In the Summer of 2002 Jeep debuted the Wrangler Rubicon and the Jeep faithful wept at its glory.
This article was written in 2016.
The Rubicon really was an answer to all the prayers of off-road enthusiasts and proved in a way rarely seeen that big companies can listen to and answer customer's wishes. I think it's fair to say that no vehicle before it could stand up to more modifications than the Rubicon. Sure you could always modify Wranglers and all the generations of Jeep before it, but put 35" tires on an otherwise stock CJ, YJ, or TJ drivetrain and let me know how long the stock axles last. How good is the crawl ratio? The Rubicon eclipsed all Jeeps before it with it's capability and reliability. It was all thanks to three things; the transfer case, the axle/locker package, and most of all, an attractive price point. Before the Rubicon you'd have to invest an aweful lot of money and time to upgrading a normal Wrangler to equal the capabilities and reliability of a Rubicon.
Recently, another product has come to the marketplace that brings another revolution in capability and reliability. In the way the Rubicon gives people a cost effective package of the most sought-after features an average off-roader wants, the Mopar Dana 60 axle set is a cost effective package for those who want to go to the next level, and it's the price that makes it revolutionary. The Rubicon meant you were safe to run 35's, the Dana 60 takes you to 40's and beyond.
Mopar Dana 60 Axle Set
A whole slew of axles have been available to Jeep builders for decades, and Dana 60s are nothing new, however when Mopar included a set of direct bolt-on Dana 60s for the JK and JKU in their Jeep Performance Parts Catalog it changed the game. If memory serves me right the original MSRP for the pair was under $11,000, an amazingly low price. That price included RAM 3500 brakes, a high clearance center housing, full-float design, Eaton E-locker, ring and pinion gears, and 1-ton components thru out. Now, more than a year later, the street price is still under $11,000 and I still don't think there is another axle package of it's quality that competes with it. So lets compare what's out there in the Dana 60 market and see what's what!
Update 11/1/2016 - In response to Spicer/Mopar's ground-breaking axle package Dyantrac has released 3 new axle packages that are much more competitive. Here is a pdf with the specs and base pricing. These new packages look to be excellent offerings in both features and price. The ARB equipt ProRock60/60 set is $12,000 which includes much larger brakes then the old Dynatrac ProRock60 and a tierod. This article does NOT include these new axles.
Update 11/19/2016 - Currie Entriprises reached out to me to announce their revamped offering. All of their units have standardized to .375" wall tubing, 35 spline outter axles, and 1350 u-joints. Altough they still seem to promote reusing the JK's brakes and transplanting the ABS sensors they have expanded their optional brake offering to include a 13.25", a Wilwood, and for 8-lugs only a Ford F-350 brake option. I suggest you check out their website to review the current offering before deciding on what to get. This new stuff is NOT in this article.
The Front Axles
I'm going to let the cat out of the bag right away and tell you that the Spicer Ultimate Dana 60 and the Mopar Dana 60 are the exact same axle package. The only difference is that one says "Jeep" on the differential cover and the other says "Spicer". From here on out I'm only going to refer to the Spicer because they have published more details about them than Mopar has, and lets face it, Spicer makes them for Mopar. So what ever applies to Spicer applies to Mopar.
Below is a chart with all the companies that I could think of that offer bolt-in JK/JKU axles. Some companies offer more than one series of Dana 60, so I picked the series closest to the Spicer Dana 60s. All of these axles are the full-float version, they all have 4340 chromoly axle shafts, and they all have plug-and-play sensors to maintain factory ABS and traction control.
|Dynatrac||ProRock60||PROROCK60||$8,000||Does NOT include calipers, reuse JK|
|Currie||RockJock III 60||JK-RJIIIF||$5,550||Does NOT include locker or R&P
Does NOT include calipers, reuse JK
|Spicer||Ultimate Dana 60||10005778||$7,000||No Tie Rod|
|* These are the best prices I could find on the internet as of January 2016. The Spicer Ultimate 60 is putting downward pressure on the pricing for these axles as the traditional vendors move to compete so you should check current pricing.|
Right away you can see there are some important pieces missing from some offerings that we'll have to account for later on. For now lets look at the physical specifications of the front axles in the standard configurations, I threw in the stock Next Generation Dana 44 from a Rubicon for comparison sake.
