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by Jeremy Schrag
This repair applies to a 2008 Dodge Caravan but 2008-2010 Caravans and Chrysler Town & Country minivans may be similar or identical.
It’s a common story. You’re driving through a parking lot somewhere with the window down, and you hear a click, click, click sound when you turn the wheel all the way to one end and give your front wheel drive vehicle a little gas. Or, you’re taking off from somewhere and get a clunk when you hit the gas. Or, the vehicle shudders when accelerating. Perhaps you’ve even had one of your front wheels off for a tire replacement and seen some extra grease on the parts around the wheel hub.
These are all symptoms of a failing constant velocity joint on one of the front drive axles or “halfshafts,” as many people call them. Such is the story for the above pictured vehicle, a 2008 Dodge Grand Caravan SXT with nearly 300,000 kms on the odometer. Belonging to a now retired minister, this vehicle has seen near constant use since it was purchased used back in 2011.
KOG wrote: This article overlooked one very important item. When replacing half shafts it is vital to replace the axle shaft seals in the transmission. Otherwise you'll soon be pulling the new axle again to fix the leak form the old seals. Don't bother to ask me how I know, this after replacing dozens of half shafts.
I’m going to use this vehicle to show you exactly how to tackle this extremely physical but not all that difficult procedure. It’s a lot like changing a tire, except more nuts and bolts need to come off and it takes more time.
Our patient requires the left side halfshaft to be replaced, so that’s where we’ll gather our tools. You need all the gear you would normally use to change a tire, plus the following items for this particular vehicle:
Many of the tools needed may be different for other cars, but Chrysler has been pretty consistent with the axle nut size since the 80s. I have swapped many Mopar axles from my 1988 New Yorkers to more than one generation minivan, and they have all had 32mm axle nuts.
Our first step is, naturally, to remove the wheel attached to the bad axle. Once you get the vehicle in the air, make sure you use jack stands to hold it there... you’re going to have it in the air for quite a while, and if your trolley jack is anything like mine you’ll end up wearing your van for a hat in no time. It’s far too dangerous not to use jack stands for this sort of thing.
With the wheel off, I can show you how I know this van’s driver’s side halfshaft needs some attention. The constant velocity joint boot has split, and the axle has thrown grease everywhere around it. While you can often replace just the boot with the help of a boot clamp tool, and this does save you some modest cash, the amount of labor required to do the job is actually even greater than replacing the drive axle altogether. And as you are about to see...
You may have more than one boot needing replacement. This is the inner CV joint boot on the offending axle, and it’s not in much better shape than the outer one was. It still has all its grease, but I will personally be glad to get a whole new axle in here.
Now that the wheel is off, our next step is to loosen and remove that axle nut. Either this will be very easy (if the nut has worked its way loose), or crazy hard. First, if you have a helper present, have him or her go stand on the brakes to keep things from turning. If you do not have a helper, shove a big screwdriver (or in the above picture, an extra long punch) into the brake rotor slots, braced against the brake caliper bracket. Now, get your breaker bar and 32mm socket.
These nuts are supposed to be torqued to 118 foot pounds, so this should fight you. The longer your breaker bar, the better. A 1/2” drive breaker bar like my 24” model may work, but may also fail on you. Mine’s held up over several jobs like this, but definitely consider going to 3/4” drive or bigger if you find yourself doing this often. I used to have a 1/2” drive T-bar with a sliding head on it I used for axle nuts. I figured they should be stronger than a breaker bar, and they are. Mine was not strong enough, and can now be found somewhere in the local landfill.
Depending on how big and strong you are, you may need a cheater pipe over the end of the breaker bar to help with leverage, as I did once when even all my weight bouncing on the end of my breaker bar couldn’t break that nut loose. But what can you do when even the cheater pipe fails you?
Well, there are still a few options open to you. I have cracked loose the real stubborn ones by putting my full weight on the breaker bar and giving the bar a few firm taps with a hammer near the socket mount. Another option is to carefully use a jack to press upwards on the bar, though I don’t really recommend that one, because if the breaker bar fails you don’t know where it will end up when it breaks. Impact tools may help, though if you can’t get the nut loose with a breaker bar and cheater pipe you are likely looking at the need for an air impact driver, as the electric ones may not give you any more power than you’ve already exerted.
My best advice? If the nut won’t move at first, keep at it as long as the tools hold up. It will surrender eventually, as was the case with my 1992 Imperial, which required both the weight and hammering trick and ten minutes of yanking on the bar for all I was worth to crack the passenger side axle nut loose. When it finally gave way, I was sure my breaker bar had snapped... it sounded almost like a gunshot. But no, my tools lived to fight another day.
Before we move on, here’s a shot of my 1/2” drive 32mm socket (above right). This was not cheap. You don’t need one of those specialized axle nut sockets you can find here and there, you just need a 32mm deep socket built well enough to go the distance. This one cost me more than my 24” long breaker bar did... almost forty bucks. A six sided socket is better than twelve, especially when you have to bounce your whole weight on the other end of the breaker bar with a cheater pipe.
In the case of this vehicle, I was spared from any of the usual axle nut removal tricks. It was barely hand tight. I was able to loosen and remove it with my 18 1/2” drive ratchet, that’s how loose it was.
But no matter, we will now remove the brake caliper from the guide pins so it can be move up and out of the way. Take your 15mm open ended wrench and put it on one of the nuts arrowed in red. Now, you can loosen and remove the 13mm mounting bolts arrowed in yellow. Work the brake caliper off the rotor, and suspend it from the strut with a piece of wire.
Make sure you’re not putting any undue strain on the brake hose when you do this, but do make sure you’ve got it up and out of the way as I did here. The axle will come out toward the front of the van, so that’s where we need our access.
