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Last Post 31 Mar 2010 10:59 AM by  Steve Hoelscher
Help me pick a tow vehicle part deaux!
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Impala SS AutoXer
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10 Mar 2010 04:00 PM

I'll throw out my experience and experience of friends. For the record, I'm towing with a 2006 GMC 2500HD with the Duramax/Allison.

The truck is just under 4 years old. I've put 83K miles on it (it is a DD), bought new.

In that time, the issues I've had with it were :

1. OEM shocks were bad. In fact, one was DEAD from the factory. Set of $250 Bilsteins = fixed

2. Under-dash HVAC temp valve went out, $130 part and about an hour of my time to replace (it is a common issue on these trucks)

3. The steering shaft rattled a little bit. Replaced with a Borgeson, it also rattles. I've learned to live with it.

That's it. Other than that, the truck has been dead nuts reliable.

As for "more expensive maintenance on a diesel", guess I'm not really seeing it. Oil changes do take 10 quarts (about $55 for me to do myself including the filter, using Rotella) BUT the change interval is 10K miles. Figure it's about a wash with a gasser that uses 5 qts but only goes 5-6K miles.

Fuel filter : $30-ish bucks, every 15K miles. Takes about 30 minutes to replace, and easy enough to do that if I had to do an emergency swap on the side of the freeway I could do it (underhood on the right side, instead of under the truck)..

Trans Filter : external trans filter that looks like a small oil filter. I replace it every other oil change (20K miles), filter costs $10 and you have to add back roughly 8 oz of fluid. The fluid always comes out VERY clean.

Trans fluid : I may change it at 100K on principle. Same with the rear diff fluid. I doubt it'll NEED it, but, you know...

Gas mileage : my commute is 11 miles, mostly highway BUT in the Bay Area (meaning, it takes 30 minutes some days, 15 others...consider it similar to a freeway commute in Dallas). I get about 15-16 MPG while commuting. Empty on the highway it'll do anywhere from 19 at 80 MPH up to 23 at 55 MPH. Towing I get 17-18 (and have even gotten 19 on occasion!) doing a "CA legalish" 62 MPH. Dropped to about 17 MPG when towing to Lincoln last fall doing 70-75. Car was an ST Civic on an open trailer, saw similar with our STS Integra in 07-08 on the trailer. Drops 1-2 MPG from that towing my 96 Impala SS on the same trailer (car weighs literally DOUBLE what the ST Civic does though!). Got 12-13 in 2006 towing an enclosed trailer to Topeka.

Obviously, LOTS of towing power to spare. Heck, climbing the Sierras or the Grapevine (0-4000ft-0 grade between Bakersfield and LA) it doesn't even downshift below 5th gear...let alone actually lose even 1 MPH of speed!

In CA right now, diesel is about even with 87 octane at the place I buy fuel.

The truck cost roughly $7K more than a comparable gas truck when I bought it. As you can see, I'd still get most/all of that back if I had to sell it. The maintenance really isn't appreciably more.

As for the Avalance, issues are two :

1. Get a 1500, you get the 4L60E. From the factory, it is a crap transmission for towing. You can fix that with a GOOD rebuild (i.e. not a mere GM reman or your average Aamco factory replacement job, but rather using better parts with a rebuilding expert), but that eats up some of that truck cost difference.

2. Also note that GM uses a different (read that as WEAKER) frame on the Avalanche vs the Pickups (1/2 ton to 1/2 ton, and 3/4 ton to 3/4 ton). I can point you towards a friend of mine in AR who had a BENT FRAME on his 2500 Avalance (towing an enclosed trailer, truck couldn't take it...he now owns a 2500HD Pickup) if you want to talk with him about it. You'd likely be OK with an open trailer, but it limits your growth potential in towing.

Just my experience, but I'd make the same choice again in a heartbeat!

Eskimo
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10 Mar 2010 04:53 PM
Impala SS AutoXer wrote:

As for "more expensive maintenance on a diesel", guess I'm not really seeing it. Oil changes do take 10 quarts (about $55 for me to do myself including the filter, using Rotella) BUT the change interval is 10K miles. Figure it's about a wash with a gasser that uses 5 qts but only goes 5-6K miles.

