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Last Post 18 May 2010 11:59 AM by  Steve Hoelscher
Towing with a Van
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fourwhls
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26 Apr 2010 06:48 PM

    I would like some input from those of you that tow with vans. I am looking for a new tow vehicle and a van seems to be a logical choice.

    I will be towing a 18ft open trailer with a Miata or E46 BMW, but I don't want to limit my towing capacity to just that. I want something 3/4 or 1 ton. I tow to local AX events 2-3 times a month and to the road courses 4-5 times a year. (3-8hrs away)

    I usually camp at the road courses in a tent, so throwing an air mattress in the back of a van seems all too easy. It will also be nice to leave all my track junk packed up and ready to go, being that the van will be a dedicated tow vehicle.

    I am looking at either a Chevy Express with a 6.0 or a Ford E350 with a 7.3 Diesel. I would like to find a 15 passenger or an insulated cargo van.

    Is there anything that I should be looking for specifically? Is there anything I should stay clear of?

    I would like to hear some input from those of you that are using vans to tow your cars. Are you happy with your van? Would you do it again?

    Thanks!

    Dave Hardy
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    26 Apr 2010 06:58 PM
    I towed with a van for years. Loved it. I'm on a pickup now, and while I do appreciate the ability to dump a load of mulch in the back of it with bobcat, I preferred the van for a race support vehicle.
    marka
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    26 Apr 2010 07:36 PM

    Howdy,

    I think the diesel Ford will tow a little better than the 6.0 Chevy, but with an open trailer I don't think it'll matter much. Don't forget about the v10 Ford too. I'd steer away from the 5.4 Ford though for towing.

    The Chevy (I have an '06), unless it had it from the factory, doesn't have the easy plug in wiring for a trailer and you can't get towing mirrors for it. I think both of those are "done right" on the Ford.

    A 3500 chevy will have the 6.0. It was an option on the 2500 too, but I found lots and lots that had the smaller motor. And, of course, only the 3500 was extended.

    What's not done right is that the extended Ford has the same wheelbase as the short Ford, while the extended Chevy extends the wheelbase too, which is better for towing.

    All that said, I don't think you can go too far wrong with either of those choices.

    Mark

    (You can fit a fullsize fridge in the back, along with two rows of rear seats. Just in case you're curious. :-)

    Joe_914
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    27 Apr 2010 03:58 AM
    Have you looked at the sprint? I think it is frieghtliner?? and Dodge . I see them around in FEDEX and other delivery service. Saw one decked out for lite camping.
    snaponbob
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    27 Apr 2010 04:57 AM

    I have a 97 Chevy Express G1500. The 5.7 only has 225hp stock. I tow a metal open trailer with my Saturn Sky so the load is about 4500-4800 with tools and the van has to work a bit, but not bad here in the midwest. However, for any more hilly oir serious towing, more is needed. Having recently looked at replacements and speaking with people that are towing much more than us (5 ton goose necks and such) a 6 liter Chevy will be all you need. Properly maintained it will last 150-200k miles while returning reasonable mileage. Looking at fuel cost (diesel is at or above premium just about everywhere) and the premium cost of diesel vehicles (in cold climates you'll need fuel additives), I just figure one can buy a LOT of gas for the cost of the diesel option. At the MidDiv divisional this weekend I spoke with a bunch of owners of late model tow vehicles and they were completely split on powertrains and none second guessed their purchases. All were 3/4 or 1 tons.

    Let's see - what else ----------- You want noisy? Drive a diesel Ford van !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! OMG. A 7.3 Ford will be quite a few years old and have plenty of miles. Gas Fords are thirstier than GMs liter for liter. Cargo vans will almost always have had the seats "deleted" when they were ordered and with that deletion so were the seat belt and seat anchors, so conversions are complicated. Another thing I saw when I was looking at late model vans vs. pickups is that vans hold value like screen doors hold water. When I was looking I simply could not find a used 6 liter Chevy passenger van at all in a 3/4 or 1 ton or I would probably have bought one instead of freshening up my old one. The Dodge/Freightliner Sprinter is not a cheap ride if equipped up enough to tow much.

    FWIW I hope that helped some.

    fourwhls
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    27 Apr 2010 05:17 AM

    Thanks for all the input guys. That's good stuff!

    I would love to have a sprinter, but a little too much coin for what I want to do with it. I've seen a few in my price range, but they were pushing 300k miles.

    I never thought about the complication of adding seats to a cargo van. I guess I assumed they attachment points were there. Definitely something to consider.

