Two tips for avoiding that next towing misadventure

Bounding down the freeway with a trailer and racecar in tow, the traffic slowed to a crawl faster than my tow rig could muster. It happened in a flash, and in those elongated seconds, I found myself swerving in my lane, attempting to add as much distance as possible between myself and the glowing taillights ahead. In a last-ditch effort, I even pulled the e-brake.

This worrisome – and completely avoidable – misadventure happened in 2010, and luckily, yes, I stopped in time. But that trip was an eye-opener and, soon thereafter, I completely rethought my towing setup, tow rig included.

Yet, while I still recall that heart-stopping event vividly, I’ve become complacent about tow vehicle maintenance once more. And I shouldn’t. The fact is, keeping a tow vehicle up to snuff is not difficult, and outside of general maintenance like brake fluid flushes and inspecting for rust, there are generally only two things you need to know.

The rubber meets the road

Something that all racers lean on heavily both during competition and in the process of getting there are tires. When it comes to towing, though, rather than looking at light-off time and slip angle, we find ourselves discussing load ratings. And, as it turns out, if you’re talking about a tire that will see weekend-warrior racecar towing duty, E range is the name of the game.

“In pneumatic tires, load is carried by contained air, so more air means higher load capacity,” Pat Keating and Robert Abram explained. Keating is Yokohama’s Senior Manager of Field Engineering, Technical, while Abram is Yokohama’s Senior Manager of Product Planning; combined, they covered an array of my questions. “Load range E tires employ enhanced beads and body ply that allow higher air pressure and correspondingly higher load.”

Yokohama’s Geolandar H/T G056 truck tire is available as both an E range and a non-E application. For the 265/70-17 tire that fits many full-size truck applications – mine included – the non-E range tire is rated to carry 2,535lbs at 51psi; the E range Geolandar boasts a 3,195lb capacity at 80psi. There are other differences, like this particular E range sporting minimally deeper tread, but the next significant difference comes in weight. Therein, Tire Rack measured the standard 265/70-15 Geolandar H/T G056 at 38lbs compared to the extra reinforced E range’s 47lbs.

Interestingly, tires with an E load range do not require the use of higher tire pressures. “At 50psi, a load range E tire will perform similarly to a load range C tire,” Keating and Abram added. “This might be useful in cases where loads are light and high pressures produce an uncomfortable ride.
“Because load range E tires perform like lower load range tires at lower pressures, there’s no reason to avoid them. Tire pressure can be adjusted for whatever task is being performed.”

Heavy-duty tires are designed to last for the long haul, and sometimes that leads to them essentially expiring – this is the trap I had fallen into.
“One of the common traits for tires that get used infrequently over long periods of time is sidewall cracking, so consumers should always look for that,” Abram and Keating noted. “Most manufacturers cover their tires under a standard warranty for a number of years. Yokohama’s standard warranty covers tires for five years from the date of purchase, so if you are nearing five years, it’s time to consider a new purchase.”

Tires manufactured since the turn of the century have a build date on the sidewall. The moderately cracked sidewalls on my SUV’s aging tires read “3215,” or the 32nd week of 2015. Right on time to replace.

The whoa pedal

Brakes on a tow vehicle are equally key, with correct brake pad selection resolving most braking woes. But, with every brake pad manufacturer having its own pad lineup and terminology – and multiple compounds that fit each application therein – happening upon the right pad for your particular case is not always straightforward.

“Our HPS and Ceramic pads will handle this kind of towing capacity,” explained Hawk Performance’s Sale Engineer Edwin Mangune when asked which of Hawk’s brake pads would work best for a half-ton truck or SUV performing tow duty for the average SCCA weekend warrior, which includes myself. But elaborates Mangune, there’s a caveat. “If the tow vehicle is a daily driver and used on the weekends for towing a racecar trailer, I recommend our LTS pads because they are noise free and emit low brake dust.”

There are many who utilize dedicated tow rigs, often in the 3/4- to one-ton truck range. For those, Hawk offers a heavy-duty pad. “If the vehicle is used full time for towing, fleet, or hauling heavy payloads, I recommend our SD pads,” Magune said. “Our SD pads offer more friction and a higher temperature range than the LTS. This pad is not recommended for a daily driver because it is dusty and noisy.”

For many motorsports weekend warriors towing to events, Mangune added, “Hawk’s LTS and SD pads are an ideal solution because they are engineered specifically for full-size trucks and SUVs.”

New rotors are also a welcome option when changing brake pads, but don’t buy just any rotor claiming increased braking performance. “I don’t recommend a drilled rotor for towing or spirited driving because the drilled holes will create stress risers and will inherently crack,” Mangune warns. “For towing, I recommend a slotted rotor or an OE style rotor [with no holes or slots].” To that end, Hawk offers its Talon rotors.

My specific application is a 15-year-old, half-ton GMC Yukon XL that has been sporting well-worn Hawk Ceramic brake pads. They work, but based on Mangune’s advice, I’ve swapped to Hawk’s LTS.

Road ready

From competition cars to trailers to tow vehicles, the secret is consistent maintenance. It’s all too easy to become complacent. Even after my wild ride some 11 years ago (where I was convinced that I was about to cause a multi-car accident and wind up on the local news), it didn’t take long for me to put tow-rig maintenance on the backburner once more.

Luckily, this time I caught myself early, and with an afternoon’s worth of work updating several components and inspecting others, I can now tow to my next SCCA event with confidence, knowing that I’ve undoubtedly avoided yet another towing misadventure.

This feature has been adapted from the March/April issue of SportsCar Magazine, which is included (in both print and digital form) with membership in the Sports Car Club of America.