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How To: Front Differential Swap 2nd Generation Explorer/Mountaineer & Ranger


Towing Moderator
Moderator Emeritus
February 2, 2006
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City, State
North East Arkansas
Year, Model & Trim Level
2012 F150 4x4
Swapping a front differential or removing and replacing the same differential can be done with some hand tools, jackstands and a few hours.

For this write up, I was swapping a 3.73 differential for a 4.10 differential under a 2003 Sport Trac. We took a few pictures as we went, but I didn't get all the detailed pictures I would have liked to have, especially of the removal, because of the close quarters and one we got started, you can't really stop.

To begin, jack up the front end, support the truck with jackstands as always.


I won't cover the CV axle removal in great detail, I have a write up on it here.

Remove the CV Axle nut, tie rod end castle nut, brake caliper, rotor, dust shield, separate the tie rod end from the knuckle. Remove the pinch bolt and knock the upper ball joint loose. That's the basic procedure, but follow the write up linked above and remove the CV axles (both sides)

EDIT: It has been brought to my attention that you can only remove the cv on the passenger side, leave the whole driver's side intact. When dropping the differential, just disconnect the drivers side cv from the differential, no tear down needed. Why didn't I do that?? :banghead:





With both CV axles removed, your almost ready to drop the differential.

Remove the driveshaft, there are 2 caps held on with 4 bolts, they require a torx bit, I don't recall the size, but I will find out and edit this post.


The best way to loosen those bolts is rotate the drivehaft to the bolts in the bottom position, remove them, rotate the driveshaft 1/2 way around, remove the other two bolts. If you are not exchanging the differential and plan to install the same one again, mark the caps on the u joint and yoke so you can put it back in the same position.

If the driveshaft has never been removed, you may have to stick a pry bar between the yoke and u joint to pop it loose.

I did not remove the other end from the transfer case, it is not necessary.

The differential is held on by 3 bolts, the two at the front are 15mm, the one in the rear is 13mm. The rear bolt is on the "torque bracket". All 3 bolts are held by nuts with retainers, you don't have to hold the nut on the backside when loosening the bolts off.

Start by removing the bolt in the rear, the torque bracket. You can remove it safely, no chance of the differential falling. It is a long, fully threaded bolt with a large washer on it.


Now, support the pumpkin with the floor jack, I'd recommend a long bodied floor jack and a helper who knows how to operate it.

Remove the drivers side front bolt, I accessed it with a long extension and swivel. You may have to raise or lower the jack slightly to free the bolt so you can remove it. The nut with the retainer will fall off when you get it backed all the way out.

You can see the bolt in this picture- this is from the bottom looking up, it's very tight in there.


Take a long screwdriver, push the hose off of the vent tube on the top of the differential.

All that holds the differential in at this point is the bolt on the passenger side. It's easily seen when laying under the truck. In this picture, the CV axle is still stuck in the differential, ignore that.


With that bolt removed, the differential will come out from under the truck. Someone holds the differential and balances it while a helper lowers the jack down and pulls it out from under the truck. You may have to twist it around to clear the jack stands.

EDIT: if you elect to only tear down the passenger side, this is where you would "pop" the cv out of the drivers side of the pumpkin.

To install or reinstall the differential, roll it back under the truck, use the jack and a helper. Raise the differential, reinstall the bolts in the opposite order. Do not tighten the bolts, just stick them through and start the nut until all 3 bolts are installed. Only after all 3 bolts are started, torque all three down. I don't have a torque value, I just got them snugged up tight with a 3/8 ratchet.

Reconnect the driveshaft, use your reference marks if installing the same differential again. Make sure your caps stay on your u joint, and that they sit between the retaining ridges on the edge of the yoke. The caps should go flush against the yoke, if there is a gap, you don't have the u joint all the way in there.

Reinstall the CV axles, rotors, calipers, tie rod ends, CV axle nuts, etc. Torque the nut on the CV axle to 180 foot pounds or more.

Now for some craziness. This picture shows a sport trac factory differential alongside an Explorer differential. Look how different the torque brackets are! This is a huge difference in design, the pumpkins themselves are the same, the brackets are very different. We swapped the brackets around and it all bolted in.


Comments/questions welcome as always.

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Well-Known Member
July 8, 2004
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Year, Model & Trim Level
98 Ranger, 05 Sport Trac
Nice write up.
However, there is no need to remove both halfshafts. The drivers side axle can stay attached to the knuckle. After removing the passenger side from the knuckle, you can unbolt the differential and slide the differential away from the cv axle. It saves a bit of time because you don't have to remove the the drivers side axle nut, brake caliper or balljoint pinch bolt.


September 23, 2016
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Colorado Springs. Colorado
City, State
Colorado Springs, CO
Year, Model & Trim Level
1997 Explorer AWD XLT
Thanks for these directions and the pictures. The size of the Torx bit on my 1997 Explorer XLT and 2001 Explorer Sport is T15


Staff member
Elite Explorer
March 14, 2005
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Mesa AZ
City, State
Year, Model & Trim Level
2000 EB Explorer 5.0
Torque Specifications in lb-ft

Front axle retainer bracket bolt - 78
Ring gear bolt - 80
Differential bearing cap bolt - 45
Differential housing cover bolt - 16
Axle to frame bolt - 49
Pinion bearing preload (new pinion bearings) — 15-30 (lb-in)
Universal joint spider retainer bolt -14
Brake caliper guide pin bolt - 24
Tie-rod nut - 67
Upper ball joint pinch bolt - 35

Be sure it is filled with 80W-90 gear oil