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Old 09-04-2019, 12:38 AM #1
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Towing in the Mountains with a 3rd gen 4Runner

I thought I would post my experience towing a travel trailer to the Rocky Mountains in CO this summer. The tow vehicle is a 1998 3.4 Limited 4runner with just a bit over 215k on the clock. We have owned the truck for about a decade and 115k miles. I replaced the radiator about 5k ago. I do not have an aftermarket transmission cooler. I did replace the rear springs with some 2906 Rear Coils and some Bilstein 5100 Rear Shocks. I have a Blue Ox weight distributing/ anti-sway hitch.

I was a bit concerned that the 4runner may not be up for a trip out west prior to this trip. We live in a fairly hilly area and the 4runner does the job but it can barely maintain 55mph on some hills. Planning ahead and getting a run at things helps a ton but it does not make for a particularly relaxing drive. So far most of our trips have been under 400 miles from home. We have taken the 4runner out to the rockies one time it was loaded the to gills with 4 people, bikes on the back and all our gear inside. It maintained the speed limit but it was using most the power the automatic would freely give. It maintained the speed limit with just a bit more spare capacity. OK back to this trip. I did not weigh the whole setup but from my best calculation I would say that the trailer plus gear/water/fuel/ people was around 3500-4000 pounds. I will start when we got on 70 West through KS. The first day on 70 we made it about halfway across the state. I ran about 68 for most of the trip and would drop down to about 60mph on a few hills. The second day was a bit rougher. We had a pretty decent north east headwind. That combined with some of the longer climbs would cause the cruise to give up the ghost. I was trying to maintain 62mph and I could not. The wind let up about halfway to Denver and things were a bit easier. Once we got to somewhere around Morrison I never left 2nd gear and spent a fair bit of time in 1st at around 30-35mph. I really could have used an extra gear between first and second. I headed north on 40 towards Winter Park. There was no traffic and having access to 2 lanes all the way up made the drive decent. I kept it in 2nd most of the time and just took it easy. Transmission coolers weren't cool in '98. I meant to throw the digital thermometer in my tool bag but I left it behind by mistake. The trailer brakes did a fine job on the way down. They did get hot a bit towards the bottom of 40 but I was trying to give the transmission a break. I never really had any noticeable fade. MPG came to about 10.18 to this point. The worst was the stretch when we were fighting the wind and that was 8.8. The fuel gauge is a bit wonkey, but this is primarily in the top half of the tank and it seems pretty close for the last half. I still don't trust it though so I went by range for the most part. I Filled up every 130 miles or less and carried a 5 gallon can on the tongue just in case. The range is the worst part of using this guy as a tow vehicle in my opinion. Anyways, we made it to Grand lake and setup camp. Running around the mountains we got nearly 20mpg on one fill up. I have never seen this truck get that high. Normal mpg is around 16. The trip back seemed a bit easier. The worst of it was the climb down 40 from winter park. It was 2 lanes for the trip up. I did pull over a few times on the decent to let people pass since I was taking it easy on the brakes.


About an hour from home I did start to have some weird electrical issues. I do have a Bluetooth OBDii gadget hooked up to the port. It was showing about 8.7-9.9 volts. My battery dummy light came on while on the interstate going 70 while passing an extra slow semi. I just started loosing power, not a lot but enough. I ended up stuck beside him for way longer than I would have liked. I did eventually get around him and I was stuck going about 60. I pulled off and I found the vent fan on with the vent barely cracked. I wondered if that vent might have gotten pushed closed by the wind and in turn caused the fan to pull a bunch of amps. I got back on the road. My tack was flipping on and off. I was able to go about 60 on the back roads. I was still showing around 9v. We did make it home. While backing the trailer in I went to roll the window down so I could hear my spotter and that was the final straw. It died and didn't even pretend to try to start. I tried to charge the battery a bit the next day and it was having none of it. I took it in to the parts store and they got it charged up and ran some load test and said it was good. I went home with an alternator. I put the battery back in and it started right up. I then took the battery terminal off and let it run for a bit. The voltage varied between 12-15v with the battery disconnected. I also found the trailer deep cycle battery completely drained. I am not a fan of intermittent electrical issues so I would like to get this one figured out.

TLDR;

I towed a trailer weighing about 3800 pounds from about 900ft to 11,300 and and back, for for a total of about 1900 miles. Mileage was about 10mpg and the fuel stops were frequent.


Overall I am pretty happy with how things went minus the electrical issue at the end. I will probably do it again next year but I am not totally sure.


Mountain towing 3rd gen 4runner - Album on Imgur
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Old 09-04-2019, 12:58 AM #2
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Still pretty impressive for your rig


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Old 09-04-2019, 01:26 AM #3
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Has the alternator ever been replaced? Avoid the cheap ones with "lifetime warranty ".
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Old 09-04-2019, 03:11 AM #4
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That is impressive with a stock T4R. Thanks for posting.

I'm told disengaging OD will help keep the tranny cool in these situations.


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Old 09-04-2019, 07:17 AM #5
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Not a surprise to me, but that's because I spent a decade in the Rockies with a 5vz-fe in my Toyota T100, only moved 3 times in those years, all with the T and an enclosed trailer (loaded to the freaking gills, I was just over 3500lb here, leaving GA for WY to visit my folks, then down into the 4-corners area for my wifes new job):



The Worst fuel economy I saw, into headwinds in SD, was 12mpg.

A couple things come to mind... first is that your MPG is way low if you don't normally see 20mpg (when not towing/driving normally). It's not like you're on massive tires with a ton of extra weight there... sounds like some maintenance might be needed. O2 sensors, cleaning the MAF, new air filter, plugs and wires, alignment, checking the brakes for drag, fluids, etc... it can all add up. Only typing this incase you don't realize that's a low normal MPG.