FRONT AXLES STANDARD SPECS
|Width||68.5"+||68.75"+||67" or 70"||67"||?|
|Accept Super 60
|Outer Axle Shaft||30 spline*||35 spline||35 spline||35 spline||1.31"/30|
|Standard Yoke Size||1310**||1310**||1310**||1350|
|Wheel Bolt Pattern||any||5-5.5"||8-6.5"||8-6.5"||5-5"|
|*Dynatrac offers 35 and 40!! spline as options.
** All of these companies offer an upgrade to 1350 (or larger) as an option. This chart only shows what's included for the price shown.
Comparing these specs reveals some important differences. Let's break it down:
For most JK applications (which is the focus of this article) this probably won't be an important factor, however I'm including so you can decide for yourself. If you need a custom width than the Spicer's Ultimate 60 package is out, it's 69"** or nothing. Teraflex is slightly better with only two widths available, but Dynatrac and Currie both have you covered with custom widths. I don't know how the width will effect the price.
** corrected: I originally had 67", credit to Marcus at River City Offroad for letting me know.
Tube Diameter and Thickness:
We have to look at these together because overall bend resistance is a factor of both values. We can see that Currie, with the smallest diameter and second smallest wall thickness, is the weakest. This is not to say that the Currie axles is weak, because it's a massive increase over stock, I am just comparing it to the other Dana 60s. Determining the relative strength of the rest is tricky. I'm no engineer but here is some insight from Teraflex comparing their current axle tube to a previous design and how the change effected the strength and weight;
...the axle housing has been increased from 3.00" diameter tube to 3.25" diameter. At the same time, the tube thickness has been reduced from 0.500" to 0.375". The axle tubing is approximately 14% lighter and 3% more resistant to bending..."
With this information we can deduce that despite Dyntrac's .500" wall thickness, the Teraflex and Dynatrac are going to be close in strength. Teraflex says their 3.25" x .375" tube is stronger than their old 3" x .500" but Dynatrac's additional .125" diameter must make it very similar to the current Teraflex. The Spicer is the thinnest tube at .370" but having a tube 1/4" greater than the next closest more than makes up for the meager .005" deficiency in wall thickness, making it the clear winner in strength.
Dispite the Spicer tube being the strongest, it does it without being the heaviest. The cross-sectional area of the Dynatrac front axle tube is 4.12 square inches, Spicer is 3.64, Teraflex is 3.39, and Currie uses the lightest at 3.09. As you would expect the Currie tube is the lightest, but the Dynatrac tube, although not the strongest, is the heaviest. This doesn't mean that the weight of the entire assembled axle will necessarily finish in this order, but it's an ingredient.
The differences here are enormous. Spicer blows everyone away with 14.17" rotors and dual piston calipers as standard. The Tera60 unit includes their Big Brake kit, but that uses the smaller 13.3" rotors and single piston calipers. I couldn't find anything offered by Currie to take you beyond 13" rotors and reusing the stock calipers. The only other company that competes with Spicer on brakes is Dynatrac who offers a couple options. Their ProGrip brake package uses 13.5" rotors and single-piston caliper, which is not much better than the Tera60 but their optional ProGrip II is impressive. It features 14.25" rotors and six-piston calipers. That's some serious brakes but it's more money on top of an already expensive axle. When it comes to bang for your buck, nobody beats Spicer's standard brakes. Besides being the best standard brakes, Spicer's brake package has an added bonus, the entire works is just factory RAM 3500 series brakes, this makes identifying and finding service parts easy, you can pick them up at your local NAPA or Chrysler dealer.
When you make significant axles changes you have to buy new driveshafts, so why not go big? Spicer went 1350, everybody else defers to the smaller 1310, requiring an upgrade to get 1350's. Spicer wins here too.
