Only 1 Light-Duty Pickup Truck Still Has a Solid Front Axle

A solid front axle is prized by some off-roaders for its sturdiness and dependability. But it is quickly falling out of favor for every other application. The only full-size trucks with a solid front axle are Ram’s heavy-duty lineup and Ford’s Super Duty trucks. Every half-ton truck uses independent front suspension. But there’s still one midsize truck with a solid front axle: the Jeep Gladiator.

Does the Jeep Gladiator have a solid front axle?

The Jeep Gladiator (or Jeep JT) is based off the Jeep Wrangler layout. Therefore, it has a solid ladder frame coil spring suspension, and heavy-duty Dana 44 axles front and rear. This solid front axle construction makes the Jeep Gladiator completely unique among pickups that are lighter than heavy-duty trucks.

Red Jeep Gladiator pickup truck towing a boat with a lake and mountains visible in the background.
2022 Jeep Gladiator Overland | Stellantis

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For decades, Jeep only offered its 4×4 SUV as a two-door convertible. For the 2007 model year, Jeep rolled out its first 4-door Wrangler, the Wrangler Unlimited. Then for 2019, Jeep stretched this frame even further and added a pickup bed, resulting in the Jeep Gladiator midsize truck.

What does a solid axle do?

A solid axle, or a live axle, is a single unit that transfers power from a driveshaft to wheels on both ends of the axle. This axle houses the differential, axle shafts, and wheel bearings. It is attached to the vehicle’s frame with springs. A solid front axle must feature joints at each end allowing the front wheels to turn left or right.

Detail shot of the front suspension of a Jeep Gladiator pickup truck.
2022 Jeep Gladiator Mojave | Stellantis

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A solid front axle features a differential or “pumpkin” offset to the left or right. When you engage 4WD, a forward driveshaft transfers power from the vehicle’s transfer case to this differential. This differential in turn spins the left and right side driveshafts. These driveshafts end in universal joints (U-Joints) that can rotate the wheel, even as the wheel turns left or right.

Why do Jeeps have solid axles?

There are three reasons some off-road enthusiasts prefer a solid front axle: durability through simplicity, a low center of gravity, and articulation. Articulation means that as one side of a solid axle drives over an obstacle it forces the opposite wheel downward, increasing traction–according to MotorTrend.

Red Jeep Gladiator pickup truck driving down a paved road with mountains visible in the background.
2021 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon | Stellantis

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The Jeep Wrangler has a solid front axle for a third reason: tradition. Willys first pioneered its Jeep layout during World War II. Soldiers loved the little off-roader so much, that Willys released a civilian Jeep (CJ) version for outdoors enthusiasts and veterans after the war.

The CJ became the Wrangler, but has only evolved in slight increments over the decades. It still has its full-frame construction, solid axles, and is available with a manual transmission and part-time 4WD. This layout makes navigating an off-road trail with a brand-new Wrangler familiar to Jeep fans.

Read about whether a Jeep makes a good daily driver or see The Fast Lane Truck’s review of the Jeep Gladiator Rubicon off-roading in the video below:

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