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Last Post 18 Feb 2009 04:56 PM by  wiggy
recommend a tow vehicle
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autoxgod
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14 Aug 2007 09:28 AM

Hi Steve,

I was wondering about the tranny in my 2004 Chevy 3500 Express Class B. I have the gas 6 liter and the auto tranny. What would be the model of that with the tow/haul mode? Can I expect it to last a while or are there some preventative care measures I can take? The van came from the factory with a large external oil cooler, and there's also a power steering cooler. I'm closing in on 20k miles and I've towed a lot with it near the speed limit most of the time.

So far the motor, tranny and rear diff have not given me any problems. I take it that the tranny oil and filter probably should be changed soon? Are there any updates or any recommended aftermarket improvements I can do to make it stronger/more reliable or durable?

Any opinion and advice would be welcome.

Jim

Steve Hoelscher
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14 Aug 2007 06:31 PM
autoxgod wrote:

Hi Steve,

I was wondering about the tranny in my 2004 Chevy 3500 Express Class B. I have the gas 6 liter and the auto tranny. What would be the model of that with the tow/haul mode? Can I expect it to last a while or are there some preventative care measures I can take? The van came from the factory with a large external oil cooler, and there's also a power steering cooler. I'm closing in on 20k miles and I've towed a lot with it near the speed limit most of the time.

improvements I can do to make it stronger/more reliable or durable?

Your '04 3500 would have a 4L80E in it. Chevy added the Tow/Haul mode somewhere about 2000 IIRC. The tow/haul button raises the line pressure slightly, delays upshift slightly and in lower gears, holds the gear when lifting off the throttle. Its mostly a marketing gimick.

The best preventative measure is to change the transmission fluid anually. I change mine at the beginning of each racing season, regardless of mileage. Use a quality fluid. Check your owners manual for the recommended fluid. Your '04 may spec the new synthetic Dextron.

Motorhomes especially generate a lot of transmission temperature due to the amount of aero drag they have. Add a car trailer to that and you compound the temperature issue. Heat is what kills automatic transmissions and its fluid. So changing the fluid regularly is a good PM. Heat breaks down the fluid's additive package and reduces its effectiveness. The optimum transmission temperature is 175~190 degrees. 190 to 210 is typical for towing while above 230 and you are on borrowed time. So its a good idea to install a temperature gauge to monitor the temperature. If you typically run above the ideal range, add another cooler. Also, some conditions, like long climbs, may generate excessive temperature. Long climbs, especially in the lower gears, can cause a big temp spike. If you have a gauge you can see it and either reduce speed, downshift or park it until it cools.

One of the biggest PMs is the driver and how he uses the transmission. At cruise, the transmission should run in OD with the torque converter locked. Use of excessive amounts of throttle to maintain cruise can unlock the torque converter clutch. If it runs unlocked excessively, or hunts in/out of lockup, it will overheat the transmission. So the driver needs to be able to recognize when the torque converter clutch is locked and when its not so he will know and adjust his driving to correct the issue.

One additional point, additives: There are no magic additives. The only thing I would add to a healthy transmission is a product called Lubegard.

http://www.lubegard.com/automotive/...s_atf.html

This stuff is the only additive you typically find being used by the transmission repair industry. Most good shops add it to every truck/SUV transmission they build. We did. Its good stuff. I use it in my van.

autoxgod
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17 Aug 2007 11:50 AM

Thanks Steve for the great info. I'll be changing the fluid out before I go to Topeka and adding a temp gauge and the Lubegard. Typically I run without cruise control on since the tranny has a tendency to downshift at the slightest hill. I'll run a little slower if I feel the load bulding on the tranny but if I hit 50 mph then I'll downshift it to 3rd and pull until I get to 60 before upshifting. Going to Topeka I have to travel south on I-35 through Missouri/Iowa and that hilly portion gets me into the 45 mph range at times when I'm just trying to maintain 65.

I try not to run the tranny hot if I can avoid it. I haven't thought about adding an additional cooler but that sounds like a good idea especially when the air temp is in the upper 90's.

Is it worth an investment into any stronger or improved aftermarket torque converter or pump or valve body? I figure somewhere in the life of this van I'll be having it rebuilt and would like to know if there's any parts that improve it beyond the Lubegard and Dexron/Mercon?