As for the Avalance, issues are two :

2. Also note that GM uses a different (read that as WEAKER) frame on the Avalanche vs the Pickups (1/2 ton to 1/2 ton, and 3/4 ton to 3/4 ton). I can point you towards a friend of mine in AR who had a BENT FRAME on his 2500 Avalance (towing an enclosed trailer, truck couldn't take it...he now owns a 2500HD Pickup) if you want to talk with him about it. You'd likely be OK with an open trailer, but it limits your growth potential in towing.

Actually, mine went 8000 miles before it was time to change the oil, and just to be clear, my price for an oil change was using synthetic oil..

The frame is the Suburban frame, and there is an "issue" with a weak spot when you tow with a lot of tongue weight. Fortunately, there are a couple of class 5 receivers that bridge this frame section and have been shown to eliminate the issue, as there are several on the board towing 12,000lb loads with the 2500's.

Having owned a 2500HD pickup prior to the Avalanche, I'll also mention the unloaded (and loaded) ride for that matter is more harsh on the truck mostly because of the leaf packs used (the truck has a payload of ~3900lbs, the 2500 Av ~2000lbs), and partly because of weight distribution.

racnmni
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12 Mar 2010 10:12 AM

I know this has kinda gravitated towards big manly trucks... but I remember the op was something about a liveable dd. I towed for 4 years with a Hemi Grand Cherokee. Mini Cooper and pit bikes on a solid deck steel trailer (5Kish) plus the wife, dogs, loaded with gear we got 10.5-11.5 towing 65-75mph going to Topeka and back. It gets 15-19 mpg in the real world due to cylinder de-activation and is comfortable It has been bullet proof now at 105K. Probably 10-15K of that towing. All that, and the wife enjoys driving it too. Oh, and these things can be had CHEAP, since there are a ton of them out there. Soft suspension though, so you need a weight distributing hitch (I don't have one) or the load needs to be balanced properly in the trailer. If the car is a few inches too far forward or back I notice it in a hurry.

That said, +1 for the 8.1 chevy as well. We picked up a Super C class motorhome (Kodiak 5500 based) last year and that is our new tow rig. It is the 8.1 with an Allison behind it. We were about 22K on the scales fully loaded and I felt like I had plenty of power. The 8.1 likes some fuel though... 6.5-8 mpg pulling or not. She's a brick in the wind alright, but the power was better than expected for a house on wheels. No hotel, no boarding the dogs, when it rains, we are dry, when It's hot, we are cool. Love that thing! The wife even LIKES to come to the events now! Just my 2 cents

Good luck with the search!

Steve Hoelscher
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16 Mar 2010 02:20 PM
AStocker wrote:

Hey Brian,

You said:

I wouldn't recommend a half ton Chevy because in your price range you'll probably only find 4L60E equipped models and I don't trust that transmission.

I'm curious why you say that. Our 2003 4WD Avalanche (which I assume has that tranny) now has 130,000 miles most of which is towing (including pulling our 89 Camaro). Everything seems fine. Should I be concerned?

I can answer that: In a word: Yes.

Fact: The 4L60E is the #1 transmission in the repair industry. I know, I was in the business for several years. It was a statistic that was easy to track and well known in the industry.

My shops averaged about 4 of these a week. Nearly half my business. The equivalent Ford transmission, with as many or more units in services is the 4R70W, of which I averaged less than one a month.

Those are the facts, you make the call.

Joe_914
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17 Mar 2010 03:58 AM

Put a big cooler on a Ford Transmission and it will last the life of the truck.

my super duty has 240K and best I can tell it's never been out.

Steve Hoelscher
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17 Mar 2010 07:52 AM
Joe_914 wrote:

Put a big cooler on a Ford Transmission and it will last the life of the truck.

my super duty has 240K and best I can tell it's never been out.

