1. home
  2. how to
  3. tech qa
  4. Pulling Power Part 1 - Making A Half Ton Truck Tow Capable

Pulling Power Part 1 - Making A Half Ton Truck Tow Capable

Matt EmeryPhotographer, Writer

OK, so you didn’t buy a ¾ ton truck because you wanted to build a pre-runner that you could beat up the trails with. We can understand that. But, you need to tow a loaded toy hauler occasionally. There’s more to fun than just your truck, and having a self contained toy hauler with a SxS or some dirt bikes makes those all too infrequent family weekends out in the wilds just that much sweeter. We certainly understand that, too.

A V8 powered half-ton can make an adequate tow vehicle, you just need to give it a fighting chance to make it up some of those steeper passes with a heavy trailer. This owner wanted to do just that, so he went to Rite Performance in Pomona, CA. where Curtis Zamora had a plan.

Zamora felt that there were certain things that needed to be addressed. The good part is that these modifications would not only help with towing, but they’d make the truck better overall. All of the mods that will be done to this Ford F-150 will improve performance and reliability not only when towing, but when going off-road as well as just daily driving. That’s especially true when considering that with 80,000 miles on the odo, it was time for some basic maintainence anyway, so might as well make things better than before at the same time.

Some mods were strictly for engine and transmission performance sake; A Hypertech Max Energy 2.0 controller, Performance Distributors “Sultans of Spark” on-plug coils, new plugs (since the ones in it were the stockers) and that’s really about it. Sure, a supercharger would make the thing fly up Cajon Pass, but this was about making the most of what there is and being realistic about the half-ton’s capabilities.

The mods that we’ll look at this month were the ones to make the truck more reliable and safer. These include adding Mag-Hytec transmission and rear differential covers, a Flex-a-Lite cooler that is equipped with a thermostatically controlled electric fan, and EBC rotors and brake pads.

The EBC brakes were a no-brainer. Though the trailer has electric brakes and the truck is equipped with a controller, putting the EBC drilled and slotted rotors and performance-blended pads on give the truck better braking while towing, but will work better than stock when out on the trail. Improved braking was imperative as this truck will be used extensively off road.

One problem the owner already had was with the transmission. It had thrown a code going up a long hill pulling a fully loaded trailer, so it was thought that giving it plenty of cool fluid to work with was another one of the imperatives that should be addressed. And as with the brakes, the fluid in the transmission and rearend was OE, so it was time to replace it anyway. Put those together, and the best thing to do was to add Mag-Hytec rearend and transmission pans. The Mag-Hytec units hold more fluid than the stock units do, which alone will lower operating temperatures.

But Zamora felt that the temperature should be regulated as much as possible, so a Flex-a-Lite cooler was added. It has a thermostatically controlled electric fan that can be set to a specific temp, so a transmission temperature gauge will be added soon to know what the trans is actually doing. Then it will be decided if a constant-on switch for the fan will be added, but it sure sounds like a good idea to us. So, next month power; but for this month see how a race mechanic makes a tow vehicle tougher.

Here are the parts that will be added to the F-150.

Beginning with the rear cover, its mounting bolts are gently loosened and the fluid is allowed to drain out.

The residual gasket material is removed using a razor blade. Pro tip: Zamora uses a real razor blade and not a utility knife blade as razor blades are actually thinner, and therefore work better for this task.

A file is used to remove any burrs that may be on the housing.

Brake cleaner is used to remove any residue from the Mag-Hytec differential cover.

Mag-Hytec supplies 303 stainless steel hardware, but a few drops of Loctite are placed on the threads before they are run home.

As with wheels, it’s a good idea to tighten the mounting hardware in a rotating pattern. Next the hardware will be torqued to spec.

There is a level plug in the back of the cover, so filling the unit is easy. Just remove the plug and pour in the fluid until it begins to dribble out.

Note that Mag-Hytec sells fluid from Lubrication Engineers. For the rearend, they recommend 1605 Duolec Vari-Purpose Gear Lubricant. It’s rated SAE 110 and LE says it’s a heavy duty lubricant. If it’s good enough for Mag-Hytec, it should be fine.

Once the fluid reached the level plug hole the plug was inserted, the excess fluid wiped off and it was on to the next piece of this install.

To anyone who’s ever drained a transmission, you have our sympathy. But that’s the next job.

When Curtis checked the trans fluid for any debris, he wasn’t expecting this. It turns out that it’s the plug that kept stuff out of the trans during construction of the truck. The assembly guys just push it down into the pan when the time comes. Not a problem, but it was a surprise. Oh, and the fluid was clean, so no major tranny problems were suspected.

The stock filter is removed; but know that there’s plenty of fluid in there too, so expect some down your arms.

As with the diff cover, the mating surface of the Mag-Hytec deep transmission pan is cleaned with brake clean.

After cleaning and inspecting the area when the new pan will mate, a new transmission filter is installed. It comes with the Mag-Hytec pan and is made to work with the now deeper than stock pan.

And as with the diff cover, Mag-Hytec supplies the hardware, which is treated with Loctite.

The bolts are torqued to spec.

The largest Flex-a-lite cooler that could be installed was used. It has it’s own fan and thermostat. Rite Performance made a sturdy mount and here Curtis is checking the fit. Close but all’s good.

Tabs are welded to the frame to hold the frame. Note that the battery leads were disconnected just in case before any welding was done. Don’t want to fry the computer!

A quick check with the fittings in place show that things are very close, but still good.

Rough measurements were taken from the cooler to the transmission connections, and the DOT approved hose is cut

The -6 aluminum fittings are attached.

A heat shield was in the way of the run, so a piece is removed to allow for the hose to stay as close to the cross member as possible.

Rubber tubing is used to make sure that the sharp edges won’t damage the hose.

The lines coming out of the transmission are top, returning from the stock cooler while the lower is the feed line.

They collect at a manifold that’s at the trans/engine junction. The lower line is the return line from the stock cooler, and it will be modified with a fitting to send it to the new Flex-a-lite cooler

The line was carefully cut and prepped

The fitting was drilled out slightly so that it now slips over the tube. Curtis also removed the threads on the barrel because…he’s fastidious like that.

The fitting is then TIG welded in place.

The hose is run. It’s actually DOT approved air brake line that has braided steel embedded in it.

The connections to the Flex-a-lite cooler are made. Note that one of the lines has yellow tape on it. That’s just to make is easier to know which line is which.

The connections at the trans and return line are made.

A power lead is run from the battery to the electric fan. The Flex-a-lite unit has an internal thermostat, but an “On/Off” type switch can also be run. One will be soon, as it and an A-pillar mounted trans temp gauge are planned.

With the Flex-a-lite cooler held tight by Rite Performance bracket, the job is nearly done.

With the filling of the transmission, Part One is done. Stay tuned for the “performance” part in next months issue.