Front differential


Old 03-30-02, 06:11 AM
Antony W. Serio
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Front differential

I recently found out that the front differential on my 88 S-10 4x4 (4.3L automatic) needs to be rebuilt. It is leaking grease and the left axle shaft has a considerable amount of play at the differential. The mechanic who explained the situation to me said this is a fairly common problem with this truck, although his shop is too small to do this kind of work. I will have a retired GM mechanic look at it next weekend, but I have a number of questions before then.

1) I have the factory service manual and it lists a whole slew of specialized tools that probably cost as much as paying a mechanic to do the work. (For example: J 22888 Differential Slide Bearing Remover, J 8107-4 Differential Slide Bearing Remover Plug, J 8614-01 Pinion Flange Remover, Rear Pinion Bearing Cone Remover ) Does anybody know if these tools are absolutely necessary? Can they be rented from Auto Zone or some place similar, or are they too specialized?

2) Assuming I can get my hands on the tools (or don't even need them), what is the headache factor (on a scale of 1-10) on doing this myself? I don't have a garage or a lift, and I would be working in a gravel driveway. Is this something best left to somebody who has done this before? I've replaced head gaskets and done similar work, but I have never worked on a gear train before.

3) How safe is the truck to drive with the front differential in this condition? I was told that as long as I keep the differential lubed don't lock in the front end, I shouldn't have any problems aside from grease all over my driveway. Is this the case, or will the axle eventually come loose from the differential?

4) I know that there is no such thing as a stupid question, but this one just might be that, being that I am unfamiliar with the suspension setup of my truck. Is the truck drivable without the front differential? Can I drop the differential and axles off at a mechanic and still drive the truck in 2WD mode, or are they an integral part of the suspension?

5) Assuming I do go to a mechanic to get this fixed, any idea of how much damage this is going to do to my checking account? I asked my mechanic, and he said that he couldn't tell without opening the differential up, which he won't be able to do until next weekend. Would a new/factory rebuilt differential be more cost effective? I wouldn't trust one from a boneyard, as the same thing could happen fifteen miles down the road.

6) If I go with a factory rebuilt, is that something that I could install myself without a whole mess of specialized tools, or would I need a lift, a transmission jack, and half a dozen drinking budies to help me?

Thanks in advance for any help that anybody here can provide.
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Old 03-30-02, 07:31 AM
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Yes the tools are required and you might be able to get them from Autozone. Good deal on the factory manual, you are going to need it.

A factory differential if still available easily runs more than the truck might be worth . I would do the R&R of the unit myself and have a differential/gear/trans shop do the overhaul of the unit with all new parts. Best bet. Or look around for a company that sells rebuilts off the shelf ready to go. You can also try a used one but it's a gamble.

Yes you should fix it. Grease all over the driveway is annoying and you buy the truck for using the 4WD not to eliminate it.

Headache factor is probably 10 on a gravel driveway, 9 everywhere else . Bad move. Never work on a gravel driveway with the vehicle jacked up. It is not secure enough. Work in the street or on a driveway that is concrete or asphalt.

Get a few people to help out both for moral support and the theory that two or three or a half a dozen heads can read the factory book and curse better than one

Good luck.
Old 04-02-02, 04:33 AM
Antony W. Serio
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Thanks for the prompt response. Do you know if the truck is safe to drive as it is now? The day before I discovered how bad my front diff was, I started to notice a vibration in the front end when I apply the brakes at freeway speeds. The vibration is not noticable below 50mph. Could this be caused by the front differential? There was about half an inch of play in the axle shaft at the differential. I probably won't drive the truck on the freeway again until I have a machanic look at it, I am just wondering if it is safe on back roads, or if I should have it towed.

BTW, I looked for a rebuilt differential online, and the only one that I found was at Jasper. They want $1,400.00 for a rebuilt, and that is with a core exchange. I am probably not going to buy anything from them.
Old 04-02-02, 07:55 AM
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There's other companies out there. Try your local parts store. They may have other links/sources for them.

I wouldn't drive it long like that. If nothing else you'll ruin the core you're going to turn in which will cost you more when you do the exchange .
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