Chevrolet has held fast to its dedication to the independent front suspension used on its pickups for decades. And why shouldn't they? The ride is fantastic, it's proven durable even on the HD pickups, and there's rarely a complaint to be heard. However, as any good GM truck owner knows, at some point the front halfshafts will need replacing. It's not that they are a weak link (that designation is reserved for the steering tie rods), it's more to do with the fact that at some point all CV joints will need replacing, regardless if it's on an HD truck or a passenger car.
Thankfully for Silverado and Sierra owners, the task is pretty straightforward. And the process for replacing the axles is similar for -, -, and 1-ton trucks from 1988 to current. To document this procedure we enlisted the help of our 2002 Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD. The halfshafts were relatively new, but the outer joint on the driver side had busted a boot and began making noise. While we could have changed the boot and packed the bearing with grease, it's easier and more cost effective to replace the shaft as a unit. A quick jump on RockAuto.com netted us a new heavy-duty shaft for $75, and it arrived the next day your mileage may vary.
Upon setting to work, we had the old shaft out and the new one installed in a little less than an hour. Our Silverado has a BDS coilover conversion lift kit installed, which added a little complication, and we had to stop to take pictures. Had we not done that, we would have completed the task in about half an hour. The only special tool needed is the axle nut socket. For our application this socket is 35mm, but the size varies depending not only on the class of pickup, but also by year.
| Our test subject is a 2002 Silverado 2500HD. However, this process is similar for all four-wheel-drive Chevy and GMC pickups from 1988 to current.
| Thankfully we didn't suffer a catastrophic CV joint failure. A boot leaked grease, which in turn led to a noisy joint. We could have simply fixed the boot, but with 37-inch tires and 700 horsepower we didn't want to chance it.
| After lifting the truck and supporting it on jackstands, we removed the tire and set to work. The halfshafts are bolted to the front differential's drive flanges with six bolts. Whether your truck is factory or lifted will determine the type of bolt you're working with. Since our truck has a 4-inch lift, the front halfshafts have a spacer and are held in place with Allen-head bolts.
| Using a 3/8-inch impact and a short extension with a wobble head we were able to quickly remove the six retaining bolts. Depending on the situation, shorter or longer extensions may be needed.
| The axle nut is located behind a dust shield on the knuckle. If the dust shield hasn't been removed, a chisel and hammer can be used to pop the cap off. To remove the axle nut we swapped to a -inch electric impact, as the nut is torqued to 170 lb-ft. A large breaker bar and a partner holding the brakes will work, as well.
| Once the axle shaft is unbolted from both ends, it can be removed from the truck. The splines going through the hub often need a touch of persuasion to begin moving as years of use can cause the axle to stick. Start with a soft dead-blow hammer first and work up if needed. In the worst case, an air hammer can be used to drive the shaft out.
| Because of our BDS coilover conversion, we had to remove the sway bar link to provide the clearance needed to remove the axle shaft. There should be plenty of space on factory pickups. While supporting the splined end, drop the inside CV joint below the axle housing and slide the shaft out from under the truck. Be careful, they are quite heavy.
| Before installing the new shaft, ensure that the splines receive a good coat of antiseize lubricant. This will help make future axle or bearing replacements, should the need arise, go much quicker.
| Working in the reverse order and ideally from under the truck, slide the new axle shaft up through the opening in the lower control arm and into place.
| It can take a little bit of wiggle to get the axle splines to line up properly but should take no force. If the shaft won't go in easily, remove it and start over. Forcing the axle can damage the splines.
| Once the outer splined end is in place, the inner bolts can be started by hand. Do not tighten until all six bolts have been started.
| Finally, the bolts can be torqued to spec and the tire reinstalled. If everything cooperates, the task is relatively quick and painless. If you frequently off-road or race your Chevy or GMC truck, it's worth the effort to learn how to replace halfshafts and to carry a spare.