Tech Features

Driving your sand car in the dunes is the fun part of owning a dune buggy. But when it comes to doing service work, we find that most off-road car owners don't prefer to work on their cars themselves — especially when it comes to servicing the CV joints. This article breaks down the process and shows you how to do the job yourself.

Dealing With The Devil's Pudding

Information and useful tips on how to inspect and service your sand car’s CV joints
By Mike Lyon | April 5, 2014

Photos by Mike Lyon

On most off-road vehicles, CV (Constant Velocity) joints play an integral role in the drive train; transferring power from the transaxle to the tire. Replacing a broken a CV joint miles from camp will certainly try your patience, and is much more irritating than doing it in your garage! In this article, we will show you how to properly disassemble, check for excessive wear, and reassemble your CVs to ensure you have a trouble free off-roading trip. However, we must first mention that many people have their own theories on the best way to assemble and install CVs. This article will discuss the most common practices and techniques, and hopefully give you some new insight. We will also assume you are performing this work in the comfort of your relatively clean garage, without the wind blowing sand into your freshly greased CVs! When swapping a CV out in the field, these same practices still apply, except you would need to take extra care not to get any dirt or sand in the CV during reassembly. Lastly, these techniques apply to 930 and 934 CV joints.
There's a proper way to disassemble the parts from the car, inspect and reassemble the CVs, as well as install the components back on the vehicle. This story goes into a great amount of depth and detail to explain the proper way to perform this job.
The first step we like to do is pre-clean the excessive grease and grime from the outside of the CV, the CV boots and the surrounding areas. This can be accomplished in many ways, including compressed air, a degreaser such as Simple Green and water, or simply wiping down the area. A pre-clean will help keep your hands a little cleaner but, most importantly, it’s done so that during reassembly no foreign debris falls into the CV grease which will shorten the life of the CV joint.
Highlights of the CV service include marking, or clocking, the parts to make sure the CV joints and axles go back on the car correctly. And it's also a good idea to thoroughly clean all the crease from the CV cups and bolt holes on the trans and trailing arms.
Next, secure the front tires with blocks so the car can’t move forward or backwards, and jack up the rear of the car so the tires are off the ground. Use jack stands to hold the car up while you’re working. Having the rear tires off the ground allows you to rotate the tires and CVs, which allows easy access to all of the CV bolts.
Reassembling the CVs correctly is explained in more detail in this article, as is the best tools and methods for creasing all of the parts. Have fun!
At this point, it’s time to remove the CVs and axles from the car. However, there’s still one more thing that needs to be done before you begin the disassembly. The axles need to be marked to ensure they go back on the car correctly, on the same side and in the same orientation as they were removed. Axles tend to slightly twist when power is applied through them. Because of this, the axles need to go back on the car the same way they came off.
We put a small piece of blue painters tape in the center of the axle and use a marker to write which side (passenger or driver) they came from, as well as mark which end goes towards the wheel and which end goes towards the transaxle. Keep in mind that when you slide the boot off the CV, you may get grease on the tape and possibly cover up your markings.
Now it’s time to remove the CV bolts. Most people prefer to wear rubber gloves at this point. Some CV joints use the type of CV boot that slides over the CV housings. If that’s the case, now is the time to loosen the boot clamps and slide the boots towards the center of the axle. To remove the bolts we prefer to use an electric impact wrench, since you don’t need to worry about the wheel and CV spinning. Plus, the electric wrench is easier to maneuver than an air impact and the attached hose. However, a good old fashioned socket wrench will do the job if you can prevent the wheel from spinning. It’s easier to remove one of the top bolts from the transmission side then switch over to one of the lower bolts on the wheel side. Rotate the wheel and repeat until all 12 bolts are out. With all of the bolts removed, the CV may tip to one side and the CV balls may fall out. Try to keep the CV orientated so this doesn’t happen!
