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The Nine Must-Have Upgrades For Diesel Towing

Must-Have Upgrades For Diesel Towing

Jan 14, 2015
Photographers: Courtesy Of The Manufacturers
Modern ¾- and 1-ton diesel trucks are built to tow and are amazing pieces of machinery even when they’re completely stock…but there’s nothing keeping you from making a great truck even better. By performing strategic upgrades on your diesel, you can improve its towing performance in all sorts of ways. There are thousands of possibilities for your tow-project build, so here are nine types of must-have upgrades we feel will help turn your stock truck into a real-life tow rig.
"By making strategic upgrades to your diesel, you can improve its towing performance in all sorts of ways."
1. Firm Handshake
While new diesel trucks can come with maximum trailer ratings of more than 30,000 pounds, you need a capable hitch to have any hope of actually pulling that much weight. The Big Three manufacturers have started offering factory fifth-wheel and gooseneck hitches for those massive weights, along with conventional ball hitches capable of towing more than 19,000 pounds, but not every truck comes properly equipped, and many buyers would rather customize their hitch equipment. Whether you choose to install or order your factory or aftermarket tow hitch, it’s a good idea to find equipment that exceeds your needs. All hitches come with maximum tow ratings, but there’s no reason to test those limits, especially when your truck has a lot more power than the factory output. You’ll also want any accessories that make hitching up as easy as possible to prevent costly mistakes and wear and tear on your truck or your body.
Photo 2/19   |   B&W Trailer Hitches’ (800) 810-4918; turnoverball.com Patriot 16K RVK3270 fifth-wheel is a slider-style hitch that is designed to work quietly. It accommodates up to 12 inches of slide, which is good for use with shortbed pickups, and has vertical adjustment of up to 19 inches for clearance over tall truck bed walls. The Patriot 16K rail-mounted fifth-wheel slider is rated at 16,000 pounds using the SAE J2638 standard and is made in the U.S.A.
2. Artificial Intelligence
No matter how smart you may be, there are computerized products that can control your truck better than you’ll ever be able to. Programmers allow you to interact with the truck’s engine and transmission computers to make them do your bidding. Along with being capable of adding hundreds of horsepower and lb-ft of torque over stock, most programmers also have tow-specific settings designed to give your rig a nice bump in power while keeping its pesky exhaust gas temperature (EGT) in check. Transmission controllers are offered as both standalone units or built into engine/transmission calibrations and can greatly improve towing performance while reducing wear and even preventing disasters inside your expensive automatic transmission.
Photo 3/19   |   The Banks Power (888) 638-7129; bankspower.com/95b iQ 2.0 is a lot more than just a display that can help you avoid towing disasters. It can also control the company’s Six-Gun programmer, enabling gains of up to 155 hp and 385 lb-ft of torque at the rear wheels. In addition to those features, the iQ 2.0 can control a transmission and has built-in navigation, a dragstrip simulator, an optional backup camera, Bluetooth for hands-free phone calls, and a lot more.
3. Heavy Breathing
One of the first upgrades most diesel owners make is pulling out their truck’s restrictive factory airbox and filter in favor of a high-flow cold-air intake. It’s an easy way to gain some additional power and can be the first step to completely improving a diesel engine’s breathing (both into and out of). The next steps would be upgrading the intercooler, intake manifold, exhaust manifold, up-pipes, downpipe, exhaust, and even the turbocharger. All these enhancements will greatly improve the efficiency of your diesel and allow the programmer and other upgrades to perform at their full potential.
4. Drink Up!
When a diesel engine is working as hard as it can, it gets thirsty for fuel. Making sure a truck’s powerplant has a steady supply of diesel improves performance and prevents wear on parts that rely on fuel for lubrication. Replacing the lift pump is a good starter upgrade that will help ensure the expensive injection pump doesn’t run dry, and it often includes water separators and fuel filters that can protect your injection system. Injection pump upgrades such as a dual CP3 pump kit can improve performance during extreme towing situations and extend the life of the high-pressure parts by reducing the load on the pumps. One of the oldest and best tricks for improving the flow of fuel into the engine’s cylinders is installing larger injector tips, and the tactic is even better with high-pressure common-rail systems that can take full advantage of the increased flow rates. Towing uses up more fuel than driving while unhitched, so once your engine is receiving an ample supply of fuel, you’ll also want to invest in an auxiliary fuel tank. That way you won’t have to make as many stops to fill up—plus you can take full advantage of cheap diesel prices by stocking up to maximize your savings.
5. Driving Force
Towing is very hard on the driveline that sits behind your diesel engine, and a failure can instantly derail your adventure if one of the hard parts gives out and leaves you stranded. Heat buildup is often the culprit behind driveline failures. Internal upgrades to the torque converter and transmission can help prevent problems by replacing factory parts with high-performance units designed to handle the torque of a truck-and-trailer combination working under the stress of an upgraded engine and the weight of a fully loaded trailer. In addition to adding strength to the internal parts, increasing the cooling performance of the transmission and axle differentials can greatly extend their service lives. Transmission- and differential-pan upgrades usually consist of fins and sinks that increase the surface area of the pans to maximize the transfer of internal heat to the outside world. Upgraded pans also usually have increased capacity because more fluid means more volume to distribute heat created.
6. Work Boots
The connection between the road and your truck/trailer combo is essential to everything from fuel economy to safety, and it’s one of the last areas where you should cheap-out. A towing rig’s tires and wheels are vital to performance, and just because the trailer’s tires and wheels are small is no reason to think they aren’t just as important. Along with having tires that are rated to carry as much as (or more than) the GCWR of your combo, you’ll want wheels that can handle all of the weight, so make sure to check the specs along with finding wheels that have a look to match your style.
7. Slow Down!
Getting up to speed is important, but being able to stop under control can be a matter of life and death. While most new diesel trucks come with a standard exhaust brake, if yours doesn’t have one, you’ll be putting a lot more wear and tear on the truck’s OEM brakes. This can lead to brake fade and even failure, and you don’t want to end up 2 feet deep in the gravel of a runaway truck ramp. In addition to traditional exhaust brakes, there are “weeper” brake kits that can greatly increase stopping power. You can also upgrade the original brakes by installing heat-resistant drilled-and-slotted brake discs with multi-piston calipers, just like those found on sports cars.
8. Cold Filtered
Towing is tough on all the fluids throughout a diesel truck’s drivetrain, so you need to make sure everything is clean and cool in order for it to work properly. By installing aftermarket filters for the fuel, oil, and transmission fluid, you can safeguard all those vital parts by filtering out particles much smaller than those the factory parts will let through. Along with the additional filtering, you can also install auxiliary oil coolers that will keep your fluids at the proper temperatures (even when you are towing a heavy trailer), which means the parts will be protected from failures caused by excessive heat.
Photo 16/19   |   Installing a Frantz Filters (800) 341-6516; frantzfilters.com Bypass System can help keep your engine oil clean by filtering out anything larger than 2 microns. The setup comes with everything needed for installation and is designed to increase engine life, extend oil-change intervals, and improve oil cooling. The Frantz Filters Bypass System is available for Cummins, Duramax, and Power Stroke diesel engines.
9. Safety First
While this is number nine on our list, it should always be first on your mind while towing, because you’re responsible for a lot of weight moving down the road. By upgrading steering and suspension parts, you can help keep your truck-and-trailer combination driving straight and true. Factory options such as stability control and trailer sway control can be a good investment if you’re shopping for a new truck, and it’s also something to look for when buying a used diesel. Other safety equipment such as tie-downs and safety chains may seem obvious, but you also need to make sure and check them for wear and tear before trusting them with your life.