Reilly and (fronts) get them machined if needed and (rears) machine or replace if necessary. I suspect the rears, which I have not replaced before, need to be replaced along with their brake pads. We’ll  see how that works out.
  • Replace all the U-joints.
  • Put the front axle back together (half shafts, hubs, etc)
  • Reinstall the transfer case and fill with oil.
  • Reinstall front and rear driveshafts.
  • And of course, put all five wheels back on the truck.