Jim

Steve Hoelscher
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17 Aug 2007 01:22 PM
autoxgod wrote:

Thanks Steve for the great info. I'll be changing the fluid out before I go to Topeka and adding a temp gauge and the Lubegard. Typically I run without cruise control on since the tranny has a tendency to downshift at the slightest hill. I'll run a little slower if I feel the load bulding on the tranny but if I hit 50 mph then I'll downshift it to 3rd and pull until I get to 60 before upshifting. Going to Topeka I have to travel south on I-35 through Missouri/Iowa and that hilly portion gets me into the 45 mph range at times when I'm just trying to maintain 65.

That's the best strategy. I do pretty much the same thing. My van is geared for 75~80 mph towing cruise. I can climb most hills in OD at these speeds. The longer/steeper grades that require downshift, hold my throttle position steady and let the speed drop to about 65~70 and then manually downshift to 3rd (the Ford has an OD switch on the shifter that makes this easy), maintain throttle and let the van find its own speed up the grade. Most grades can easily be climbed at 65~70 mph without additional throttle. Once at the top, I hit the OD button again and let it upshift at its own command.

Trying to force the tow vehicle to climb at a pre-determinded speed or maintain a speed that it has to work hard to achieve is very hard on the transmission. Again, proper gearing is very important because the load on the transmission is effected by the gear ratio. If you gear the tow vehicle so your cruise speed has the engine rpm in the fat part of the torque you will be much happier. I-70 across Missouri is up/down most of the way. I can tow most of it in OD at cruise without much effort. The first trip I made to Topeka in my current van I had a taller gear in it. (3.31 then vs 3.55 now) Just that little change made a big difference in cruise comfort. AND, I gained a mpg.

autoxgod wrote:

Is it worth an investment into any stronger or improved aftermarket torque converter or pump or valve body? I figure somewhere in the life of this van I'll be having it rebuilt and would like to know if there's any parts that improve it beyond the Lubegard and Dexron/Mercon?

I get that question all the time. There are some upgrades that are good to do but its much different that a upgraded converter, pump or valve body. Upgraded torque converters are popular (and expensive) but probably un-necessary for most applications. As I noted in an earlier post, the GM converters use a proprietary, woven converter clutch material not available in the aftermarket. So a GM sourced remanufactured converter is your best bet. Your 6.0 motor doesn't make enough power to need one of the high end billet converters.

If/when you have it rebuilt, talk to the shop about available upgrades and that might require a short meeting with the shop manager and the rebuilder. A company named "Sonnax" makes lots of upgrades for most popular transmissions and they have lots of little things for these transmissions that would be a good idea to include. These are real solutions to known problems with these transmissions. Sonnax is a big company with an extensive engineering department. They are the best in the industry at solving these problems. They have a ton of stuff for the 4L80E:

http://www.sonnax.com/part_finder.p...O&pl=3

Now you won't need all of that stuff but there are a few that would be a good idea. Like this one:

http://www.sonnax.com/announcements...94-01K.pdf

We put one of these in every 4L80E we built. I highly recommend it.

thefirebuilds
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31 Aug 2007 01:20 PM

Noticed this thread is still kicking along. the 99 dodge 1500 ram van i bought is working out well. I took out the middle seats and there is just about enough space for all my stuff. I towed to Mid Ohio and back with no problems to report and with a new air cleaner I got around 13mpg with a loaded truck and trailer. i think the 86 ford was getting around 11 or so, an extra 2mpg effects me on a 400 mile trip. With the tank this thing has im also able to go about 400 miles without stopping for gas, it's great. I could have made it all the way from ohio on one tank. Not too bad for 4k and a 1k torque converter. My only complaints are the air conditioning will not shut off (I can get heat, but the compressor is on full-time) and the seating position over the wheel well is really annoying.

Iain Mannix
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20 Sep 2007 01:31 PM

Figured I'd throw in my .02c on vans. I have a 96 E350 with 96k miles - it is the 12 passenger variant, so it does not have an enormous overhang at the rear (but it is still long enough to put two fullsize dirtbikes in back, behind the forwardmost passenger seat).

I got it cheap ~3 years ago. I thought I got it cheap because of the nasty paint on the hood and front fender - it was in a front end sheetmetal bender collision at some point, and they did a lousy repair job, so the hood and fender need replaced/repainted. No biggie, right?

