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SHOP TALK: The Mysterious Rear – Have No Fear

You Can't Go Wrong With The Right Tool

908 Motorsports Magazine

To the average person, tools are metal objects that are kept in a toolbox and occasionally used to hang a picture or tighten a loose screw. To a gearhead, tools are like food and water – basic necessities. Most serious DIY mechanics own a variety of tools that might include a welder, plasma cutter, chop saw, drill press, tubing bender, sandblaster, air compressor, hydraulic press, sawzall, and possibly a few other essentials. For the more advanced enthusiast, the next level in the “tool chain” could include a lift, tire machine, balancer, brake lathe, front end rack, and a custom welding table. And then there’s the extreme enthusiast, the gearhead that covets the machines you would normally only find in a pro engine building shop. This is the top of the “tool chain” and includes things like a cylinder hone, crank balancer, seat and guide machine, head/block surfacer or even a valve refacer.

Now let’s be serious. How cool would it be to have all of those tools at your disposal? Assuming you had the knowledge to not only operate these cool tools but also conquer the repair at hand, you would be a self-sufficient one-man shop. Such is the case with a buddy of mine who has a very successful transmission shop near my home. Whenever I drive by, I like to stop in and enjoy a little Shop Talk. The other day, I was watching him rebuild a transmission and could not believe the number of special tools that he HAS to use. Besides a massive toolbox filled with your standard everyday tools, he has a small fortune of job-specific tools that enable him to complete more difficult repairs. He is a modest guy and swears that transmissions are not as hard to work on as everyone makes them out to be. The most challenging part for him was actually acquiring all of the tools and textbooks needed to do the work.

I often talk about the importance of tools, and how having the right tool can make a task a bit easier to perform. Putting my tool obsession aside, though, the reality is there are certain tools that are absolutely job specific and as necessary as the part being replaced.

It’s no secret that when it comes to auto repairs, I have an incredibly anal-retentive approach. I am a perfectionist that labors over every detail, as it is often the details that separate success from failure. This is not something to be taken lightly when it comes to the street or the strip. Not only is someone’s life at risk, there is an extremely expensive custom machine to protect.

I have written about it many times –

The difference between success and failure all start with a keen eye for the details. When it comes to wrenching on a thousand horsepower or more, your life is in the hands of someone who either did it right, or just did it.

Recently, I was hanging in my shop with my garage squad and the topic of tools took center stage. On this particular day, I happened to be taking the rear out of my Pro Street Camaro, because she was making sounds that are not suppose to come out of a Dana 60. The guys watched as I unbolted the custom 4 link and z-bar I fabbed for the car. They watched as I removed the wheels, brakes, calipers, and rotors. They watched as I unbolted the driveshaft and made sure the rear end was free of any other connected part. Knowing that I’d be working alone for the remainder of the job, I needed a way to remove, relocate, and re-install the whole rear and axle assembly by myself. My shop squad watched as I fabricated a rolling and adjustable rear axle stand right in front of their eyes. They were impressed as I lowered the car onto my newly built stand and effortlessly rolled the rear from underneath my car into a free bay to work on it.

As far as I was concerned, my work was done for the day. But the squad had every intention of watching me rebuild the rear. They were bewildered at my response. I told them I simply did not have the tools necessary to complete the job and was planning to take it to a friend’s shop so he could help me with it. They were like, WHAT!? You don’t have the tools? You are going to let someone else touch your car? They went on to say there was no one they would rather have rebuild their rear than me. After all, I am Mr. Detail, and it seems rear ends and being anal-retentive goes hand in hand ­– right?

I proudly support all DIY’ers out there. After all,

no-one is going to put as much care into a repair

as you will on your own car.

I thanked everyone for their confidence in my abilities and the relentless anal-retentive jokes, and sent them home for the night. As the evening progressed, I could not stop thinking about what they said. I decided to do some research and take inventory on the tools I would need to complete this job myself. These are by no means your ordinary, run-of-the-mill toolbox fillers.

These are special tools that are needed to complete the job to the required specifications. I looked at my assortment of torque wrenches and was surprised that I had seven. Out of the seven, one would be able to tighten the pinion yoke to the required 250 ft. lbs., but I didn’t have a dial indicator torque wrench that could read the 20-25 inch pounds of preload that the pinion bearing needs with the yoke torqued to 250 ft. lbs. I also did not have a dial bore gauge that could read the proper backlash specs of .005”-.010.” Adding to this part of the rebuild required me to have a set-up tool or jig to mount my dial bore gauge to and measure the pinion depth. I have a 20-ton shop press and some clamshell bearing removers, but didn’t have one large enough for the carrier bearings. I have an assortment of brass punches but needed a really long one to pop the race out of pinion housing. Now that I had my shopping list, I just needed to convince my wife these were worthy purchases. Tools are an investment in future work, right? She lovingly indulged my thought process and ordered them up.

If you have ever spent any time in a machine shop, you have seen this little tool used a lot. The average home mechanic will never need a dial bore gauge. But anyone who wants to set pinion depth and backlash on a rear end will be lost without it.

I went to work reading every article I could find on Dana 60 rebuilding and found an extremely easy to follow A-Z procedure from Strange Engineering. Bolts are bolts, bearings are bearings, and torque specs are torque specs. Why are people so afraid of setting up rear ends? I truly believe it’s the fear of not having the correct tools to do the job properly. I disassembled the entire rear and thoroughly cleaned the housing and axles. While I was at it, being Mr. Anal, I sanded the rear and put three coats of fresh paint and three coats of clear on it, as well as the fully adjustable ladder bars. I also ordered all new Timken bearings, and seals, along with a new Strange carrier and ring & pinion set. I had recently replaced the end bearings and seals so I left them alone.

My newly constructed axle stand proved to be a lifesaver throughout the entire process, but I also devised a clever plan to assist with the bearings. I purchased an extra set of matching pinion and carrier bearings and had my dear friend, Jason Leindecker of Leindecker Racing Engines, mill out the bearings just enough so I could push them on and off by hand during setup. This was truly invaluable as it took me over a dozen times to get the pinion pre-load to be within the required specs, due to a lack of .001 shims. Removing a bearing and pressing it back on a dozen times, not only takes forever, but the chances of damaging the bearing are very high. This setup-bearing plan was priceless.

The rebuild was a success, but looking back, I should have invested in a very large adjustable wrench to hold the pinion yoke while torquing to a gargantuan 250 ft. lbs. The large pipe wrench I used unfortunately put some teeth marks in my very expensive Mark Williams Yoke. My shop squad was very proud of me for biting the bullet and buying the tools necessary to complete the project myself. My new tools are already being put to good use (generating work), as one member of my squad brought me another rear to rebuild.

I’ve said it before, and I will say again – with a slightly different ending. Respect your engine builder/machinist not only for their knowledge, but for the tools they’ve invested in. Respect your transmission expert for the same, and while we are at it, respect the person who tears into your rear. My garage squad now calls me the proctologist. If only I could charge what they do! So my friends, I hope I’ve presented a rock-solid case on the importance of tools. You truly can’t go wrong when you have the right ones. When in doubt, fear not and follow my lead – ORDER UP!

Until next time…

Keep wrenching,



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