$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

Maxxis Bighorn LT285/70R17D

The End Of The Internet

My friend Paul recently referred to Craig’s List (CL) as “the end of the internet”, and I found it both funny and appropriate. Paul says he and his brother Chuck will visit their favorite sites, and then end up on Craig’s List looking for deals. A recent CL find in a nearby town seemed worthy of investigation…

Normal Cruise Speed In Tundra, 65 MPH

“Almost new Maxxis Bighorns, paid $900, only asking $600, still have the nubbies on them”. Since I’ve used and enjoyed Bighorns before, and had a naked set of wheels begging for new rubber, I called and got the skinny. I was told the tires had “about 1,000 miles on them”, from a few trips to the neighboring city, taking kids to school, etc. The guy said he would take $500, sounded genuine, so I decided they were worth a look and made the 1.5 hour drive one morning.

1,000 Miles x 5

Exiting my truck with my tread depth gauge in-hand, the first tire I measured had only 15/32″ tread in the center. I showed the seller, who used to work at a Les Schwab Tire store in Idaho, and he responded with: “Wow, I didn’t realize they were wearing that fast”. New 285/70R17D Maxxis Bighorns come with 19/32″ of tread, and though they can be a fast wearing tire, there was no way they lost 4/32″ in 1,000 miles, even on the rear of a powerful turbo-diesel with a young right foot driving them. During further discussion one trip from Nevada to Idaho and back was mentioned, and from the wear I guessed the tires had logged at least 5,000 miles. The fronts had more tread in the centers but the outer lugs were feathered from poor alignment or driving.

Maxxis Bighorn Tread Closeup

Since I needed more tires like the preverbal hole in head, and wanted to insure I could resell them if the the Tundra or I didn’t like them, I told the seller I didn’t want to offend him, and then offered him $300. He said he wouldn’t go that low, and that there was a much better market for his tires back in Idaho. I increased my offer to $350 (add $50 in gas to that), and said I understood if he didn’t accept, I enjoyed the drive and would be on my way. He and his wife tossed it around for a few minutes, and then accepted my cash.

LT285/70R17D Maxxis Bighorns, Center Lugs Are Siped

Loaded, strapped down, and heading home, I stopped for a cold drink at the local gas station, it was a warm spring day. I took a few pictures of the new toys, had a snack, and watched a tow-truck driver try to perform a lockout on a new, 5th Generation 4Runner for over a half-hour. This reinforced the value of my practice of always carrying two ignition keys, one in each front pocket. It’s been a very long time since I’ve been locked-out of one of my vehicles, more than sixteen years.

It takes effort to accidentally lock the ignition key inside a new car as long as it stays in the switch, or in your pocket. Lay the key on a seat and all bets are off.

While driving home I planned the mount & balance and test-drive with the new to me Bighorns.

Copyright © 2012 James Langan

Fuel Economy And Wind

Driving in the wind can be a drag, particularly if you’re driving a high-profile vehicle, hauling a camper, or pulling a trailer. We live in an area that often has wind, and unless it’s coming directly from the rear, wind is an impediment to good fuel economy.

Don't Hit The Farmer

A perfect, direct tailwind is like the perfect anything, nice to dream about but difficult to find and enjoy. In the real world roads twist and turn, and wind swirls and comes from multiple directions. If you’re on a one-way trip with a direct tailwind, embrace and enjoy the smooth ride.

Watch Out For Semi Trucks

Strong headwinds are of course the worst, but lateral winds also inhibit forward progress and add to the always-present aerodynamic drag that increases with speed and reduces miles-per-gallon. Ascending hills consumes fuel, particularly if we insist on charging them at full-speed, but driving in strong winds can be like constantly driving up a grade. Of course it’s not just wind that reduces fuel economy, other weather conditions can be a drag too, heavy rain, snow & slush…

It Takes More Than a Breeze To Make Clouds Like These

Heavy Wind MPG Impact

Over the past month two lightly loaded trips to pickup and deliver cargo reinforced the impact wind can have on highway fuel economy. Though not to the same destinations or on the same highways, the distances were very similar, and both trips were mostly on rural highways with which I am very familiar. Both trips included a few minor passes and grades, though I would not call the routes mountainous, relatively level for around here. In my mind, the first trip should have produced better fuel economy, though both were through areas that are often windy, and during trip one it was extremely windy.  On both tests my top speed was the same 65 miles-per-hour, though the second test did include some two-lane highway with a lower limit for several miles, mostly 60, which improves fuel economy. There were very few stops and starts.

The Return Trip

Test Vehicle: 2011 Toyota Tundra, lifted with Old Man Emu suspension, 2-inches in the rear, 3.75-inches in the front, LT285/70R17D Dick Cepek F-C II tires, tailgate removed.

