Heavy Loads Coming Soon
My initial Still Plays With Trucks (SPWT) column in TDR Issue 86 detailed how my Ram 2500 picked me as much as I chose it, summer of 2014. This was largely due to the ridiculously low one-at-this-price online special, plus rebates, offered by Dave Smith Motors in Kellogg, Idaho. Kind of like an old world mail order bride and a new world groom that fall deeply in-love once wed, fate.
Had I special-ordered a new truck like my prior three diesel pickups (two Rams, one Ford), I would have selected a 3500 because they are the stoutest pickups available, not that much more money, and I generally prefer extra capacity. (The 4500 and 5500 series are not pickups, despite the bodies, but Class 4–5 medium-dutys.) In 1995 I was forced to order a second generation 2500 because Chrysler temporarily eliminated the single-rear-wheel (SRW) 3500s, otherwise I’ve been a “one-ton” guy for decades.
A 3500 Ram would have rear leaf springs instead of coils. As opinionated as I am about most things automotive, I have no strong bias for either suspension. Both designs have good and bad characteristics, and I’ve praised the positives and cursed the negatives of each. Leaf springs are more proven in pickups, simple, and spring oscillation damping is less critical. Conventional wisdom is that leaf springs are better for maximum loads, but there are many variables and contrary arguments. The OE rear coils on my ’14 2500 handle maximum loads better than the soft leaf springs on my 1995 Turbo Diesel, when Dodge overcompensated for the overly-stiff first generation suspensions. Coils are not automatically softer, weaker, or incapable—the Mercedes Unimog singlehandedly squashes such claims for trucks—spring rate and the overall design is what matters. One major advantage to rear coils is their inherent resistance to axle-wrap or wheel hop. (If you need schooling on axle-wrap, read Scott Dalgleish’s Back In The Saddle column, Turbo Diesel Register Issue 88, pages 72–73.)
Coincidentally, during the first 11,000 miles, this coil-sprung 2500 has spent an impressive 42-percent of its miles loaded to GVWR. None of my prior outfits had such a high percentage of hauling miles so early, but they also saw more daily driving, a chore my current Ram does not have to endure unless I choose. (Jan 2018 update: with 42,000 miles logged, the current number is over 75% loaded to GVWR or above.) Loaded to the GVWR with what you may be thinking….
When I write camper that is exactly what I mean, a slide-in truck camper, not a travel trailer or 5th-wheel, which are often called campers but are not the same thing. Over the past few years I’ve become a fan of the smaller and nimble slide-in pop-ups. Properly outfitted they can provide luxury accommodation in some very beautiful and remote country.
Our first RV ever was a relatively primitive, 30-year-old 1963 Bell camper that we mounted atop a custom Lodi Equipment flatbed on our ’93 Dodge W350. We were cash poor in those days, and barely scraped together the “$300 firm” asking price, paying the last $20 in coins. The Bell didn’t stay around long; within a year we sold it and bought a 1978 Avion travel trailer, which we still own. We used the trailer more initially, but our trailering slowed to a trickle as RVing competed with other hobbies and responsibilities.
For twenty years my wife Beth and I had occasionally considered a slide-in pop-up, but we never bought, partially because it would add another toy to the barn, but with no extra time. Plus, over the past decade I’ve preferred private, remote, and backcountry camping to regular campgrounds. A rooftop tent, two off-road camping trailers, and eventually two Four Wheel Campers (FWC) facilitated this type of recreation. Slide-in units are not one-size-fits-all, so buying my new Ram pushed me to sell my 2012 FWC and shop for something that fits the 2500.
Hallmark Campers History
At the end of WWII, Hallmark owner Bill Ward’s father, Hubert Monroe Ward, started making hard-sided, pop-up trailers out of surplus aircraft aluminum in Corpus Christi, Texas. Literally a garage business in the beginning, later Hubert began making pop-up campers and moved his family to Colorado. With the explosion of the RV industry in the 1960s and 70s, the Ward family and partners owned and produced a few brands, founding Hallmark Luxury Campers in 1969. Eventually the businesses were consolidated into the one brand.
Based in Fort Lupton, Hallmark has always specialized in pop-ups designed to be comfortable in the rugged extremes of Colorado’s fabulous and famous backcountry, or worldwide. They were a high-volume producer in the past, but the pace wasn’t enjoyable. More recently the focus has been on lower volume and often slightly customized or tailored units that are built-to-order. Customization takes both time and money, but I’m selfishly happy they moved in this direction. One challenge to accommodating some special requests and features is the lack of standardization. Assembly line consistency allows for better and easier quality control, but customization requires special procedures to insure details aren’t missed.
Colorado Factory Visit and Ordering
Inspecting Hallmark’s campers for the first time a few years ago at the Overland Expo West event near Flagstaff, I initially dismissed their products thinking the available amenities indicated they were not rugged outfits. I unfairly put their campers in the same class as many poorly designed and constructed RVs; I could not have been more incorrect. Researching the brand online I learned they have an enviable reputation for making stout, top-quality campers, with some unique construction features specific to their brand.
Before making such a large purchase we wanted to see more, meet the owners, and tour the factory. Fort Lupton is about 1,000 miles distant from our home in Nevada, but we had a Southwestern Colorado vacation planned for autumn 2014. After a week in the majestic San Juans, we drove north to meet the Ward family and tour their facility.
The last camper we ordered had three upholstery color options, but Hallmark offers dozens of interior fabric choices. It was invaluable to have my wife quickly and expertly narrow them to just a few, which we then discussed and agreed upon (you know who did the agreeing…). We both like earth tones and neutral colors, but admittedly I was most interested in the technical details and construction choices. The Milner model was chosen because its short length provides the most clearance in technical terrain, but Hallmark makes several models to fit different needs.
