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

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Old 11-01-2014, 03:22 PM   #1
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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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Old 11-01-2014, 04:05 PM   #2
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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, 04:28 PM   #3
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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, 06:00 PM   #4
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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.
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Old 11-01-2014, 11:03 PM   #5
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The silence is deafening...trust 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, 11:09 PM   #6
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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, 11:29 PM   #7
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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.
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Old 11-01-2014, 11:37 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 11-02-2014, 12:19 AM   #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 11-02-2014, 12:39 AM   #10
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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.
Chuck
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Old 11-02-2014, 05:56 AM   #11
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"Enjoyment"
This is the main reason I went to a full sized truck with plenty of power. It really is nice not giving any thought to if I can make it up over a pass. Coming down the other side I still think about though.
I'm on my 4th tow vehicle, I've gone up progressively in size to get more "enjoyment" out of it.
My brother has an 08 Sequoia with the 5.7L and a 5000 lb bumper pull, hates the mpg (about 10 while towing) but loves the ride and power. You'll should do a bit better on the mpg then he does.
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Old 11-02-2014, 09:47 AM   #12
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TV is determined by trailer size

Tetons, Yellowstone trip from home in Northern Utah with the 4 of us
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Old 11-02-2014, 10:29 AM   #13
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I tow my 21 with a Tundra 5.7V8. You need the wheelbase, weight, and braking power of a bigger truck.
Chuck
Chuck does that wind generator you have mounted on your truck cut down on mileage?
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Old 11-02-2014, 10:38 AM   #14
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Tetons, Yellowstone trip from home in Northern Utah with the 4 of us
When we bought our Scamp, the sales office had pictures of various tiny vehicles towing Scamps. By putting the axle so close to the trailer's midpoint, you could get the tongue weight to about anything you wanted. I think there was one with a 13' and a VW Beetle. Sway city here I come......

(Of course I can also remember really safe things I did, like towing friends disabled vehicles down the highway with a chain.....)
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Old 11-02-2014, 11:08 AM   #15
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Was hoping to see an engineer weigh in on this but I've done some research and am sure to be corrected if there's any errors: Toyota doesn't mention anything in their Tundra specs about engine grade braking. They do mention large brakes. On the other hand several including myself have reported the benefits of the grade braking on their GM trucks/suv's.

From GM: Available on Savana, Sierra, Yukon, and Acadia, tow/haul mode raises transmission up-shift and down-shift points to alternately give you more power to accelerate, and greater access to engine compression for deceleration with less noise and harshness. Excess shifting when towing or hauling excessive loads is also reduced.

Do Toyota trucks have this same technology?
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Old 11-02-2014, 12:32 PM   #16
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Was hoping to see an engineer weigh in on this but I've done some research and am sure to be corrected if there's any errors: Toyota doesn't mention anything in their Tundra specs about engine grade braking. They do mention large brakes. On the other hand several including myself have reported the benefits of the grade braking on their GM trucks/suv's.

From GM: Available on Savana, Sierra, Yukon, and Acadia, tow/haul mode raises transmission up-shift and down-shift points to alternately give you more power to accelerate, and greater access to engine compression for deceleration with less noise and harshness. Excess shifting when towing or hauling excessive loads is also reduced.

Do Toyota trucks have this same technology?
If you have the 5.7L V8 the answer is yes. There's a button for 'tow/haul mode' that holds the lower gears longer to assist in acceleration, deceleration and stopping.
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Old 11-02-2014, 12:41 PM   #17
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But is that the same as engine grade braking with "greater access to engine compression for deceleration", and if not is there a significant difference by not having it or are you relying on the service brakes more?
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Old 11-02-2014, 12:49 PM   #18
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But is that the same as engine grade braking with "greater access to engine compression for deceleration", and if not is there a significant difference by not having it or are you relying on the service brakes more?
Yes, it includes engine braking, at least according to Toyota's FAQ:

When should I use Tow/Haul mode in my 2014 Tundra and how do I operate it?
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Old 11-02-2014, 02:29 PM   #19
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Hi Brent & Cheryl

We are waiting for an Escape 21 to be built for us by mid-May 2015 and looking forward to an easier tow with our 2005 Tundra (285 hp). Until this summer we were towing a 19' Nash trailer that is at least 800 lbs heavier than the Escape 21. We live in Surrey, BC and frequently drive the Coquihalla Highway to the BC Interior lakes to flyfish. The only really slow point on the Coquihalla summits was by the snow sheds where the best I could do was 70 kph (45 mph), but the rest of the time I would be doing at least 90 kph (55 mph) and usually the speed limit. This is with the truck maxed out in carrying weight and combined vehicle tow weight. If we didn't have the boat on top and the motors (outboard & electric) and tons of extra fishing/camping equipment the tow would be much easier. When we took our trailer to Utah in 2012 without all the fishing equipment we found that the towing was much easier than the Coquihalla. But even then our little 4.7 L V8 on the Tundra had to work pretty hard to maintain the speed limit. If you get the larger V8 on the newer Tundras it should be an even better tow. The reasons we haven't upgraded to a newer Tundra are 1) don't have space in our garage for the larger truck 2) harder to park around town 3)expense. I'm expecting our truck to last for many more years based on the experience of other Tundra users. I've attached a photo of our fully loaded unit ready for a trip up the Coquihalla.

Bob & Margie
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Old 11-02-2014, 03:51 PM   #20
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Here is my experience with this, so far: After our Escape rally in Moab last May, I spent a few days in Canyonlands NP then decided to go to Dinosaur National Monument, north of there near the WY / CO / UT border. I was pulling my Escape 21 with a Toyota Tacoma V6. I made the mistake of letting the Garmin pick the route. It took me into Colorado then north on state road 139, over an 8000' pass! Boy was I ticked off. I had to slow down to 20 mph in places. The good thing was the speed limit was often around 20-25 mph anyway on the high-altitude switchbacks, and there was no traffic. In the future I'll be more careful.
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