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Old 07-02-2009, 08:36 AM   #71
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We have returned from our 5 day long adventure to Long Island somewhat more experienced than when we left. 1,960 km of towing, one roadside meltdown, 6 passengers, and one emergency procedure, and we arrived safely back in Toronto.

The border crossing was painless, and we were not searched. The Caravan, on Interstates, chugged along nicely in 3rd gear most of the time, dropping out of 3rd gear O/D and into 3rd a few times, and then further down into 2nd on steep grades. We averaged 52 mph until we hit the George Washington Bridge. I don't have detailed gas mileage figures, but they are low. When I did measure it, we averaged 13.5 miles per imperial gallon, which converts to 11.25 miles per US gallon. We did run the air conditioner quite a bit.

There was traffic near Syracuse, going south, and again on I80. The bits on I80 were something horrible. We were at a sign that said "road work 4 miles", and traffic was stopped dead, so we got off at that exit, and took the Red Detour. We'd been chasing a thunderstorm for about 6 hours by that point, and the detour showed us what destruction it wrought on the small county roads. Tree limbs down, tons of gravel on the road from water washing it out of driveways, creeks and rivers ominously high, and chocolatey. Large puddles requiring much slow driving, and memorably, a 3 inch branch in the road just over a rise, that I had to drive over, and which made a horrible bouncing sound under the car. "there goes the gas line, and jackstand" I thought ruefully.

We made it back on the interstate, and there was NO TRAFFIC. My conclusion was that everyone was still stopped at the 4 mile roadwork area making this the most brilliant driving decision of my life.

George Washington Bridge was a madhouse and we crossed it $18 poorer. Then the Trans Manhattan expressway directly under 4 apartment buildings (who could possibly want to live there?), then onto the Cross Bronx expressway (I was trying to remember the Robert Caro story about Robert Moses' routing choices there that meant razing about 400 houses when vacant land was only 50 or 100 feet away along the same route). Then over the lovely Throgs Neck Bridge ($9.50) and onto Long Island. A great trip. 15 hours in the car all in all. The kids were troopers. It helps to carry around your own bathroom.

The return trip, just outside NYC city limits, I finally saw the sign that restricts all carrying of propane within city limits unless approved by FDNY. I wonder how you get such a permit without entering the city limits. In any case, illegally, we continued on our way and soon left NYC behind. We witnessed exactly zero unfriendly driving. Everyone let us in when we needed in, and gave us our space. I love New Yorkers.

We had made a reservation at a KOA in Franklin, NY (very nice, by the way. A bit buggy, but the hosts are very friendly, and they made a special trip to a local mechanic, the need for which will be explained shortly), so we took off through highway 17 to get there.

I'm hard pressed to explain exactly where the brakes overheated on our Caravan, but I believe it was somewhere between Holy-cow-that's-steep Hill, and My-God-That's-Steep valley. In any case, I noticed a distinct lack of braking power in the middle of one downhill, and at the same time, noticed one of those cleverly placed pullouts, so I pulled into it, and used the manual override of the trailer brakes, and floored the van brakes, and came to a stop, literally smoking. The front brakes were not on fire, but it looked and smelled like it wasn't far off.

After calming and cooling down a bit, and realizing we were only 30km or so from the campsite, we drove on, one hand on the manual override, and the other steering and popping into low gear on downhills, and we made it there without much incident, and I appreciated having a nice cold stiff drink when we set up the trailer.

We drove 611 km like that, the next day. On interstates, there's not much braking involved, but the trailer brakes were more than up to the task of stopping both trailer and van. Not really recommended, however. The van is at the shop today, getting the brakes re-surfaced, and probably pads replaced.

So it's hard to argue with the people in the thread above who suggest that a tow vehicle with enough stopping power to stop both vehicle and trailer is necessary. On the other hand, maybe it's enough to ensure that your trailer can stop the trailer and vehicle. When we get the hybrid, solar powered, Suburban/Yukon/Excursion of our dreams, we can think about going anywhere, without concern. Until then, we're going to be more careful about our trip routing.
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Old 07-02-2009, 09:12 AM   #72
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Good report. I wouldn't presume to analyze exactly why your brakes overheated, since several there are many potential causes. However, the first thing I'd check is that your trailer brake controller is set properly. The trailer should stop itself, and not overburden the tow vehicle brakes. This should be your goal no matter how big or small your tow vehicle brakes may be.
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Old 07-02-2009, 11:54 AM   #73
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Well, just to add to that story, my 1 ton van overheated it's brakes coming down into Kelona B.C a few years ago.... geared down to second, 45 mph, they really decreased in ability to stop just before a sharp 90 degree turn. I too turned off and checked my shorts.

