RoadTraveler’s 100,000 Mile Challenge Part 1

I’m not talking about an engine or chassis making it to 100,000 miles. The days when it was a major accomplishment for vehicles reach 100k without an engine overhaul or major repairs are in the history books. For decades now vehicles have been built to higher standards, are more reliable, and it’s no great achievement nor are bragging rights attached to driving to six digits.

Tune Ups and Maintenance 

Most modern gasoline-powered engines no longer need tune-ups, largely because tune-ups had much to do with the ignition system, and the ignition system as we knew it has been consolidated. The distributor cap, rotor, plug wires, and the ignition coil are mostly missing on modern systems. In their place are coil-on-plug, electronically-controlled systems that work amazingly well and need very little, if any, attention. Some cars and trucks have spark plugs that last more than 100,000 miles!

Engine and ignition system on a 1974 Ford Bronco

Fuel and air filters were part of our old tune-ups, but with gas-powered, fuel-injected vehicles the filter is in the tank and not easily changed. Air filters are still accessible, and should be serviced regularly, but are sometimes forgotten and neglected. Air filter maintenance is more important for off-pavement travelers or those that live in particulate environs. Few vehicles, even 4WDs that might benefit, have serviceable wheel bearings, U-joints, or driveline zerks. Still, these parts also routinely last for 100,000 miles and beyond.

It’s easy to understand why routine maintenance is oft forgotten, there’s so little of it required that non-enthusiasts drivers forget about caring for their mechanical investment. Their cars still run well for years on little more than fuel and periodic oil changes. (Of course, readers and most gear-heads don’t ignore the mechanical stuff on their rides.) So if new vehicles are so reliable, where’s the 100k challenge? Let’s look a little deeper…

First generation Toyota 4Runner getting a lift out of a ‘tub’ on Moab’s Hell’s Revenge trail.

Drive It Like You Paid For It. You did or possibly still are.

My nickname, Redline, can be interpreted a few ways, however my normal method of driving does not include the top of the rpm range. Occasionally I open the throttle and bounce the tachometer needle against governor without fear. These rare visits to the stratosphere are within the design parameters of modern engines, and have yet to prove detrimental to their longevity.

Care and maintenance do matter, but so does driving style. The British have a term, Vehicle Sympathy or Mechanical Sympathy, which accurately explains a key ingredient. Driving proficiently, with an eye on vehicle care, maybe even taking pride in doing it well while not being needlessly rough on the mechanicals.

A 2005 Rubicon Unlimited with Dean SXT Mud Terrain 255/85R16D tires. This is use, not abuse.

Make Your Brakes Last 100k

RoadTraveler’s 100,000 Mile Longevity Challenge is to make your brake pads and/or shoes last for 100,000 miles, or more. It’s not as difficult as you might think, but it may require an attitude adjustment when you’re behind the wheel. To succeed you don’t have to drive slow, I typically drive at or slightly above the speed limit, like most people. You will have to release the accelerator earlier, coast a little (which helps MPG) and use the linear momentum of your vehicle when you need to reduce your speed. This is in contrast to the folks who move almost immediately from the go-pedal to the slow-pedal, converting the fuel they just burned for forward progress into heat wasted heat energy through the braking system.

It doesn’t take only long-distance highway driving to meet this 100k challenge, though I will concede that folks who routinely drive in very heavy city traffic—the kind they have in San Francisco and New York, and many other places—may have a difficult time reaching 100,000 miles. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try, maybe reaching 50,000 or 75,000 miles before new brake pads are needed. But for many who travel in moderate city, suburban, or mixed conditions, 100,000 miles on OE brakes is very attainable, even easy.

Driving conditions do matter, and those at both poles may have vastly different results, but most of us are in the middle, and the driver matters much more than the conditions. My real-world examples have been driven in heavy city and freeway traffic, off-highway, and on long-distance road trips. I do a fair amount of towing too.

Off-highway towing can be hard on your brakes, particularly when traveling downhill. Use your gears, including low-range, to preserve your brakes.

How Can We Get There?

While offering many secondary safety benefits, some techniques that will help us accomplish this 100,000 mile brake longevity is to practice some fundamental driving safe techniques. A few of them are:

Look several seconds ahead for changes in traffic conditions, road hazards, traffic signals, and signs, and absorb and evaluate the data from the constantly changing conditions.