Wrong - it needed a tranny, too. I just recently got it done (it did not fail outright, but it did some odd stuff every now and then). I'd not bothered hitching it and towing with it, as I figured that _would_ make it fail. Since I purchased it, I've put about 3k into it - tires, balljoints, tranny (got a really good deal on the tranny - wholesaleish cost for everything/trade for labor), tie rods/steering linkage, battery, alignment, oil changes, fuel filter, plugs, etc. Maybe $3500, but some of that (tires, plugs, filters, oil) is maintenance.

Anyway - I towed with it for the first time fairly recently. The most severe duty it'd seen before was a trip to Moab with dirtbikes and a short stint on Hell's Revenge (yes, it was scary). It tows _wonderfully_. I got 12.5 miles out of that tank - I'd put 250 miles on that tank, forget how many gallons, ~150 of it was towing a big open trailer/2000# car. I figure it gets 11 or so towing, it gets 14-15 highway/unladen.

Mine won't comfortably go 85 like Steve's, but the trailer I'm using is probably close to 2k#, and that might have more to do with _me_ than the van. I averaged 70mph on the highway - was a bit nervy, towing for the first time. No sway, no wobble, trailer just followed me around. Altitude might have something to do with it, too - I'm interested to see how it does in Topeka/closer to sea level. 70 was comfortable. 55 on steeper hills if I could not get a run at the hill, 65 if I could.

I bought mine largely because of Steve's experience (and the fact that the airport shuttles that focus on vacationing skiers - DIA to Vail and the like - all use big Ford vans - they can't _suck_ in snow, right?). I do not regret it for a second - it drives very nicely (a bit stiff empty, but wow, that's splitting hairs), handles more like a car than a TRUCK, holds tons of stuff, it is nice and comfortable inside, A/C kicks butt, and the snow performance is nothing short of astounding. I have Kumho Road Venture AT78s or some such nonsense on it, and we got a LOT of snow in Denver this year - I did need to chain it up twice, but when I needed to chain up, they were closing roads, "stay at home," my WRX with studded snows would not have moved.

On the "TRUCK" front - I borrowed a friend's F150 4wd to tow, and WOW, I was _really_ hoping the van would not tow like that - rode like crap, uncomfortable, SCARY oscillations, etc. Thankfully, that was not the case.

Snow -

12" storm? No chains, no problem.

36" in 36 hours? Chains, but it'd -probably- get through without them (I don't want to find out - it does not seem like a huge vehicle until it does not move under it's own power).

Blah blah blah. I love the van. Wifeunit hates it. Whatever. She seems to like it fine when there's something she HAS to have at a garage sale, hmmmm, selective van-hatred?

Vans are cool. Thanks, Steve!

Iain

thefirebuilds
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16 Dec 2007 11:32 PM

my fiance hated my van too. Guess what, no more fiance, lot less problems.

The van has started doing some weird shifting things. I threw a code the other day when a solenoid wouldn't put the tranny in neutral quite right. I reset the ECU and the issue went away, but it's only a matter of time I'm sure.

Steve Hoelscher
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17 Dec 2007 01:50 PM
thefirebuilds wrote:

my fiance hated my van too. Guess what, no more fiance, lot less problems.

HA! If only more guys recognize the "real" problem. [;)]

thefirebuilds wrote:

The van has started doing some weird shifting things. I threw a code the other day when a solenoid wouldn't put the tranny in neutral quite right. I reset the ECU and the issue went away, but it's only a matter of time I'm sure.

These transmissions have a history of torque converter failure causing bigger problems. This "may" be an early sign of such a failure. As soon as you possibly can, pull the transmission pan, poor off the oil and inspect the bottom of the pan for residue. Many of these pans have a waffle pattern stamped into it. You may find one or more of three types of material on the bottom of the pan. A black particle residue is burnt clutch material. A gray paste is aluminum and a gold metal flake is brass. The brass and aluminum may be caked up in the depressions of the waffle pattern. To inspect properly, wipe your finger across the flat bottom and see what you get. Use a small, flat blade screwdriver and run along the grooves of the waffle pattern to see if there are deposits there. If you find the gold glitter (brass) coupled with the gray sludge, most likely your torque converter is failing and the debris you have found has contaminated the Governor Pressure Transducer and the Governor Pressure Solenoid. These two electronic components control shifting and could cause the symptom you described. Usually, it will stick in 3rd gear but not always.

