Front axle replacement on second-generation Chrysler minivans
Subject Vehicle: 1994 Chrysler Town & Country
Problem: Wiggle or clack when turning corners
Solution: Replace front axle (there is one on each side)
Time: If you’re quick, less than an hour, if you’re half crippled (like me) make it a good 3 hours (I’m paying penance to my arthritic shoulder at the moment.)
- ½” drive ratchet
- 3/8” drive ratchet
- 2” long ½” drive extension
- 6” long ½” drive extension
- 6” long 3/8” drive extension
- 1-1/4” dia. 1/2'” drive socket
- ¾” dia. ½” drive socket
- 7/8” dia. ½” drive socket
- 7/8” dia. 3/8” drive socket
- 18mm Dia. 3/8” drive socket
- 13mm Dia. 3/8” drive socket
- Jack capable of suppprting vehicle
- Jack stands, also capable of supporting vehicle
- Coat hangar or thick wire (to support brake caliper)
- Pickle fork (tie rod removal tool)
or the correct Chrysler tie rod end puller)
- Pliers (needle nose)
- Small pick or straight screwdriver
- 3lb sledgehammer
- Large c-clamp
- One helping pair and hands and feet
Disclaimer: While the photos show the use of a scissor jack on a dirt working surface, auto mechanic Wayne Moschella pointed out that a far safer method of lifting the vehicle would have been a real jack stand on “at least” a sheet of 3/4” plywood.
Disclaimer #2: These steps are not all needed for replacement of just the axle, but this van also needed the driver’s side ball joint boot and TRE to be replaced, along with new brake rotors. If you do not need to do all this, you can leave the brake rotor and caliper on (though removing them makes it easier to get the axle out) and the knuckle doesn’t need to be unbolted from the strut.
Now the Step By Step:
- Loosen lug nuts on appropriate wheel.
- Raise and safely support the vehicle.
- Remove lug nuts and wheel then set aside, (first pull the cotter key and toothed castle nut, being careful not to lose the spring washer under the nut, than remove the) wheel hub nut and the flat washer under it, (have someone step on the brake pedal, to avoid stressing the trans park pawl) using the ½” drive ratchet, ½” dr 2” extension with 1-1/4” Socket, now the helper can hop out, no other brake application is needed until the final torque on install.
- Using the 13mm Socket, remove the brake caliper pin bolts and then hang the caliper from the strut spring using the thick wire or coat hangar (I used a wire coat hangar), It may help to compress the caliper just a hair using the C-clamp. For ABS equipped vehicles you may remove the ABS wheel speed sensor from the knuckle if you wish. I did just to avoid the possibility of damaging it. Use a ¼ Ratchet and a 8mm socket.
- Remove the outer brake pad, rotor and inner brake pad along with the anti-rattle clip.
- First mark then remove the strut to steering knuckle bolts (be careful here, the lower knuckle bolt is the camber adjustment bolt, that is why you mark it, so you can get it back in the same place is before), there is also a plate on the nut side of the knuckle bolts. Use the 7/8” Dia. ½” drive socket for this. You will also need the 7/8” dia. 3/8” drive socket and 3/8” drive ratchet to get these out. Once you loosen the nuts, the whole nut bolt assembly will spin. Use the other ratchet to hold it in place in order to remove the nuts.
- Remove the cotter key and nut from the tie rod end using the screwdriver, needle nose pliers and the 18MM 3/8” drive socket/extension/ratchet.
- Using the pickle fork and sledgehammer, separate the tie rod end from the steering knuckle, (you are supposed to use the Chrysler specific tool if you wish to re-use the tie rod ends, mine are hashed and will be replaced, so I used the pickle fork).
- Now, swing the knuckle over as far as possible once the knuckle is clear of the strut end.
- Now using the sledge (very lightly) tap the axle to loosen it grip on the hub, now slide the axle out of the hub, now the axle is free and you can pull the axle out of the trans-axle.
- Using a Seal puller pull the old seal from the axle bore and install a new seal. Use a small flat punch or screwdriver to drive in the new seal, being careful not to damage the new seal, add just a touch of trans fluid, or motor oil or wheel bearing grease (what ever you have on hand) lube the new seal with just a tiny bit. A finger tip sized amount spread in the new seal is good. This will keep the new seal from burning and then leaking.
- Grab your new axle and compare it with the old. Now if they match, slide the new axle into the trans-axle and then slide the wheel end of it into the hub (yes, it is at an extreme angle and will take some effort to push against the spring inside the inner CV joint, trust me, it will go in, it also helps to wiggle it a little once it’s started), using the new nut that came with the new axle making sure to reuse the flat washer on the hub side, loosely install the nut on the end of the axle. (My pic of the two next to each other was too blurry, but this one turned out okay. Well, there's your problem!)