  • Trip 1: Reno, Nevada, to Susanville, California, via U.S. Route 395.
  • 181.2 miles / 11.142 gallons of unleaded = 16.26 mpg.
  • Trip 2: Reno, Nevada, to Mason, Nevada, via I80, U.S. Route 95 ALT.
  • 172.1 miles / 9.979 gallons = 17.24 mpg.

The mpg trip computer in this Tundra has proven quite accurate much of the time, though when the second test was completed the PCM was pessimistic, indicating 16.9 mpg. We always calculate and record our true mpg, and compare it to the PCM’s readings. The math doesn’t lie, but liars do math. Speaking of liars…

Copyright © 2012 James Langan

Safety Beads on Light-Truck Wheels

A visual always helps. In these pictures you can see the circumferential raised lips, or beads, on a typical light-truck wheel which are often called the “safety bead”. They help the tire stay on the wheel. The first photo below shows a relatively new, 17 x 8-inch TRD Tundra wheel, but they are all similar. The safety bead ring is inboard approximately one inch from the actual tire bead seat.

TRD 17 inch Tundra Rock Warrior wheel safety bead rings.

Below is another example, a very well used 16 x 7.5-inch TRD FJ Cruiser wheel, which has had several sets of tires mounted.

TRD FJ Cruiser 16 x 7.5-inch wheel with circumferential safety bead rings.

Copyright © 2012 James Langan

TRD Tundra Wheels a 17 MPG Rock Warrior Solution?

Several weeks ago I posted about purchasing a set of OE 17-inch TRD wheels which included the original BF Goodrich All-Terrain 285/70R17 tires (17″ Tundra Wheels & BFG A/T Tires). However those were not the first, nor the best, set of TRD Rock Warrior wheels I have purchased. The Cooper S/T MAXX trial started last summer and has drug on for a while.

Cooper Discoverer S/T MAXX LT275/70R18E with Tundra SR5 18" wheel

The reasons for buying the 18-inch Tundra SR5 wheels was because I wasn’t enthralled with the fake beadlock rings on the Rock Warrior wheels (Goodbye Bling Rings), and because finding a set of  17-inch TRD second generation Tundra wheels for a reasonable price seemed nearly impossible. Most of the sets on Craig’s List were almost new, with almost new tires, and guys wanted almost new prices, upwards of $1,500 for the tires and wheels. No thanks. In addition to being far more than I was willing to spend, because I’m not a BFG A/T fan (not a hater, just not a fan) I really didn’t want to pay anything for BFG A/T take-off tires.

There were two issues with the 18-inch Cooper S/T MAXXs: the drifting to the right, and the stiff ride from the rugged, short sidewalls. I could seek alignment solutions for the pulling—which I doubted would work—but how could I soften the ride of the stiff, short sidewall tires without letting too much air out? The stout construction of the S/T MAXX appeals to me, there is a time and application for these tires and I wanted a set, but the 18-inch 275s were rougher that I cared to drive on.

After deciding I wasn’t going to keep the 275/70R18s, and to take advantage of Discount Tire’s excellent exchange policy, the question was exchange them for what? Another set of F-C II? That seemed a bit silly, since my existing set was almost new, and I’d rather have one set of mild treads and another more aggressive. Though I knew a second set of F-C II wasn’t going to pull to the right and wouldn’t be a waste of money. Since I’d been down this road several times with the 4Runner, I was confident I knew the unhappy ending.

Summer I80 Road Construction

The First Set of TRD 17-Inch Rock Warrior Wheels

Knowing my dissatisfaction with the 18-inch sidewalls, early one morning my friend Frank inquired about finding a second set of 17-inch TRD wheels. I quickly dismissed his idea, telling him via email I had looked and they were all too expensive… But I decided to look again, and hidden among all the ridiculously expensive was one reasonably priced set at an independent tire dealer in Sacramento, just a couple hours away (thank you Frank). I was the first person to contact the seller, told him I’d be there in a couple hours if he would hold them for me.

A rural road side trip in search of Dutch Bros. Coffee

Though there was summer road construction in the Sierras, and the several thousand vertical feet lost and gained during the 228 miles of travel, careful use of my right foot allowed the Tundra to squeeze 17.88 miles from each gallon.

TRD beadlock ring scuffing

The wheels were not perfect, but in hindsight they are the best set I’ve purchased thus far. There were a few scuffs on the fake beak lock rings from careless handling (which helped me to negotiate a lower price), and three of four spring clips that secure the center caps were missing, which I didn’t notice until I was home. But overall they were a very nice set the will likely stay with the Tundra as long as it lives in my barn.

TRD Rock Warrior 17-in. beadlock ring gouges.

TRD Tundra Rock Warrior 17-in. take-offs

With another set of 17s in the shop I didn’t know what I was going to exchange the S/T MAXX for, but I knew they were not going to be 18-inch tires.