The best fix for this problem is to replace the torque converter and the Gov. Press. Transducer and the Gov. Press. Solenoid. The rest of the transmission should be OK. AND as on all A518s, bypass the factory transmission cooler and install a large aftermarket cooler. The OE cooler is prone to stopping up and overheating the transmission (BADLY).

thefirebuilds
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03 Jul 2008 05:15 PM

I appreciate your feedback. I had that one problem with the van and it has not recurred. It may have just been stop and go traffic that one day freaking it out. I may upgrade the cooler but that pesty fiance is back...and now she wants to race soooo

ive been looking at big gooseneck trailers and a pickup to pull it my pair of cars :p

wiggy
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15 Jan 2009 04:52 PM

Just wanted to say thanks for all the good info. I've spent a few months looking at towing options and the market. Threads like this have been a real help. I almost pulled the trigger on a newer (06-07) 12 passenger Ford van. There are dozens of them on the market for $12-15k.

Instead I've agreed to buy my uncle's 1999 Ford 12 passenger van with 5.4L engine. 120k miles, almost new Michelins, and even a full size hitch. He used it for his contracting work when he wasn't hauling the kids, so the interior is pretty beat.

My specific questions:

Can you tell me exactly what tranny cooler I should get? I might be towing a car home as soon as I pick up the van. I can easily get the parts together and add/change the cooler on the spot. I won't get the van for maybe a month, so I've got plenty of time.

Is there a simple option for replacing the flooring? I'd be happy with utility type rubberized mat, cheaper is better for me. I'll be using the van exclusively as my tow vehicle and bare bones camper. Maybe even a fold down bunk and a few solar panels by Nats.

Any other model specific maintenance issues I should be aware of?

Thanks in advance.

Wiggy

Steve Hoelscher
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16 Jan 2009 09:32 AM
wiggy wrote:

Can you tell me exactly what tranny cooler I should get? I might be towing a car home as soon as I pick up the van. I can easily get the parts together and add/change the cooler on the spot. I won't get the van for maybe a month, so I've got plenty of time.

Check to see if it already has an external cooler. If not get this one:

http://www.bulkpart.com/Merchant2/m...ct_Count=3

If it does, the factory Ford cooler is pretty good. That's what I use on my van. If you want some additional piece of mind (not a bad idea), you could add this cooler to the factory cooler:

http://www.bulkpart.com/Merchant2/m...ct_Count=1

wiggy wrote:

Is there a simple option for replacing the flooring? I'd be happy with utility type rubberized mat, cheaper is better for me. I'll be using the van exclusively as my tow vehicle and bare bones camper. Maybe even a fold down bunk and a few solar panels by Nats.

I would find a cargo van in a local salvage yard and get the flooring out of that. Or, buy some plywood and make your own. Lay some cheap carpeting over that if you want.

wiggy wrote:

Any other model specific maintenance issues I should be aware of?

The 5.4 is a great motor but the pre '04 engines had a tendancy to blow the spark plugs out of the head. This is typically the result of the plug being cross threaded when installed and the limited number of threads on the plug and head. So when replacing the plugs be very carefull about installing them. Typically, you have to pull the fuel rail to gain clearance to get the plugs in/out. Its not a simple task on the Ford Modular Motors. Fortunately, you don't have to do it often. '04+ motors have double the number of threads and the head has been redesigned to help guide the plug into place.

And be sure to service the transmission as soon as you get the van. Check the service manual to be sure you use the correct fluid. Some of the later versions require Mercon V instead of regular Mercon.

Mrsideways
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16 Jan 2009 10:21 AM
Those were my requirements until I factored in Costs of keeping a mid 90's truck going. Then I factored high interested on a used late 90's early 2000's. Then I saw GM giving Silverado's away at 0% interest. I got a bran new silverado for little more then what I would pay for a 7-8 year old Tundra. It has had no issues and the added bonus is I got [b]19mpg[/b] towing a 5000lbs car on trailer to the runoffs. Not to shabby for a gas truck. At $4.00 a gallon it was paying for it's self. Now at $2.00 a gallon not so much.
Primetime Glick
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16 Jan 2009 11:48 AM
Steve Hoelscher wrote:

The 5.4 is a great motor but the pre '04 engines had a tendancy to blow the spark plugs out of the head. This is typically the result of the plug being cross threaded when installed and the limited number of threads on the plug and head. So when replacing the plugs be very carefull about installing them.