    I don't think the tow mirrors and wiring are too big of a deal. I found some towing mirrors for it and I can deal with hard wiring the plug.

    I am leaning toward the Chevy extended passenger, but like you said, they are a needle in a hay stack. I found one in NC last week in my price range, but it sold the same day it listed. I'm not in too much of a hurry, so hopefully patients will pay off and I will stumble across the right deal.

    47CP
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    27 Apr 2010 05:50 AM

    We have towed about 60k Miles with my E350 extended V10 with no problem. The Ford's are probably easier to find, but the Chevy extended with the longer wheelbase would be nice. Mine, with the 24' trailer, is pretty sensitive to WD setup becuase of the overhang, which the Chevy does not have.

    IMO, I would get a passenger van and take the seats out rather than a cargo and put them in for the reasons mentioned. We typically have the 1st seat behind the driver in and leave the rest out. An incredible amount of cargo will fit in in there with this configuration, even more with all the seats out. For example, when we go to the SCCA convention in Vegas, the van will hold 77 plastic flip top containers full of apparel and merchandise.

    You might want rear air and heat. I have noticed in ours that in extreme hot or cold temps, there is such a big area behind you that youo get occasional blasts of cool/warm air from the back.

    HTH,

    DaveW

    JBrettHowell
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    27 Apr 2010 09:02 AM
    Best part is you can park it down by the river and live in it.
    Steve Hoelscher
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    28 Apr 2010 02:42 PM

    I am a little late to the party but have lots of van experience. I have had a few and by chance, towed with a 3500 GMC (6.0) 800 miles last weekend.

    Observations on both:

    Ford: Vastly superior quality and ergonomics. Excellent drivelines. I have 295,000 (mostly towing) miles on my Ford. The motor is starting to show some age as it feels a little flat on very hot days. Mileage has been consistent and its as reliable as anything could be. I would recommend a Clubwagon over a cargo van. They come with tinted windows and seat mounts. You can always take the seats out when you need too and I can put all of my stuff in the back of my standard length Clubwagon with the forward bench in place. The Ford is way more comfortable with a better driving position. Also, the clubwagon will get you rear air and heat. Rear heat/AC does wonders heating/cooling the large cabin. Comparing engines and transmissions, the ford is the winner, hands down.

    Chevy/GMC: The newest versions are way better than the previous models and the 6.0 is smooth, quiet and makes good power compared to the 5.7. Ergonomics are awful. I regularly tow 12+ hours a day in my Ford without complain. The GMC became absurdly uncomfortable after a few hours.

    Comparisons: As noted, last weekend I towed two nearly identical cars on identical trailers, one with a 2010 GMC3500 6.0 and the other with my 5.0 Clubwagon. I drove the GMC most of the way from Florida to West Virginia (800 miles) in varying conditions from flat to mountainous. The GMC was loaded with about 600 lbs more cargo than the Ford but the open trailers and cars were nearly identical. Car/trailer was about 4000 lbs. My Clubwagon consistently got is usual 12 mpg (as it nearly always does towing my racecar) no matter the conditions, while the GMC got about 10 mpg with a best of 10.8. I was surprised by the fact that my old 5.0 Clubwagon would easily pull the GMC 6.0 on the long climbs. Yes the GMC had an extra 600 lbs but dang, the Ford when right up the mountains without issue while the GMC just faded. I could just about keep up by holding the throttle on the floor but that was never necessary in the Ford.

    I liked the new GMC 3500 as a tow vehicle. It was perfectly stable and had no handling issues and the brakes were great. But I was really surprised by the power and mileage comparisons. Also, the GMC 6.0 had the old 4L80E automatic in it and I just wouldn't want to trust that unit for towing.

    I would recommend a Ford Clubwagon. They are quiet and comfortable and tow like crazy. The V10s are great motors and are cheap right now. Also, don't dismiss the 5.4 if you are towing with an open trailer. They are good motors too.

    Vanimaniac
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    28 Apr 2010 02:56 PM

    Do a search in this subforum for anything that Steve Hoelscher has responded to. Lots of good van advice. He'll tell you everything you want to know and then more that you don't care to know about vans!

    He steered me away from a Chevy van. I ended up getting an E150 Clubwagon Chateau. I have the rear bench seat to sleep on and still tons of room behind it for tires/parts/etc.

