Towing on steep grades at high elevation - Escape Trailer Owners Community

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Old 11-01-2014, 02:22 PM   #1
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Join Date: May 2010
Location: Vancouver Island, British Columbia
Trailer: 2014 Escape 21. Tow vehicle: 2012 Toyota Tundra Crewmax.
Posts: 293
Towing on steep grades at high elevation

(I've posted queries on this topic before, but now have a specific destination and TV in mind, and would appreciate further input. Thanks for your help and patience).

We're planning an extended trip to the high country of Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico, and would like advice regarding tow vehicles from Escape owners who have towed in those mountainous areas.

Our initial four-week voyage towing our Escape 21 (4300 pounds ready to camp) with our Toyota 4Runner V6 Trail Edition (tow capacity 5000 pounds) took us over several mountain roads in BC and Montana, with the maximum elevation being about 5500 feet, with grades of 6% or less.

Most of the time, the 'Runner's power (270 hp @ 5600 rpm) and torque (278 lb/ft @ 4400 rpm) enabled us to maintain an acceptable speed. But at higher elevations, on steeper grades, and when facing headwinds, the V6 was unable to sustain a speed that was adequate for my sense of safety, driving etiquette, and enjoyment.

Some definitions:
Safety and Driving Etiquette: On steep two-lane roads, I want to be able to sustain 75% of the speed limit or better. In my pre-towing days I followed dangerously underpowered RVs and trailers enough to never want to be the driver causing frustration, wasted time, and risky passing attempts among my fellow motorists.
Enjoyment: Towing in the mountains with the 4Runner meant constantly monitoring the tachometer to gauge shift points, and upshifting and downshifting the AT manually, always wondering what temperature the transmission fluid had reached, and being acutely aware at all times of the two tons of ETI artistry on our hitch. This is a fun challenge for a while, but on a long trip it's not the most relaxing driving, and allows the driver only the occasional glimpse at the scenery.

Specifically, we are thinking of taking the hit in fuel economy and switching to a Toyota Tundra Crewmax with a 5.7 l. V8 (381 hp @ 5600 rpm, 401 lb/ft @ 3600 rpm, about 10,000 pounds tow capacity). This truck also has a Tow/Haul feature, a big AT fluid cooler, and a 6-speed AT. If I find the right used Tundra, the price difference will be minimal.

According to Mountain Directory West, we will face sustained grades, up and down, of 6% to 10% in the mountains of the Southwest, at elevations of up to 10,000 feet, a much stiffer and more sustained challenge than we faced on our first trip with the 4Runner.

Based on your own experience towing in the Southwest's high mountain passes, what would you advise about switching from the 4Runner to the Tundra, and why? Thanks for your thoughts on this.
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Brent and Cheryl.
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Old 11-01-2014, 03:05 PM   #2
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Location: Tucson, AZ, Arizona
Trailer: 2013 Escape 21
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Towing on steep grades and high elevations

I was born and raised in Colorado as my Dad helped construct many of the roads there when they were all two lane and we traveled them all. Since I have now been towing on many of the same roads I have learned a lot. When we went from a 3000# trailer to the Escape 19 I knew I needed more than a V-6 would do for me, I wanted 400# of Torque. I looked at the foreign SUV's with diesel that were available at that time, cost and maintenance scared me away. I had used 5.4 Ford super crews for a few years with a Casita 17, it did quite well but it filled up one of my garage spaces to the max. I now use the jeep Grand Cherokee with the Dodge Hemi. It is 3 feet shorter than the Fords with almost 400# of torque. Not towing I get 21/22 mpg, towing the 21 I get 13/14mpg. The 19 got 15/16, the 21 is 500# heavier and the extra 4" in width. I do like to keep up with traffic or at least the speed limit as I have also followed many RV's and have seen the long lines when there is no pull off or people are not aware of what is behind them. I now have 73,000 miles on the jeep and half of that is towing 4000#. You can check out the road from Idaho into Jackson Hole,Wyo., The road North from Tucson through Salt River Canyon to Show Low, AZ, Western Colorado over Grand Mesa or many of the other Colorado passes. You can not have too big of engine, brakes and tires when towing. The new 8 or 9 speed trans in the Dodge and the Jeep appears to give another mile or two per gallon and keeps the RPM down in the 1800 to 2200 rpm range better than my 5 speed.
Good luck and enjoy your travels.