Focus on, and consciously think about how you are operating your machine. It’s fun to do something supremely well, even something we often take for granted, like driving. Focusing will allow for smoother, safer lane changes and turns, better transmission shifts, less fuel consumption, and less brake use.

Don’t follow closely. There are many reasons to avoid following-too-closely (FTC), but needing to use brakes early, often, and firmly is toward the top and directly related to all the safety reasons one should not FTC. Following no closer than a few seconds—longer is better—will offer better sightlines, and the ability to slow down by simply releasing the accelerator instead of immediately going for the brakes.

Release the accelerator earlier when needing to slow or stop. This is the premier principle for reducing brake wear and is connected to looking several seconds ahead and not following-too-closely. Once conditions dictate we need to cease accelerating or cruising at a steady speed, the sooner we reduce pressure or completely release the skinny pedal, the further we can travel on the fuel already consumed and the less brake wear we’ll incur while slowing or stopping. Unless you are on a very steep hill, once the accelerator is released you will start to loose momentum, reducing speed without the brakes. So simple, but I don’t see much of this from the automotive masses. In fact, the opposite is true, there’s a bunch of needless pedal bashing.

I like to think of slow declaration while coasting as free travel, or as my Tundra’s dash computer readout sometimes says, 99 miles-per-gallon, the opposite of idling. When we start coasting to slow down, even short distances, we are traveling with the throttle closed and consuming very little fuel. Every mile-per-hour we are able to slow without using our brakes is friction material we have conserved.

In addition to saving brake system wear you are also keeping your brakes cool by not using them early, often, or hard. Modern braking systems are generally very good, and can convert large amounts of energy to heat, but eventually all brakes will fade if used aggressively. The less you use them the more they will be there for you when you need them. Low gears and/or manual transmissions can help, but are not required to meet the 100k brake challenge.


Real World Examples 

In the Next Post

Copyright © 2012 James Langan

2010 Tacoma & FlipPac Camper Tire Q&A

Recently I received an email from Cliff with a few tire questions for the RoadTraveler (RT) blog. Below are his questions and my answers and comments, it’s a long one…Tires, they’re what’s on the menu today 😉

Background provided by Cliff: I have a few questions I hope you wouldn’t mind answering.  First some background; I daily drive a 2010 Tacoma TRD Off Road with a FlipPac camper and OME suspension.  Living in the Eastern Sierra I spend a lot of time on 395 between Reno and Los Angeles but, also drive many miles of desert washboard roads including the Death Valley area.  I currently have stock tires, which are due for replacement.  I have decided to invest in two sets of wheels, highway and off road.

RT. Two sets of wheels (or more) are very nice, and can save thousands of miles of needless pavement wear on your off-highway tires. However, there have been times when I didn’t have the correct wheels/tires on my truck when I ventured off-pavement because either the trip wasn’t planned or I made the wrong choice. Still, I like having a set of both more and less aggressive tires to choose from, but my all-around Dick Cepek F-C II get most of the miles.

One thing to be aware of is that two different treads might need different alignment settings to track straight and true on the same vehicle…I have lots of experience with this in recent years on my Toyotas and this is a solid argument against running two sets of wheels/tires.

Unmounted Toyo M/T tires in 265/75R16E, 255/85R16E, and 285/75R16E sizes.

Q. The highway set will likely be Michelin LTX M/S2 in a P-rated stock size.  The off road tires I have yet to decide but, the short list includes, BFG KM2’s, Goodyear DuraTrac’s, or one of the Cooper off road tires. I have 7” wide wheels and would like to get into a taller narrower tire than stock.

RT. Are the stock tires on your Tacoma 265/70R16? You might consider running 265/75R16 for your replacements, though I don’t know if those Michelins are available P-rated? I assume your truck is relatively light with the FlipPac and doesn’t need more than the original P-rated tires. Though I’m not a big fan of what I consider the excessively stiff and/or short tire sidewall world we now live in (see Wheels, Tires, and Sidewalls) with your truck and intended use I would probably lean toward a load-range (LR) C tire if I could find the tread I wanted. If not, P-rated will work just as they have been.

Another question when discussing tire load ranges and ruggedness is have your OE tires been found severely lacking during the off-pavement travel you’ve already done? And even if the answer is yes, is a jump all the way to a load range E warranted, or would something more moderate like a load range C or D be more appropriate?