Partly true. I would add; change the fluid regularly. There is no better way to improve the service life of an automatic transmission.

The Ford van I tow with, has 296,000 mostly towing miles. It has the factory tow package cooler on it but the fluid has been changed annually since new. I did rebuild the transmission the last week I owned a shop as a preventative measure (back in 2005). At the time it had 240,000 miles on it. We only replaced the "paper and rubber" (gaskets and seals), electronics and did the updates (new intermediate drum which uses the new style mechanical diode) and a new style servo and band with a kevlar lining. All of the original clutches went right back in. I also installed a new torque converter with a kevlar clutch. The transmission was working perfectly when I had it rebuilt but I figured I might as well since I had the opportunity.

Dave Hardy
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17 Mar 2010 12:08 PM

Steve - Do you have a preferred fluid and change interval for the Allison? Is a drain and fill sufficient or do I need to plan on taking it somewhere with a flush setup

Steve Hoelscher
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17 Mar 2010 12:40 PM
DILYSI Dave wrote:

Steve - Do you have a preferred fluid and change interval for the Allison? Is a drain and fill sufficient or do I need to plan on taking it somewhere with a flush setup

If you tow regularly, change it annually. Its not expensive and well worth the investment. Most people let the transmission fluid go until it looks like it needs changing. That is, it starts getting dark. Well, that's too late. The reason is, transmissions don't have a combustion process that produces the carbon that turns motor oil black. So the fluid stays red until it begins to varnish or gets contaminated or burnt. ATF is a complex blend of hydraulic oil and additive packages consisting of stabilizers and anti shudder cushioners. The additives dissipate over time and cause the fluid to eventually varnish.

If you change it regularly, the additives stay fresh and the transmission stays happy. The fluid never gets old and breaks down.

Drain and fill is fine if you change it regularly. "Flush" services are over rated and are not substantially different than a drain and fill. Also, it is rare that the operator actually does a thorough job of flushing the system. Another important note. Often, the JiffyLube/Quickchange oil change operations use a cheap (off brand) grade of fluid. You DO NOT want to tow with cheap, off brand, fluid. The extra heat will kill the oil in months. Always use a name brand oil. Castrol, Havoline, etc... Store brands are in the off brand catagory.

Eskimo
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17 Mar 2010 12:57 PM

When I got my truck with the Allison, I did a garage-flush.. that is, disconnecting the return line from the trans cooler and let it drain while the engine was idling, keeping the level up by constantly adding fluid. Also had the wife put it in reverse, 1st, and second to get the fluid moving through as many paths as possible. I used about 3 gallons total of fluid, but there was a noticeable change from start to finish. After that, it was a 25k drain & fill, and had I kept the truck, after another 25k, repeat the flush..

It wasn't too terribly messy or hard to do, took about an hour, total. But I bought the truck with 60k on it, and was unsure when the fluid was last changed.

Steve Hoelscher
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17 Mar 2010 02:47 PM
Eskimo wrote:

When I got my truck with the Allison, I did a garage-flush.. that is, disconnecting the return line from the trans cooler and let it drain while the engine was idling, keeping the level up by constantly adding fluid. Also had the wife put it in reverse, 1st, and second to get the fluid moving through as many paths as possible. I used about 3 gallons total of fluid, but there was a noticeable change from start to finish. After that, it was a 25k drain & fill, and had I kept the truck, after another 25k, repeat the flush..

It wasn't too terribly messy or hard to do, took about an hour, total. But I bought the truck with 60k on it, and was unsure when the fluid was last changed.

Yep. That works just fine and is functionally identical to the high dollar "flush machines". You can buy a length of 3/8ths rubber transmission cooler line and a cheap bucket with graduated lines on the side. Put the outlet end in the bucket and a funnel in the inlet and simply match the lines on the bucket as it runs. I have done this myself with my cars/trucks.

You don't really need to run it through the gears as that only moves a tiny amount of fluid in the valve body and servos. This method does help get the fluid that is retained in the torque converter that is other wise retained on a drain/fill.

