I'm writing in regards to “Flat Tow Basics” (Mar. ’16). It was a great and informative article. I understand fully that it's impossible to cover every aspect of a subject when doing an article. The title even states "Basics." This story is perfectly timed because this coming summer I will be taking my friend’s rolling-chassis (no glass, interior, engine, trans, or T-case) ’89 Chevrolet single-wheel 1-ton 4x4 six-pack (3+3) from my place in Michigan to Belgrade, Montana. I am considering flat towing versus trailering so my family can come, and we make it a vacation and explore on the way back without having to drag my car trailer all over creation.
I read the article a few times, and the only flat towing concern I have that was not addressed is stopping. In my situation I will be using my ’05 Ram crew cab Cummins as a tow vehicle. Getting up to speed isn't an issue, but I do get slightly concerned about stopping. In particular, if there is an emergency or when going down a mountain when I get to Montana. Compound those concerns when you throw in a wet roadway and it’s a recipe for possible disaster.
The options I'm considering are removing the full-float 14-bolt in the back and replacing it with a 3,500-pound trailer axle with electric brakes. Or, when I build my tow bar, build it with a surge controller and plumb it into the rear 14-bolt's brakes. There has even been some contemplation of installing a 12V linear actuator working with stock Chevrolet brake pedal controlled via a switch I operate from driver seat (a con of that would be slow response time).
I am a truck driver and have been for 21 years. I pull trailers every day and know the proper way. I'm more than familiar with GVWs, empty weight, axle weights, tongue weight, and so on. I know the proper braking techniques for going down long grades with a load. So, technically I should just hook this thing up like everyone else does and just go, but I also have seen what can go wrong and how accidents can happen.
I just thought I'd write and see what you thought. Perhaps you have another idea or bit of advice. Or maybe your advice, if I were to make a guess, will be, “It’s too big, trailer it!” as the Chevrolet weighs 5000 pounds stripped.
My take on the rear trailer axle conversion is, given you’re only flat-towing 5,000 pounds with a heavy Cummins-powered Ram, just slow your roll and take it easy rather than trying to fab a trailer axle under there. Assuming your fab skills are solid, it’s gonna be a lot of hassle to add that trailer axle under the back of that rig and almost certainly won’t be as safe/secure as the factory axle slung under there.
There are ways to actuate the factory braking system on a toad to aid emergency braking, but again, they’re complicated and expensive. It probably isn’t what you want to get into unless you’re flat-towing the same vehicle frequently, as you might with a Wrangler behind a motorhome.
I think if your ultimate goal is to make the trip easier, modding the 3+3 is out of the question. And consider this: that vehicle is really long. Maneuverability (especially tight turns) won’t be much better than if it were slung atop your trailer. And if you’ve never tried to back up a vehicle being flat-towed, you haven’t experienced frustration. The front tires turn opposite where you want it to go, putting a whole lot of pressure on the tow bar mounts, ball joints, and front wheel bearings of the towed vehicle.
Honestly, it’s probably not what you want to hear, but in a situation like you’re describing, unless your trailer is a humungous 30-foot-long monster, I think you’d be better off slapping that big sucker on a trailer deck and having the electric trailer brakes to rely on to provide better backing ability.
A chance meeting with a total stranger led to me become the owner of a ’70 CJ-5. The Jeep had been a long-forgotten asset of a local college and hadn’t been moved in several years prior to my towing it out of the woods. Within a week, I had the Jeep running and driving. The Willys 134ci F-head fired up and ran pretty smooth after the water was drained from the crankcase. The story of the Jeep goes like this: it was used around the college to drag the baseball field for several decades and then as a tow rig to launch sailboats into the on campus lake. When a student accidentally drove it into the lake, its service was over. I plan to restore it to its stock form with the help of my wife Kim, son Chase, and nephew, Pierson. Thanks for a great magazine and keep up the informative articles that give people like me the confidence to take on a project like this.
The discussion about built versus bought is always timely. My Bronco is pretty well built, and I go with people that have small-lift TJs with 31s, and they go almost as many places as I. A friend who is not mechanically inclined or interested is going to buy a Jeep soon. He said that he did not want a Rubicon with "all that extra crap" on it because he did not plan to go to tough places. He also thinks I shouldn't be hardcore wheeling because of my age (71). I think the lockers, lifts, cages, and so on are a convenience (I don’t want to have to put tire chains or shovel or stack rocks all day), a safety deal, and a necessary tool in the off-road arsenal because it’s impossible to predict when one of the "crap" additions may come in handy.