Mer­chant Automotive builds a stronger 4WD

Ultimate Diesel Builder's Guide - - Contents -

Some of the parts you can in­stall on your truck im­prove its power while oth­ers im­prove its longevity, and still oth­ers are in­stalled just to make you truck stronger and bet­ter by ad­dress­ing weak links in the fac­tory de­sign and engi­neer­ing. Most Du­ra­max own­ers know of the trucks propen­sity to toe-in the front wheels on hard ac­cel­er­a­tion in 4WD es­pe­cially dur­ing boosted launches on the drag strip or pull track. The fac­tory in­de­pen­dent front sus­pen­sion (IFS) pro­vides a good ride but the tie rods tend to flex or out­right bend when you try to put a lot of power to the front wheels. An­other weak area is the lack of sup­port for the heavy trans­fer case. In ex­treme cases when off-road­ing, the trans­mis­sion tail hous­ing and/or trans­fer case can crack or break. Ad­di­tion­ally, driv­e­line vi­bra­tions from worn U-joints have also been known to dam­age the union of the trans­mis­sion and trans­fer case.

The team at Mer­chant Automotive in Zee­land, Michi­gan, has de­vel­oped sim­ple so­lu­tions to ad­dress both of th­ese Du­ra­max prob­lem ar­eas with machined stain­less steel tie rod sleeves and a welded steel trans­fer case brace. They are both made in-house with the stain­less steel tie rod sleeves machined to ex­act tol­er­ances on CNC ma­chines and the trans­fer case braces TIG welded by highly skilled welders be­fore be­ing pow­der­coated in bright MA orange to help with­stand the el­e­ments. The brace is fab­ri­cated us­ing 7/8-inch 0.120 wall DOM mild steel tub­ing and pre­ci­sion jigs to fit each ap­pli­ca­tion di­rectly and of­fer ex­tended sup­port of the heavy trans­fer case. Us­ing stain­less steel for the in­ner tie rod sleeve strength­ens the rod to help pre­vent bend­ing and break­ing while also re­sist­ing rust, since loos­en­ing the sleeve is re­quired to set or ad­just the truck’s align­ment. For around $250 for a pair of sleeves and the brace you can greatly strengthen your Du­ra­max-pow­ered 4WD truck, mak­ing it much more re­li­able as you build more power and put it to the ground.

Mer­chant Automotive builds the com­po­nents for all Du­ra­max model years (they even of­fer stain­less steel tie rod sleeves for the 2016+ Colorado Diesel with the baby Du­ra­max) but in this ar­ti­cle we will fo­cus on 2011+ LML trucks as shop tech­ni­cian Jake Phaff per­forms the in­stall on a cus­tomer’s truck. Phaff has in­stalled th­ese up­grades on many trucks over the years and it took him about an hour to in­stall the tie rod sleeves and trans­fer case brace, in­clud­ing the typ­i­cal slow­downs for our pho­tog­ra­phy. If you plan to do the in­stal­la­tion your­self, set aside an hour or two to make sure you have plenty of time to fin­ish the in­stal­la­tion.

While Phaff used one of the two-post lifts at the Mer­chant Automotive shop to make it eas­ier to work on the truck and to al­low us to get our cam­era into po­si­tion to doc­u­ment the in­stal­la­tion process, the work can be done on the ground with a floor jack and jack stands to prop­erly sup­port the truck. Nearly any DIYER can per­form this in­stal­la­tion with ba­sic hand tools, pa­tience, and gen­eral me­chan­i­cal skills. Just be sure to prac­tice safe shop tech­niques, es­pe­cially when lift­ing, sup­port­ing and work­ing un­der your truck as it could lit­er­ally mean the dif­fer­ence be­tween life and death if you’re work­ing un­der­neath an im­prop­erly se­cured truck. If you don’t have the spare time, or if the in­stal­la­tion looks to be be­yond your com­fort level, con­tact your lo­cal spe­cialty diesel per­for­mance shop and they will be glad to per­form the in­stal­la­tion for you.

Af­ter per­form­ing the tie rod sleeve in­stal­la­tion, be sure to take your truck to an align­ment shop to have the align­ment checked to pre­vent ab­nor­mal tire wear. Phaff re­moved the rear drive­shaft to make it eas­ier for us to shoot the in­stal­la­tion pic­tures but that is not nec­es­sary for your in­stal­la­tion. Fol­low along over the next few pages to see an over­view of the in­stal­la­tion process for both the tie rod sleeves and the trans­fer case brace. UDBG

Du­ra­max trucks like Sam Derks’ 2011 LML Chevy are great-look­ing and hard-work­ing trucks, but they have some weak points like the tie rods and trans­fer case mount­ing that need to be ad­dressed to get the most out of them.

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