Most RVs with fiberglass sides have a separate exterior wall that is bonded to an internal wood or aluminum frame. These panels can separate from the internal structure, which is typically caused by moisture ingress that compromises the glue, extreme heat, inappropriate adhesives, or vibration and flexing. This will never be a problem with a Hallmark; their floating exterior panels are one-piece molded fiberglass, so there is nothing to delaminate. The panels are the structural exterior and interior walls and the exoskeleton frame around which the campers are built.
Specifically, the gel-coated composite wall panels consist of a fiberglass sandwich with a structural end-grain balsa core, the same material and technique used on some yachts and military aircraft. End-grain balsa is a renewable resource that imparts remarkable strength and stiffness to the sandwich panel. The end-grain configuration of balsa provides high resistance to crushing, and it is difficult to tear. These panels handle high dynamic loads and resist fatigue.
One-Piece Fiberglass Roof
Water damage concerns have been the nemesis of traditionally constructed RVs for decades. To have water damage there must be a leak, which generally comes from above. To reduce the possibility of leaks, Hallmark has used a one-piece molded fiberglass-composite roof since 2010. The cap-shaped roof covers the unit with no seams or transitions to fail or maintain. Roof loads are of little concern, aside from their impact on the center-of-gravity. Walking or sitting on the roof is permitted, which is great for photography.
Hallmark offers three roof-lift systems. The standard mechanical crank-up lift is designed to raise only the roof. Both the electric and super manual systems are rated to support and raise an additional 400 pounds, should someone need to carry that much weight atop. I chose the low-geared super manual, which raises the roof in 37-seconds when using a cordless drill (the primary method) or after five minutes of hand cranking (the backup).
Setting-up or striking camp is extremely fast and simple with this lift system, better than any camping outfit I’ve used. Unbuckling the four roof latches, stepping inside, and raising the roof can be accomplished in about one minute. We love this, particularly during inclement weather, or after driving late and simply wanting to sleep.
Wood, Aluminum, or Coosa Interior Framing
Wood, Coosa composite, or aluminum internal cabinetry framing is offered depending on customer needs and preferences. Prior to spec’ing this Milner I thought surely I’d choose the newest and exotic composite material. However, Coosa saves little weight over wood, the cost is high, and wood holds a screw best and is the most repairable material should serious (collision) damage occur. With the molded fiberglass design protecting the internals, and living in dry-air Nevada, we chose wood for the interior framing. One-inch foam block insulation is standard.
All Weather Comfort Soft Wall Design
Above I shared that Hallmark designs their campers to be comfortable regardless of the temperatures. Winter camping capabilities are import to me and where many RVs fail. Hallmark is proud of their cold weather performance, stating their pop-ups will hold 70-degrees inside when it’s minus 20-degrees Fahrenheit outside. Of course this includes using the furnace, but -20 is pretty cold.
The standard two-layer polyester-reinforced marine-awning-material soft walls contain a third layer of 1/4–inch closed-cell foam insulation. These thick soft walls feel substantial, and our Milner has an optional fourth-layer of Mylar reflective insulation in the walls. All our windows and vents have snap-on insulated and upholstered covers. A recent photograph on Hallmark’s website shows Canadian customers Mike and Kim Baird’s 2001 Cummins Turbo Diesel with their new 2015 K2 camper. The outfit is covered in several inches of snow in Estes Park, Colorado, and the caption says: “Any Season. Anywhere. Anytime.” I say, ’nuff said.
Copyright James Langan/RoadTraveler. All Rights Reserved.
A version of this article was also published in the Turbo Diesel Register magazine.
Tread Matters: Tire Selection and Fuel Economy
Tires have been a popular subject in magazines for decades, and forums continually see new threads seeking information and expertise. This is partly because they are expensive. They can also provide dramatic style and performance improvements and are an easy upgrade. With so much talk, it is surprisingly difficult to get unbiased, detailed, and authoritative information.
Fuel economy is another perpetually popular topic. Since tire choice affects mpg, or so we have always believed, the subjects are intrinsically linked. Some folks don’t care about mpg, but many care a lot. Except for the purchase of a new(er) truck or major repairs, fuel is our biggest operational expense.
What if it was possible to improve your highway mpg by 5 or 10%? Not a possible increase from the latest magic program pushed by a snake-oil salesman, but simply by choosing a different tread design? An improvement that could be measured and verified, repeatedly, with real world testing, not just theory or laboratory results that are difficult, if not impossible, to replicate.
What Affects MPG?
In the enthusiast truck world it is commonly accepted that bigger rubber reduces miles-per-gallon. Maybe, but bigger is not specific, sometimes it means wider, taller, or both. Taller tires will increase the overall final-drive-ratio, which can help or hurt efficiency depending on the platform and usage.
Previous tests with my 3.42:1-geared, 2014 Ram/Cummins 2500 used for this article indicate that taller meats up to 35” helped economy, or at least hurt mpg less than one might expect when unloaded. Tradeoffs include less torque and slower acceleration from higher final-gearing, though current generation trucks make plenty of torque and horsepower for most reasonable loads. My sense is that stepping-up to 37s would require lower differential gears for optimal performance.
When folks upgrade their tires, particularly on a four-wheel-drive, they often switch to a higher-void pattern; sometimes the more aggressive tread is chosen simply for looks. Even if we don’t mind the road noise or faster wear of an aggressive pattern, how much fuel does looking cool consume if one rarely or never drives off-road? With multiple, simultaneous changes, it’s impossible to say what caused a reduction in fuel economy. Instead of belaboring what modifications can do to our trucks, or what affects what, I’ll briefly quote myself, “Modifications lead to modifications.”
