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Letters to Four Wheeler Editor

Posted in Features on April 22, 2016
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Flat-tow Joe
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.
Joe Pugliese
Ada, MI

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.

Weedend Warrior
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.
Brad Chasure
Cleveland, NC

Stuff Sack
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.
Jim Barry
Gunnison, CO

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