Photo from fourwheeler.com
A surprise loser here is Dynatrac going with 30 spline outer axles as standard. The 30 spline outer is just 1.31", comparable to what the Rubicon stock Dana 44 has. Everybody else uses the much stronger 1.5" 35 spline as standard. If your willing to pay more Dynatrac offers an upgrade to 35 spline, and they can go even bigger with a 40 spline axle available too, an option that nobody else has.
Spicer again beats the rest. They use the SPL-70 u-joints, the rest use the smaller 1480 (which are equal to Spicer SPL-55). Nobody else has the massive SPL-70 yet.
Wheel Bolt Pattern:
When upgrading from stock axles to full-float Dana 60's you wont be able to re-use the wheels from the Rubicon, so bolt pattern most likely isn't a deciding factor. Dynatrac offers 8 bolt as an upgrade along with several other patterns, Currie offers 5 and 6 bolt patterns but not 8. Spicer went with 8 bolt as their only option but if I had to pick one I'd have picked 8, too. Nothing says "1-ton axles" like 8 bolt wheels. The only factor that might play into the bolt pattern becoming a deciding factor is if you already have some wheels you want to use that are not 8 on 6-1/2", otherwise I think this is a win for Spicer, if for nothing other than the cool factor of 8 bolt wheels.
Lets look at value. Only Teraflex gives you a complete bolt-in axle. With everybody else you'll be scavenging parts from your stock axles to complete the installation, for Spicer it's the tie rod, for Dynatrac and Currie it brake components. This not only means that you're getting less for your money, but you'll be impacting the resale value of the stuff your taking off. A complete axle is easier to sell and more valuable than an axle that's missing the calipers or the tie rod. The prospect of scrounge up parts to complete an axle bought over the internet can give any potential buyer the hebejebes.
Dynatrac ProRock 60
Dynatrac really puts their ProRock60 series axles up on a pedestal (as all good marketing should do) but I am not impressed with how they faired in these comparisons, they didn't finish first in anything. They claim "most ground clearance of any housing that uses an 8.5" diameter or larger ring gear", so they might be first in ground clearances, but try to rectify that with Currie who's website says "highest ground clearance 60 on the market" and you just don't know. However, with that space saving housing you can not run Super 60 10" gears like all the other can. Dynatrac is a bespoke axle company so they can make whatever you want, and they've made a good name for themselves with a strong following in the aftermarket axles world, but their standard issue ProRock60 isn't anything special. To upgrade to a 1350 yoke and 14.5" brakes you'll pay over $8,500. Don't forget to upgrade to 35 spline axles too.
Teraflex has done some good engineering for the Tera60. They are the only axle in this comparison to have the high steer arm cast on the outer knuckle, everybody else uses a bolt-on arm. They machine the outer knuckles to run a flipped drag link and, they provide a treaded hole in the spring perches for bump-stop extensions and limit straps, and they include a 4130 chrome moly tie rod. They also have thought about hydraulic assist steering and provide kits that accomodate PSC rams. It's really a well thought-out product and overall my second favorite but man, that price, and like the Dynatrac, it doesn't wow in any catagory.
Currie RockJock60 III
Currie has been around a long time and migrated into 4x4 axles after making a name for themselves with Ford 9" rearends in the street rod and drag-racing market. Their RockJock series of axles has some unique features like the massively upturned diff cover, making it hard to mangle the cover's bolts. They provide Johnny Joints at the suspension mounting points, compared to the rubber bushings everyone else uses, that's a real advantage in performance. They provide multiple mounting holes for suspension components and shocks, and they include a 4130 chrome moly tie rod. However, Currie left you with the most to do to finish these axles off. You need to buy a locker, the R&P gears, bearings, and an install kit. If I throw in some average prices for those components that adds about $1,400, totaling about $7,000, provided you do the installation and gear set-up yourself. However, with brakes on the small side (they have larger brakes optional but you'll have to call to get info), and the weakest axle tube Currie is not my favorite. Also, that unique cover, with an integral suspension mounting point welded to it, might be a problem at times. If you need to do trail repairs can you get that differential cover off without jacking up and supporting the weight of the jeep?