Controlling Variables With Cooper Discoverer Tires
With generous support from Cooper Tires, I performed a series of real-world tests to document how tread design (or pattern) or tread width impacts fuel economy. I invested a substantial amount of time and money to prove or disprove commonly accepted hearsay and to produce solid data I could not find anywhere. The pattern design tests are complete, and my procedures are detailed below together with the results in Table Two. The width results are concerning, or at least surprising, and additional work may be necessary to become comfortable with the facts.
The primary variable to be controlled for the design test was the size, but weights, odometer and speedometer error, wind, and temperatures were also logged. The bullet list below offers details.
- Weather forecasts were monitored until several similar days were on the horizon. Because wind is common in Nevada, and typically increases with the afternoon temperatures, just one test was performed each morning, avoiding the higher winds and heat that would influence outcomes if I conducted multiple runs each day.
- Three used sets of the same 29.8-pound, forged-aluminum (WBJ) Ram Bighorn 18” wheels were purchased from Craigslist, allowing all tires to remain mounted and balanced in case a test needed repeating.
- Odometer error was measured for every design using mile-markers (MM) and GPS, as different treads in a certain size are not dimensionally identical. A single, constant-GPS distance was used for all mpg calculations. Road speed was monitored with GPS and corrected speedometer measurements.
- To reduce the possibly of substantial inaccuracies during fueling, and to increase the validity of the data, the roundtrip route distance was 222.7-miles, over mostly level freeway.
- Refueling was done at a particular pump, on the slowest fill rate to prevent foaming, and never topped-off. The freeway onramp is just one mile and three stoplights from the filling station.
- Appropriate, not maximum, pressures were used for the modified but unloaded truck- 8,900-pound GVW.
- The tailgate was up and the A/C was on.
- Cruise control was used and only adjusted or turned-off briefly when absolutely necessary, and notes were logged regarding any irregularities. If an accident, construction, or other mishap would have caused stopping or a substantial speed adjustment for an extended distance, I would have aborted and repeated the test.
All-Terrain, Commercial Traction, Or Mud-Terrain?
When enthusiasts upgrade their rubber it’s common for choices to fit into one of three categories; all-terrain, commercial traction (hybrid), or mud-terrain. I chose the LT295/70R18E size, which is approximately 34” tall and 12” wide, with an impressive 4,080 pound capacity at 80 psi. Cooper offers three of their popular, yet distinctly different Discoverer patterns in this size: the Discoverer A/T3, Discoverer S/T MAXX, and Discoverer STT PRO.
Readers should remember than although every effort was made to limit variables, these were real-world tests using off-the-shelf products; some differences naturally exist. One easily overlooked fact is that tire compounds are proprietary, and each has its own special cocktail. Tread depth, and sidewall and tread plies also vary depending on the terrain and audience targeted. So the differences affecting performance and mpg are not just the visible patterns, but they include the compounds and the overall construction of each tire.
Discoverer 295/70R18E Measurements
The differences between tires of a particular size are often small, though one should be careful when comparing those from different manufacturers and/or a vastly different pattern. Over the past decade I’ve evaluated several sets of Cooper-branded and Cooper-manufactured tires, and my measured values have repeatedly matched the published specifications. Occasional, slight variations appear to be from measuring tools, mounting on narrower rims, etc. Manufactures know precisely what they are producing; they want to be as accurate as possible. Careful measurements were made of each Cooper design, and the details are in Table One.
Reading forums leads me to believe that some consumers don’t measure accurately, and/or expect the on-vehicle dimensions to be identical as the wheel-mounted, off-vehicle measurements; these folks cry foul when they are not. That is silly, as the weight of the vehicle, psi, and wheel width all affect the on-vehicle stature, and this is something the manufactures have no control over.
If you read carefully, and do some math, you may notice that the measured weight of a solo tire, plus the 29.8-pound wheel, does not match the mounted data, there are a few extra pounds in the sums. I’ve seen this many times before, as measuring bare wheels is difficult, and generally I must hold them against my chest and subtract my body weight. The figures listed in table one are what my shop scale, a good bathroom scale, indicated, plenty accurate for weighing heavy auto parts. Emphasis should be placed on the mounted weights, as nobody drives on wheels without tires. The few pound difference between these designs is negligible on a heavy-duty truck with prodigious torque and weighing nearly 9,000 pounds.
Table One, 295/70R18 Measurements
|Cooper Discoverer 295/70R18||A/T 3||S/T MAXX||STT PRO|
|Weight mounted (pounds)||92.0||97.4||99.8|
|Height unmounted||33 11/16”||33 13/16”||34”|
|Height mounted @60||34 4/16”||34 5/16”||34 5/16”|
|Tread width||9 7/16”||9 10/16”||10 3/16”|
Table Two, Tread Affecting MPG Test Data
|Tread Matters MPG 295/70R18||A/T3||S/T MAXX||STT PRO|
|Test GVW (pounds)||8,900||8,900||8,900|
|Tire PSI F/R||60/40||60/40||60/40|
|Odo error % MM & GPS||2.24/2.34||2.17/2.29||2.28/2.39|
|RPM Tach/Edge Insight||1,700/1,677||1,700/1,680||1,700/1,677|
|Fuel used (gallons)||10.380||11.033||11.533|
|ECM indicated MPG||23.2||22.4||21.0|
Tread Results Commentary
Choosing the Cooper S/T MAXX over the STT PRO mudder offers a 4.6% bump in fuel economy. Running the A/T3 instead of the S/T MAXX delivered a 6.3% increase. The leap from the STT PRO up to the A/T3 is 11.1%. Wow!
