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How to Identify Wrangler Axles & Axle Differences

Written By: Louis Orellana

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A Wrangler's drivetrain is its bread and butter. That said, there is always room for improvement, or to hone it to your off-road needs. Stronger axles, different gear ratios, and even a tougher differential will help you tackle more difficult trails.

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Wranglers are known to have a terrain capable and rugged drivetrain. The solid axle design paired with an incredible 4WD system, provides Jeeps with a high degree of versatility and durability. This article will explain the differences between Jeep axles, offer a brief explanation of how the legendary 4WD system works, and show you which differential cover belongs to which axle.

Extreme Terrain

The Three Wrangler Dana Axles

The Dana portion is the name plate of Dana Inc., who is the manufacturer of the axles used on Jeeps. There have been a few different axles used in Wranglers over the years with the Dana 44 being the most popular axle to come stock. The Dana 30 will only be found as a front axle while the Dana 35 will only be found as a rear axle on Wranglers. Dana 35 axles have earned a very poor reputation in the off-roading world, however it is a great axle for stock Wranglers. If you intend on running 33 inch or larger tires on your Wrangler, make sure you have a Dana 44. If you try running huge tires on a Dana 35 you will probably end up snapping an axle shaft.

What Do Dana Axles Look Like?

Each Wrangler axle has a slightly different look, making them easy to distinguish. 

Dana 30

A Dana 30 cover will look like a rounded square.

Stock Wrangler Dana 30 Differential Cover
TeraFlex Wrangler Dana 30 Differential Cover

Dana 35

A Dana 35 cover will look like an oval.

Stock Wrangler Dana 35 Differential Cover
Wrangler Front Dana 35 Differential Cover

Dana 44

A Dana 44 cover is a weird shape that looks kinda like a muffin.

Stock Wrangler Dana 44 Differential Cover
TeraFlex Wrangler Dana 44 Differential Cover

What Axles Could My Jeep Have?

Identifying the axles in YJs is pretty simple due there were no options for it. Every YJ came with a Dana 30 up front and a Dana 35 in the rear. TJ Wranglers will have either a Dana 30 or Dana 44 in the front, and for the rear there will be either a Dana 35 or a Dana 44. In LJ Wranglers you will find a Dana 30 or a Dana 44, and in the rear you will only find a Dana 44. In early two door JK models you may find a Dana 35 in the rear, but the Dana 44 is the most common rear axle on JKs. All four door JKs will have a Dana 44 in the rear.

What's the Difference Between the Dana Axles?

Aside from the differential covers, the biggest difference between the axles is the size. The number in the name (Dana 30, Dana 44, etc.) is in reference to the sizes of the axle.

Dana 30: This axle size is the most common and is usually found on Sport and Sahara models. They have a ring gear diameter of 7 & 1/8”. The gear ratio options found on these axles is either 3.21 or 3.73.

Dana 35: This was an axle size used only in the 2007 Sport and Sahara models. They had a ring gear diameter of 7.56”. They came with either a 3.21 or 4.10 gear ratio.

Dana 44: These are the beefier axles found on the rear of all Wrangler models now with either a 3.21 or 3.73 gear ratio. They have a ring gear diameter of 8 ½”. Rubicon models come standard with a 4.10 rear gear ratio and also use a Dana 44 axle in the front with either a 3.73 or 4.10 gear ratio. Rubicon models also come with an electronically lockable differential for optimal traction while in 4WD.

How do Dana Axles Work?

In addition to the differential covers and ring gears, the heart of an axle is the differential which mates with the splines of the axle shafts. Axle shafts are centered and held in position with the axle bearings, and they're sealed with the axle seals. The complex mating of gears and splines work in unison to transfer the power through the drive shafts to the differentials.

Wrangler Axle Graphic

What's the Difference Between AWD and 4WD?

Fundamentally, both systems perform the same functions of providing traction to both front and rear wheels. AWD (all wheel drive) drivetrains are seen more often in sedans and sports cars. These systems are always on and constantly transferring power to different wheels through sophisticated traction monitoring. The system is better utilized during high on-road speeds.

Jeeps use a 4WD (four-wheel drive) system which is an older and more mechanical drivetrain. Normally Jeeps are rear wheel drive trucks. The driver can manually engage the transfer case to engage the front differential. The power is delivered to opposed wheels. 

Wrangler Rear Wheel Drive Graphic
Wrangler Four Wheel Drive Graphic

In addition to manually engaging 4WD, Rubicon models have the ability to electronically lock the front and rear differentials. When engaged, the lockers will transfer power to both wheels, providing power to all wheels.

Wrangler Rear Wheel Drive with Differential Lock
Wrangler Four Wheel Drive with Differential Lock Graphic

It’s important to note a Jeep's 4WD drive train in designed to be engaged only when the wheels are slipping due to loose terrain. When engaged, the system will reduce engine speed, bringing the Jeep to a crawl when in 4 low. The activation of the electronic lockers provides an additional level of traction, but requires more attention to the terrain and should be used during brief moments to help the Jeep regain traction.

The Jeep’s drivetrain is a very complex system, but unlike AWD, is manually engaged when needed. This results in a much more durable and less complex system that mainly relies on proper gearing and power transfer. With proper use and maintenance, the system can last for a long time and provide a high level of traction when needed.

Fitment includes: JK, TJ, YJ, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018