OK, bear with me - I'm not much of a mechanic, but here goes:
I have a 98 TJ, manual transmission, 2 inch lift, 33" a/t, offest balljoints, corrected driveshaft lengths, limited slip rear diff, 4:56.
Last winter I was screwing around in the snow (in 4wd) and got stuck for 2 seconds. To get out i just slammed it back and forth and got out. But when doing so i heard a not so friendly loud snap sound. Everything still felt fine while driving but I noticed a slight "squirrels on a wheel" sound (again bear with me, only description I can think of and it doesnt seem to qualify as angry sparrows). A few months later I asked teh lcoal mechanic about the sound and they couldn't even hear it (for perspective).
Fast forward a year, that noise has gotten a little louder, definitely a rotational sound even in 2wd. And it gets much worse in 4wd, and now less of a continuous frequency sound. As in the sound is always there, but not a constant rotational sound, possible description would have some hybrid pop/clunk sound. But everything still actually feels fine while driving. it justs sounds scary (to me that something is going to break and leave me stranded)and i don't want to ruin an axle by taking on these next 70 miles. I also smell a little oil burning after getting out of the rig/parking. But that could be unrelated, or could not be unrelated.
So, my thoughts are first to check that the gear oil levels are OK. After that disconnect front drive shaft and drive (in 2wd). I've checked the u-joint by twisting the driveshaft and I don't feel anything all that loose, but have to say I've never felt one that is loose and does require a new u-joint.
Other than that i'm guessing centering ball or cv joint problem.
Could this community please chime in with diagnosis ideas and suggestions to a better diagnosis timeline. I'm staring out the work window at 8+ inches of snow still coming down and 33F, dark will be coming soon and I really don't want to be out there longer than I have to be as this will be done in a coworker's driveway tonight.