It’s impressive that a modified, heavy-duty, 4WD pickup with prodigious capabilities, weighing 8,900 pounds empty, with 34” x 12” tires mounted, can still reach or exceed 20 mpg during highway travel. Obviously most driving involves at least a few and stops and starts, but these repeatable tests demonstrate what is possible if speed and idling are minimized. If I picked the Discoverer A/T3, it appears that long distance highway runs, even with a couple pit stops, could top 20 mpg.
If one needs the extra grip offered by the STT PRO or S/T MAXX, choosing the A/T3 all-terrain might not be an acceptable tradeoff. Yet, if one is so inclined and has the space, these numbers seem to reinforce the practice of having two sets of tires and wheels. Whether they are all-terrains and mudders for your truck, or highway and winter rubber for your car, strong arguments can be made about picking the right tool for the job. We don’t wear flip-flops to go mountain climbing, and our clodhoppers are out of place in a gymnasium.
Does Width Matter?
The initial primary platform for measuring how tread width affects mpg was my modified, heavy, and low-geared ‘06 V8 4Runner, because I already had one of two desirable sizes. One might think the results would be relevant for most light-truck platforms. The conditions and procedures were the same as those for the different tread patterns.
I used Cooper’s S/T MAXX in 255/80R17, and 285/75R16, both 33” tall, but the 285s are substantially wider. The 255s are about 10” wide and the 285s about 11.5”; conventional wisdom says the 285s would consume about 1–2 mpg. Without creating another table, the short story is that theses tests delivered ambiguous results, there was very little difference. I was shocked! Followup runs might indicate these results were a fluke, but there were no obviously problems or procedure inconsistencies. The narrower 255s delivered 18.34 mpg, and the 285s 18.22 mpg.
Ram Width Comparison
Two sets of tires and wheels for my ‘14 Ram partially met the width criteria, meaning they were very similar height with the identical tread pattern, yet the width difference was small. I had them, so test I did, using the same parameters, during the same week, weather conditions, etc.
One set were the 295/70R18 S/T MAXX in table one. The other were 285/75R17 S/T MAXX mounted on 2015 (WFV) forged aluminum Power Wagon wheels, which weigh 28.6 pounds each. These 285mm-wide Discoverers are also 34” tall, but just fractionally shorter than the 295s. The mounted, measured tread width difference between these two sets is only about 3/8”.
The seventeens were evaluated at the end of six consecutive days of testing, and the weather started to change, with 22 mph winds near the end of this last trip. This was noteworthy, but I’d argue that there was not enough wind during most the run to impact the outcome. The data appear to support that opinion. For the slight difference in width, the results appear appropriate. There simply was not enough difference to influence economy, 20.18 vs. 20.22 mpg. I call that a draw.
Table Three, 285/75R17 Measurements
|Cooper Discoverer 285/75R17||S/T MAXX|
|Weight mounted lb.||93.4|
|Height unmounted||33 11/16”|
|Height mounted @60||34”|
|Tread width||9 1/4”|
Table Four, Ram Width Matters 285/75R17
|Width Matters MPG||S/T MAXX 285/75R17|
|Test GVW lb.||8,900|
|Tire PSI F/R||60/40|
|Odo error % MM & GPS||1.57/1.68|
|RPM Tach/Edge Insight||1,700/1,690|
|Fuel gallons used||11.011|
|ECM indicated MPG||20.9|
The Ram results were not a big surprise. The lack of separation between the 4Runner’s width test mpg numbers, and to a lessor extent the Ram’s, have me questioning how much tread width alone impacts fuel economy. Much taller tires, with the corresponding overall gearing changes, combined with more aggressive tread patterns may be the main story behind fuel economy losses when fitting aftermarket rubber. Sometimes testing answers questions.
Copyright James Langan/RoadTraveler/Turbo Diesel Register. All Rights Reserved.
A version of this article was also published in the Turbo Diesel Register magazine.
Cooper Tires: coopertire.com
Installing BD Diesel Performance’s 2 Low UnLoc Differential Kit For Fourth Generation Rams
Reversing and maneuvering large trucks, trailers, or other big outfits can be challenging and even stressful for those lacking skill or confidence. One way to mitigate the reduced visibility and risk of hitting something and causing property damage, or worse, is to move slowly. This is obvious to most everyone, yet the slowest transmission gears, first and reverse, are still tall for creeping around campsites, parking lots, and other narrow spaces. Adding grades and/or tight turns can increase the gearing deficiency. Excessive slipping of a clutch or loading of a torque converter is not a perfect solution, but sometimes a necessary evil. Done improperly with too much rpm, or repeatedly, wear or a mechanical failure may be the eventual reward.
Transfer Case Auxiliary Gearboxes
Four-wheel-drive (4WD) trucks have become extremely popular in recent decades, even with folks that rarely, if ever, venture off-pavement. The low gearing in most transfer cases lives a very lonely life. The point of low-range is to go slow in technical situations, with the added benefit (or impediment) of powering the front tires. Using low-range increases torque and helps the engine move loads at slower speeds, even at low idle. Some savvy and careful drivers will shift into 4WD-low to access the gears for backing and maneuvering, but this is not without consequence.
Traditional part-time transfer cases split engine torque equally between the front and rear axles and are designed for slippery surfaces. A slipping tire can release the inherent bind that occurs at the transfer case between the front and rear shafts. When used on high-traction surfaces that don’t allow dissipation, there is a possibility of drivetrain damage, though the risk is small if the steered tires remain straight and distances are short. Once the front tires are turned, which dramatically increases the need for differential action, drivetrain windup will result. This energy is transmitted to and felt in the steering wheel, which will move or jerk in the driver’s hands as the drivelines complain. (Full-time 4WD systems use a center differential, avoiding the conflict between the front and rear drive systems.)