    I towed my 2200lb car on an open trailer over Wolf Creek Pass last year to the Farmington Tour. No problems with a brake controller. If you don't know Wolf Creek Pass, listen to C.W. McCall's song about it. :)

    Edit: Of course he posts right before I finish mine. :)

    snaponbob
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    28 Apr 2010 04:35 PM
    Gotta tell you, Fords usually are pretty good, but my 92 5.7 Club Wagon was absolutely THE worst vehicle I have EVER owned. From day one it used oil (Ford-- "normal" per reps) at the rate of a quart every 900 miles until I dumped it at 65K miles. NEVER got more than 11.5 MPG properly driven and EMRTY. (Ford -- "normal"). Ball joints every 8-10k miles (Ford - "must be your driving") until a part number change and then 20K mile. Fuel pumps (at least 3), A4OD came out twice, and the van would NEVER stop straight, even though Ford had it in dealership and average of 5 weeks a year to work on it for 4 years. Second owner lost it to a wiring fire in the firewall area. That said, not so normal. The fit and finish was superior that my 97 Express van, but the Chevy has been nearly perfect. The ergonomics AROUND the driver on the Ford was good, but I can drive forever in the Chevy but never could in the Ford. I guess everybody's butts are different. Milage was at least 5MPG better on the 5.7 Chevy that the 5.8 Ford. Can't compare the towing mileage as the Ford was just not safe enough UNloaded, so I never towed with it. The newer 6.0 Chevy's have heavied up A/T's in the 3/4 and 1 ton versions. Ford has been raising the bar under Mullaley, but Chevy is doing the same. The probability is that EITHER will serve well, but for obvious reasons, I'll stick with the "bow tie". BTW, as a 19 Year Snap-On rep, I spoke with LOTS of mechanics, and they were not surprised with what I went through.
    Steve Hoelscher
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    29 Apr 2010 06:52 AM

    snaponbob wrote:
    Gotta tell you, Fords usually are pretty good, but my 92 5.7 Club Wagon was absolutely THE worst vehicle I have EVER owned. From day one it used oil (Ford-- "normal" per reps) at the rate of a quart every 900 miles until I dumped it at 65K miles. NEVER got more than 11.5 MPG properly driven and EMRTY. (Ford -- "normal"). Ball joints every 8-10k miles (Ford - "must be your driving") until a part number change and then 20K mile. Fuel pumps (at least 3), A4OD came out twice, and the van would NEVER stop straight, even though Ford had it in dealership and average of 5 weeks a year to work on it for 4 years.

    A couple of notes on Bob's experience. Don't know what to say about the oil consumption. Seems every once in a while, a motor, regardless of manufacturer, uses oil. The 5.8 liter is the old 351 Windsor. I was never impressed with it. Decent power but mileage was never good and the '92 models were not the Mass Air FI system so power and mileage were not very good. I chose the post '94 5 liter because it has nearly the same power and way better mileage using the later Mass Air FI system.. I get 17 on the interstate at cruise, 15 around town and 12 towing.

    With 295K miles, my van is finally due for new ball joints. The front end components have grease fittings. If you keep them serviced, they should have good service life. I should note that most of the miles on my van are interstate towing miles. I would assume that is way easier on the front end.

    The AOD auto in the pre '93 trucks and vans was not a great unit for towing. These are non-electronic units and don't have a locking torque converter. Instead, 3rd and 4th gear by pass the converter turbine and are direct connected. Great in Crown Vics, bad for towing in trucks and vans. All of the trucks and vans since '93 had the 4R70W/AODE automatic. This is a truly great transmission. The pull under braking is due to miss-adjusted rear brakes. Few dealers know this, ask me how I know ;-)

    cashmo
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    29 Apr 2010 08:15 AM

    Our old E150 Clubwagon was great pulling an open trailer but when we got the 24' enclosed we bought a 2000 E350 diesel. While we have to turn it off to order at the drive through it's been worth every penny. Great when it rains, we don't bother with an ez-up anymore and everything's locked up overnight at the hotel. We have the long church bus/15 passenger model but usually remove the front and rear seats, (gotta keep the cooler near the driver). I've never had to use a fuel additive during our Wisconsin winters. Tows great. Once or twice a year I mat it going through the mountains.

    Jeff

    snaponbob
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    29 Apr 2010 04:18 PM
    Steve Hoelscher wrote:

    snaponbob wrote:
    Gotta tell you, Fords usually are pretty good, but my 92 5.7 Club Wagon was absolutely THE worst vehicle I have EVER owned. From day one it used oil (Ford-- "normal" per reps) at the rate of a quart every 900 miles until I dumped it at 65K miles. NEVER got more than 11.5 MPG properly driven and EMRTY. (Ford -- "normal"). Ball joints every 8-10k miles (Ford - "must be your driving") until a part number change and then 20K mile. Fuel pumps (at least 3), A4OD came out twice, and the van would NEVER stop straight, even though Ford had it in dealership and average of 5 weeks a year to work on it for 4 years.

