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Safe Towing Equipment - Heavy Hitters

Posted in How To on July 1, 2009
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This Ford F-450 is shown towing a 40-foot Stellar toy hauler that weighs just over eighteen thousand pounds fully loaded. While not exceeding the manufacturers weight limitations for this particular truck, all too often we see similar trailers being towed by 3/4-ton pickups -a dangerous scenario indeed.

There's a famous phrase that comes to mind when we think about towing a heavy trailer. It goes like this: "Don't bring a knife to a gun fight." Simply put, towing a trailer is serious business; it requires skill, concentration and patience. But above all, you need the proper tool for the job. After all, you just never know whose wife and kids are riding in the minivan next to you. The 1-ton dually is considered one of the most capable tow rigs available to consumers today. Yet, so many dually pickups on the road are under-rated for the loads they pull. For this reason we decided to assemble a guide to help those of you who tend to push the limits when towing. We're not talking about speed limits, either. We're referring to maximum gross combined weight rating (GCWR). You know who you are. You're the guy who has to show up with a gooseneck trailer and two fullsize trail rigs behind a 1-ton pickup at the local trailhead. Don't get us wrong; we'd never suggest that towing in excess of the manufacturer's suggested GCWR is OK. But let's face it, many push the limits and get ticketed or lose control of their vehicle from an overloaded condition. Others modify their tow rigs to attain a safety buffer or additional stability when things get heavy. Either way, adequate suspension, appropriately-sized brakes, and a quality hitch coupler make all the difference when you consider how quickly things can go wrong at highway speeds.

Towing Suspension

Talon Performance Towing Suspensions are designed with serious enthusiasts and business owners in mind. If you are unwilling to risk safety, consider Talon's state-of-the-art truck air suspension system designed exclusively for American-made -ton and 1-ton pickup trucks. The system replaces your leaf springs with a link-style suspension engineered for comfort and towing control. Premium air bags improve ride quality while a high-tech self-adjusting in-cab control unit maintains system parameters. We like the trailing arm/lever arm design Talon employs to maintain pinion angle throughout the entire range of axle travel. With this arrangement, wheel hop, axle wrap and torque shudder are completely eliminated.
Info: 888/825-6687,

Kelderman's bolt-on Air Ride four-link conversion system is engineered to make your dually pickup ride like a dream. The system removes the factory rear leaf springs and replaces them with a Firestone air bag at each corner. Features include a parallel trailing arm system that eliminates axle twist, minimal pinion angle movement, and a low profile 4-bag design. In-cab adjustment and a durable black powdercoat finish come standard. Everything required to perform this conversion is included along with easy-to-read instructions. These kits are available for Ford Super Duty and Dodge Ram 3500 pickups.
Info: 800/334-6150,

Carli Suspension combines long-travel performance with increased load capacity for a true dual- purpose tow rig. Constructed out of -inch steel plate, this system is unlike any other airbag kit on the market. It allows 12 full inches of travel when aired out. The system is completely bolt-on and requires a separate compressor to fill the bags (not included). These bags are currently available for all American-made dual rear wheel pickups.
Info: 714/532-2798,

Roadmaster Active Suspension offers a non-pneumatic solution to assist dually owners with added weight of heavy loads. The kit consists of a pair of powerful, variable-rate coil springs designed to support and assist rear leaf springs. The patented design eliminates harsh bottoming-out events, as well as axle wrap and wheelhop. Reduced sway and body roll when cornering are another benefit. We like this setup because it supports the rear leaf springs for towing or hauling maximum loads and, due to the fact that it doesn't require compressed air, it is about as simple as can be. The only drawback is you don't get on-the-fly adjustability like air bags.
Info: 800/398-5036,

Ride-Rite by Firestone consists of a pair of air helper springs that mount between the frame and the suspension of dually pickups. The heavy-duty air springs handle up to 5,000 lbs per set and are adjustable from an in-cab controller. The kit is completely bolt-on, features push-to-connect air fittings, and all necessary hardware to complete the installation. Firestone's manufacturing process is ISO-certified, and each air spring is designed to last one million cycles.

