Breakdowns and broken parts are about as common as dirt in your face and wind in your hair. In fact, considering the abuse a vehicle often takes, it’s a wonder that the breakdowns aren’t more severe.
In an earlier column I discuss ways to minimize hazards and therefore potential damage to your vehicle. Here I’ll show you how to replace a universal joint. U-joint replacement, while not as common as fixing tires or replacing tie rods, is an important skill to know. A broken U joint will cripple your vehicle; knowing how to handle the situation will get you back on the trail.
There are a variety of U-joints in both the front axle and drive shafts. The front drive shaft U-joints are different from the back drive shaft, and the U-joints at each end of the drive shaft could be different from each other.
Take a moment to review the U-joints found in your vehicle(s). Pack spare U-joints that are appropriate for your front axles and drive shafts. They are cheap insurance and take up little space.
If you have a spare U-joint and that’s the only thing that’s broken, swap in a good one. If the universal joint damaged the yoke it fits into, take the damaged part out so you can still drive (or tow) the vehicle.
One of the cardinal rules of four wheeling is to be prepared. Remember this: The more remote and the more difficult the trip, the more you need to take! That is when you take a spare drive shaft or axle(s) too.
By the way, I occasionally offer a one-day field repair class. I discuss U joint replacement and other topics. Contact me if you’re interested in learning more.
Replacing a universal joint
The tools and parts you’ll need for replacing a U-joint include:
- New U-joint
- Snap ring pliers or pliers
- Flat blade screw driver to push the “C” clips off – a thin blade is nice
- Big hammer
- Block of wood to work on
- Old socket that has the right OD (outside diameter) to fit inside the yoke holding the U-joint cap
How to change a u-joint:
(Follow the pictures below.)
- Remove the axle or drive shaft so you can get to the U joint (seems we might need to cover that in another article).
- Remove the snap rings on both ends (some have a C clip on the inside – push them off with a screw driver).
- Use an old socket (spark plug socket is about right) to drive the cap in on one side forcing the cap out the other side. This will destroy the socket, which is why I recommend you use an old one.
- Remove the cap that comes out the far side of the yoke.
- If you can, work the other cap off on the inside of the journal. If not, drive it back out its original side.
- When you put the new caps on make sure all the needle bearings are in place and that none have fallen out. If one is lying in the bottom of the cap, you will not be able to get the snap ring back in and will have to start over. Set the other caps aside so they are not damaged or fall off as you hammer the one you are working on.