One of my construction managers has had two pre-04 modular Ford trucks; on one of them he blew the spark plug out of the head at 100k miles going down the neighborhood street. But, Ford now makes a new tap and sleeve kit so you don't have to remove the heads and all the other associated stuff. After tapping the hole and vac'ing out lithium? grease and shavings 3 times on the way down, he installed the sleeve and spark plug and was on his way, shortly (it was one of the easier to replace spark plug locations).

wiggy
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16 Jan 2009 02:15 PM

Thanks very much, Steve.

I'll call my uncle and ask him about the tranny cooler and spark plugs. I think he had the plugs changed at the dealer last year. If not, I can certianly set aside time to carefully remove the fuel rails and replace the spark plugs without cross threading them.

If I've got new spark plugs and no obvious issue, should I locate the Ford factory repair sleeves as a necessary spare parts for the road? I've planned on towing 10-12k miles this season to get to more Tour, Pros, schools, etc. I've got a full set of spares for the trailer and I'll go through the bearings before the season starts. I'll have spare parts for the race car. Why not plan ahead and have a few obvious things for the van, too?

I'll be sure to get the tranny serviced and the appropriate cooler installed. Is it just a fluid flush you recommend, or a more extensive service? I can honestly say that I've never had an auto serviced anywhere. I mostly prefer to drive stick. I've just pulled the pan and replaced the filter and fluid on the few autos I've owned. I can tell by your previous posts in this and other threads that you have extensive experience. I don't want to be short sighted or half assed going into the race season.

I'll look for some flooring once I actually get the van.

Iain - Vans are cool. Hopefully some of it will rub off on me. I remember seeing at least one big dirt bike in your Van when I ran with you guys in Colorado. Must have been 18 months ago, before Nats in '07. Looking forward to seeing that fast 2002 again this year.

Steve Hoelscher
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16 Jan 2009 05:22 PM
wiggy wrote:

Why not plan ahead and have a few obvious things for the van, too?

I'll be sure to get the tranny serviced and the appropriate cooler installed. Is it just a fluid flush you recommend, or a more extensive service? I can honestly say that I've never had an auto serviced anywhere. I mostly prefer to drive stick. I've just pulled the pan and replaced the filter and fluid on the few autos I've owned. I can tell by your previous posts in this and other threads that you have extensive experience. I don't want to be short sighted or half assed going into the race season.

I think it would be a great idea to keep a plug repair kit on hand if you plan on long distance towing. It may mean you make the event instead of missing it. It may also save you an expensive tow bill.

You can service the trans yourself. That's just dropping the pan, changing the filter and refilling with new fluid. Or you can have it done at a shop. I like to take them to a real transmission shop for service. Too often the oil change places strip the pan bolts.

And as for experience; I used to owned a big Aamco Transmission center. [+o(]

HEMIDAYTNA
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28 Jan 2009 07:56 PM
I have a 96 E150 with 104K miles, All highway going from PA to New Jersey. I'd let it go for 6K...
wiggy
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17 Feb 2009 12:50 AM

I've got my new van ('99 E350). I've spent a few hundred on oil, tranny, air, and fuel filters, fluids, pads, and oxygen sensors.

I've got a code for lean bank 1 and lean bank 2. Now that I'm home, I'm hoping to solve this likely intake leak tomorrow. The egr may be sticking. It stutters first thing in the morning like the fuel pump doesn't deliver enough pressure.

I also found an excellent rubber mat for the floor, foam and steel for a bed/bench, and new tires. Total cost including van, parts, and travel from Berkley,CA to Llaves, NM: $2825 Wishing I had someone to share it with: priceless.

Dave Hardy
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17 Feb 2009 01:15 AM
On flooring - I Herculined my Jeep tub (DIY bed liner stuff)and like it so much that I've considered doing the same in the back of the van.
wiggy
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18 Feb 2009 04:56 PM
wiggy wrote:

I've got a code for lean bank 1 and lean bank 2. Now that I'm home, I'm hoping to solve this likely intake leak tomorrow. The egr may be sticking. It stutters first thing in the morning like the fuel pump doesn't deliver enough pressure.

I solved the vacuum leak. Cracked hose to the egr. I also crawled under the diff to verify which one I have. A big Dana with 3.56 gears. Changing the gear oil it that this afternoon.

Thanks again for this and other threads. It was very helpful to me and my upcoming road trips.

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