DRIVING/TOWING - TOWING
A retired 4WD ‘pro’ came across a towing problem he hoped had gone away years ago, but, as many of us know to our cost, nearly all standard suspensions in ‘modern’ 4WDs just can’t do the job.
It sits flat now, but it didn’t start off like that…
After a few trips away in his new Ford Everest, he decided that the suspension just wasn’t up to the job of towing the caravan, so what to do? Upgrade the vehicle or merely the suspension?
When I first bought my Ford Everest it was with one main job in mind: towing my caravan. That was its job, it sole raison d’etre if you will. Previously, I’d had a Holden VF Commodore and that towed my pop-top, no problems, but after upgrading to a full caravan with a bit more weight, I thought an upgrade of vehicle was necessary.
With a maximum quoted towing weight of 3100kg, the Everest should have made easy work of towing my single-axle Jayco, which has a GTM of around 2000kg and a ball weight of just over 200kg.
The specifications of the Everest are, on paper, perfect for the job. It has a 2.0-litre bi-turbo diesel engine with 500Nm of torque, a 10-speed automatic gearbox, 4WD and plenty of room in the back for all of my stuff when touring.
When I first picked it up, the Everest impressed me. It was powerful, very quiet on the road and had heaps of grunt. I was itching to get it out on the road to test out its towing capability.
My first trip away was a quick blast from Melbourne up to Moama on the Murray River and overall I was impressed with the performance of the rig. I could happily cruise on the speed limit and have plenty of mumbo for overtaking trucks and the like – but it seemed a bit floaty…
I was getting reasonable fuel economy at about 14-15 litres/100km and was happy with the comfort levels, but still something wasn’t quite right.
My second trip with the van on the back was more disconcerting. Whether the suspension was a bit more run-in or whether I was more attuned to it, I don’t know, but we were heading from Melbourne down to Gippsland and the road down that way is worse than going north, so that may have had something to do with it. Whatever the cause, the Everest wasn’t doing well.
It seemed to be sagging in the rear and sitting up and floating in the front-end. Rebound damping was atrocious and the springing seemed too soft. It was clear that the Everest need some help.
I’ve played with the suspension on 4WD vehicles I’ve owned in the past and I figured that at least I needed some airbags in the rear.
I rang around some old 4WD buddies and got their opinions and came to the conclusion that I really had to junk the whole suspension and start again. You can’t really mix and match suspension components by guesswork: you need to have them matched, so they work in unison.
You can’t have the shocks doing the job of the springs and vice versa. So I went looking.
I’ve known of Tough Dog for decades and know that they’re an Aussie company that sells engineered kits for our conditions.
So I gave my old mate John Agostino a call. And I was glad I did because he started asking me questions about what I wanted. On-road or off-road use? Any bull bar or winch on the front? How heavy was my van? What’s the ball weight? (Luckily I’d just had the ball weight measured – you can’t trust what’s on the compliance plate!)
I told him that I wanted a comfortable setup for around town and on reasonable roads, because my serious off-road days were behind me. I wanted the ability to haul my van without its wallowing and my having to chase the front-end all over the road.
He said that he knew exactly what I needed and so I went with Tough Dog.
The Tough Dog replacement suspension consisted of new springs front and rear, new dampers and a set of air bags for the rear of the vehicle. I did some measurements and found that I have slight lift all round of about 40-50mm.
The chosen comfort system had non-adjustable shocks. You can get fully-adjustable shocks and a higher and more serious setup for extreme off-roading, but that wasn’t for me.
Tough Dog sent the system down to the local TJM outlet in the Melbourne suburb of Pakenham and the boys there did a fantastic job of fitting it all up and getting me a full wheel alignment as part of the deal.
They asked me where I wanted the valves for the air bags and did a really neat fitment of those in the rear bumper. I dropped the vehicle off in the morning and it was right to go by the same afternoon.
On the road
The new suspension was fitted just in time for our annual holiday from Melbourne up to Queensland and what a difference! The Everest sat flatter on the road with the van behind, didn’t sag in the rear or poke its nose up at the front, blinding other drivers with the headlights.
Gone was ‘floating’ at the front end and the whole rig seemed to work well. Cornering felt more stable as well and it made for a more relaxing drive.
With the van on, I used to get a sag of about 40mm in the rear and the front actually used to come up. I now have a measurement, with the van on, of 930mm from the ground to the guard in the rear and about 950mm in the front. But I can adjust the airbags to bring the rear of the vehicle up, if I need to.
I’m currently running around 5psi when I’m running around town and 10-15psi when towing, which I find comfortable.
One thing that this exercise has shown me is that not much has changed in the 35 years since I’ve stopped writing about the 4WD industry. The standard suspension in most of the vehicles we use for towing in this country is poor.
In my opinion, if you are going to be towing, get a decent suspension in your vehicle. You will be more comfortable, have a less stressful drive and above all, you’ll be safer.
This photo reminds me of what it used to look like…