Matt93SE
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21 Mar 2010 09:58 PM

I'm going to scab onto this thread for a part tres.

I recently purchased a 24' enclosed and my 1/2 ton Chevy obviously isn't handling the job. flat out in 4th (it's a 5sp manual), it'll do best of 65, but I get roughly -4mpg. Even at 65mph, I'm getting blown off the road by grannies driving out here in the flatlands south of Houston. Average cruising speed is about 80, so I'm mainly trying not to get run off the road. The clutch in it doesn't like having to back into my long and narrow (read: 5pt turn and back reaaaaal sloooow) driveway. Then again, the truck is a '90 with 180k miles on it; nothing works inside (A/C, radio, etc are all out). Poor Chebby's on its last legs. This weekend, the wife finally gave me permission to buy a new truck. WOOHOO!

I figure, fully loaded, the whole trailer & gear will be about 8500lb. Roughly 5000 for the trailer, 2500ish for the car, 300 for tool box, 300 for spare tires. throw in another 300 for generator and air compressor, and I'm roughly 8500. Good thing this trailer has the 5500# axles!

My useage will be hauling the car & spares around Houston area tracks for club racing- it's about 4.5 hours to Dallas, the same to No Problem Raceway in LA, and 2hrs to College Station. I'll probably hit college station several times a year and the others once or twice. Throw in a trip or two each to Oklahoma and Austin and that gives me a few hills to deal with aside from the south TX rice paddies I live in. the truck won't be my DD, but if it rides well enough and gets decent mileage, I may drive it more often. I will definitely be getting an automatic- it's just too much of a pain to tow with a manual when the autos in these things seem to get such great reliability numbers.

All that said, There are a bunch of 04-05 Ford F250 6.0 diesels in the area for 10-15k depending on the usual factors. There are a few 2500s from Dodge and Chevy, but the great majority here are Fords. I'm thinking the F250 is the way to go for my intentions.

since I'm also a n00b to buying a diesel, can some of you veterans point out the major things to look for when I'm crawling over them at the used car lots and Craigslist finds? I of course get looking for fluid leaks, signs of helper springs, 5th wheels, general overloading, holes cut in the dash from programmers and chips and whatnot, but what about the driveline, engine, etc? what's a good one "act like," so to speak?

Also, I'm assuming breaking the wind with the trailer itself is the biggest effort in the pull, no? Once I've started loading the trailer, I would assume the truck isn't really going to care much about the last 1000lb of crap I haul once I get moving on the highway. i.e. the truck will still pull the same with my trailer at 7500lb gross weight or 8500lb gross weight. Is that a fair assumption in this case, or do I need to make a real effort to keep the weight to a minimum?

Thanks!

47CP
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22 Mar 2010 05:51 AM

Matt,

You probably want to do some research on the 6.0 Fords, especially the early ones. www.ford-trucks.com and www.thedieselstop.com are two sites I have frequented in the past. I have known people who had ones that were trouble free, but others who had monthly dealer visits for the life of the truck. Note, I do not have personal experience, I had a 7.3 Ford and 2 Dodges.

If it were a good enough deal, it might be worth it, but there is a reason why those particular ones are so cheap, relative to the other makes.

IMO, the 250 is fine and don't worry about the last little bit of weight, the truck won't notice. I get/got the same mileage with empty enclosed trailers vs full ones.

HTH, IMO, YMMV,

DaveW

Matt93SE
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22 Mar 2010 06:54 AM

Thanks for the input. There are Chevy and dodge 2500s in the area too, but they're all 4 door models and that's jsut stuff I won't be needing. 95% of the time, it's me and maybe the wife in the truck so I don't need a back seat. I'd like an extended cab just to be able to throw junk in the back out of the rain, but I don't need the extra size, weight, and parking hassles of 4 doors.

Nonetheless, there are other options- the Ford 6.0 just seems to be the most common around here, and I'll definitely do some research into why before I purchase. :)

AStocker
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22 Mar 2010 07:47 AM
Steve Hoelscher wrote:
AStocker wrote:

Hey Brian,

You said:

I wouldn't recommend a half ton Chevy because in your price range you'll probably only find 4L60E equipped models and I don't trust that transmission.