When most 4WDs had manual-locking front hubs, simply keeping the hubs in their normal, unlocked position allowed shifting into low range without connecting the front wheels to the axles. This works, and I did it for decades. Drivers should be careful and smooth because all of the engine’s torque, now multiplied by the transfer-case gears, is going to only one driveshaft, not two.
Manual hubs on Dodge Turbo Diesels disappeared with the First Generation in 1993. Second Generation trucks have a vacuum-operated front axle disconnect system that allows a relatively simple bypass to use low-range 2WD. BD Diesel Performance still makes a kit for these Second Generation Dodge trucks. After Dodge eliminated the disconnect system in favor of constantly driving the front axles, no simple solution existed; the only real option was to add manual hubs. With the return of front axle disconnect on heavy-duty Rams in 2013, now electrically-activated, preventing 4WD from engaging while accessing the low-range gears is again easy.
DISCLAIMER—As always, use extreme care and (un)common sense. Operate all machinery with due care, while also accepting the inherent responsibility that comes with any modification. You may be your own warranty station.
2 Low UnLoc
Spring 2017, BD Diesel Performance introduced their two-wheel-drive low solution, the 2 Low UnLoc kit for 4WD 2009–2017 1500, 2014–2017 2500, and 2013–2017 3500 Rams. BD sent me one of the first units.
One end of the harness has two OEM-quality connectors that go inline at the Drivetrain Control Module, another has ports for the two included relays, and a third connects to the supplied switch. My friend Phil and I installed the kit on his 2014 2500 with 35,000 miles on the clock. He tows a 24-foot travel trailer.
It’s So Easy
The 2 Low UnLoc for late-model axle disconnect trucks is a simple add-on. BD’s directions were followed almost to-the-letter because I found no way or need to improve the process. The one slight deviance was drilling the switch hole.
Removing three push-in retainers for the carpeted panel below the glove box allows pulling the carpet rearward, which exposes the drivetrain control module. Unclipping the black plastic cover exposes the blue factory male connector that is replaced with BD’s. The OE male plug snaps into BD’s female connector. Re-clipping the drivetrain control module cover was only a minor struggle with the extra BD connector inside.
There is plenty of harness to locate the relays far from the drivetrain control module if desired, but we secured them below module with mounting tape. The last thing to do was to make a hole for the switch.
Pulling The Center Stack Cover
Removing the center dash cover that surrounds the radio and HVAC control is a simple task, though like doing anything for the first time there can be trepidation. The first step is the most critical and can be easily overlooked by the uninitiated.
A plastic liner snaps into the tray above the radio and must be removed to expose two TORX T20 screws. Remove these two screws first and replace last. The remainder of the piece is held with several snap-in clips, mostly around the perimeter, and it is simply pulled away at the edges. I use my fingertips and/or a plastic interior trim tool. After the surround is loose, a few connectors on the rear must be unclipped before the piece can be completely removed.
Phil and I started this 2 Low UnLoc project by removing the dash center stack cover, which confirmed we could use the blank spot below the cubby on the right. From the front it appeared that the matching blank space on the left could be used instead. This was not the case on Phil’s truck, as there was a connector on the back. These little panels are great locations for switches, plus they are replaceable, secured with four Philips screws on the rear.
BD recommends using a stepper drill bit to make the hole for their lighted rocker switch. I don’t own a stepper bit, but I would have been concerned about going too deep and making the hole too big. The largest bit in my toolbox is a 5/8”. After stepping up to this size we were close, but the hole was still slightly undersized. Carefully enlarging the hole with the same 5/8” bit worked; I stopped while the rocker was still a very tight, interference fit. A small file was used to cut a notch for the locating tab on the left side. Because of the snug fit, we were unable to use the 2WD LOW sticker BD provides with the kit.
Before pushing the rocker switch into its tight, final resting place we loosely connected the three color-coded wires and tested the 2 Low UnLoc system. The operating procedure requires rotating the rocker switch to the on position first, then moving the transfer case selector or lever to low-range. The red light on the rocker will illuminate, indicating that front axle engagement has been bypassed, and BD’s 2 Low UnLoc is active. To deactivate, the sequence is reversed; the transfer case is shifted back to two-wheel-drive high-range, then the switch is turned off.
We reassembled everything and tested the feature again. It worked. Phil and I both love the BD 2 Low UnLoc and think the $148 price is worth the functionality and ease of installation. Geno’s Garage stocks the 2 Low UnLoc kit, and reports they have been selling well.
Copyright James Langan/RoadTraveler/Turbo Diesel Register. All Rights Reserved.
A version of this article was also published in the Turbo Diesel Register magazine.
BD Diesel Performance: dieselperformance.com, 800-887-5030
Geno’s Garage: genosgarage.com, 800-755-1715
Toyo’s New Load Range ***F*** Open Country Tire Line
Torque, horsepower, and tow/haul ratings in our so-called light-trucks have been soaring toward the stratosphere for several years. The competition between the North American diesel pickup manufactures to one-up the other has never been stronger. They have passed the 900 lb-ft barrier and are marching toward the next big hurdle; 1,000 lb-ft of flywheel torque. (At least that is the number on-paper, torque management can make it feel like less, but the idea is to prevent unnecessary roughness and increase driveline longevity.)
In decades past the transmissions, brakes, frames, and other items didn’t match the grunt of the medium-duty truck engines stuffed into pickups, but those inadequacies are mostly behind us. The constant improvement of these components could not support the increased ratings if light-truck (LT) tire capacities didn’t keep pace. There is possibly nothing less safe than not having enough tire (capacity, speed ratings, etc.) for the job. Manufacturers continually strive to meet market demands. If we ask for and buy, companies are happy to build stuff for us.
