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I don't think they swapped an open axle in. Like mentioned an open 44A is a pretty rare bird. If they tried to sneak a 35 in they would have to also swap gears, 35's are 3:55 geared where the 44A is a 3:73 no matter open or vari lok. My 04 rear vari lok is pretty weak as well, it will spin both in snow but in dirt I get more one wheel peel then 2 wheel turn, my front seems to be just fine though.
 

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I guess I got lucky with mine. The PO said the 4wd never worked, I suspected the worse. Turned out to be a wrong axle shaft in the front, the wheels were never engaged. That I believe actually spared my t/case seeing the tires were very mismatched in size, luckily my t/case never knew the difference. I fixed the axle, drained the nasty case fluid and replaced with the special 247 sauce Mopar sells, it works great with some slight moaning when hard turning dead cold below freezing. It does engage quick, goofing around last night in front of a store front window I can say the front wheels getting powered is almost instant.
 
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