With the axle and CVs off of the car, set them on your workbench, possibly on some newspaper to keep your bench clean. Now you can check to see if your CVs were assembled properly the previous time. Wipe away some of the excess grease from both sides and take a close look at the CV star and cage. Notice on the outside edge (edge pointing towards the end of the axle) if you see “Smooth, Small, and Groove.” What the heck is that, you may be wondering? The CV star is the center most component of the CV assembly. It slides onto the splines of the axle. One side of the star is smooth and the other has a slight raised edge. Check to ensure the smooth side of the star is facing outward. Next is the CV cage. One side of the cage has a smaller opening than the other side. The small side needs to be facing outward. The larger side faces inward to prevent the axle from making contact with the cage at extreme angles. Last is the groove. The main CV housing has a small groove cut into one end of it. The groove should be facing outward as well. If you saw “Small, Smooth, and Groove” facing outward, your CVs were assembled properly! This rule will also be used during reassembly. Another thing to notice is the orientation of the star and the main CV housing. You will see a wide and narrow edge on both the cage and the housing. During reassembly, a wide edge must line up with a narrow edge; we’ll discuss that in more detail later.
The next step is removing the axle retaining clips on each end of the axle. A small metal pick usually works best for this. Slide the CV boots towards the center of the axle, away from the the CVs, then slide the CV off the end of the axle. Sometimes the end of the axle has made contact with the CV cup on either the transaxle or the trailing arm side, causing it to “mushroom” the tip of the axle. This could prevent you from sliding the CV off. If this is the case, you will need to use a small file and clean up the axle spines until you can easily (without a hammer!) slide the CV off the end of the axle.
Keep track of which end the CV is removed from. Keeping track of this allows you to either put them back on the same end, if there is minimal wear on the CV star and cage, or swap the CVs to allow the balls to wear on the opposite sides of the star and cage. This is one of those areas we mentioned where people have different theories on how things go back together, which is also a personal preference.
With the CVs removed from the axle, it’s time for disassembly and a thorough cleaning. As mentioned in the title of this article, you are now dealing directly with some of the nastiest, tackiest grease known to man, i.e. The Devils Pudding!” After you put a fresh pair of rubber gloves on your hands, tip the CV cage and star perpendicular to the housing. With little effort, the balls should drop out of the cage and the star can be removed. The star will come out of the large opening of the cage. Remove all grease from all components with either paper towels, or using a parts washer. Now is also a good time to clean the CV cups and bolt holes (Q-tips and solvent work great), on the transaxle and trailing arms, as well as the CV bolts. It’s best to have as much grease as possible removed from the bolts and bolt holes.
Inspect each CV component for excessive wear or damage. The CV cage may have a small dimple worn into one of the sides of the openings (where the balls ride) in the cage. If the wear is minimal you can clean them up with a Dremel tool. But, if there’s major wear present, it is best to replace them with a quality aftermarket cage made from chromoly or 300M. The material you choose is a personal preference. We have used both and prefer the 300M cages.
Now you’re ready to inspect the star for cracks or pitting where the balls contact the star. These usually can’t be cleaned up and need to be replaced. You can also inspect the CV housing and the steel balls for wear at this time. If the entire CV is worn, it’s best to buy brand new CVs to ensure trouble free off-roading adventures. You can purchase a full “race prepared” CV (comes with an aftermarket cage and has been clearanced to allow easier joint movement) or a stock CV. Again, this is personal preference and varies depending on your needs.
We are now ready to reassemble the CVs. If you have purchased brand new CVs, now is a good time to inspect them to ensure they were assembled properly. Place the star through the larger opening in the cage. The “Smooth Small, and Groove” rule applies here. Make sure the smooth side of the star is facing the small opening of the cage. Next, place the star and cage into the CV housing with the “Smooth and Small” facing the “Groove” of the housing. With the CV assembly facing you, rotate the cage so the holes in the cage line up with the main “valleys” of the CV housing (this is not critical since when the balls are placed in the CV it will orientate the cage for you). Finally, align a small edge of the star with a large edge of the CV housing.
With the star and housing aligned, if you turn the CV around you will notice it will be just the opposite; a large edge of the star will be aligned with the small edge of the housing. With the housing sitting on the work bench at 90 degrees, tilt the star and cage and insert a ball. With a little effort, you will be able to get all six balls inserted and have a fully assembled CV. If you need to change the CV boots, now is the time to swap them. With the CV assembled, check your “Smooth, Small, and Groove” one more time. If it’s correct, slide the CV assembly onto the axle and install the retaining clip. The CV should slide easily onto the axle. No force should be needed to accomplish this. If force is needed, clean the spines with a file as mentioned before.