Reports on the Goodyear DuraTrac wear vary from excellent to very poor, and it seems the weight and/or driver of the truck has much to do with their longevity. Few complain about a lack of traction with the DuraTrac and a major positive is that Goodyear offers the LT265/75R16 size in both LR C and E, and I would suggested the LR C since you are concerned about of the ride quality penalties of an E-rated tire.

Q. My question is this.  On rough washboard roads does the difference in tire volume between the following sizes 255/85-16, 235/85-16, and 265/75-16 make any noticeable difference in ride quality?  Will one size tire provide a smoother ride over the others?

RT. The short answer is yes. Everyone’s butt dyno is calibrated differently, and truck loading, suspension, and tire PSI all make a difference. As I mentioned in the post linked above, I could clearly feel the difference between two sets of Toyo M/T ties on my 2005 Jeep Rubicon, both using the stock 16×8″ wheels, one 265/75R16E the other 285/75R16E. Both tires have 3-ply sidewalls and 7-ply treads. The only difference was the sidewall height and volume of air in the tires. I was aware of the slight but noticeable ride difference on relatively smooth local streets, and these differences were magnified once the impacts were deeper or sharper off-highway, even when aired-down.

So if you are merely analyzing the ride difference in sidewall height and/or volume, again the short answer is yes, one will provide a smoother ride than the other. But it is more complicated than that once you start changing load-ranges. All of the LT235/85R16 tires currently offered are E load range. My old favorite LT255/85R16 used to always be LR D, but now many have changed to load-range E. The LT265/75R16 size offers the most choice, with many load-range E treads, but a few LR D and C as well, just depends on the specific tire and manufacturer.

With the above in mind, it’s very difficult to say what size will offer a smoother ride based solely on the size or volume of air in the tire. Generally speaking, when running the same PSI, a LR D 255/85 will ride softer than a 235/85 or 265/75 LR E, a LR D 265/75 would ride better than a LR E 255/85, and a LR C 265/75 will beat them all. It should be noted that a LR C, 6-ply rated tire was considered a fairly heavy-duty light-truck tire a decade or two ago, and they can still be plenty depending on the rig, loading, and use. But those were the days before our super-sized world, which now includes; diesel pickups that have more torque and horsepower than commercial medium-duty trucks did, half-ton trucks with a payloads up to one ton, and 1-ton pickups that are rated for two tons or more in the single rear wheel (SRW) applications. Still, when one confirms the loads that modern light-truck (LT) tires are rated to carry, there is plenty of room to choose something less than a LR E for many applications.

Goodyear DuraTrac 265/70R17E and Dick Cepek F-C II 265/75R16E

Q. Most if not all narrow off road tires seem to be load range “E”.  Is an “E” tire too stiff for a lightweight truck like the Tacoma?

RT. That’s your call, many people think they are fine. Load Range E tires have become the norm these days, though they are not needed or necessarily desirable for every light-truck or Tacoma, and while some think they are overkill and sometimes too stiff, they are certainly popular. The stiffer the truck’s suspension the more bothersome I find stiff tires. For example, I really prefer a load range D tire on my old F350 as without a ton or more on the rear springs the ride can be very firm on-road and jarring off-highway, but the added give in a tall LR D tire when aired down makes it much more pleasant. Of course if my truck was used at its maximum gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) most of the time, a stiffer tire would be better. But I’ve found a LR D works well both empty and loaded with appropriate air pressure, the duty-cycle matters.

Compared to your stock P-rated tires I have little doubt you will be able to feel the difference—on and off-highway—if you slap on a set of LR E treads and run the same PSI. I would suggest a LR C or D, if they’re available in the tread you want.

Q. Would a “C” load range tire provide a smoother off road ride?

RT. Yes.

Maxxis Bravo 761 & BFG KM, both 255/85, LR D with 3-ply sidewalls, a rare combination.

Q. I’m looking for a tuff, 3-ply sidewall, off road tire that will still provide a smooth ride in the rough stuff.

RT. Well that’s a tall order. The tougher the tire the rougher it will ride. The Toyo M/T I mentioned above is a very rugged tire, also a very stiff tire, particularly on a light truck. They are also expensive and typically balance very well. The new Cooper S/T MAXX is similar, very rugged but also stiff and firm riding…there is no free lunch. Remember that most LT tires still do not have 3-ply sidewalls, they have 2-ply sidewalls. Take two tires of essentially the same construction, one with the 3-ply sidewall and the other a 2-ply, the 3-ply sidewall tire will ride firmer. Preferring a more compliant ride, but sometimes needing a stout tire for heavy-hauling or puncture resistance in the rocks, I prefer a LR D with a 3-ply sidewall when I can get them, like the Dick Cepek Mud Countrys currently on my 4Runner, but that’s an uncommon configuration. Typically I just live with a regular 2-ply sidewall tire, like my current favorite, the Dick Cepek F-C II in a load-range D 285, which are currently on both my F350 and Tundra.

