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Duty Specific

You don’t maintain a vehicle used for towing the same as you would a commuter car. These tips will point you in the right direction.

If you’re pulling big loads regularly, odds are you are pretty hard on your equipment.

Regularly towing a trailer qualifies as severe-duty use, which means you need to shorten intervals and conduct more frequent inspections of key components. That means you should follow the severe-duty intervals as outlined in your owners manual. If you don’t have one, your dealer can help you determine a service regimen that’s right for the way you use your tow vehicle.

Why Use Synthetic Oil?
Clearly, the best place to start is the engine oil, and for severe-duty, synthetic is the way to go. If you need proof, here’s why. Conventional motor oils can lead to carbon buildup on pistons, in the combustion chamber and on the back of the throttle blade, all of which can lead to engine noise, reduced power and drivability issues. Here’s how it happens.


During the combustion process, engine oil sneaks into the chamber through the PCV system and in the form of blow-by from the crankcase. Since oil is rich in carbon, deposits form. Carbon, which is nature’s molecular magnet, cakes beautifully on pistons, valves, throttle blades and combustion chambers. And when engines undergo severe use, such as trailer towing, it only makes things worse. Why doesn’t gasoline form deposits? It does, but not to the same extent. Because gasoline is composed more of hydrogen molecules than carbon, it leaves fewer deposits. It also yields more energy, but that’s another story.

Since automakers have really gotten a handle on precise fuel delivery, engines now run consistently at a 14.7:1 air/fuel ratio. That means there are no lean or rich periods to help burn off carbon buildup, as would happen with carbureted engines. “Take ‘er down the highway, stand on the gas and blow ‘er out,” was often good advice for cleaning carbon deposits and you could often see them spewing out behind you in your rearview mirror.

But now, with modern EFI systems, the air-fuel ratio is always constant, and simply standing on the gas pedal doesn’t work anymore. Only chemicals or friction will remove carbon deposits. Synthetic oil, which has no carbon, leaves no deposits. It’s a bit more expensive to formulate, so you pay more for it, but some synthetic engine oils can be run for up to 7,500 miles or more.






Other Fluids
We also recommend you go with synthetic transmission fluid. In those cases, the reason also is molecular. Synthetic fluids have a longer, chain-type molecular structure. Because of that structure, the fluid resists shearing, which is rampant in transmissions and axles because of the gear-to-gear mesh. As you can imagine, towing a trailer raises temperatures, increases the loads and the shearing factor. The properties of synthetics help reduce gear wear.


As for axle lubricants, some experts argue in favor of conventional mineral oils because they pull heat out of a part better than synthetics. Your change intervals will need to reflect severe-duty requirements.

Aside from frequent fluid changes, there isn’t much we can tell you that the manufacturers already haven’t, but we have a few more things you should track.

You can ensure optimum braking by adjusting your back brakes regularly. It doesn’t involve going to the dealership, but it only works for drum brakes, though. As brake shoes wear, the clearance between the shoe and the drum increases, which leads to increased pedal travel before the shoe makes contact. The result is delayed response and a decrease in brake feel.

Modern drum brakes have an oft-forgotten feature: the self-adjusting mechanism. It works when you back up. By stabbing the brake pedal a couple of times while in reverse, the brake shoes ratchet out toward the drums, which decreases pedal travel and improves feel. The cool part is that you can usually feel the difference right away.

Lastly, you should periodically check the hitch ball to see that it’s screwed tightly onto the draw bar. It also couldn’t hurt to check the bolts that hold the receiver to the frame rails. Also, periodically shoot some silicone into the wiring connector and the hitch coupler to prevent rust.

The benefits of modern tow vehicles are that they have reduced maintenance to virtually nothing more than fluid and filter changes. By using synthetic fluids, you can reduce powertrain wear and by keeping an eye on key components, you can ensure your towing will be as trouble-free as possible.


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