For the longest time many of us have heard the quote, "If you want to finish first, first you have to finish." I think we need to add to that well-worn adage. "To finish, first you first have to get to the track." Let's face it most racers carry a good bit of stuff to the track and if you race in more than one class or your team has multiple cars, you have even more stuff to move back and forth to the races. More stuff piled into your trailer, van, car, or truck means that your selected mode of transportation will have to do more work just to get you there. Possibly, more work that it was ever designed to do in the first place.
Let's paint a picture all about getting to the track. You load the trailer and you think you're completely prepared. Your race car is ready to race and all of the tools and spares required to complete a full day of racing are on board, even the ice chest full of ice, nice cool drinks, and not to mention some sandwiches and potato salad. All of that stuff along with the 20 or so gallons of fuel can easily add up to 5,000 pounds of stuff.
Maintenance; start with the...
Maintenance; start with the simple stuff. Checking the fluid levels and the condition of the various fluids in the vehicle is a “must do” maintenance point. You need to change the oil often, especially if you run on the hot side and place higher loads on the tow vehicle. Oil is much better than it was 10 years ago but it doesn’t last forever. It’s cheaper to change the oil than pay a long distance towing bill and/or the cost of overhauling an engine before its time.
Check all of the connections...
Check all of the connections of lines and hoses carrying fluids or air through your engine. This is an air duct connection that is part of the turbo air supply on a Ford Powerstroke Diesel. A leak here due to a loose connection will not only hurt performance, but it can let dirt into the engine and damage the turbo.
The universal joints in the...
The universal joints in the drivetrain will be taking a heavy load and need to be lubricated and inspected at frequent intervals. A little care and time spent at home doing this will prevent some really expensive repairs on the road.
So what's my point? The point is that, depending on what you're driving, you could have just added as much as 30 to 60 percent more than your vehicle's weight in payload.You just made every system on the vehicle work that much harder than when you're just driving it on a normal day. The added weight will adversely impact everything from handling to fuel mileage to safety.
So what's the answer? Just like you prepare your race car for the races you need to prepare your tow vehicle to get you to the races. Each system on the race car is tuned for maximum performance. Use the same systemic approach to your tow vehicle. Beefing up each system to take the total vehicle performance to a place where you have the handling, brakes, cooling system, and engine performance exactly where it needs to be. The goal is to be able to tow to the races without arriving worn out. Let's look at each system on your vehicle.
Let's start with the suspension. If your vehicle is out of warranty or approaching the end of the warranty period I will be willing to bet that your shocks are getting close to requiring replacement. You need heavy-duty shocks to help keep you under control. No matter what you're driving there are shocks designed for vehicles that will be carrying greater loads and they aren't that expensive. Consult your local auto parts store and it will be glad to help you make a selection that will suit your application. The same reasons that you change and adjust your shocks on your race car are the same reasons that you change the shocks on your tow vehicle, control. In extreme cases it may be necessary to use a heavier-duty spring package to help compensate for the additional weight you will be adding to the vehicle.
If you're pulling a trailer, you need a good, quality hitch matched to the kind and type of trailer and weight you will be pulling. A light-duty trailer will not require as heavy-duty of a hitch as a 32-foot trailer. Your trailer manufacturer can recommend a hitch rating for your trailer and vehicle. If you have a large trailer it may be a good idea to get a hitch with a trailer stabilizer or sway bar attachments. While installing a hitch isn't a complex job it's really better left to the professionals. Having a shop install it will save time and money over the long term and it'll come with a warranty as well.
Brakes on new vehicles are better than they have ever been in years gone by. But for the most part brakes were designed to stop just the vehicle and its passengers. Most newer trucks come with disc brakes on all four corners as do most cars. If you're going to be pulling a trailer and your vehicle has drum brakes on the rear you should invest in upgrading to discs on the back. Or at the very least make sure the stock units are in top operating condition.
This steering damper looks...
This steering damper looks OK from a quick visual perspective, but closer inspection, thanks to a little H20, reveals some pretty severe damage...
...Take your time when doing...
...Take your time when doing your visual inspections. This damper required replacement.
Many tow vehicles are four-wheel...
Many tow vehicles are four-wheel drive and they require a bit more inspection as they have more parts that can fail. Keep on top of the universal joints and the brakes. A close look at this truck reveals that the brake pads are getting pretty close to needing replacement.
There's nothing wrong with drum brakes, but when they get hot they don't cool as fast as a disc brake. With a trailer or the greater vehicle load, it's not too difficult to overheat the brakes in heavy traffic or in a long downhill run. Having the brakes fade pulling a 32-foot trailer heading down a steep grade will make for an exciting trip.
If your car already has disc brakes you may want to consider upgrading to a set of high-performance brake pads. Just like our race cars have different compound brake pads you can get higher performance brake pads for your tow vehicle. They're not that expensive and you never know when you may need that little bit more. It's cheaper to install a set of performance brake pads that are designed to be used in heavy-duty applications than to replace the front end of your tow vehicle after you run into the car in front of you at the bottom of a long downhill grade.