Air Lift's LoadLifter 5000 kit is a high-capacity add-on airbag system for hauling or towing heavy loads. The kit is completely bolt-on and requires no permanent modifications. Manufactured with reinforced rubber bellows and end caps made of high strength Zytel nylon, the system is corrosion- proof and tough as nails for your most extreme-duty application. This setup is adjustable from 5 to 100-psi, for up to 5,000 lbs of additional load support, assuming your rig can handle it. Backed by a lifetime warranty with no mileage limitations, this airbag system is supposed to be the last one you ever buy.
Info: 800/248-0892,

Stopping Power

Stopping heavy loads puts massive demands on your dually pickup braking system. For this reason Off Road Unlimited developed a F-350 dually upgrade kit. The included rotors are slotted to help expel hot gasses that can reduce braking effectiveness. These rotors have also been treated using a special, proprietary thermal process, which stabilizes the metallurgy of the rotor, thereby increasing durability and heat dissipation capabilities. The rotors and pads give your truck extended brake life while enhancing the truck's stopping power. Each kit contains two front and two rear direct replacement rotors and pads. The kit fits all '99-'04 Ford F-350 dually pickups.
Info: 888/365-0244,

If you tow a heavy load regularly, you know how important a well-functioning braking system is. But you may not know about the benefits of an exhaust brake. Exhaust brakes can significantly increase driver confidence and towing safety by simply creating additional back-pressure when needed, to slow down your rig while descending a grade. BD's exclusive variable orifice technology makes their turbo-mount exhaust brake the cat's meow for Ford, Chevy and Dodge dually pickup truck owners. The design bolts in place of the factory elbow between the turbo and the exhaust system, providing peak retarding power throughout the engine's entire rpm range. The unit is comprised of a rugged cast-iron housing which incorporates BD's exclusive AlumiBronze bushing and piston ring-sealed, stainless steel butterfly shaft. Controlled by a lighted on/off toggle switch for automatic transmissions, or stick-mounted rocker switch for manual transmissions, the BD exhaust brake communicates with the engine's electronic idle verification board for seamless engagement. All BD exhaust brake kits come complete with the brake, air compressor (where applicable), mounting hardware and complete installation instructions.
Info: 800/887-5030,

Tekonsha developed the P3 brake controller for those of us who tow large trailers that utilize up to four braking axles. We've tested this controller and can vouch for its no-fuss setup, simple operation and worry-free dependability. We like the distinct, easy-to-read LCD display with multiple colors and contrast options. It allows operators to easily identify various brake settings quickly and make adjustments on-the-fly. The compact, dash-hugging design helps with mounting options while a quick-disconnect bracket and harness allow for convenient storage when not in use. Advanced diagnostics provide user feedback on issues such as short circuits, disconnects and inadequate proportioning between braking axles.
Info: 800/325-5860,

For those of you who tow a variety of different trailers regularly, the Odyssey II brake controller is worth consideration. The Odyssey II features four programmable settings similar in function to radio station presets on a car stereo; these presets are designed to simplify the process of adjusting brake sensitivity for different loaded/unloaded conditions on multiple trailers. It also allows for finite manual trailer brake activation via a built-in pressure-sensitive soft-touch switch--an exclusive feature we absolutely love using. The Odyssey II can control up to eight braking axles and installs easily thanks to Valley's extensive array of plug-and-play wiring harnesses.
Info: 209/368-8881,

Hitching Duty

If you need the flexibility of towing a gooseneck or fifth-wheel trailer, yet you want to retain functionality of your pickup bed when not towing, take a look at the Turnover Ball from B&W Custom Trailer Hitches. This ingenious design is similar in function to the PopUp Ball (shown to the right) in that you can install a 2 5/16-inch gooseneck hitch connection by simply pushing a rod inside the driver's-side rear wheelwell. But to take the concept one step further, B&W offers the fifth-wheel Companion hitch shown here. This unit secures to the Turnover Ball hitch system by way of a locking pin system. We like the fact that this setup requires no mounting rails to secure the hitch to the truck bed. All tongue weight is distributed through the floor of the bed, directly to Turover Ball's mounting cradle. This arrangement is nice for scenarios where you need to swap between gooseneck, fifth-wheel or empty bed in a matter of minutes. The B&W Companion hitch is rated for fifth-wheel trailers up to 18,000 pounds in weight.
Info: 800/248-6564,

When it comes time to hitch up the gooseneck trailer and head out on the open highway, nothing beats the convenience of a PopUp Ball. Quick, easy and clean, PopUp Industries gives new meaning to the term "user friendly." Tow when you need to, and enjoy a smooth bed for all those other jobs when an ordinary hitch ball is in the way. The bolt-on hitch system is capable of handling up to 30,000 pounds of total trailer weight and up to 7,500 pounds of tongue weight. The retractable 2 5/16-inch ball is hidden under the bed floor until needed. To use it, simply push or pull a rod located just under the bed in the driver's-side rear wheelwell. We like the fact that the hitch system mounts directly to the frame of the pickup using existing holes, therefore simplifying installation.
Info: 800/837-8578,

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