Now, scribe along the strut bracket so that you can get the strut mount bolts back in there without needing a wheel alignment later. Once you’ve done this, take your 11/16” deep socket and remove the nuts. You should not need a wrench on the bolt side as you take these off. Do not turn the bolt side, as that side is specially knurled to keep them from turning.
Before we go any further, make sure you take a close look at the bolt side. One of these bolts may have an eccentric lobe on it for wheel alignment. It is important to put these types of bolts back where you find them, and in this case it should be the lower one. This van has no eccentric bolts, so I will just put it back together using my scribed marks to line things up.
Now, we need to unplug the wheel speed sensor and move the wiring. When the axle hub assembly comes down, it will yank on this wiring and break it if you do not do something about it. First, let’s work the wiring insulator arrowed in red out of the brake hose bracket. Try not to put any strain on the wiring itself, just the insulator.
This is also a good time to troubleshoot any issues you might have with the anti-lock brakes and stability control system due to wheel speed sensor issues. Indeed, this is how I found out this van needed a new driver’s side halfshaft. At random times, the van would kick out of cruise control and light up the ESP and ABS warning lights. It usually happened after hitting a bump in the road. When scanned, a code was present for the left side wheel speed sensor. The issue turned out to be the connector being dirty... I’ll show you that connector right now, because we need to disconnect it for this job anyway.
This is the wheel speed sensor connector, located just above the halfshaft. Red arrows indicate the positions of two clips that hold the connector to its bracket. Pry it off the bracket, and then disconnect it. Be careful not to damage the brake line running directly underneath it, and note the positioning of the wires... they are routed so that the connector never drops onto the spinning halfshaft should it come loose.
The two sides of the wheel speed sensor connector. Shoot some contact cleaner into both sides, then cycle it a few times to clean it, leaving it disconnected so we can finish the axle job.
Grab a 10mm socket and remove the bolt and bracket holding the wheel speed sensor wiring to the strut, then drape the wiring over the hub assembly where it won’t be damaged by the hub assembly suddenly moving downward.
We’re about to get serious about removing the halfshaft, so place your fluid catching container underneath the transmission where the halfshaft is attached. You won’t lose a lot of fluid, in many cases it won’t be enough to even bother topping up the transmission, but just in case it gushes out you want the ability to measure what came out of there. This being a 62TE transmission lacking a dipstick, I will also get the chance to test the ATF+4 fluid on some paper towel to see if it’s still in good shape.
With nothing more than bolts, ball joints, and the steering linkage holding the hub assembly to the vehicle, we are now ready to separate the strut from the hub assembly. Use your hammer to pound the strut bolts out. If the little hammer won’t do the job, get the big one.
The whole shebang will just come out and drop down like so, though on some cars you may need to force it down.
Now... it’s time to remove the wheel side of the old halfshaft. Try to work it out toward the vehicle with your hands first. If it’s stuck, gently pry between the halfshaft and hub taking care not to pry on any of the sealing or bearing surfaces. If gentle prying won’t do it, you probably have some rust to deal with. Try a few gentle taps on the end of the halfshaft with the hammer. You really don’t want to do this if you are re-using the halfshaft, as it is a last resort kind if thing, and you should do it as few times as possible to avoid damaging your wheel bearings.
This particular van required...
... two very firm taps with a 5lb sledgehammer before that rust let go. But let go it did, and all we need to do now is pop the other side out of the transmission.
There will be a snap ring holding the transmission end in, which may require some prying to break loose. This is where you pry on a 2008 Caravan... there’s a small space just on the left side of the transmission where you can get a thin pry bar in to do the job. It won’t be hard... just a firm shove toward the transmission should disengage the snap ring.
That’s all you need to do to remove the axle. Gently work it through the opening you left by removing the brake caliper and speed sensor wiring, and set it aside.
Go find the box with the new halfshaft and open it up. You’ll notice that this one lacks the damper weight in the middle that the factory one had. This is of no consequence. I have yet to drive a vehicle where that damper weight really made any difference at all with anything.
Slide the transmission end of the new axle into place first. You may need to give it a firm shove to get the snap ring to let the axle into the transmission. Then, slide the hub end into place, wrestle the hub back into the strut bracket, and put the two strut bolts back in where they came from. Lining up your scribe marks, put the nuts back on and tighten them to spec, which in this case is 65 foot pounds plus an extra 90 degrees.
Now, put the axle nut on, jam your brake rotor holding tool in the rotor slots against the caliper bracket again, and tighten the nut to 118 foot pounds. You should have gotten a new nut with the new axle, and you should not re-use the old nut if you are reinstalling the old axle. Where older vehicles usually had a castle nut and cotter pin to hold their axle nuts on in case they came loose, these newer vehicles have special nuts designed not to back off instead. You can see one of three flattened areas in the nut in the above shot arrowed in red... that’s what keeps the nut on the axle if it happens to work loose.
If you used a helper to stand on the brakes as you loosened this nut, you will have to re-install the brake caliper before you do this step, so that the brakes can be used again.
Reinstall the brake caliper, if you haven’t already. The guide pin bolts are torqued to 26 foot pounds on this van. Reinstall the wheel speed sensor wiring and fasten the connector back to its bracket. Measure the amount of transmission fluid that came out, and add the equivalent in new fluid if there was a lot of it. In my case, I had half a cup leak out... not enough to worry about. And yes, the fluid condition was fine on this vehicle. Comparing the rate of oil spreading on a paper towel with new fluid, which is the only way to determine the relative condition of ATF+4, there was barely any difference observed. This is what I expected from a van that had gotten a replacement transmission halfway through its life.
You should be all done now, once you put the wheel back on. Happy motoring!
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