    A couple of notes on Bob's experience. Don't know what to say about the oil consumption. Seems every once in a while, a motor, regardless of manufacturer, uses oil. The 5.8 liter is the old 351 Windsor. I was never impressed with it. Decent power but mileage was never good and the '92 models were not the Mass Air FI system so power and mileage were not very good. I chose the post '94 5 liter because it has nearly the same power and way better mileage using the later Mass Air FI system.. I get 17 on the interstate at cruise, 15 around town and 12 towing.

    With 295K miles, my van is finally due for new ball joints. The front end components have grease fittings. If you keep them serviced, they should have good service life. I should note that most of the miles on my van are interstate towing miles. I would assume that is way easier on the front end.

    The AOD auto in the pre '93 trucks and vans was not a great unit for towing. These are non-electronic units and don't have a locking torque converter. Instead, 3rd and 4th gear by pass the converter turbine and are direct connected. Great in Crown Vics, bad for towing in trucks and vans. All of the trucks and vans since '93 had the 4R70W/AODE automatic. This is a truly great transmission. The pull under braking is due to miss-adjusted rear brakes. Few dealers know this, ask me how I know ;-)

    All valid except the brake ball joint issues. As a Snap On dealer I called on a Fed Ex service shop. They had ball joint problems on ealry 90s E150s, but not so much on 250s and 350s. A local Ford dealership worked endlessly on my van in the hopes of resoling my probl;em, because as the Svc Mgr said, "If we can fix yours, I have SEVEN fleets with E150s I will be able to fix." They were all 91 and 92 E150s. The van had damn near everything except the rear wheel cylinders replaced 9 or 10 times (drums, disc, calipers, pads, shoes, etc.) under warranty, but no matter how much I asked Ford would not replace the wheel cylinders. I worked on them as well, and the rears were properly adjusted. After the van went back to the outfitter that supplied it when they provided my Chevy, THEIR Ford dealership used it as a parts runner and customer wagon for 3 months before they ......... wait for it ........ they replaced the rear wheel cylinders !!!!!!!!!!!!!! One was somehow screwed up from new, Ford would NOT replace it, and the rear was torque steering the van from the rear due to unequal braking. They sold it to another Snap On Field Manager despite my cautioning him about its history, and 6 months later in burned to ground due to a wiring harness fire under the dash (also another "issue" back then). As I said, Ford (under Mullaley) has made tremendous strides (the Ford family seem not to able to manage their own company without help) and so today a Ford purchase certainly is a lot better choice than 10-15 tears ago. They just will NEVER see my money again even though my 93 Probe GT was a pretty good car.

    fourwhls
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    05 May 2010 09:06 AM

    Narrowing it down....

    '99 E350 15 pass 5.4 110k miles

    or

    '03 Express 15 pass 6.0 130k miles

    Is the '03 worth an extra $2k?

    Finding a 12 passenger is like pulling teeth.

    marka
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    05 May 2010 09:59 AM

    Howdy,

    For me, it'd depend on the condition of each. If equal condition, I think the extra wheelbase and four years newer would swing it for me, but I'd for sure want to check out each in person and see if there was some other factor that mattered to me.

    And if you have an enclosed trailer in your future, I don't think I'd go with the 5.4 Ford.

    Mark

    Iain Mannix
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    05 May 2010 10:07 AM

    Another datapoint, not saying much that has not been said. I bought a, umm, 95 or 96 (forget) E350 (351 v8) 12 passenger van several years ago. It had ~88k on it when I bought it, has 142k on it now. I removed all but the forward-most rear seat, built a "bed" back there, on the driver's side, enough room to slide a motorcycle in on the p-side. It holds a TON of stuff. Problems I've had:

    3 sets of front pads. It really needs rotors, as someone ran them metal-to-metal at one point, but whatever.

    Ball joints, tie rod ends and transmission at ~108k (THAT'S why I got it cheap.....)

    Fuel pump (possibly due to the sugar some d-nozzle put in my tank...not the van's fault)

    Rear driveshaft got wobbly this winter

    Connections at the relay for the cabin fan corrode annually, for some reason.

    Mine is ugly; d-side fender and hood are a mess. I replaced the spark plugs at ~100k miles, they needed it, and it is not a fun job. Mine is a total basemodel - rolly-rolly windows, lousy seats, although it does have a rear heater AND FM. Luxury.