The next is a question... are you charging the house battery in the camper from the tow vehicle? Given the discharged house battery, low power and low voltage while driving, I'm thinking that you were running some electrical load in the trailer, it eventually depleted the house battery and started drawing on the 4R start battery which in turn caused the alternator to load and rob HP from the rear wheels. I don't think a vent fan is capable of doing that kind of damage (I'm assuming it's like my MaxxAir fan on my campervan, I can run that for nearly a day on high from the start battery before getting concerned about being able to start... when running, there's no noticeable change ~ it simply doesn't pull much energy). This feels more like an inverter was left on with something running to be able to pull down a 70amp alternator.

BTW, jealous of your trip. I'm a WY native and love it in the Rockies, but my wife is from GA and women seem to have to be near their parents. My trips are way too infrequent and short due to the distance. I spent a couple weeks in MT this June for my 15th anniversary though:
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Old 09-04-2019, 11:16 AM #6
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Operating the motor with the battery cable disconnected can fry the alternator.
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Old 09-04-2019, 12:19 PM #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by wcjeep View Post
Has the alternator ever been replaced? Avoid the cheap ones with "lifetime warranty ".
Does that mean OEM or are there other brands that will last 200k? I am not sure that this one is actually bad.
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Old 09-04-2019, 12:33 PM #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by onesojourner View Post
Does that mean OEM or are there other brands that will last 200k? I am not sure that this one is actually bad.
Stick with OEM or a Denso brand reman. Basically all others are crap. (or at least a crap shoot).

If you are going to be towing regularly, get a trans temp gauge on there. You'll want to know what you are doing to your trans. You'll also want to drain and fill that trans way more often than the normal schedule to keep that fluid healthy when towing like that. Every time the torque converter is unlocked, you are really heating things up.

I'd also suggest keeping it at/under 60 with OD off for pulling the load you are, even on the flats. Speed is really killing your MPG.

For those that didn't click on the imgur link, here is his setup:



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Old 09-05-2019, 12:09 AM #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by onesojourner View Post
Does that mean OEM or are there other brands that will last 200k? I am not sure that this one is actually bad.
Alternators do not last forever. Even if it's operational at 200k miles I'd replace it or have it rebuilt. The bearings are probably shot. If you have the OEM rebuilt the shaft would most likely be reusable. Waiting on the bearings to go bad would score the center shaft. I've had vacations severely inconvenienced by an alternator.

For replacement I typically use Napa Gold.

Always have the battery fully charged before connection. This includes the trailer battery. OEM alternators are typically not 100% duty cycle. Not designed to recharge a depleted battery.

Completely agree with monitoring transmission temps. The bullet style connection I've read are off by 5deg. Given how easy they are to install that's close enough.
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Old 09-05-2019, 12:56 AM #10
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Sounds like you have a bad alternator

Make sure your battery is charged before you put a new alternator on. This is a good time to consider buying a battery if it is 5 years old or older


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Old 09-05-2019, 10:12 AM #11
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re

Quote:
Originally Posted by Brian. View Post
A couple things come to mind... first is that your MPG is way low if you don't normally see 20mpg (when not towing/driving normally). It's not like you're on massive tires with a ton of extra weight there... sounds like some maintenance might be needed. O2 sensors, cleaning the MAF, new air filter, plugs and wires, alignment, checking the brakes for drag, fluids, etc... it can all add up. Only typing this incase you don't realize that's a low normal MPG.

The next is a question... are you charging the house battery in the camper from the tow vehicle? Given the discharged house battery, low power and low voltage while driving, I'm thinking that you were running some electrical load in the trailer, it eventually depleted the house battery and started drawing on the 4R start battery which in turn caused the alternator to load and rob HP from the rear wheels. I don't think a vent fan is capable of doing that kind of damage (I'm assuming it's like my MaxxAir fan on my campervan, I can run that for nearly a day on high from the start battery before getting concerned about being able to start... when running, there's no noticeable change ~ it simply doesn't pull much energy). This feels more like an inverter was left on with something running to be able to pull down a 70amp alternator.

BTW, jealous of your trip. I'm a WY native and love it in the Rockies, but my wife is from GA and women seem to have to be near their parents. My trips are way too infrequent and short due to the distance. I spent a couple weeks in MT this June for my 15th anniversary though:

Most of those maintenance items I have done at some point in the last few years. This truck is pretty much a weekend rig at this point. I have checked the mileage off and on and it mostly in town driving ranges from 18-16.

The deep cycle battery was not happy about taking a charge. I think the camper may be the cause of this issue.

Does anyone have a good way to measure amp draw from the 7 pin trailer plug? I suspect that my voltage meters 10 amp limit will be insufficient for this test.
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Old 09-05-2019, 10:14 AM #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by wcjeep View Post

Completely agree with monitoring transmission temps. The bullet style connection I've read are off by 5deg. Given how easy they are to install that's close enough.
Is there an aftermarket option for this?
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Old 09-05-2019, 10:24 AM #13
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Does anyone have a good way to measure amp draw from the 7 pin trailer plug? I suspect that my voltage meters 10 amp limit will be insufficient for this test.
You can use one of these Auto Ammeter Gauges in series to check the draw.
Also good for checking draw on electric rad fans etc.


https://www.amazon.com/TISCO-Tisco-A...s%2C181&sr=8-1
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Towing in the Mountains with a 3rd gen 4Runner-ammeter-jpg 
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