I'm curious why you say that. Our 2003 4WD Avalanche (which I assume has that tranny) now has 130,000 miles most of which is towing (including pulling our 89 Camaro). Everything seems fine. Should I be concerned?

I can answer that: In a word: Yes.

Fact: The 4L60E is the #1 transmission in the repair industry. I know, I was in the business for several years. It was a statistic that was easy to track and well known in the industry.

My shops averaged about 4 of these a week. Nearly half my business. The equivalent Ford transmission, with as many or more units in services is the 4R70W, of which I averaged less than one a month.

Those are the facts, you make the call.

Thanks for the info Steve.

Other than changing the fluid regularly, is there anything I can do proactively on this tranny to avoid ending up on the side of the road?

Paul

Matt93SE
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22 Mar 2010 08:27 AM

Pull an 89 civic instead of an 89 Camaro, and keep your foot out of it?

Have you added a tranny cooler to the truck? You might want to install a tranny temp gauge and/or a standalone tranny cooler to keep the fluid temps under control. Heat seems to be the biggest killer of automatics, so lower the heat and you lower the stress on the guts.

If/when the rebuild comes around, there are internal modifications you can have done to beef up the transmission, but I'll leave that up to guys with more experience on such items and where to go for that.

Steve Hoelscher
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22 Mar 2010 11:15 AM
AStocker wrote:

Thanks for the info Steve.

Other than changing the fluid regularly, is there anything I can do proactively on this tranny to avoid ending up on the side of the road?

Well, changing the fluid annually is the very best preventative measure. Also, if you don't have a "big" external transmission cooler, get one. From there learning what the transmission is doing and why then will give you the opportunity to being proactive when driving. To that end, go out and find a nice flat, straight, piece of road to practice on.

With the trans in the normal "OD" position, start of with moderate throttle pressure and let the transmission run through the gears, counting as it shifts. Note the shift sequence: starting off in 1st gear, then 2nd gear, then 3rd gear, then the torque converter clutch applies and then 4th gear. Do this several times until you are accustomed to the feel of the torque converter application and how it differs from a "shift". Next, while driving at cruise speed (say 60-65 mph) in OD, steady state, hold the throttle steady and reach over with your left foot and touch the brake pedal. Not enough to slow the truck, but just enough to turn on the brake lights. While doing this, note the rise in rpm (probably about 100 rpm). This is the torque converter clutch diss-engaging. It will re-engage a few seconds after you release the brake pedal. Try this several times until you are familiar with the action of the torque converter clutch locking and unlocking. The converter clutch will also diss-engage when you lift off the throttle for a moment and re-apply to steady state. Try this as well to learn its action.

Now that you are familiar with the torque converter clutch locking and unlocking, try this: At steady state cruise, again about 65 mph, begin gradually adding throttle pressure. As you do, note the engine rpm rise. At some point, the additional throttle pressure will force the torque converter clutch to dis-engage. Your earlier practice will make this easier to note. Now ease off the throttle and wait for the clutch to re-engage. Try this several times until you are familiar with the opperation. Also, try continually adding throttle pressure until the transmission downshifts to 3rd and note the difference between the torque converter unlocking and a downshift to 3rd.

Now that you are familiar with the torque converter operation, when towing, you never want to run the transmission in OD any more than a few seconds with the torque converter unlocked. When climbing even slight grades, if the torque converter unlocks, immediately downshift to 3rd either by applying additional throttle or my manually shifting to 3rd. Also, when climbing any grade that you know will require a downshift, anticipate the downshift by downshifting manually to avoid lugging the motor in 4th or allowing the torque converter clutch dis-engaging.

Running the transmission with the torque converter dis-engaged builds tremendous heat very fast. In only a few minutes it can build enough heat to boil the transmission fluid. So you are far better off to run the transmission in 3rd with the torque converter clutch applied than in 4th without. In fact, if the torque converter in hunting (in/out of lockup) you should instead downshift to 3rd and stay there until it can run consistently in 4th with the clutch applied.