Spicer/Mopar Dana 60 for Wrangler
The Spicer Ultimate 60 front axle is a clear winner in several categories including U-joint size, driveshaft yoke size, tube strength, and it has a fantastic brake package. A feature unique to the Spicer axle is the E-locker which has a wiring harness tailor-made for the Rubicon owner, allowing you to simply plug it into the existing locker wiring. [EDIT - This turned out to be false, you have to do some wiring with aftermarket connectors included with the axles. Also, you loose the feedback circuit that tells the Jeep when the locker is engaged so the axle lock indicator on the dash will always flash when you have the axles locked, it won't light up steedy after the upgrade.] The Spicer is also the cheapest in total cost if you re-use the stock tie rod, and it's definitely the cheapest if you include labor to setup that Currie unit. If you include a heavy duty tie rod like the Teraflex JK HD Tie Rod Kit you'll be up to about $7,450. It's also upgradeable to the Super 60 R&P should you want the added strength. All this and like all the rest in this list, it's Made in America.
The Rear Axles
Lets look at the rear axles. There is not as much variation here because there are a lot less parts to a rear axle and I'm limting this comparison to full-float versions. If you are not familiar with the differences between a full and semi-float axles there is an excellent write-up at 4wdhub.com. The big difference is that with a full-float axle the weight of the vehicle is carried by the axle housing and the axle shaft only transfers the torque to the wheel. With the semi-float design the end of the axle shaft takes the full weight of the vehicle. Because of this additional load a semi-float is more prone to failure than a full-float. Also, depending on the design and type of bearings, with some semi-floats when an axle shaft breaks the wheel will come off the vehicle.
Unfortunatly Teraflex doesn't offer a JK specific rear axle, (or do they?)At the time of this writing (1/26/2016) Teraflex does not show a JK specific rear axle on their website, but I did find one at Northridge4x4.com SKU 3350510. It's only $2,000 but it doesn't include R&P, carrier, ABS sensors, or brakes. Since I couldn't find any official specs for it I didn't feel comfortable include it in the comparison. This axle might be something to look into because total price to complete this axle would only be around $4,000 (cost to get ABS working?). and since the focus of this article is to compare the Spicer Ultimate 60, which is JK only, against other "out-of-the-box" JK axles packages, I'm not going to include anything from Teraflex. Teraflex does make Dana 60 rear axle for the TJ, the CRD60, so check it out if you're interested.
|Brand||Series||Model||Front Price||Missing Parts?|
w/Full Float Option
|Currie||RockJock III 60||JK-RJIIIRF6C||$4,865||Does NOT include locker or R&P. Does NOT disc brake hardware and ABS and ESP sensors, reuse JK|
|Spicer||Ultimate Dana 60||2023612-1||$4,000||Complete|
|* Dynatrac does not include brakes as standard equipment, you reuse the factory JK brakes, however with the upgrade to the full-float versions you get 13.9" rotors and I assume new calipers. I think the 13.9" rotor would be a bit big for the stock caliper.|
Let's look at the specific of these axles.
REAR AXLE STANDARD SPECS
|Wheel Bolt Pattern||5-5.5"||6-5.5"||8-6.5"||5-5"|
|* Dynatrac does not include brakes as standard equipment, you reuse the factory JK brakes. The version I'm using for this comparison is the 5 on 5-1/2 full-float package which gives you 13.9" rotors.
** All of these companies offer an upgrade to 1350 as an option, some even larger. This chart only shows what's included for the price shown.
With so many less components the rear axles are easier to compare.
As with the front axle, if you need a custom width, the Spicer's Ultimate 60 package is out, it's 67" or nothing.
Tube Diameter & Thickness:
Dynatrac drops to the thinnest axle tube of any axle in this comparison, front or rear, but they maintain the 3.125" tube so they are probably still on par with Currie in strength. Spicer sticks with the same massive tube they use in the front axle.
Spicer has the best standard brake package again. Dynatrac with the full-float option comes with very respectable 13.9" but if you don't get full-float the standard package reuses the stock JK brakes. Curries brakes are smaller than stock! That's ridiculous.