More Air For Big Loads
There is science and some regulating body input that affects how much tires are rated to support. A simple way to think about tire capacities is to understand that it is the total amount of air inside a tire that supports the rated weight. That includes the physical volume/space inside the tire and the air-pressure. A tire of a given size that can accept higher pressures, is almost always going to be rated to carry more mass. More space and more psi equals more capacity in pounds.
As simple as we try to make this, there is at least one combination of ratings that many find illogical. Most, but not all, load range (LR) E LT rubber carry their maximum rated loads at 80 psi, but a few are rated for a maximum of 65 psi. In addition to not supporting as much cargo, because of the lower pressure, trucks with a simple TPMS (tire pressure monitoring system), like a late model 2500 Ram/Cummins, will always have a TPMS warning light illuminated when running with less than the maximum 80 psi in the rear tires and/or 60 psi up front.
The TRA Sets The Standards
The Tire and Rim Association (TRA) is the standardization body for this industry in the United States. It was established in 1903, and it is lead by top technical representatives from member companies. There are a few niche manufacturers who don’t belong to this association, and therefore may not abide by the industry standards, but they are few. The common tire sizes, load ratings, and capacities most of us use and are familiar with were created and sanctioned by the TRA. Traditionally, flotation sizes (33×12.50R17, 35×12.50R18, etc.) have received more conservative ratings, notably lower than those for LT-metric sizes. Why? Because the TRA says so. Surely there is a technical and/or regulatory reason, but for the end user they are what they are, and we must pick a tire the meets our needs.
New Load Range F Toyo Tires
Toyo Tires is again leading the industry by introducing load range F tires in sizes that were formerly 65 psi, load range E. Toyo is making several in their Open Country A/T II and M/T designs, plus a couple for Open Country R/T. Toyo’s sister company Nitto was actually first to market with LR F light-truck rubber last year, but they are only offered in a few part numbers in one tread pattern, the Nitto Ridge Grappler.
Nearly all of the new LR F products added to the Open Country line are in flotation sizes, instead of LT-metric. Two 35” tall examples of these different size formats are the LT305/70R18 LT-metric, and the 35×12.50R18LT flotation size. Both are roughly 35” tall by 12.5” wide, and made for 18” wheels. All of the new Toyo LR F sizes listed here are for taller, 18”, 20”, and 22” wheels.
Open Country M/T
Open Country R/T
Open Country A/T II
Time To Think Differently About Tires. Use The Load Index
The load range letter designations will surely continue, but they are a somewhat confusing standard because the psi and LR are not married like most consumers think, they’re merely going steady but occasionally flirt around. The older ply rating (or P.R.) standard is still used, and this is stamped on the sidewalls of many tires (i.e. 6-ply rating = LR C, 8-ply rating = LR D, and 10-ply rating = LR E) and is arguably irrelevant in the 21st century. The numbers do not mean a tire has that many body plies; they don’t. This is a holdover from the old bias-ply days, where the number of cotton carcass (body) plies helped increase the capacity. Tire technology has advanced a bit over the past several decades, and cotton plies are no longer used. If the ply rating designations are outdated and the load range letters can be misleading or confusing, what should we use? One tire engineer acquaintance suggests we use the load index, and I’m inclined to agree.
The load index is a number that indicates the maximum weight a tire can support when properly inflated to its maximum cold psi, and it is stamped on the sidewall like the other ratings and information. Using the load index, and/or the tire inflation charts that I’ve favored for over 20 years, removes much of the potential confusion, as it focuses on how much is supported at what psi. My push to start using the load index over (or in addition to) these older metrics starts here. It will be an adjustment.
35X12.50R18LT Toyo Open Country A/T II Xtreme
My 2014, 25th Anniversary Cummins Turbo Diesel routinely operates at its GVWR, so I welcomed the additional capacity of the new load range F rubber. As a fan of shorter and narrower wheels, I chose the Open Country A/T II Xtreme pattern in a 35×12.50R18LT. With the new load range F/12-ply rating, each tire is rated to carry 3,970 pounds at 80 psi. The load index is 128, the speed rating is Q, tread depth is 17/32”, and each tire weighs 68 pounds.
For comparison, the 35×12.50R18 load range E A/T II has a load index of 123, which is 3,415 pounds at 65 psi. Increasing the maximum load by 555 pounds per tire is a big deal, and it is necessary for fans of big wheels and flotation sizes that haul heavy stuff.
Toyo prides itself on making exceptionally high-quality tires that often require relatively little wheel weight to balance. This is not just a claim; it has been confirmed by Toyos I’ve tested. Mounted on 32-pound Ram Laramie WBL aluminum wheels, the tread width is 10.25”, and the combination weighed 100.6 pounds on my shop scale. Using the dynamic, dual-plane balancing method, they took the following ounces to balance:
Outside Inside Total
#1 0.5 0.75 1.25
#2 2.0 0 2.0
#3 1.75 0.5 2.25
#4 2.00 1.5 3.50
Dynamic balancing always requires more weight because the tires and wheels are balanced in two planes, vertical and horizontal, instead of just vertical (the so-called static method). For these tall, wide, and heavy tires and wheels to require so little lead is impressive. Four tries requiring so little weight is what one might hope for when using the static method for a smaller, lighter tire and wheel package. Even doubling the numbers here would not be unreasonable for static balancing. Awesome Toyo!