Also, if you have it rebuilt, the best upgrade you can do is to "pin" the torque converter regulator valve. This is a simple mod that keeps the torque converter regulator valve fully open all the time. This keeps the clutch at 100% apply any time the computer commands "apply". The valve normal operation is to regulate slip so the clutch is never at 100% apply. This builds a lot of heat and wears the clutch. Why GM does this, no one knows.


Matt93SE
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22 Mar 2010 11:57 AM
Steve Hoelscher wrote:

Also, if you have it rebuilt, the best upgrade you can do is to "pin" the torque converter regulator valve. This is a simple mod that keeps the torque converter regulator valve fully open all the time. This keeps the clutch at 100% apply any time the computer commands "apply". The valve normal operation is to regulate slip so the clutch is never at 100% apply. This builds a lot of heat and wears the clutch. Why GM does this, no one knows.

GM does that so they can sell transmissions.

That's great info- never thought of changing my driving habits like that- I'd always just run with OD off when towing with Dad's truck, which I guess just kept it in 3rd w/ the TC locked on the highway. Of course that was a 1/2 ton pulling a pretty good size load, so it probably needed to stay in 3rd.

One of the mods the FWD Nissan drag racers do is wire a switch in parallel with the transmission computer and separate by a diode to send an active high to the T/C lockup pin. they then put a window switch on it to engage about 3000rpm so that anytime the engine is above 3000rpm, the switch forces the T/C to stay locked up. They also run the line pressure fully open all the time so it shifts quicker.

Don't know how that would do in a Chevy, but it's how the Nissan guys force their auto that were too weak for a 200hp engine to be able to survive a 450hp turbo'd engine with nitrous.

Steve Hoelscher
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22 Mar 2010 12:21 PM
Matt93SE wrote:

One of the mods the FWD Nissan drag racers do is wire a switch in parallel with the transmission computer and separate by a diode to send an active high to the T/C lockup pin. they then put a window switch on it to engage about 3000rpm so that anytime the engine is above 3000rpm, the switch forces the T/C to stay locked up. They also run the line pressure fully open all the time so it shifts quicker.

Don't know how that would do in a Chevy, but it's how the Nissan guys force their auto that were too weak for a 200hp engine to be able to survive a 450hp turbo'd engine with nitrous.

Those are all typical hot-rod/drag racer mods that have been used on many different kinds of transmissions. You wouldn't want to run the line pressure wide open on a street driven transmission. If you have ever driven a 4L60E with high line pressure you would see why. The shifts are so harsh it will destroy engine/transmission mounts, U-joints and drive you crazy after only a brief drive.

There are a number of updates that most good shops will incorporate in an overhaul. We had a standard set of updates that we did on every 4L60E we built. Then there were a few extra we did for the more serous applications. Regular towing or off road apps.

Matt93SE
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22 Mar 2010 03:11 PM

Yeah, sounds typical. That's why these guys also put switches on them so they could turn that stuff off after racing. The good thing is they held the power- just had to beef up the engine mounts and crossmember in the cars so the engine wouldn't fall out on the ground. usually no problems breaking axles since the cars are FWD and have pretty beefy axles from the factory. Big issue was keeping traction and picking up people's jaws off the ground when they broke the tires loose shifting into 4th at 115mph.

ahhh useless straight line racing. Glad those days are over for me. I've broken less in 10 years of road racing/HPDE than I did in 6 months of regularly drag racing.

Dick Rasmussen
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22 Mar 2010 06:23 PM

Steve,

Great info on learning a 4 spd with lockup auto. I can tell this with our 4spd Mustang auto (4R70W). What about 6spd autos like the newest Fords in both cars and trucks? How the heck do you tell what gear you are in and whether it was shift or the T/C clutch that caused the rpm change when the rpm difference at 65 mph between any of the top 2 or 3 gears is minimal?

Thanks,

Dick

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