Copyright © 2012 James Langan

Cooper S/T MAXX LT275/70R18E Part 2

A Minor Lift

All thirty-threes are not created equal, because they’re not all exactly thirty-three inches tall. The very common 285s are typically 32.8-inches tall while 255/85R16s are almost always 33.3+ inches; the Toyo M/T is 33.5-inches! Removing the Dick Cepek F-C II 17-inch 285s, slapping-on the 18-inch Cooper S/T MAXXs, and taking a few measurements showed that the taller 275/70R18 MAXXs were good for 3/16″ of additional clearance under the rear differential. Nice.

My initial S/T MAXX drive was on a test loop I typically travel after any tire, wheel, air pressure, alignment, or other drivability changes are implemented. It’s several miles long and includes city streets, rural highway, interstate freeway, and sometimes just a minuscule amount of dirt for photos. The route and terrain are familiar, as is the vehicle platform, what’s being evaluated is the change, in this case, tires.

LT275/70R18E Cooper S/T MAXX, slightly taller than most 285s.

Noise

What noise? Articulating tire noise can be a challenge, as vehicles have different levels of insulation and sound deadening, and drivers have their biases and tolerance or lack thereof for noise. With several back-to-back tire tests under my belt the S/T MAXX is clearly one of the quietest traction tires I’ve ever had the pleasure to drive on. The volume and tone is similar to my beloved Dick Cepek F-C II, but a bit quieter, and the MAXX is certainly quieter than the standard Cooper S/T. Comparing the S/T MAXX to the super popular BF Goodrich A/T is tough. While I currently have a set of used BFG A/Ts, I have few personal miles on them and I’m not a BFG A/T fan. I’ll go out on a strong limb and say the new S/T MAXXs are louder than the BFG A/T, but not much. For a tire that offers as much traction and void (much more than the BF Goodrich A/T) the Cooper S/T MAXX is an amazingly quiet tire and well worth the little noise it makes.

LT275/70R18 S/T MAXX on Tundra SR5 wheel

Stiff 

As noted in my introduction, the ArmorTek3® carcass construction and 3-ply sidewalls of the S/T MAXX are stiff. This can be great if this is a feature you are looking for, or a negative if you prefer a more compliant ride and/or a lighter tire. (If you are new to this blog or subject, read Wheels, Tires, and Sidewalls from Jan. 30, 2012.) In addition to the intentionally rugged design of the S/T MAXX, using 18-inch wheels with only a 33-inch tire adds to the lack of sidewall flex.

One of my strong dislikes for tall wheels on light-trucks is manifested by this situation: a relatively tall tire (33+), with a relatively short sidewall doesn’t offer the same off-highway flex and performance available from a taller sidewall. The same height tire on a 16-inch rim would yield an additional inch of sidewall to drive and flex on; this is not a small difference. If you already use and like the firmness of a load-range E sidewalls then the stiffness of the S/T MAXX (similar to the Toyo M/T) may not bother you, particularly if you don’t have to run it on a tall wheel. However, if you prefer a more compliant ride or a lighter tire you might reconsider the MAXX. What do you want, and what do you need for your application?

S/T MAXX with Old Man Emu (OME) suspension.

Pulling To The Right 

Several years ago I rarely experienced tire pull problems with my trucks, however they are all live-axle 4WDs. Starting with my 2006 V8 4Runner and now continuing with this Tundra, I’ve experienced a pull (or drift) to the right with certain tires but not with others. Both of these IFS four-wheel-drives have alignment settings and geometry that are equal to or better than when new.

Aftermarket upper-control-arms are employed and expertly adjusted, though invariably some tires cause a very noticeable drift or pull to the right. I’ve spent countless hours and dollars to try and understand, identify, and combat this situation on these Toyota 4WDs. In short, my work involved many trial-and-error alignment adjustments, tire & wheels swaps, rotations, and tire pressure changes, all of which did not correct the problem. Some tires would still pull right, some terribly so.

How bad is the pull or drift? On a straight section of freeway with little road crown, at 65 miles-per-hour, releasing the steering wheel will result in crossing the right lane-line in about 3-seconds. Three seconds! I’m a strong advocate of keeping one, if not two hands on the wheel, and paying attention to the task at hand when driving. But I also like my vehicles to have very neutral handling, heading straight down the road unless instructed otherwise. Modified or not, I require my vehicles to drive almost perfectly on-highway. For comparison, depending on the road, wind, and other variables, with the same alignment settings Dick Cepek F-C II tires would continue straight for 8–10 seconds with no-hands.

Some readers may observe that the wheels are not identical. OE 17-inch forged TRD wheels are being used for the F-C II, while the MAXXs are mounted on 18-inch SR5 wheels, and there is probably a slight difference in backspacing. Is that part of the problem? I doubt it, though I did consider of this difference, and have a plan.

After an interlude, there will be more Cooper S/T MAXX commentary in the future—first we have to drive there.

S/T MAXX 275s on the Tundra

RoadTraveler.net – Rollin’ Forward

Copyright © 2012 James Langan