So, you’ve just purchased your first JK Wrangler. You’ve done some digging around on the internet and realized that you probably should have bought a Rubicon. But you didn’t, so now you want to know the difference between the Dana 30, and the Dana 44. Why? So you can make an educated decision about upgrading to a stronger axle.
The base model and the Rubicon rear axle are both Dana 44s. But, the front axle is where everything changes. The Rubicon gets a Dana 44 in the front, whilst lower model Jeeps don’t. The Dana 30 is what lower models receive.
So, lets dive in and compare Dana 30 vs Dana 44.
Dana 30 vs Dana 44: Axle Housing
The axle housing is what holds everything together. The strength of the housing is important if you plan on bombing around through the desert. Where I live (Phoenix, Arizona), there is a lot less rock crawling and more of going fast through the desert. But, if you plan on just rock crawling, then the strength of the housing isn’t super important.
The axle housing of the JK Dana 30, and Dana 44 are actually 100% the same. So, if you plan on going fast through the desert you might want to think about going to Dana 60s or putting a big truss on your 30/44. This is part of the reason JK Dana 44s aren’t considered “true 44s”.
Either way, both the JK Dana 30 and the Dana 44 both have weak “Cs”. What do I mean by this? The C is where the ball joints are and the knuckle bolts to. That C has a tendency to bend, which requires a new axle housing to fix. The common cure for this is to gusset the C if you plan on running tires larger than 37″. To my knowledge tires under 37″ won’t cause the C to bend.
Dana 30 vs Dana 44: Center Section
When I refer to the center section, I am referring to all the gearing as well as the center section housing. The center section housing is what holds your differential, so the housing material doesn’t actually have to be super strong unless you have a bunch of horsepower.
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The gears in the center section on the Dana 30 and the Dana 44 are different. The Dana 30 ring gear diameter is 7 1/8″ and comes with a 3.21 gear ratio unless your JK is equipped with the tow package. The Dana 30 doesn’t come with any kind of factory LSD or locking differential.
The ring gear diameter in the Dana 44 is 8 1/2″, and comes standard with a 4.10 gear ratio, and an electronically actuated locker. To accommodate the larger ring gear the Dana 44 has a large center section housing, but this doesn’t really make any difference in housing strength.
Now, why would you want a larger diameter ring gear? Well, essentially it helps to distribute the load and is less likely to explode into a million pieces under stress. The 4.10 gear ratio of the Dana 44 helps when crawling, but also allows for larger tires before you experience a large amount of engine power loss. Last but not least, the factory locker in the Dana 44 is awesome, because lockers are just awesome to have.
Dana 30 vs Dana 44: Axle Shafts
The axles shafts are typically the weakest link on any given axle. They’re the weakest for a reason. If you’re out of the trail it’s easier to swap an axle shaft than it is to swap a differential. Trust me, I’ve been there and done that. I’ve seen differentials explode on the trail, then drove all the way back home, picked up my spare front axle, drove all the way back out to the desert, and helped my buddies do a front axle swap in the middle of nowhere just so we could continue to off-road.
The Dana 30 comes with 27 spline axle shafts, and the Dana 44 comes with 30 spline axle shafts. The Dana 44s 30 spline axle shafts are obviously much beefier than the Dana 30s 27 spline axle shafts. However, they both have fairly weak “ears” and small u-joints.
Since the center section of the Dana 44 is beefed up, Jeep went ahead and beefed up the axle shafts. They’re still one of the weak points, but like I mentioned before, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Both the Dana 30 axle shafts and Dana 44 axle shafts are dwarfed by Dana 60 axle shafts. If you plan on running giant tires or high horsepower then you’ll absolutely need a Dana 60.
Dana 30 vs Dana 44: The Little Stuff
So we’ve covered the housing strength, center section strength, center section features, and axle shaft strength. But what about all the other miscellaneous stuff? Well, they’re basically all the same.
The Dana 30 and the Dana 44 have the same brakes, hubs, ball joints, Cs, knuckles, and steering. So other than the beefier center section, and the beefier axle shafts, these two are completely identical otherwise. The biggest reason to get a Rubicon with 44s front and rear is for the beefier axle shafts and the electronic lockers.
So, if you are debating on whether you should buy a Rubicon, it comes down to personal preference. I wouldn’t spend the extra money on a Rubicon. Use the money you save buying a lower model Jeep on aftermarket axles.
The only difference between the JK Dana 30 and Dana 44 is ring gear size, electronic locker, and bigger shafts. You’re better off just starting with an aftermarket Dana 44 that is a “true 44”. With the cost difference of a base Wrangler and a Rubicon, you could get aftermarket Dana 60 axles with lockers.