If you have a large trailer you better consider trailer brakes if they aren't already standard equipment. This is an option that can give you just that much more brake capacity without modifying your vehicle. Trailer brakes are a good option when the trailer and the contents start to weigh as much or more than your car or truck.
Cooling systems are often overlooked until they give you a problem and they never seem to give you a problem on the way home. If you're driving a truck, you may already have a heavy-duty cooling system option, but if you don't, a larger radiator is an easy install. Regardless of radiator size, you can keep the cooling system in top-notch shape by keeping the antifreeze up to date. Contrary to popular opinion the antifreeze doesn't last forever and needs to be changed at regular intervals to keep the cooling system at peak performance. Another safeguard is an additional seperate cooler for the transmission. Some automatic transmission vehicles have a trans cooler as part of the radiator. A dedicated trans cooler reduces the strain on the main system.
The oil filter is one easy...
The oil filter is one easy place to spot a potential problem. This one is showing signs of leaking or something above the filter is leaking. Either way, it requires some immediate attention.
This is something that needs...
This is something that needs to be checked every time you stop for fuel. Just like on your race car, tire pressure is critical to on-track performance, low tire pressure can severely affect how your tow vehicle performs. Tire pressure variance can cause safety issues and adversely affect tire wear. Tires for the tow vehicle are very expensive, no need to replace them any sooner than necessary.
The battery is something that...
The battery is something that is easily checked. Make sure the connections are clean and tight, the cables are in good condition, the mounting is secure, and the electrolyte is covering the plates.
Tires and wheels are another area that is often over looked when it comes to trailer towing and/or just preparing a vehicle for greater loads. Tires should be matched to the loads and speeds you will be traveling. This is another place you need to consult with the tire experts at the tire store. Tell them the kind of weights you'll be dealing with and the speeds and distances you'll be traveling. Just because you will only be loading up twice a month don't think that you can you can use lighter-duty tires. Using a tire that isn't designed for heavy loads can cause some disastrous results. The same goes for wheels. Some aftermarket wheels aren't designed for heavy loads. Don't overlook the inflation levels of your tow vehicle's tires. You may have to get a different tire pressure gauge but it's critical to the performance, longevity, and safety to the operation of the vehicle. As racers, we know the value and the contribution that tires play in performance of our race car. The same level of performance while not measured in lap times is also critical in our car and trucks.
Running gear includes the engine transmission, and rearend, or transaxle depending on what you're driving. We all know the value of selecting the correct gear ratio for on-track performance. As the auto manufacturers struggle with corporate fuel economy numbers it may be that your car or truck may have the gear ratio optimized for overall fuel economy and not pulling power. You may find that the gear ratio may be too tall for pulling a trailer when heavily loaded. If you're driving a truck or a van that has a conventional rearend, the process isn't that complex to change the gear ratio. Installing a lower gear in the rearend will help keep the engine in the rpm range where it needs to be to pull a heavy load, and it can often improve fuel economy.
Transmissions take a real beating when the vehicle is loaded. If you have a manual transmission you need to make sure the oil is at the correct level and it's changed on a frequent basis. With automatic transmissions you need to make sure the fluid is clean and the temperature is kept within the manufacturers recommended ranges. As stated, an additional cooler is a wise investment. You may want to add an aftermarket pan that has a deeper sump for additional capacity as well. Some of the aftermarket transmission pans also have built-in heat exchangers for an added bonus.
When it comes to the engine you have a wide variety of options. If you have a newer vehicle with electronic fuel injection there are a wide variety of aftermarket "chips" to plug into the computer control that can boost horsepower without having to tear into the engine.
In fact, there are a multitude of products on the market today that will help engine performance without having to ever touch the engine itself. If your vehicle is diesel-powered it's possible to get some significant horsepower improvements by just adjusting the computer that controls the engine. If we just concentrate on the air induction and the exhaust systems we can get some real gains that will improve driveability.
Installing a cold air system and some better air filters than the OEM models will help reduce the inlet restriction. Getting cold or cooler air into the system will help with the quality of the air/fuel charge you will be feeding your engine. The addition of a cat-back exhaust system also allows you to develop greater power while not removing any of the emission components in the exhaust systems. These systems, both intake and exhaust, are generally better shapes and have larger freer flowing tubes and ducts.
The master cylinder on many...
The master cylinder on many of the newer vehicles has a clear reservoir so checking the fluid level is a snap. On some older vehicles you may be required to remove a cap and look in the reservoir. Look for fluid level and any discoloration of the fluid. Discoloration of the fluid is a pretty good indicator of contamination or overheating. Refill and replace as necessary.
The radiator overflow reservoir...
The radiator overflow reservoir is another area that should be inspected at regular intervals. Look for both excessive levels or minimal levels. Look at the color of the antifreeze. If it’s rusty or a color that is significantly different than when it was new it should be replaced. Contrary to popular opinion antifreeze doesn’t last forever; it does “wear out.”
Keep the windshield washer...
Keep the windshield washer tank filled with windshield cleaner, water will work but the real stuff works so much better and driving is so much easier when you can see. Think of it as tear-offs in a bottle.