When the second-gen Ram was introduced in 1994, the styling was a love it or hate it proposition. However, regardless of whether you liked or disliked the way the truck looked; the tradition of dependable, hard-working trucks was carried over from the previous generation.
One concern that many second-gen truck owners express is the lack of lockout front hubs. This omission means the font axles and differential are always being “worked” and this causes undue wear and tear as well as the lack of any semblance of respectable fuel mileage. For that reason, a few aftermarket companies have developed second-gen Ram hub upgrade kits to replace the original hub assemblies. But, there is a less expensive way to accomplish the task, and truck enthusiasts like Joe Simon of Muncy, Pennsylvania have done so with great results.
“I did a second-gen Ram hub upgrade and added lockout hubs from parts I took off a ’95 through ‘97 Ford F-350,” Joe states. “I grabbed everything from the steering knuckles to the lockouts. I went thru three sets of unitized bearings on the front of my diesel Dodge in less than 50,000 miles before I did this conversion.” Yes, this swap does utilize Ford parts, but get over it. If you are content with not having a front axle that can be locked out, then so be it.
In the realm of four-wheel drive trucks, 1994 was the year that Ram introduced Central Axle Disconnect (CAD) with the front axle. This design was a replacement for the previous design. The CAD system works by having an axle shaft (typically the longer shaft) split into two pieces. One half is connected to the carrier while the other is connected to the wheel. A sliding collar is used to connect the two halves when the four-wheel drive is activated.
From 1994 until 2001, all Ram Trucks used the CAD front axle. In 2002, CAD was phased out of use on 2500 and 3500 series trucks. This leaves owners of many second-gen trucks without the benefit of an “open” front differential. Since the axles, differential, and transfer case is spinning all the time, not only is fuel mileage hurt, but things can wear out much quicker. That’s why many people, like Joe, rely on a second-gen Ram hub upgrade to remedy the situation.
Hub conversions are not a new thing to truck owners. Off-road enthusiasts have been employing hub conversions before unit bearings were even found on 4x4s. Those early conversions were done when guys would piece together their own packages to add bigger spindles and bearings onto weaker-equipped Dana 44 rearends.
With the price of fuel once again high, many enthusiasts are revisiting the premise of hub conversions and Joe was quick to tell us he found a relatively inexpensive way to accomplish the swap. “One seriously great benefit of doing this is you can leave the hubs locked out and use low gear in the transfer case for two-wheel drive low gearing,” Joe affirms. “This is great for pulling your boat out of the water or whatever you may need to do without the need for four-wheel drive.”
While you can find many of those F-350 trucks in salvage yards, you can also find many of the parts new at the local auto parts store. “You can use any F-350 parts from a post-kingpin steering knuckle through 1997. The ’95 through ‘97 also gives you better brakes as the Ford caliper is a two-piston design while the Dodge is a single-piston design,” affirms Joe. “I used the F-350 steering knuckles and everything out from the ball joints is all Ford. nothing needed to be machined. The U-joints matched up to the stub axles and it was a simple bolt-on ordeal. I used the steering knuckles and stub shafts and everything else I bought new.”
If you are contemplating this second-gen Ram hub upgrade, pre-’92 Ford hub assemblies will work, but the wheel studs are only 1/2-inch as compared to the later assemblies that have 9/16-inch wheel studs. Joe did say that he used early hubs and had a machine shop install the 9/16 studs. “I also need to mention that this swap will push the wheels out 3/4-inch on each side of the truck,” Joe states. “Also, the conversion gives you easy-to-find roller bearings and roadside repairs are easier if needed. They also offer better overall drivability.”
While the early Ram trucks are a true workhorse of the bastion, there is no reason that they can’t benefit from the simple second-gen Ram hub upgrade like the one Joe just completed on his rig. Joe did tell us he feels this is something nearly any enthusiast can do in their driveway, and the swap took the better part of a full day, so plan accordingly. What are you waiting for, the price of fuel to get even higher?