The axles on your side-by-side do a lot of work. They’re the final link on your drivetrain that gets your engine’s power to the ground®, and they take a beating. From overheating, to binding, to massive torque loads, the issues facing your axles are made even worse when you add a lift kit.
What can you do to make sure your axles won’t give up the ghost when you get lifted? We’ll walk you through it.
A small lift is about four inches or less and they’re particularly hard on axles. That’s because most of them are designed to work with your stock axles even if your stock axles were designed for nothing more than stock applications. Here are the most common axle issues associated with small lift kits.
Axle binding is caused by a CV joint bending so far that the internal bearings and cage lock up and can’t turn freely. If you force it to turn in this state by hitting the gas, your CV joint will explode internally. Even if an axle doesn’t bind when you’re driving around on flat ground, an axle could bind when you go over uneven terrain where your suspension can drop momentarily.
When you lift a machine without upgrading your axles, your axle’s CV joint angles increase. There’s no way around it. But before you take your side-by-side out for a spin, you should check for axle binding.
To check for binds, lift your vehicle completely off the ground so your suspension is at full drop, then spin each of your four wheels by hand. They should spin freely. If you have to lift your suspension at all to turn a wheel, then your axle is in a bind. Don’t drive on it.
Even if your axles aren’t binding, the steeper angles of your CV in a lifted machine cause it to heat up more. A hot CV joint might not sound like a big deal, but it can cause a couple issues.
First, running at higher than optimal heat will speed up the breakdown of your CV joint grease and it will start behaving more like water rather than grease. Once your grease starts losing its lubrication qualities, your CV components will start wearing quickly, eventually leading to failure.
If you have severe overheating issues, you can run into the second major problem: sudden, spontaneous failure. If there’s a ton of friction from an extreme angle or a low quality CV, your grease can heat up so much that the pressure ruptures your rubber boot or melts your boot altogether. You’ll lose all of your grease, allowing your CV components to break almost instantly.
The best way to prevent these small lift issues is by upgrading to stock-length aftermarket axles that can handle higher operating angles. There are loads of options from tons of different manufactures. We have 3 different heavy-duty axle styles that are all more than capable of handling any small lift kit you can find.
Check out our Rhino Brand, Rhino 2.0, and Rhino X300 Axles for your small lift kit, and say goodbye to axle issues.
Big lift kits give you at least five inches of lift, and their axle issues are a different beast. That’s because big lift kits almost always come packaged with extended axles. These axles can handle the extreme angles of a big six to ten-inch lift kit, but going big can also cause big problems.
Has anybody ever put a big lift on their side-by-side without also putting on some big tires? Definitely not, and big tires add a ton of weight to your axles. That extra weight makes your axles prone to breaking if you get bogged down in mud or wedged on a steep incline.
This problem can be made worse by another popular big lift kit accessory: a transmission gear reduction. That gear reduction boosts your machine’s torque output, which makes it that much easier to snap an axle if your wheels get stuck. This is different than a portal gear lift, where the gear reduction is in the hub so that it reduces the torque load on your axles.
Big lift kits come with steering stop kits. That’s because even though your big lift kit axles are better, you can still bind them in certain circumstances. Without a steering stop kit, you can destroy an axle easily by turning the steering wheel all the way left or right, throwing it in reverse, and hitting the gas. This causes your machine to rock forward and put a ton of extra stress on your front axles that are already extended to their max while turning.
This maneuver is a bad idea no matter what you’re driving, but on a big lift, it’s a guaranteed break.
So what do you do to save your axles when you add big tires and a transmission gear reduction to your big lift? Driving cautiously will get you far—don’t gun it when your wheels are wedged and use your steering stop kit.
If you don’t want to worry, then you need to upgrade. Axles like our Rhino 2.0 and X300 axles are designed for extreme riding and abuse. Our lifts already come with these heavy-duty axles that can take heat, but if you’re looking to buy a lift from someone else, just make sure you know what kind of axles you’re getting. A good set of axles lets you keep your pedal down on your lifted machine rocking 40” tires.
There’s a reason why we sell so many heavy-duty axles—they’re important. Hopefully you realize the importance of an upgraded heavy-duty axle too. They keep your weekend rides going even when you lift your machine and start getting a little silly.
With a few upgrades, you don’t have to ride easy when you go big.