Merchant Automotive builds a stronger 4WD
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.