How to Repair a U-Joint on a Chevrolet Suburbanby Tim Petruccio
The Chevrolet Suburban has been in production since 1936. The universal joint has been around since at least 2,000 years ago when it was used in China for a candle balancing mechanism. The universal joint or u-joint has many different names, depending on what century, era, country or capacity it was used in. Replacing the u-joint on a Chevrolet Suburban is an identical process, regardless of the year, as the universal joint has always had the same shape and design since it was introduced into rear wheel drive and four wheel drive vehicles.
Raise the rear of the Suburban or the front, depending on which U-joint you are looking to replace. Use a 2-ton or greater jack to lift the truck. Place jack stands beneath either end of the axle housing, in order to support the Suburban while you are working. Do not attempt this project with the truck sitting solely on a jack.
Lay near the side of the truck at the end of the truck you wish to remove the U-joint from. Slide your body so that you can physically reach where the U-joint connects the drive shaft to the differential. Remove the u-shaped clamps that hold the U-joint to the differential, using a 3/8-inch drive ratchet and socket, with a 3-inch extension if needed. There are two u-shaped clamps on the differential with two bolts in each.
Pry the U-joint and drive shaft completely free of the differential, using a pry bar. Hold the weight of the drive shaft in one hand, while prying between the U-joint and differential with the other hand. This will prevent the drive shaft from suddenly dropping, possibly on your person.
Lay the drive shaft on the ground. Remove the clips from the outer ends of the U-joint, which fasten the joint together on the drive shaft. Use a pair of needle nose pliers or long nosed vice grips to pinch the clips and slide them out of their grooves. There is one clip on either side of the U-joint, where it is attached to the drive shaft.
Turn the drive shaft or your body so that you can get leverage on the inner portion of the U-joint. U-joints have roller bearing caps over each end, which need to be removed for removal and installation of the U-joint. Pry on the inside edge of the roller bearing cap to push it out of the hole provided in the drive shaft, using a small pry bar or flat head screwdriver. Use a hammer or the end of a screwdriver to assist in tapping the roller bearing out if necessary. Remove both roller bearing caps in the same fashion.
Slide the old U-joint completely free of the drive shaft using your hand. Remove two roller bearing caps from the ends of the new U-joint. Remove the caps directly across from one another, not side-by-side. Slide the new U-joint into position on the drive shaft.
Lubricate the roller bearing caps' outside surfaces thoroughly with a finger full of caliper grease or white lithium grease. Gently slide a roller bearing cap through one of the drive shaft holes with one hand. Guide the U-joint inside the roller bearing cap with your other hand. Repeat this step to complete the second side of installing the roller bearing cap on the new U-joint.
Gently tap the ends of the roller bearing caps to ensure that they are seated as far onto the U-joint as possible. Pinch the U-joint fastener clips inward and slide them into the designated groove between the U-joint and drive shaft. Use needle nose pliers or long nosed vice grips to perform this task. The groove on the drive shaft allows the clips to slide inside and expand, locking the roller bearing caps onto the U-joint, and the U-joint in place on the drive shaft.
Lift the end of the drive shaft and maneuver the new U-joint back into position on the differential yoke. The drive shaft will hold in place once you have set it back in position on the differential. Reinstall the U-shaped clips that hold the U-joint to the differential.
Tighten the bolts on the U-shaped clips between 70 and 80 foot-pounds of torque. The U-joint is under constant pressure from movement of the drive shaft and vibrations caused by rotation of the drive shaft. Make sure you tighten the bolts securely so that they do not vibrate loose.
Lower the Suburban only when you have inspected the installation of your new U-joint for proper installation and secure fitment.
- If you purchase a U-joint that requires lubricating, make sure you fill the new U-joint with axle grease prior to taking your Suburban back out on the road. Auto parts stores have all of the materials needed for proper lubrication of all of the lubrication fittings on your Suburban.
Things You'll Need
- Needle nose pliers or long nosed vice grips
- Small pry bar or flat head screwdriver
- 3/8-inch drive ratchet and socket set with 3-inch extension
- New U-joint(s)
- 2-ton jack or greater capacity
- Jack stands, 2
- Vehicle ramps (replaces jack and stands if available), 2
- Tub or canister of caliper grease or white lithium grease, 1
- Do not turn the roller bearing caps upside down for any reason. Always face the openings of the roller bearing caps straight upward. Turning a roller bearing cap upside down or even sideways can cause the roller bearing rods inside to shift and ruin the U-joint completely. Leave the roller bearing caps vertical until they are on the edge of the new U-joints, prior to installation. When you get them to the edge of the new U-joints for installation, then you can tip them sideways to slide them on.
Tim Petruccio is a professional writer and automotive mechanic. His writing combines more than 20 years of mechanical experience in automotive service, service management, automotive education and business ownership. He assisted in the automotive beta, which launched March 2011.