    It gets ~12mpg towing the car (light trailer, 2000# car). 16ish combined unloaded. Somewhere in between dragging motorcycles and snowmobiles.

    It is very good in snow, with snow tires. I've had to chain it up ~3 times, unload the sleds to get it back up the parking lot road a few times. I do use studded snows, but despite the open diff and frequently nasty forest service parking lots/plowing, it gets around great. I kinda want to put an airlocker in it.

    It is the default ski/bike/car vehicle - room to change, sleep, carry all kinds of stuff, whatever. Drove to Lincoln and back last weekend, averaged about 70mph both ways (including stops). Mileage drops significantly over about 75mph.

    Beyond normal maintenance, I did replace the stock muffler with 3" pipe from the cat back, through a big Magnaflow. A SMIDGE louder (very, very tolerable, the juvenile in me wishes it was louder), but instantly gained 1.5ish mpg.

    I really like mine. Sometimes, I wish I'd ponied up for a 4wd one, but I suspect I'd lose the comfort, or a portion of it; that said, when it is 5F outside and unloading sleds before being dressed appropriately so we can get back up to the parking spot and not block the turnaround, I do long for The Button. That does not happen often, and when it does, the skiing is _going_ to be good, so I get over it.

    I kinda wish I had a 15 passenger, but the overhang seems to cause some problems for some people, and if I pack more efficiently (as opposed to hucking crap in), I'll never run out of room.

    I've put 3 motorcycles/people/stuff inside it for a weekend of dirtbiking in Utah. I've driven it on "4x4 recommended" roads/trails in Moab. It has never failed to get me to wherever I want to go in the snow (and the more it snows, the more I want to go).

    Power - I think the 351 is rated at 240/300. Flat ground, fine. Towing over the higher passes in CO, it works pretty hard. More power would be nice, and I'd not want to hitch a big enclosed trailer to it from a power standpoint, but for an open trailer, it is fine. I think I averaged ~45mph going up to the Eisenhower/Johnson tunnels (~8 miles of relatively steep highway at 9-11k feet). Not bad. Still passing people. Not complaining. More would be better, but for typical use - Denver to Wendover, Lincoln, Topeka, etc - the 351 is fine. A V10 would likely be better, or diesel, but I'm very satisfied with it's power; cruising at a reasonable speed relative to other traffic does not seem abusive.

    Dunno. Easily my favorite non-fun car I've owned.

    Iain

    snaponbob
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    06 May 2010 05:56 AM
    fourwhls wrote:

    Narrowing it down....

    '99 E350 15 pass 5.4 110k miles

    or

    '03 Express 15 pass 6.0 130k miles

    Is the '03 worth an extra $2k?

    Finding a 12 passenger is like pulling teeth.

    You were lucky finding the 6.0 12 passenger!!! There is an engine supplier near me that provides both (manufactures production overrun) new engines and reman long blocks as well. They feel that the 6.0 is one of the best engines GM ever built and actually has fairly low demand for them as they just live so long. They have plenty of action on Ford 5.4s, even into some of the newer applications. The 6.0 is still an OHV versus the 5.4 OHC, and simpler is better. As I stated, I am a GM fan, but even objectively the 6.0 wins for a lot of reasons.

    fourwhls
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    06 May 2010 07:57 AM

    I looked at the '99 E350 last night and it was a complete POS. It was described as "Perfect and Excellent Condition" and was far from it.

    I am planning on looking at the Chevy today or tomorrow. Problem is that it is 4hrs away.

    Steve Hoelscher
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    06 May 2010 09:53 AM
    fourwhls wrote:

    I looked at the '99 E350 last night and it was a complete POS. It was described as "Perfect and Excellent Condition" and was far from it.

    I am planning on looking at the Chevy today or tomorrow. Problem is that it is 4hrs away.

    Sorry to hear the E350 was a POS. I am planning to replace my van at the end of the season so I have been watching ebay and AutoTrader and see a bunch of them there. So keep looking you will likely find some good ones.

    Ian, I finally got to drive my van in snow this past winter. Two weeks after I moved to Harpers Ferry we got 40+ inches of snow. I had just put new Yokohama Geo(something) highway tires on it and I was amazed at how good it was in the snow. I had no trouble at all. I had also towed a U-haul trailer up here to haul all of my shop equipment and ended up towing in quite a bit of snow. The van did it just fine. And that's an open diff with the new Yoks on it.

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