First Short Drives
Keeping the balancing data in-mind, it was no surprise that these Toyos were as smooth as glass at any speed on a good roadway. What about the difference between these new LR F Toyos compared to the same tire in a LR E? When I shared with friends I was running new LR F tires, a couple asked about the ride, assuming they would be stiff.
Ride feel is appropriate, no stiffer or sloppier than a typical LR E 80 psi tire. Running 60 psi in front and 80 psi in the rear—the same as most other tires and sizes on my Ram when fully loaded—the truck is as smooth and stable as it would be with any 80 psi tire.
The rugged and familiar 3-ply sidewalls and 7-ply tread of most Toyo Open Country LT designs felt just right. The obvious advantage of the new LR F is being able to carry more weight (load index 128) and not having a TPMS light illuminated when pumped-up to higher pressures.
Long Haul — A Quick 1,700 Miles
These new 35×12.50R18 Toyos were mounted just days before driving from Reno, Nevada, to Flagstaff, Arizona, for the Overland Expo West event. Driving conditions and surfaces included a little city, plenty of high-speed Interstate freeway, winding rural highways, some rain, dirt and gravel roads, and even a bit of snow.
The audible hum emanating from the Xtreme version of Toyo’s A/T II may surprise the uninitiated, but this 5-rib tread has a fairly open pattern for an all-terrain. The voids needed to help evacuate rain, snow, slush, moderate mud, and other debris, will make any tire louder than a less aggressive design. Of course the roadway surface makes a difference, tires typically sing more on concrete than asphalt, and the slightly wider (than I usually run) 12.5” meats put extra rubber on the road. The tires are not loud by traction tire standards, but you can hear them, and as I headed for the Southwest, the title track from Steve Earl’s 1986 debut album, Guitar Town, started playing on my radio, including:
“Hey pretty baby don’t you know it ain’t my fault
I love to hear the steel belts hummin’ on the asphalt…”
Being familiar with the tread, there were no surprises; the tires handled varied terrain well, as expected. I’ve run the Toyo A/T II Xtremes before, and was happy to evaluate them again.
This article was also published in the Turbo Diesel Register magazine.
Copyright James Langan/RoadTraveler/Turbo Diesel Register. All Rights Reserved.
Toyo Tires: toyotires.com
Overland Expo West 2017 — Flagstaff’s Fort Tuthill County Park
Overland Expo West is a three-day annual event focused on educating and inspiring folks to explore their outdoor world, both near and far. The big news for the event this year was change: it moved to a new venue, the Fort Tuthill County Park in Flagstaff, Arizona. The park offers about 30% more area and extra separation for truck and moto enthusiasts. There were over 200 classes, workshops, roundtable programs, and inspirational programs, as well as over 300 vendor booths. Fifty exhibitor spaces were added in 2017, with a waiting list for 2018, and there were about 2,000 additional attendees. The Overland Expo team is now focused on getting better, not bigger. Leading industry vendors and OEMs were present, including Ram and Cummins, which is where my coverage is focused.
There can be growing pains… I did overhear someone saying that the general, dispersed-camping areas were too tight and full. My sense is that overall this was a good move for the Arizona event, the growing tribe of overland travel enthusiasts and the vendors that are happy to accommodate their desires for comfortable, vehicle-supported travels and camping.
New Legend 4×4 Meets The Cummins 2.8L
New Legend 4×4, based in Iowa, has been doing impeccable restorations of vintage Scout II and Scout 800 bodies, mounting them on modern chassis, complete with high-performance engines, to give enthusiasts the joy of driving beautiful vintage iron without the poor drivability of vehicles built 50 years ago. They work hard to maintain the original vibe and hard-working focus of the old wagons, while tastefully blending it with modern performance, reliability, and safety. New Legend 4×4 works with their clients to create the ultimate mix of a vintage/modern vehicle. These rigs are meant to be driven, not be garage queens.
I’ve been an International Harvester fan since my youth, partially because my great uncle Clarence had a few, plus I’ve owned a ‘60s two-wheel-drive half-ton and two Scout IIs. The first, a Scout Terra pickup, was my first four-wheel-drive. The New Legend Scout IIs with V8s were very nice, but the rig that made me gaga was this 1967 Scout 800 with a Cummins R2.8 under the hood.
The FIRST Production R2.8 Turbo Diesel
The Turbo Diesel Register readership needs no explanation as to why one might prefer to repower vintage iron with the new R2.8 Turbo Diesel instead of a gas V8. New Legend 4×4 was one of 25 beta test shops for the Cummins R2.8L in the U.S., and thanks to Steve Sanders at Cummins, they were lucky enough to receive the first production version of this new crate engine just in time to complete this Scout 800 and drive it to Overland Expo. Yes, they drove it from Iowa to Arizona, essentially non-stop, swapping drivers, with lots of coffee and Red Bull, with the blessing and encouragement of their customer as part of the initial shakedown. I interviewed Luke from New Legend to get the details on this beautiful build.
This is a 1967 Scout 800, the body is original but “freshened”, which means cleaned, repaired, and painted to high standards. It sits on a new Jeep Wrangler Rubicon chassis, with the excellent and proven OE Dana 44 axles with electric lockers both front and rear. New Legend wisely didn’t try to invent new Wrangler suspension, instead they use AEV’s proven 2.5” system, which maintains factory geometry and drivability. Luke said, “it drives and handles amazingly”, like a brand new Jeep Wrangler JK, because that’s what is underneath. New Legend teamed with Duluth Pack in Minnesota, because they love Duluth’s made-in-USA waxed canvas, which really helps this particular Scout retain a vintage, rugged look and feel. Just what the customer wanted.