You should probably try to decide on the size and/or tread pattern you want first, then make the necessary concessions on load range and ply ratings, or visa-versa. You are not going to be able to have the most rugged tire, that is also very compliant on the washboard, just like the more aggressive treads generally don’t offer the wear of milder tread.

There are some other things to consider if you go taller than the 265/75R16 or 235/85R16 sizes (31.7–32″) on your Tacoma: Will your spare tire still fit in the OE location, is that important to you, and is the loss of torque and possibly fuel economy worth the switch to LT255/85R16 tires with stock gearing? Though I purchased a 4th Gen. 4Runner, I’ve often considered the 2005-up Tacoma platform, and thought that a 32-ish tall tire was very good compromise while begin able to run the correct, matching size spare without a tire swing-away.

Though in your case, the 255s would likely only be for occasionally use, and maybe the loss in acceleration and having a smaller spare would not be a deal-breaker? Since the Taco is a traditional, part-time 4WD system, there is not much concern when running a slightly smaller, 265/75 spare for short distances as long as the VSC and ATRAC don’t mind; they didn’t on my 4Runner when I ran that combination for a brief test.

Rollin’ Forward with RoadTraveler

Copyright © 2012 James Langan

Armstrong Ratcheting Wrenches and Customer Service

As part of my goal to put together a complete, high-quality tool kit for my Tundra, I purchased a set of SK 3/8-inch sockets (SK 3/8″ tool set). As handy as sockets can be, combination wrenches are often more practical and it’s easy to have a need for both when away from home. I considered reallocating a big set of Craftsman wrenches from my shop, not finding any made-in-USA wrenches I could afford, when a friend on the Expedition Portal Forum shared a link to a set of surplus combination wrenches from Uncle Sam’s Retail Outlet.

I rarely buy anything surplus, a couple small shovels are the only items in recent memory, but these were new, made-in-USA Armstrong brand ratcheting combination wrenches, both SAE and metric. The surplus USMC Tray (NSN # 5180-01-553-6556) also included a few screwdrivers and a rack of 1/2-inch drive SAE deep sockets, but it was the the reversible combination wrenches I wanted. The kit was only $135, although with tax and shipping from the east to the west, the price jumped $176. When compared to the retail prices for the wrenches alone, $176 was still a very good value.

Armstrong Tools & Ratcheting Wrenches. NSN# 5108-01-553-6556

A week passed, the tools arrived, and I opened the box to inspect them. They were scattered, but everything appeared to be in the box. Looking closer it was appearant there was something missing. The 15 mm combination wrench was there, but was missing all of the guts that make it a box-end wrench. A round hole was not going to turn 15 mm fasteners.

Armstrong 54-815 missing something.

Uncle Sam’s is a surplus retailer, the kit I purchased is not a normal Armstrong kit sold to the general public, and Uncle Sam’s was now “sold out”, so I went straight to Armstrong/Apex Tool Group for warranty service.

I called the customer service number on Armstrong’s site, and explained what I had purchased and from where. The lady’s initial instructions were to return the set to the retailer and have it replaced. I explained how that was not an option, the product was new, but was a special military set from a surplus vendor. We went back-and-forth a few times, the conversation was polite and professional, but it wasn’t looking good…

The customer service representative asked me for a part number on the kit, I gave her something off the Uncle Sam’s invoice that didn’t help, later giving her the NSN number (National/NATO Stock Number) on the box which she could cross reference. I restated that I didn’t need a complete replacement kit, just the 15 mm wrench was missing its ratcheting parts. Then she asked for the part number off the wrench. Easy.

“One of these things is not like the other.”

Of course she had that part number in her computer system and said she was going to ask her supervisor’s permission to send out a single 15 mm wrench, she didn’t think it would be a problem. I thanked her!

Although I had to argue a little to get the lady off her regular routine of “return to the retailer”, she was eventually quite helpful. I was very polite (“yes ma’am”) the whole time, but for Armstrong to send me a knew wrench without the old one first was huge. Thanks Armstrong Tools.