I'd love to upgrade to disks for added COOLING ablitity of the trailer brakes, not so much stopping power. My van brakes did do fine once they cooled down, but there is a limit to all braking ability to cool. Pulsing your brakes vs. riding them is one way to avoid overheating, staying slow when braking is needed is another (i.e. gearing down for hills). Fresh brake fluid changes help too (eliminates the water which loves to be absorbed by brake fluid). Water boils away, which leaves airpockets in the brake lines in severe use, which decreases the ability for the fluid colum to push the calipers / drum shoes.

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Old 07-02-2009, 08:09 PM   #74
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Kevin, I don't know why your Dodge brakes overheated since that vehicle should have plenty of stopping power and ABS should reduce the chance of overheating, but you stated in your first post you use 3rd OD going down hills. I don't know how many gears you have, but I would guess 4 or 5. Maybe you shouldn't use OD on downhills and maybe the pads were glazed, or may well be now. That must have been scary and hope it doesn't happen again.

The rule for trucks is to go downhill in the same gear you went uphill in, but with automatic transmissions, especially the 6 gears I have (it's easy to lose count and 5 and 6 are OD), it's hard to know what gear the transmission is in going uphill. On a long downgrade or a very steep one, I downshift to 3rd (sometimes 2nd on a very steep, windy road) and use the brakes on and off to activate the trailer brakes as well. The combination of gearing down and intermittent braking seems to work well.

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Old 07-02-2009, 08:25 PM   #75
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could the branch hurdle have damaged the caravan and/or the trailer brake systems?
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Old 07-02-2009, 08:56 PM   #76
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Originally Posted by CrawfordGene View Post
Kevin, I don't know why your Dodge brakes overheated since that vehicle should have plenty of stopping power and ABS should reduce the chance of overheating, but you stated in your first post you use 3rd OD going down hills. I don't know how many gears you have, but I would guess 4 or 5. Maybe you shouldn't use OD on downhills and maybe the pads were glazed, or may well be now. That must have been scary and hope it doesn't happen again.

The rule for trucks is to go downhill in the same gear you went uphill in, but with automatic transmissions, especially the 6 gears I have (it's easy to lose count and 5 and 6 are OD), it's hard to know what gear the transmission is in going uphill. On a long downgrade or a very steep one, I downshift to 3rd (sometimes 2nd on a very steep, windy road) and use the brakes on and off to activate the trailer brakes as well. The combination of gearing down and intermittent braking seems to work well.

Gene
Gene, my van has D, 3, and L showing as drive gears on the column shifter. D is 4th gear (which I think of as the overdrive) and 3 is generally what I tow in. On straightaways, I run around 2200 rpm at 80 km/h. Under load, that goes up to 3000 rpm at 80 km/h. But then, there's two gears still available, so I don't know if the 3000 rpm is a kickdown gear or what. I guess the problem is that towing in 3 generates too much speed on the downhills for compression braking, and L is too low (although I did use it the day of the meltdown, and crept down some of the steeper hills), and I can't manually put it into 2nd.

ABS didn't engage because there was no loss of traction. I was pumping the brakes on previous hills, thinking I would let the brakes cool, but you're right, they did get glazed over, and stopping power was probably reduced about 50%. Fine for the van alone, but not for van plus Overlander. I'd like to thank the highway engineer that put that pullout there.

The van is back from the mechanic with fresh rotors, and from now on, I'll bias the braking towards the trailer, and get the brakes on it checked every year too.
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Old 07-02-2009, 11:04 PM   #77
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That transmission does sound confusing. What I meant about ABS was that you can't lock the brakes and overheat them that way since they will constantly go on and off. On our trailer brake controller I can set them to apply so that they start working just before the van brakes—if I understand how it works. And maybe the brakes had been glazed for a while. I hope the new rotors solve the problem.

If you put the transmission into L, will it go to 2nd from 3rd when you're going too fast for 1st? When an automatic transmission is downshifted into a gear it cannot select because of the speed of the vehicle, it will choose the next lowest gear (unless you're going too fast for that one too). I believe they are made that way to prevent overrevving the engine.

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Old 07-02-2009, 11:28 PM   #78
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If you put the transmission into L, will it go to 2nd from 3rd when you're going too fast for 1st? When an automatic transmission is downshifted into a gear it cannot select because of the speed of the vehicle, it will choose the next lowest gear (unless you're going too fast for that one too). I believe they are made that way to prevent overrevving the engine.