The Cummins R2.8 has it’s own ECM, and Cummins makes it incredibly easy to connect the engine to the donor chassis, essentially just fuel and a few wires. The flier for the R2.8 Turbo Diesel inline 4-cylinder says it produces 267 lb-ft @ 1,500-3,000 rpm, and 161 hp @ 3,600 rpm, with an asterisk indicating “final ratings may vary”. The motor is connected to a NV3550, 5-speed manual tranny, which is backed by an Advanced Adapters Atlas II twin-stick transfer case. The base price for a build similar to this is about $100k, depending on how the customer specs their new vintage four-wheel-drive. Cummins was a vendor at the 2017 Overland Expo West gathering, primarily to support this fantastic, small, light, and powerful little engine. Smart move, as the repower opportunities look promising in this market segment.
American Expedition Vehicles
American Expedition Vehicles (AEV) displayed their Prospector XL Tray Bed Edition, and the new Recruit, Ram 1500 package. The original Prospector XL was a personal project of AEV President, Dave Harriton, that was first displayed at the 2013 SEMA Show, and it has covered thousands of miles on- and off-highway since. AEV Special Operations is creating ten of these “Limited Edition, Unlimited Adventure” vehicles based on the regular-cab, long-bed, Ram 2500 platform. The trucks will feature their signature stamped-steel front bumper, DualSport suspension, lightweight aluminum bed, massive 41” tires, and more. The Prospector XL Tray Bed Package starts around $38,000, plus the base vehicle; I think they will sell all ten quickly.
The timing of this announcement is interesting, as I’ve been a fan of flatbeds since my commercial driving youth and my custom flatbed-equipped ’93 First Generation Turbo Diesel. For several months I’ve been trying to suppress my lust for a new regular cab, longbed truck…keep your eye on my column.
AEV’s Recruit package for 1500 Rams includes a new 4” DualSport suspension for these independent front suspension (IFS) trucks. It increases wheel travel and off-highway performance, while optimizing the steering geometry for improved handling and reduced driver fatigue on-highway. The A206 T4 cast aluminum steering knuckles, new tie-rod ends, AEV-spec Bilstein 5100 series struts and shocks are key ingredients. Under the truck, a stamped-steel 4mm skid plate offers serious protection and maximum ground clearance.
The Recruit’s heavy-duty grille conversion facilitates mounting their existing HD front bumper. Cast aluminum tow loops instead of the ductile iron pieces reduce weight, and their Heat Reduction Hood helps the Recruit look similar to the Prospector. New 18” AEV wheels are more versatile than the common 20” OEM rims. The Recruit package starts at $15,000.
AT Overland Habitat Truck Topper
The ingenious and detail-oriented folks at AT Overland introduced a version of their Habitat camper for full-size Tundra, F-150, and Ram pickups with both 5.5’ and 6.5’ beds; it was previously only available for mid-size trucks. The Habitat fills the void between a basic truck topper and a slide-in camper. The shell is made with lightweight aluminum and composites, is very robust, and has a base weight of only 340 pounds. Easily opened by one person, the 15’ long tent that deploys provides 96” of standing headroom near the tailgate when mounted on a Ram, and 85” at the front; plenty. When standing outside on the ground, the bed above acts like an awning.
The tent is made from a very durable, Teflon-impregnated, waterproof ripstop nylon (285 grams-per-meter), by American tent and camping gear manufacturer, NEMO Equipment. If customers chose a base camper ($8,800) without optional cabinetry, stove, or refrigerator and such, the camper does not reduce the hauling area of the pickup bed. The Habitat pictured here is on AT Overland co-owner Mario Donovan’s 2017 Ram 2500.
AeroContinental has started making chassis-mounted truck campers featuring stressed skin construction that are designed to be both attractive and field-repairable. Their first effort was on a Ford Super Duty, but their second is more appealing to TDR-minded folks, as it’s mounted atop a 2017 Ram 3500 with AEV’s Prospector package. It’s just waiting for a customer to spec the final layout inside. It makes me think of a vintage Avion camper, or Airstream trailer. “Aerospace meets overland” is one of AeroContinental’s tag lines.
ARB had three new items on display that caught my attention. The coolest being their new Elements Fridge ($1,300), designed to survive tough duty outside, like in a pickup bed. This weatherproof 12-volt compressor refrigerator (not just a cooler) features a stainless steel body and hinges, a gas strut that holds the lid in any position, a pin-code lock plus padlock hole, a light, and more. Once you start using a real refrigerator for camping or tailgating, it’s hard to leave home without one.
The ARB Adventure Light 600 provides up to 600 lumens of LED light ($59), with a lower 300-lumen setting. This portable light can be recharged by both AC/DC power, includes a battery-level indicator, has hooks and magnets, and is dust and rain resistant. There’s little question it’s rugged; one of ARB’s press photos shows a truck driving over the light.
Appropriate tire pressures are critical for performance and safety. Modern TPMS provide a safety net, but the best maintenance practices involve frequent use of a quality tire gauge. ARB’s Digital Tire Inflator ($55) has 23.5”, PVC-covered braided steel hose with a push-on chuck and valve clip, which reduces the need to squat or bend over while filling tires. The backlit LCD readout is protected with a rubber guard; it’s designed to read from 1-200 psi (0-14 Bar, 0-1400 Kpa); there’s a bleeder button and a 200-hour runtime from the two provided AAA batteries.
That’s all for this year, there was so much more, it would take 100 pages to cover it all. Check it out.
Copyright James Langan/RoadTraveler.net/PhotoWrite Intl. LLC.
All Rights Reserved.
A similar version of this article was also published in the Turbo Diesel Register.
AT Overland: adventuretrailers.com
NEMO Equipment: nemoequipment.com
New Legend 4×4: newlegend4x4.com
Overland Expo: overlandexpo.com