Copyright © 2012 James Langan

$4 Per Gallon, $75 Pump Shut Off, and Range

Last weekend we had the pleasure of attending the 2012 Overland Expo near Flagstaff, Arizona, and spent four nights camping in our new-to-us Four Wheel Camper. To maximize our time at the event and accommodate our work schedules we were forced to drive the full 730 miles to the Overland Expo in just one day. To reduce our time on the road for what was admittedly a very long day of road travelin’, I didn’t pilot the Tundra at my typical, slow-ish highway speed of 65 miles-per-hour.

Road construction en route didn't help our progress.

We had a nice view of Walker Lake while we waited for 1/2 hour.

When time is short my fuel economy focus is set aside, and I drive and pass as fast as safely possible. With a 70-75 mph posted speed limit most of the way, keeping a very brisk pace was not difficult. The Tundra’s 5.7L V8 is ready to make copious horsepower when I drop-the-hammer, and I’m not hesitant to use high revolutions-per-minute.

Driving in this manner guarantees that more fuel will be used and frequent fuel stops will be required. With a few exceptions, many new trucks don’t have the kind of long-distance range most would like when towing or hauling long distances. For on-highway hauling or backcountry exploring, most trucks with anything less than 30 gallons of fuel capacity (minimum) have a noticeably limited range. More efficient diesels with large factory fuel tanks are often better, but still lacking when serious work is being performed.

Our brisk pace.

Gas Pump Rant

Stops for fuel (and often a head call) typically take 20 minutes, add-up quickly, and when combined with lunch and/or dinner breaks really contribute to length of the travel day. Added to this in this age of $4+ fuel is the frustration that many filling stations still have pumps that shut off at $75. I love pay-at-the-pump, it’s very convenient and shortens the length of fuel stops. However, a few times on this trip our gas tank was not quite full once the $75 threshold was hit after less than 20 gallons. Because I don’t want to leave a fuel stop with anything less than a full tank, and calculate the fuel economy of each fill-up, I was forced to slide my credit card a second time for what was often very little fuel to top-off. Ridiculous.

Several months ago many gas stations increased their maximum single purchase to $100, a better number for sure, but still not much extra at our current fuel prices. If I ever add a larger tank, at least the second (or third) card wipe will add adding many gallons, not just a few.

Fuel Economy and Range

With the relatively poor fuel economy of light-trucks loaded and traveling fast, particularly gasoline-powered, there is a notable trade-off when exchanging fuel economy for speed.

In the case of this fast-moving 5.7L Tundra, if we had been able to reduce our speed and achieve 13 mpg instead of the 11 mpg we often saw, we would have added 40 miles to each 20 gallon fill-up, a substantial increase in range in exchange for time.

Whether we are running slowly and light or fast and heavy, I wish new trucks came with more fuel capacity, much more. While I’m not opposed to carrying cans of fuel, when traveling mostly on-highway it simply makes sense to stop more often and buy gas for the OE tank at a filling station. Thirty+ gallons of fuel capacity please, more would be better, or substantially increase the fuel efficiency. Either way increased driving range would be the result and is surely needed for those who use trucks as trucks.

Copyright © 2012 James Langan

Odyssey PC1750 Jump Start

When the two Group 65 Odyssey PC1750 batteries in the old F350 would not ignite the 7.3L Power Stroke, my solution was to get a third Odyssey battery. Not a new, replacement battery, but the Mall Crawlin’ Distance Runner from the garage, which has an identical Odyssey 1750 under the hood. I also retrieved a set of booster cables.

The 4.7L V8 4Runner isn’t a daily driver, but it’s driven occasionally and I knew the engine and battery were ready to roar. With the big gauge jumpers connected, it was time to climb into the Ford’s cab, activate the glow-plug toggle and see what would happen…

Copyright © 2012 James Langan

Odyssey Batteries neglect test.

Continuing with my current, electrical bent, recently I was again reminded to take care of my batteries. In this case, my dead batteries were the result of a different sin; lack of use.

My poor old 1996 F350 needs love and TLC, and has been infrequently started or driven for the past few years. Until now, the dual Odyssey PC1750 batteries have been very tolerant of the lack of charging and occasional starting. While the batteries were too low to fire the big T444E (7.3L) Power Stroke engine, they still turned the motor ever so slowly, until almost grinding to a stop, but there was none of the typical solenoid clicking that one often hears from low batteries.

Copyright © 2012 James Langan