- Place the tie rod end back in the knuckle and loosely install the nut
- Using the C-clamp ( or your helper) to hold the strut in place on the knuckle, slide the bolts back in from the rear, making sure the oblong-headed bolt is on the bottom. Now slide the bar back onto the nut side of the strut mount along with the nuts, once you have the alignment marks lined back up (you did mark them right?), tighten the nuts to 75 ft/lbs. Remove the C-clamp from the strut mount. Now would be a good time to re-install the ABS wheel speed sensor, tighten the mounting bolt snugly. Not too much oomph here, it’s just plastic!
- Tighten the Tie rod nut to 55 ft/lb and install the cotter key, if the hole in the tie rod doesn’t line up with the valley on the nut, TIGHTEN (never loosen) the nut until the hole lines up with the valley, then bend the end of the cotter key around the nut
- Install the inner brake pad onto the caliper adapter, then slide on the rotor and the outer pad, don’t forget that the anti-rattle clip goes on before the pads and slide over the top of each one.
- Now remove the caliper from the wire hangar and slide it into place on the pads and adapter. Install and tighten the caliper pin bolts to 25-35 ft/lbs.
- Now have your helper step on the brake pedal as hard as they can, now tighten the hub nut to 180 Ft/LBS. Now install the spring washer, the castle nut and the cotter pin. If the hole doesn’t line up with the valleys in the castle nut, move the castle nut until it does, in the event that no holes line up, TIGHTEN the nut just a little more until one lines up. NEVER loosen the nut; doing so will result in catastrophic failure. Now install the cotter key and bend the end over the castle nut.
- Install the wheel and tire, loosely install the lug nuts at this time.
- This is what it should looke like when it's all back together. And, yes this is the same picture as step one. My picture for this was too washed out to be useful.
- Lower the vehicle to the ground and torque the lug nuts to 95 Ft/lbs. Take it promptly to an alignment shop, just to be sure that there will be no odd tire wear and driveability issues.
- Now enjoy a van that doesn’t wiggle or clack when turning corners.
- Go inside when you’re done and enjoy a cold one!!
I was going to pull my steering knucle so I would have a straight shot out, but I couldn't get the ball joints loose. I’m going to change the passenger side next week; most of the wiggle is gone, I just have a tiny bit from the passenger side now.
“IAFarmer” wrote: “Thanks. I absolutely could not get the lower ball joints free. I needed struts anyway, so pulled them out and then did the axle.”
Feedback from Geoff Gariepy
Geoff has pulled numerous axles in junkyards and his own car as part of his transmission rebuild project. He wrote, “I don't mean to diminish the original author in any way, but experience with this task has taught me a few things,” and continued:
If the vehicle has vented rotors, a heavy screwdriver can be slipped into one of the vents to lock the hub in place while you loosen the large nut on the end of the axle shaft, thus eliminating the need for a helper to press on the brakes during this operation. (Brace the screwdriver against the caliper.) Alternatively, the nut can be loosened while the vehicle's wheel is still on the ground. The parking brake pawl is a pretty chunky piece of metal, and you have the inertia of the vehicle working in your favor as well; you won't damage anything.
Disconnect the tie rod end from the knuckle by removing the cotter pin and the "castle nut". The tie rod end's pin is a close-tolerance fit into the knuckle; sometimes it is helpful to tap upward on the castle nut with a hammer while it is still on the end of the threads to loosen it (this protects the threads from being damaged by the hammer.) There is a puller tool made for this purpose as well.
To separate the ball joint, first unbolt the antisway bar from the control arms (2x15mm screws on both sides of the vehicle) and allow it to swing down. You will be fighting the antisway bar otherwise, and it makes the job nearly impossible unless you bring a lot of force to bear on the control arm. Remove the pinch bolt that secures the ball joint pin to the knuckle. You will likely find that you need a wrench on one end of this bolt to hold it in place while you ratchet the other side loose. Next, use a puller tool, or as a last resort, a 'pickle fork' to separate the ball joint. (Expect to replace the grease seal on the ball joint if you use a pickle fork, you are almost certain to destroy it.) Sometimes it is helpful to use a pry bar to lift the knuckle assembly up a bit and lever it off of the ball joint pin.
Once you have separated the ball joint, disconnected the tie rod end and removed the axle nut and hardware, the strut/knuckle assembly has enough play to swing out far enough to remove the axle shaft from its spline. Being careful to support the axle shaft assembly in roughly a straight line (severe angles will separate the inner CV joint) you can then slide the axle shaft's inner spline out of the transmission. Be aware that some transmission fluid will leak out when you do so; have a pan to catch it. Also be certain to inspect the oil seal on the transmission that the spline inserts into; they frequently harden and crack. Replacing it now is simpler than after everything is all back together.
Not removing the caliper and brake rotor saves a significant amount of time. Not separating the knuckle from the strut prevents the almost certain need for an alignment after the job is done. Remember to use *new* cotter pins when you reassemble everything.
To the author's list of tools, I would add: a 1/2" breaker bar, and a 32MM socket for the axle nut. Having the 3/8" ratchet, sockets and extensions is nice but not necessary if you have a complete set of the 1/2" sockets, preferably deep wells. You will also want some penetrating oil to use on the anti-sway bar fasteners, as they will be rusty in those parts of the country that use road salt.