A defeat for Spicer, they are the only company to go with a low pinion design whereas everyone else went high pinion. The high pinion offers better ground clearance and better drive shaft angles compared to low pinion axles.
Same as with the front, Spicer went big and the rest are 1310 standard with larger sizes as optional upgrades.
Well this is no contest, the Spicer is almost half the price of the competition, even after besting them in most catagories. The lone disadvantage of the Spicer rear axle is the low-pinion design. The full-float Dynatrac package is a strong 2nd place on features but it's $3,300 more than the Spicer. Currie left you needing to buy a locker, the R&P gears, bearings, and an install kit, about $1,400 worth of stuff provided you do the installation and gear set-up yourself. That puts the Currie rear axle over $6,000.
The point of this article is to share with you the information I discovered when researching my own purchase. I stumbled onto the Mopar Dana 60's while looking at the Jeep Performance Parts catalog and it instantly got me thinking about what something that heavy-duty would mean to my own build. After a lot of research I became more and more impressed with the value they offer, which isn't something you usually expect to find offered thru the dealership.
AXLE SET PRICES
|All prices include estimated costs for parts required to compelete axle sets such as tie rods, lockers, R&P, etc.|
Feature for feature the Spicer is the best standard axle package by far. If you upgraded the others to equal the specs of the Spicer the prices would be thousands more. Currie's price is lowest, but you are left with a ton of assembly required and you'd still be left with the smallest brakes. Although Dynatrac can put together an axle package that is above and beyond the Ultimate Dana 60s (see the ProRock XD60 and ProRock 80), the standard features of the ProRock 60 don't impress. The price for a truly nice set of Dynatrac axles will probably set you back about $17,000, but boy will they be nice.
Any drawbacks with the Spicer Ultimate 60s? Well with only the one configuration it's love it or leave it. If you have any special considerations that the Spicer axles doesn't meet you'll have to look elsewhere. By offering just one package Spicer keeps their production costs low. They only had to engineer it once and now they crank them out in an efficient assembly line. Spicer, a company with enormous resources and production capabilities, went with something they could mass produce. Compare that to the assembly process of Dynatrac, a truly custom axle manufacturer, and you can see how the cost to produce axles one at a time is more.
One goofy thing that I discovered is that the parking brake arrangement on the Spicer Dana 60s is completely different than the stock Rubicon setup and will require some creative engineering to make it work. The Rubicon axles utilized a parking brake that is engaged by a cable that pulls parallel to the axle tube whereas the Dana 60 system is designed for a cable that pulls perpendicular to the axle tube. If you wanted to retro-fit the existing JK cable you'll need some type of lever system and a cable extension along with custom bracketry to make it work.
There is also an elephant in the room, do you know what it is? All axles in this comparison have ARB air lockers except the Spicer, which has the Eaton Elocker. The catalyst for this product was Mopar who wanted a Dana 60 bolt-on upgrade for the Rubicon that they could offer in their performance parts catalog. Since the Rubicon uses the Eaton Elocker (D44 varient) in the stock axles, that is the route Spice went, maintaining compatibility with all the stock systems of the Rubicon. The D60 Elocker has not been around long enough to earn a reputation but it's made by the same company that makes the venerable Detroit Locker, so it's got good DNA. Eaton lists it as suitable for use in extreme off-roading and rock-crawling in their Application Guide so I expect it to be durable and reliable. I also like that Elocker doesn't require an air compressor to operate them and that means no air lines to maintain.
If you can't back it up in writing, it isn't true. These are all from January 2016.
Dynatrac ProRock60 Font Axle Standard and Optional Features.
Dynatrac ProRock60 Rear Axle Standard and Optional Features.
Teraflex60 and CDR60 information.
Spicer Ultimate 60 Brouchure.
2014/2015 Jeep Performance catalog.
Mopar K6862365 Features and Notes.
Eaton Locker Application Guide.
Spicer U-joint measuring and identification.
Questions, comments, complaints, suggestions? Send me an email.
© Mike Riley 2016.