(Or: The Sad Tale of the NP241DLD, NP241DHD, NP271, & NP273 Transfer Case Explosion)
A common, catastrophic failure that we see in certain Dodge and Ford 4×4 trucks is no less than the complete destruction of the transfer case with it often left in multiple pieces along the highway. This failure is violent and devastating to the vehicle when it happens and is completely avoidable.
Starting in 1994, some Dodge and Ford 4×4 trucks were equipped with “double cardan” style front drive shaft joints. If you have a Dodge or Ford truck equipped with one of these double cardan joints, it is a ticking time bomb under your vehicle. It is the failure of this double cardan joint which has left an untold number of poor, defenseless transfer cases blown into pieces and left for dead along the lonely highways of America. Fortunately, with a little information and some preventative maintenance you can save your transfer case from becoming another victim of this villainous u-joint.
The double cardan joint is a type of universal joint. Its job is to allow your front drive shaft that goes from your transfer case to your front differential to be able to operate properly at a given angle. The design is sound. The problem comes in the form of lack of maintenance. Most of the OEM joints that were original to the vehicles they were used in were not serviceable. There was no way to grease them. There are aftermarket joints available that are serviceable however, the vast majority of those go without ever being serviced due to lack of knowledge or interest in servicing them. And this is what fuels the ticking time bomb.
After tens of thousands of miles of use in sometimes harsh environmental conditions (think of the brine used to pre-treat roads for winter weather among other things) and not being sufficiently lubricated, the double cardan joint eventually seizes, locking up tight and ripping the transfer case it is attached to into pieces. The carnage doesn’t usually stop with the transfer case. Other victims of this detestable drive shaft can include the transmission, the floorboards, wiring harnesses, and any number of other components leaving your truck, your baby, your pride and joy broken and in pieces.
If your 1994 and up Dodge or Ford three quarter ton and higher truck uses the NP241DLD, NP241DHD, NP271, or NP273 transfer case then you have one of these monsters lurking under your floorboards. Here is how to defeat this unseemly u-joint and save your truck from disaster.
First, if you have more than 100,000 miles on your current front drive shaft, change it. Replace it with a new, quality shaft that has a serviceable double cardan joint. The expense of replacing the shaft now far outweighs the expense you will be looking at if you experience this type of failure.
Second, make sure you service the new joint. Grease it every 30-50,000 miles.
Third, if you have a lift on your truck make sure the drive shaft angle is not too severe. Operating at an increased angle will cause premature failure of the double cardan joint.
Fourth, if you have increased horsepower in your truck and you enjoy showing people just how much horsepower you have from a dead stop, beware. Hard launches can cause even a well-maintained double cardan joint to blow apart. Just remember if you are in this category, if you want to play sometimes you end up having to pay, and this is a part that if abused will make you pay!
Unfortunately, we have seen thousands of NP241 and NP271/273 transfer cases come in to us over the years broken into pieces. The only thing that causes this type of transfer case destruction is the failure of the double cardan joint. Heed our warnings and avoid being the next victim of this despicable drive shaft while you still can. We wish you luck in your battle with this deadly u-joint foe and are here to help with any questions you may have. God bless and good luck!