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Old 11-01-2014, 03:28 PM   #3
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Location: Pensacola, Florida
Trailer: 21' Escape (June 2014)
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We did fine towing our 21' with a 2011 Tundra with the little 4.6L V8. It only has 310 hp and 327 lb-ft, with a tow rating of 8200 lbs. - but we didn't feel like we were handicapped even on the 7% grade from Lovell to Sheridan in Wyoming. Of course, that road was so full of twists that no one was going very fast anyway. Without towing, we routinely get 20mpg while going 75 mph on an interstate highway; while towing the 21' and going a steady 65 mph we got around 13 mpg. With the 5.7L V8 you would have all the power you need and the mileage isn't supposed to be that much worse than with the little 4.6L. And, the Tundra is the only full-sized truck that Consumer Reports says has a better than average repair record.
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Old 11-01-2014, 05:00 PM   #4
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Location: Janesville, WI, Wisconsin
Trailer: Escape 19 (sold) Escape 21 2014
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I have had the experience of towing both an Escape 19 and and Escape 21 with a Toyota 4runner and a Toyota Sequoia. The Sequoia is the equivalent of what you're considering the Toyota Tundra.. The Toyota 4runner was an older model when they still made the V-8. In purchasing the Escape 21 I decided to upgrade from the V8 4runner to the Sequoia. The engines in both units were the same displacement.

I have towed this combination of vehicle and trailer over mountain passes in Colorado Utah New Mexico Wyoming Montana Idaho Washington and Oregon. Both of the Toyotas were excellent tow vehicles, particularly with their respective trailer. They each had factory tow packages but no leveling system. I did not use a weight distribution hitch with either.

At no time did I encounter sway due to crosswinds or truck traffic. I never felt that the vehicle was close to losing stability or control. Both vehicles maintained speed on long or steep uphill. I was consistently keeping up speed with truck traffic and never felt I was a hindrance to drivers behind me. I do not do any monitoring of temperatures or other measurements.

I am very careful with weight inside the tow vehicle and spend time assuring distribution of weight inside the trailer.
Paul and Janet Braun
2003 Toyota 4Runner V8 now 2012 Toyota Sequoia V8
Escape 19' 2010 now 2014 Escape 21'
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Old 11-01-2014, 10:03 PM   #5
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Location: Los Osos, California
Trailer: 2014 21 2013 Yukon
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The silence is your instincts & GO FOR IT! If you look at what is being used to tow both 21 & 5.0TA, the majority by far are being towed by full-size TV's. You said it best by saying it wasn't very relaxing.
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Old 11-01-2014, 10:09 PM   #6
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Location: Boynton Beach, Florida
Trailer: 2006 5th wheel toy hauler
Posts: 8
It is important to put your vehicle in tow / haul mode if available. If you have an exhaust brake use it. Engine brake down inclines if you can. I towed a 14K lb fifth wheel with a diesel Ram throughout the Rockies last year. Only on the steepest inclines was I not able to maintain highway speeds and usually because I failed to set the top gear limiter before starting the incline.

Engine and transmission temps were reasonable even on the steepest slopes. Engine braking ( exhaust braking on the diesel ) made downhill runs much less scary. Take your time and maintain a speed you feel safe with and towing through the mountains won't be so nerve wracking.

I was able to monitor transmission, engine and exhaust temps with a Bully Dog gage monitor that plugs into the OBDII port. This also added to peace of mind knowing I wasn't frying my engine or transmission.
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Old 11-01-2014, 10:29 PM   #7
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Location: San Antonio, Texas
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I think all of these threads about "which tow vehicle" can be divided into two general questions:

-- "can I get away with towing trailer-x with tv-y?"
-- "what TV provides the best towing experience for trailer-x?"

These are completely different questions, and the answers often blur that. As for the first question, the answer is usually yes, thanks to the low gvw and tongue weight of Escapes. The answer to the second? Too subjective to answer.

I would inject only this: tow with more than you absolutely need (margin for error), and with something you can afford.
"You can't buy happiness, but you can buy an RV. And that is pretty close."
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Old 11-01-2014, 10:37 PM   #8
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It's a good thing that all those 40-ton commercial trucks that drive in the mountains have 2,000 horsepower engines and dragster-sized tires.

I'll shut up now...
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Old 11-01-2014, 11:19 PM   #9
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Hey Rob- I think you nailed it with the two questions- just don't wanna see that Subaru guy with his 17B coming at me on X grade.
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Old 11-01-2014, 11:39 PM   #10
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Location: Battle Ground, Washington
Trailer: 2001 Bigfoot 21RB/ 73Boler/Trillium 5500
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Tundra towing

I tow my 21 with a Tundra 5.7V8. You need the wheelbase, weight, and braking power of a bigger truck.
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