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TECHNICAL SUZUKI BLURB – Shift On The Fly [SOTF] Elimination for Vitara and XL.7



Shift On The Fly [SOTF] Elimination for Vitara and XL.7

Editor: Eric Bewley Story: Jim Bouchebel / Tim Walters

ALBANY, NY -Here’s the situation, you are a proud owner of a Vitara, Grand Vitara (GV) or an XL-7, and want to make it better? In the process of making your ride better, the first thing you’ll find out is the front diff is pneumatically controlled to allow “shift-on-the-fly” capability. Many GV owners have found that this causes more problems than it’s worth. Basically, the hubs have lock-out caps, meaning the CV shafts spin all the time. Not good, as the seals, bearings and what-not are still the same as the Sidekick. They were not originally designed to be turning all the time (Sidekicks/Trackers were a true part-time system). Many GV owners have found premature seal failure and resulting gear oil leakage from the axle shafts spinning all the time.

Additionally, the GV’s front “air diff” is offset about 1″ to the passenger side. What does this mean? The air-diff carrier will not allow usage of an automatic locker or limited-slip differential or an ARB locker. Bad news if you want to play off-road.

Know exactly what you are getting yourself into BEFORE doing this modification. We highly recommend that you have a Factory Service Manual, as proper torque settings and assembly/disassembly procedures are found in it (and not in this tech write-up). The higher ratio gears will make you rocket off the line with the stock size tires, however your RPMs will also be a bit higher than “usual” at speeds of 65MPH or more.

Just to give you an idea of how the RPMS will be: Although my speedometer says 85MPH, I’m actually doing (roughly) 77MPH. My RPM gauge is definitely correct, so at that speed, it stands around 4000 rpms. It does give a whole new meaning to 4th and 5th gears!

WARNING: If you are going to do this, make sure you do BOTH the front and the rear gears at the same time. If you do the rear first, and you’re coming home one day and accidentally engage the 4X4. Well, guess what? You’ll be leaving your drivetrain behind you on the floor.

Here’s the type of vehicle you absolutely need to get the different parts from:

1996, 1997, or 1998 1.6L JAPAN-MADE Suzuki SideKick (read: not CAMI built), with manual transmission. Canadian Trackers and any SideKick with the 1.8 & 2.0 Liter motors will NOT work.

You can tell it’s Japaneese manufacture because the VIN # ALWAYS starts with JS.

For the rear, take the entire 3rd member. It’s the same 12-bolt carrier that is in the GV, except it has a ABS tone ring (the GV’s are on the outer bearing retainer), and the housing has some unneeded mounting bosses. If the Kick doesn’t have ABS, don’t worry, as the GV is 4-ch ABS and uses tone rings on the axles, not the carrier.

For the front, grab the entire 3rd member (INCLUDING bracket, nuts and bolts), the driver’s side inner axle shaft, the passenger side CV shaft, and the manual hubs. Considering everything will be on the same donor truck, getting in one shot would be the most practical, and will get you your best price.


Things you need BEFORE HAND: The replacement rear 3rd member, Common hand tools At least 2 quarts of 80W90, differential oil, Large hammer, Razor Blade, RTV Sealer

1. Drain the differential oil from the pumpkin.
2. Pull the wheels.
3. Using the 12MM wrench/socket, pull the 4 bolts on the back of the brake mounting disc thing…this holds the bearing cup to the axle.
4. Put one wheel back on, and thread like 3 lug nuts.
5. Take the large hammer and stand under the car. Strike the flange until the axle comes loose.
6. With the axles out, unbolt the driveshaft from the back.
7. Unbolt the 8-10 bolts on the housing to loosen and remove the pumpkin.
8. Using the blade, clean off the sealer from the surface where the pumpkin was removed from.
9. Installation is the reverse of removal. Don’t forget to add Differential oil back in and check that the ABS Sensors didn’t become loose!

Just remember to bleed the brakes if you loosened them (might want to add some brake fluid). ALSO, REMEMBER NOT TO ENGAGE YOU 4X4 IF YOU HAVEN’T INSTALLED YOUR FRONT GEARS YET!!!!! You’ll destroy your drivetrain if you do!


Things you need BEFORE HAND: The front differential (duh!) AND BRACKET, INCLUDING ALL NUTS and BOLTS, At least 2 quarts of 80W90 differential oil, Razor Blade, RTV Sealer, CV Boot Clamps, Passenger side inner axle seal – SGP Part #: 09283-35008, inner axle shaft, CV shaft, and the manual hubs, (the last 3 parts are to eliminate the shit-on-the-fly design. This reduces the rolling friction, thereby making the wheels spin more freely b/c of no resistance, hence more speed!!)

First, the Driver side:
1. Drain the front axle assembly. (Don’t forget to refill at the end!)
2. Disconnect the air line and diff breather.
3. Unbolt the driver’s side CV at the flange.
4. Unbolt the diff mounts.
5. Remove the 4 bolts from the driveshaft and use a bungee to hold the driveshaft up and out of the way (do not pull it out of the t-case)
6. Saved some time by wiggling the assembly down and pulling the driver’s side CV stub out (it should just pull out). This saves the step of removing the hubs and pulling the CV shafts out, but it’s a little more tricky, requiring an extra set of hands.
7. Once it’s out and on the bench, use a dead blow (or rubber mallet) and knock out the inner shaft by hitting the flange.
8. Unbolt the diff and remove.
9. Clean the surface of the new diff and where it will be installed (there will be gunk there from the previous diff.)
10. Install the new Kick 5.13 3rd member and bolt down (Make sure to use fresh RTV sealer.)
11. Install the Kick inner shaft, hitting with a dead blow until fully seated. (If you compare the shafts, you will notice the size difference, with the GV being longer.)

Now, the Passenger side:
Compare the two CV stubs. Notice that the GV is shorter than the Kick. The difference in the two side lengths is because the air diff moves the centerline over about 1″ towards the passenger side.

What you want to do here is swap the Kick stub onto the longer GV mid-shaft and outer CV.
1. Carefully cut the band around the CV boot.
2. Remove the GV’s stub/ CV cup and replace it with the stub/cup off the Kick, making a “hybrid” CV shaft. Use the new clamps on the boot.

(This would be a good time to replace the passenger side inner axle seal. The Driver’s side doesn’t have the same problem, as it has a bearing supported inner shaft.)

With that done, re-install everything back into your GV. The front 3rd member has a center mount. This mounts to the GV cross member. I find it easiest to remove the two bolts from underneath the cross member, leaning the center mount on the diff, and using the bracket from the sidekick differential. IMPORTANT: The GV bracket will NOT work. Make sure you have the nuts and bolts from the sidekick bracket.

If you plan on bigger tires, lower gears and/or a traction adding device such as a LSD or a Locker, it is best to have the ring and pinion gears professionally installed into a steel GV or XL7 3rd member to gain added strength and eliminate the aluminum housings from breaking.

3. Now the hubs.  a) Remove bolts from existing lock-out caps on the hub. b) Making sure the hub is in the “open” position, install hubs with bolts and tighten to spec.

4. Reconnect the diff breather tube.

5. Finally, plug the metal air line. One method is to stick a golf tee into a piece of rubber hose and install it on the metal air line so it can build pressure and make the 4WD light come on.

Done!! If you want 4wd, just lock the hubs and put it in 4wd. With hubs locked, you can shift on the fly, just like the GV does now. And to prevent dirty fingers, pick up a plastic hub turner.



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