Beadlocks or Bust
I really enjoyed “DIY Beadlock Mounting Tech” (Aug. ’18). I’ve been thinking about installing a set of beadlock wheels and wanted an opinion from someone other than my friends. I have a ’12 JK Unlimited Rubicon. I have the stock Dana 44 axles and axleshafts, but I’ve trussed the front axle with an Artec truss, which included beefing up the end forgings. I currently run 37-inch tires with 20-inch wheels. I really haven’t had any problems (knock on wood) running all the trails in Northern California. I’ve only ever peeled a tire bead once, but it seated back up quickly when I moved off the spot I was on. With my current setup, are the beadlocks and new 37-inch tires too heavy for my stock axles? I tend to drive pretty gingerly on the trail and don’t rock hop it or drive it like I stole it. I like to make it out in once piece. I was thinking about the Raceline Monster wheels. Any advice you can provide would really be appreciated. Chris Scott
The decision to run beadlock wheels isn’t always as simple as personal preference. In some areas, traditional beadlocks with bolt-on locking rings are frowned on by the local police and vehicle inspectors. Technically speaking, traditional beadlocks with a removable outer ring are not Department of Transportation (DOT) compliant. That’s not to say they are unsafe at highway speeds. On the contrary, traditional beadlock wheels can be found on desert race trucks that regularly hit more than 100 mph, and even on top fuel dragsters that reach speeds of more than five times the legal limit on most U.S. highways. The problem is that they simply don’t meet the required tire bead surface dimensions dictated by the DOT. Having said that, there are some legal non-traditional beadlock alternatives available to keep your tires from popping a bead. Companies such as Rock Monster Wheels (rockmonsterwheels.com) and Coyote Enterprises (coyoteents.com) offer tire beadlock solutions that are 100 percent street legal in every state.
Moving past the legality issues of traditional beadlocks, I think you should consider altering the wheel size. The 20-inch wheels are heavy, which is hard on steering and axle parts. They also don’t offer enough tire sidewall to properly envelop trail obstacles. The result is decreased traction and a rougher ride off-road. If you do any kind of off-roading at all, you should stick with 17-inch wheels. The commonly accepted rule of thumb is that your wheels should be no bigger than half the diameter of your tires. In your case, your 37-inch tires should be matched with 17-inch wheels for best on- and off-road handling, traction, and overall performance. Going with 17-inch wheels will also open up both your tire and wheel options.
Most beadlock wheels are not all that much heavier than a comparable non-beadlock wheel. However, just as some wheels are lighter than others, some beadlocks are too. For light-duty, low-speed off-roading and street use, lighter wheels and tires are generally the best choice. A lighter tire and wheel package not only helps preserve your axles and other drivetrain parts, it will offer improved acceleration, braking, ride comfort, and handling over a heavier tire and wheel package.
Your Dana 44 axles are at about their operational limit in strength and durability with 35-inch tires. The 37s are beyond what JK Dana 44 axles are designed for, even for mild off-road use. That’s not to say you can’t keep the axles alive. If you drive sanely, you should be able to keep the JK Dana 44s in one piece, but you should expect things like ball joints and unit bearings to wear out prematurely thanks to the additional weight and leverage of the 37-inch tires. Of course, if you drive aggressively off-road, you’ll be rewarded with a bent or broken axlehousing, shattered axleshafts and steering U-joints, and maybe a busted Rubicon locker.