It’s now time to assemble and install the other CV. Before you slide the second CV onto the axle, it’s a good idea to “clock” the CVs. This is another area where it’s a personal preference; some people clock their CVs while others don’t worry about it. The theory is that there’s less chance of the CVs binding at extreme angles if they are properly clocked. We were shown this clocking procedure and generally stick to it. Remember how we mentioned a small or large edge on the stars? Now it’s time to properly align each CV on the axle by lining up a large edge on one CV star with a small edge on the opposite CV star. You can do this by eye balling it, or use a long rod to align them with. With one CV already on the axle, align a large edge of the star facing straight up. Now, install the opposite CV with a small edge of the star facing straight up. Install the second retaining clip and you’re done with the assembly!
Now for the fun part, grease! There are many different trains of thought on which grease to use. Some prefer the expensive Bell Ray grease mixed with some Moly, while other people prefer the Cat Gold, and some have other preferences. We’ve been using the Chevron Delo EP2 and have had good results after many hard dune runs. It remains tacky over long periods of time, but the best part is that it’s about $6 per tube!
During the greasing process it’s important to keep grease out of the bolt holes. We have used the blue painters tape in the past to cover the holes, but after doing a few sets of CVs we conditioned ourselves to be careful enough not to get grease in the holes. Using a grease gun and grease needle makes it extremely easy to get grease into the entire CV without making too much of a mess. There are a few types of grease needles. The smaller ones that look similar to a needle you would see in the doctor’s office tend to be too small to push the thick grease through. They usually end up coming apart from the force being applied through them. Next are the types you find at Pep Boys that are about two times the diameter of the above mentioned. We have found these to work the best. We have also seen larger types that work well, but we prefer the medium sized needles.
With the assembled axle and CVs sitting on the work bench, we like to tilt one CV at a 45 degree angle and use our grease gun and needle to grease as much of the axle end of the CV as possible. We prefer to grease the transaxle side first for reasons described below. With some grease applied, rotate the CV in all directions to work-in the grease. Repeat the procedure until the outside is fully greased. Next, we need grease on the inside or inward facing side of the CV. If your CV boots slide over the CV housing, it’s less messy to wait until the CV is installed on the car to grease the inside edge. If you have the flange type of CV boot, you can either grease the inside edge now or wait until it’s installed on the car, then slide and secure the boot to the flange. If you decide to grease it while on the bench, repeat the procedure used for the outside edge. Once fully greased, slide the boot and flange up to the CV housing and put two zip ties through the flange and CV housing bolt holes. This will help keep it from flopping over and coming apart, as well as help you when you have to install the axle assembly onto the car. You will set this end on the frame while you start the bolts on the other end, because you don’t want it falling apart! With one CV greased, repeat the procedure for the other end, except insert two bolts through the flange and CV housing rather than zip ties. This is the end you will hold with one hand while starting to thread the bolts with the other.
You are almost ready to install your freshly greased CVs onto the car! First fill the CV cups on the transaxle and trailing arms with grease. Now is the time to add some Loctite to a few of the bolts. We like to use red Loctite on the CV bolts. Next, pick up the axle and (if doing this alone without an assistant) set the transaxle side CV (remember the one you zip tied together) on the frame near the transaxle. Now you have both hands free to start the trailing arm side. Start one or two bolts, then start one on the transaxle side. With one bolt started you can cut the zip ties and start the rest of the bolts. Don’t forget your Loctite and tighten each bolt to the correct torque rating (generally 40-50 lbs.-ft. depending on your size CV, consult you local parts dealer). Repeat the above procedures for the opposite side of the car and you’re almost finished! If you didn’t grease the inside of the CV while on the bench, do it now. Then, slide the CV boot over the housing and tighten the clamps.
After each of the axles and CVs are installed, you should check your axle angle. Again, this is up for debate as to how much is too much. With the rear tires off the ground you can use a cheap angle finder to check your amount of angle. We usually setup 930 CVs at a conservative 22 degrees. Another necessity is to see if your CVs are binding while at “full droop.” With the rear tires off the ground, rotate the tires. If there’s binding in the CV, you will feel resistance while turning the tire. If you do feel binding, tighten up your limiting straps until there’s no more binding. It’s also good to remember that if your limit straps are brand-new, be sure to allow for approximately one inch of stretch.

That’s it! It’s now time to hit the sand! While this may sound like a complicated procedure, if you take your time and follow the information in this article, you should pick it up rather quickly.

 A Few More "Tech" Stories...

Cylinder Sleeves - Saving Engine Blocks
King Shock Rebuild
Dealing With The Devil's Pudding
Engine Coolant

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