My Cross Country Towing Excursion
The following is a lengthy, comprehensive report of my first towing experience with my Excursion. I hope it will provide data from the road and insight for others towing with their trucks.
I have just completed an 8500 mile tour of the United States with my “new to me” 2001 7.3l diesel Excursion pulling a 1986 33’ Airstream Trailer. The following observations are for anyone considering, as I did, replacing their current tow vehicle with a diesel Ford Excursion.
- Detroit, MI to Los Angeles, CA, to San Francisco, CA to Redwoods National Park, to Mt. Rainier National Park, to Coeur D Alene, ID, to Glacier National Park, to Theodore Roosevelt National Park, to Fargo, ND, through Minnesota and Wisconsin, (via a brief trip to South Dakota), into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, across the Mackinac Bridge, and back down to Detroit. 33 days on the road.
- I purchased it in March of 2011
- 55,000 actual miles
- stock 265 E rated tires
Prior to this trip, I installed:
-X code front springs
-modified B code rear springs
-LandYot radius rods
-6.0l transmission cooler
-new rear brake calipers
-new brake hoses, and one brake line
-new front locking 4x4 hubs
-PHP FU performance chip (+65 towing tune used while towing)
-Edge Insight monitor
The truck was loaded with an estimated 1200 pounds of people, gear, and tools, (lots of tools for the 25 year old camper).
-I’ve never weighed the thing. I estimate it weighs somewhere around 8000 pounds when loaded with full fresh water tank, full propane tanks, food, and personal/camping gear.
The truck performed flawlessly. The improvements made to the suspension and transmission cooling system was money well spent. As other Excursion owners have reported, the truck rides and handles with great ease once the suspension has been modified. With the trailer on the bumper, it rode like a Cadillac.
Engine Oil Temp:
- While towing over the flat lands, the oil temp was 215 plus or minus, mostly plus.
- Pulling up long, steep grades, regardless of outside temp, the oil temp would climb quickly to 238, at which point the cooling fan would engage, and the oil temp would rapidly decrease to 225, and stay there.
- In the future, I may consider upgrading the engine oil cooling system
(NOTE: The factory installed water temperature gauge NEVER moved the entire trip. It would climb to a position of just below the half way mark, and sit there.)
Transmission Oil Temp:
- While towing at highway speeds, the transmission oil temp was never a problem, regardless of outside air temp. With the outside temp at 70*, the trans temp was 140*. With the outside temp at 80*, the trans temp was 165*. With the outside temp at 100*, the trans temp was 175*. On two occasions, the transmission oil reached temps which caused me to pull over. The first was while driving California Route 128 from Cloverdale to Mendocino. The outside air temp was 100*. The road consisted of very steep grades and winding switchbacks. I was travelling in 1st and 2nd gear at slow speeds. The transmission oil temp peaked at 213*. There was no stopping on the hill. When I finally reached the top and found a shady place to park, I placed the PHP performance chip to the 1100 rpm high idle setting and let it idle while we ate lunch in the trailer. After twenty minutes, the transmission oil temp was down to 165*, and we continued down slope to Mendocino without any trouble. The second occasion was driving east on US 199, between Crescent City, CA and the Oregon/California border. The outside air temp was 90*. The road again consisted of steep grades and winding switchbacks. This time, however, as the transmission oil temp was rapidly climbing, I found a place to safely pull off the road as it reached 190*. Again, we ate lunch in the trailer, as the engine ran at high idle for twenty minutes, or so.
Engine Exhaust Gas Temp:
- My typical towing speed was 67 mph, keeping the engine rpm just below 2000. With the cruise control set between 65 and 70 mph, on level terrain, the EGT was generally between 800 and 1000*. While driving over rolling hills, the EGT would remain below 1200* with the transmission motoring along in overdrive. As steeper grades were encountered, I would disengage the cruise control and hold the EGT between 1200* and 1240* with the throttle. As the speed bled off to below 60 mph, I would slightly reduce the throttle, turn off the overdrive, and get right back on the throttle in third gear, keeping the EGT between 1200* and 1240*. The truck would certainly accelerate back above 60 mph in third gear without exceeding 1250*, but I typically kept it right around 60 mph, until the hill was topped and the overdrive and cruise control could be reactivated.
- My previous towing experience has been with the Allison and the “tow/haul” mode. By the time I got to Veil, CO, and observed how the Ford 4R100 transmission operated, and realizing that the engine oil temp was a non issue, due to the cooling fan engaging at 238*, I operated the automatic transmission manually more and more. If I was decelerating to a stop, I would simply downshift to the next lower gear between 1500 and 1800 rpm. If travelling on highways where the speeds were consistently below 55 mph, I mostly ran in third gear.
- At times, when running in the 40 to 50 mph range for extended periods, I think I might like to have the ability to unlock the torque convertor while in third gear. I may look into installing that modification.
- Not much to say here. I was averaging 12+ mpg while towing in the 65 horse power tow tune.
- Prior to purchasing the Excursion, I logged over 25,000 miles towing the Airstream with a 2001 Chevy K2500 crew cab, short bed, Duramax/Allison. Towing with the duramax/Allison combination was effortless. The slightly longer wheel base of 153”, versus the Excursion’s 137”, provided more stability. Dialing in the hitch with the Excursion took a bit more tinkering. I purchased a Reese Dual Cam hitch when I bought the trailer in 2004. The dual cam hitch consists of the ball and draw bar, weight distribution trunion bars, and cams which are attached to the trailer frame and hold the aft ends of the trunion bars coming off the ball shank. When I pulled with the Chevy, I never had the need to use the cams. I simply attached the chains directly to the end of the trunion bars, and snapped them up to the trailer frame. Pulling in this configuration with the Excursion, however, was a bit shaky. I found by adding the cams to the trailer frame, and snapping up the trunion bars through the cams provided more stability. Tilting the hitch ball back, and using 600 pound trunion bars, allowed me to get a nice curve in trunion bar, and affording a much more stable towing experience. Placing the trailer on the ball dropped the rear of the Excursion 1 ½ inches. After the trunion bars were installed, the rear of the truck came back up 1 inch, and the trailer sat dead level.
I was still experiencing “truck suck” whenever I passed, or was passed by vehicles larger than a minivan, however, it was nothing that ever caused me or my newly minted teen age driver son a moments concern. This phenomenon only occurred when both vehicles were travelling in the same direction. I never experience any pushing while driving on a two lane road. Tractor trailers travelling in the opposite direction, with closing speeds of over 140 mph on US Route 2 in Montana didn’t cause even a wiggle.
While passing through Minnesota, I was, however, pleasantly surprised when I replaced the “D” rated load tires on the trailer with “E” rated load tires. The “truck suck” all but disappeared. I am confident, that tinkering a bit more with the hitch setup, nearly all the sway caused by passing vehicles can be eliminated.
Compared to my Chevy crew cab, I simply love my Excursion for towing the trailer with my family, even with its shorter wheelbase, and need for suspension modifications. The Allison may have a slight advantage when pulling, however, for a little more than what it costs to replace the injectors in a duramax, a custom towing transmission for the Excursion can be had, that, when combined with 444 cubic inches of International diesel, the Excursion is hard to beat.