Gene
I was going to say "I've never been in a situation that warranted that", but I guess I just have. I'll have to check the owner's manual.
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Old 07-02-2009, 11:40 PM   #79
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Hi, ABS does not prevent brakes from overheating; It prevents wheel lock-up in a panic stop type situation. Preventing the wheels from locking -up keeps you from losing control of your vehicle. As for the D, 3, L common on Chrysler products, "D" is for overdrive, "3" is for third gear, and "L" is for low gear. Usually, somewhere above 25 to 30 MPH, if you pull your shifter into "L" low gear it will go into second gear. But once you reach a certain lower speed, it will drop into first gear. Going down steep hills I would pull it into low gear and ride it out in second gear. The problem I don't like with this setup is that while going down hill in low gear, locked in second, when you slow down for a sharp turn, the trans will drop down to first gear. The only way to get it back into second gear is to speed up, shift into third gear, then pull it back down into low.
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Old 07-03-2009, 04:48 AM   #80
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Hi Kevin

I should have explained downhill braking better for you.

The bottom line is if you are going down a hill and you need to use the brakes to control speed then you are in the wrong gear. This is the case no matter how big your brakes are since any set of brakes will heat to its limit on a long downhill grade.

When you are using engine braking you do need to keep the engine RPM high enough to get good braking in the case of the Caravan around 3500-4000 RPM. Sometimes people shift down but then once the engine reaches 2500 rpm they start using the brakes.

On your transmission that has just the 3 and L settings putting it in L at 90 kph will just put it in second gear.

If second gear does not provide enough braking then shift back into third gear use the brakes to slow down to about 40 KPH and then shift back into L and it will be in first gear then let the RPM increase to where it needs to be to control speed. The owners manual details the shift pattern as well.

I hope this helps.

Andy
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Old 07-03-2009, 05:12 AM   #81
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Here is a cool tow vehicle we used for the last year. I did not care for it when I first drove it but after a while it grew on me. It has the 5.3 Litre with 330 HP. 0-60 with a 28' International in 21 seconds. Handling is very precise once you get past the torque steer.

You can also get this drivetrain in the Impala and Grand Prix but I would get the 3.6 litre and 6 speed would be a more economical choice with almost the same performance, just not the throaty growl.

Andy
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Old 07-03-2009, 06:42 AM   #82
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Usually, somewhere above 25 to 30 MPH, if you pull your shifter into "L" low gear it will go into second gear. But once you reach a certain lower speed, it will drop into first gear. Going down steep hills I would pull it into low gear and ride it out in second gear.
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I should have explained downhill braking better for you.

The bottom line is if you are going down a hill and you need to use the brakes to control speed then you are in the wrong gear. This is the case no matter how big your brakes are since any set of brakes will heat to its limit on a long downhill grade.

When you are using engine braking you do need to keep the engine RPM high enough to get good braking in the case of the Caravan around 3500-4000 RPM. Sometimes people shift down but then once the engine reaches 2500 rpm they start using the brakes.

On your transmission that has just the 3 and L settings putting it in L at 90 kph will just put it in second gear.

If second gear does not provide enough braking then shift back into third gear use the brakes to slow down to about 40 KPH and then shift back into L and it will be in first gear then let the RPM increase to where it needs to be to control speed. The owners manual details the shift pattern as well.

I hope this helps.

Andy
These posts were very helpful, gentlemen. Thanks!
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Old 07-03-2009, 06:45 AM   #83
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Here is a cool tow vehicle we used for the last year. I did not care for it when I first drove it but after a while it grew on me. It has the 5.3 Litre with 330 HP. 0-60 with a 28' International in 21 seconds. Handling is very precise once you get past the torque steer.

You can also get this drivetrain in the Impala and Grand Prix but I would get the 3.6 litre and 6 speed would be a more economical choice with almost the same performance, just not the throaty growl.

Andy
Every time (and I do mean every time) a Porsche 911 passed me on the Interstate, I found myself thinking "I wonder whether that would be a good tow vehicle". It's interesting how your perspective gets skewed once you start towing.

So Andy, have you ever set up one of the non-Cayenne Porsche's for towing? I know the wheelbase is a bit short, but come on, that power!
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Old 07-03-2009, 10:10 AM   #84
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Every time (and I do mean every time) a Porsche 911 passed me on the Interstate, I found myself thinking "I wonder whether that would be a good tow vehicle". It's interesting how your perspective gets skewed once you start towing.

So Andy, have you ever set up one of the non-Cayenne Porsche's for towing? I know the wheelbase is a bit short, but come on, that power!
Well I got one of two right—transmission yes, ABS, no.

The 911 might be a good tow vehicle—large brakes, tons of power, lots of gears for downhill compression braking, though with the rear engine, the front end might be up in the air, unless you carry about 1,000 lbs of lead (or gold) under the hood).

Gene
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