“Son of one! I left my Sawzall at home!” I screamed Sunday as I drove to the local junkyard just hours before a Super Bowl party I was invited to. I was on my way to remove a 200 pound front axle assembly from a 1994 Jeep Grand Cherokee, and now I was debating turning back. “There’s no way in hell I’m going to get that axle out from under that Jeep in just a few hours. Definitely not all alone,’ I thought. But I was already halfway there, and a jeep friend was actively telling me over the phone that he believed in me. “David, you’re stuck in the Michigan mentality. Digging in California is different. You’ll be fine!”
The friend in question was Fred Williams, the legendary Jeep journalist and host of the greatest off-road show of all time, Dirt Everyday. His knowledge of jeeps and dinghies is astounding, but most importantly, he’s a good friend. He has been a California resident for a long time, and before I moved here from Detroit last year, he scolded me for bringing any of my vehicles west. “What are you doing? Just sell all that rusty junk and buy new jeeps here!” he told me.
Before I made the move, Fred painted California as a gritty paradise. “Whatever Jeep you want to take out west, trust me, you’ll find a better one here and it’ll be a lot easier to work on,” I remember him telling me. In the phone conversation yesterday, which I prompted to get some advice on how I was going to get this shaft out in such a short amount of time by myself and without my Sawzall, he said, “Oh, uh, what do you need for a Sawzall?
“To cut the control arms,” I said. “That way I don’t have to try to remove all those bolts.”
“What do you mean? The Jeep is out of state?” he replied.
When I told him it appeared to be a local car, Fred told me to remember I’m not in Michigan anymore. “Dude, you don’t need a Sawzall. Just take the bolts out. They will all come out right away, easy! Got an impact switch? Ok, you’re fine.”
I appreciated Fred’s faith in me, but after hanging up the phone and arriving at the ‘yard, I was skeptical that I could remove an entire shaft in just a few hours. You see, I have a lot of trauma.
The disappearance of an axis in Michigan is unfortunate
In Michigan, here’s how I would remove an axle from a Jeep:
I’d go to a junkyard, start trying to undo a control arm bolt, and the bolt would catch on the clutch, which would just spin, preventing the bolt from coming out and dropping the arm.
The tie rod bolt would probably break off just below the head, and when I tried to pull the nut out the back, it would hit the axle before the broken bolt shaft was fully out of the tie rod hole, causing impossible grass was removed.
The wheels would wear so much on the brake rotor cap that I would have to sit on my butt in front of the wheel with all the knuckles off and hit the edges of the tire as hard as I could dozens of times, alternating left and right, while turning the steering wheel. The brake rotors would stick to the wheel hub flange so much that they would come off those it would require dozens of full strokes with a sledgehammer. The little bolts from the drive shaft to the yoke shaft would break, and I’d probably find myself calling it in one day and coming back the next morning with a cutting wheel and a Sawzall so I could I pushed through my work.
Splitting the dirt bar would kill all my blades so I would have to run to the shop and then remove the nuts that hold the shock to the axle and try to hold the nut with a Vice grip to hold it in place while I turned the bolt. But the bot would have rusted on the nut, so the nut, so the Vice Grip would slip, and I’d likely have to make another auto parts store trip to get a bolt extractor to handle the rounded nut. At the end, the bolt extractor would hold the round nut in place and I would snap the bolt with a slot to release the striker.
All the while, I’d probably be lifting my ass, carefully trying to avoid cutting myself into the rust and worrying that the rotten cage I was removing the axle from would fall on me due to a collapsed rail. And when it was all over, and I had scratches and bruises and early freezes, I’d end up with a piece of junk covered in horribly Fe2O3 that I’d have to use electrolysis to try to clean up:
For younger me living in Michigan, this job would be a multi-day job, and even though I’d get the axle for cheap (probably $120 or so), it would be rusty as hell.
Watch the video at the top of this section to see an actual example of a friend and I removing a Jeep axle from a junkyard in Michigan.
What it was like to remove an axle from a garbage truck in California
Upon arriving at the California junkyard, I immediately went to work. I had a 2.5 hour Super Bowl party at my girlfriend’s parents’ house so I didn’t want to be late. I put the socket on the lower control arm, dropped the half-inch electric shock drive on the bottom, put an adjustable wrench on the nut on the inside of a body rail, and hit the button. “ZIPPPPPP.”
The bolt had immediately come out and fell to the ground.
My eyes widened. “What the hell?! That was incredible!”
I got down on the ground and slipped the jack over the upper control arm bolt and put a combination wrench on the inner nut.
“Oh, but that’s going to be impossible,” I thought as I looked at the removable bar bolt, which had a torx for which I didn’t have a socket on hand. Sure, there was a nut on the back, but if I tried to turn it, the torx head would just spin and I couldn’t hold that head in place with just a Vice grip.
I tried it anyway. I clamped the vice grip onto the bolt head, drilled a 15mm deep hole over the nut.
The nut fell to the ground and the end link of the sway bar just slipped right off the bolt!
Even the shock nuts came off without a problem, dropping the axle far enough to let me pull out the coil springs (you can see me doing this above). I removed the tow link, the ABS wires, slipped out of the calipers and saw the rotors literally slide on their own, and I knew the axle had come off the Jeep!
The 200 pound piece of cast iron was one ursine to pull along the ground and out of the passenger wheel well. Lifting a skirt up on my stroller was also horrible. My back still hurts from it:
Getting it all in the wheelbarrow just wasn’t going to happen, but luckily someone from the junkyard agreed to help me out:
And boom: I had the last major part for my “Holy Grail” five-speed Jeep Grand Cherokee project.
I loaded the thing up on my Trade-In Tuesday truck (you’ll be hearing more about that soon!) and headed to the Super Bowl party just a little late.
I think I may have seen the crushing gods
Honestly, except for the price, which was a lot California, the whole thing was a borderline-religious experience. How the hell did this entire shaft come out in just a few hours? It turned out every bolt in the sky easily – not one fastener broke, not one rounded, not one caught in place. I didn’t have to cut anything. I didn’t have to sneak in a MAPP gas torch. I didn’t have to shop for auto parts. I didn’t cut myself into rust. The jeep almost fell off me due to a crumpled frame. It was… almost fun!
Scroll up a few paragraphs and check out the Instagram video of me moving an axle in Michigan and let me know how FUN that seems to you.
My mind is blown, and part of me wonders: Given how easy it is to scratch here in California, and given how much experience I have fixing Michigan’s rustiest piles…is it possible that I’m the King of California?