102,000 miles - towing begins

i've had a curt trailer hitch installed on the continual car.  it's there to tow a very small harbor freight trailer with a tongue extension.  and the reason all this stuff is there is so i can start towing a kayak (and the reason i'm getting that is my intention is to boat the length of the MS river in the medium future).

i chose this hitch because it was:
  • in stock
  • bearing good online reviews
  • more highly recommended by the seller (then again, he had it in stock and didn't have to order a new one)
  • didn't require drilling of the car frame
including installation (which also involved bringing the electrics to the back of the car), the hitch was around $400.  i'll be adding that number to my TVC since the apparatus essentially a part of the car now.

to me, the hitch feels a bit pricey, but it's evened out by the amazing deal i got on my trailer.  the sophisticated version of an erector set package was on sale for $180 and i was able to score an additional 20% discount (using a coupon from my entertainment book, of all places), for a total that's a touch more than $140.

compare that to what i paid for a tongue extension (essentially a single piece of a stop sign pole): $100.

when i asked my brother why the tongue was so expensive, he said it's about the price you'd expect -- it was the trailer that was incredibly cheap.  he also said that the trailer is surprisingly high quality ... big words from someone with several automotive patents to his name.

i will not be adding the trailer price to the TVC since it's not really part of the price of the car ... and could conceivably be towed by someone else (although i don't have plans along those lines).

starting to tow with the continual car presents some problems (and is the reason i just keep going on and on here).  the owner's manual (OM) makes a few passing references to maintenance adjustments needed due to towing as well as some different driving behaviors.

it's worth noting that i've never had a dealer even hint that they might not honor the service contract (in fact, i've had the opposite happen), but as the car gets older -- especially since it's now over 100,000 miles -- it's not inconceivable that there could be some pressure to not honor the contract (never forgetting, of course, that transmission failures would be covered under the lifetime powertrain warranty, not the service contract wrap) ... and i can't let that happen.  it runs counter to the very idea of the continual car.

according to the service contract, i have to maintain the car according to the OM.  in that vein and spirit i'm making notes here so i know how to behave in the future (and i have immediate reference material if i'm ever challenged in the future).

[do note the ironic catch: this trailer isn't really towing -- or more precisely, it's not the kind of towing they mean when they're making reference to it in the manual.  if you load a trailer correctly, between 60 and 65% of the weight should be in front of the center line on the rear wheel (OM, page 348).  loading in this manner gives a tongue weight on the vehicle is 10 to 15%.  assuming the trailer is 100 pounds, and the kayak is 100 pounds, this is an additional 20 pounds of tongue weight applied directly to the car.  considering that the maximum gross trailer weight is 1000 pounds (347), this is laughably small.]

i wasn't towing at all before, but i am (no matter how lightly) now.  my responsibilities as an owner change and i wanted to record them here for future reference.  unfortunately, the arrangement of towing information in the OM is fairly haphazard ... i'll lay it out here, then re-organize it for my practical use.

the following is the raw data as it's published in the OM.

* (page 409) under schedule A, automatic transmission fluid doesn't need to be changed with a turbo.  under maintenance schedule B, tranny fluid should be changed every 60,000 miles only under the condition of,  "... trailer towing where the vehicle is driven regularly for more than 45 minutes of continuous operation."  on page 354 we have, "the automatic transmission fluid and filter should be changed if you REGULARLY tow a trailer for more than 45 minutes of continuous operation."  (their emphasis -- both cases)

*   (355) "check the automatic transmission fluid level before towing."  (abbreviated from 408) before checking the fluid, wipe the area around the dipstick clean to eliminate the possibility of dirt entering the transaxle.  wipe the dipstick and measure according to "hot" or "cold."

* (293-4) the turbocharger has to be allowed to cool down at idle:
  • 0 minutes under "normal" driving conditions
  • 3 minutes with "aggressive/heavy load"
  • 5 minutes for "trailer tow"
* (355) in city driving while towing: "when stopped for short periods of time, put transmission in NEUTRAL."

* (abbreviated 299) "when frequent transaxle shifting occurs using the DRIVE/OVERDRIVE range, such as when operating the vehicle under heavy loading conditions (...towing trailers...), use the [3] range."  no big deal here ... i already do this when driving when i don't tow (usually when i cross the rockies).

* (347) maximum gross trailer weight is 1000 pounds.  my trailer is well under this weight.  even if loaded to the 870 pound capacity, the trailer might just barely be in that range.

consolidating all this and putting it into a collection of reasonable behavior means i'll be:
  • checking the transmission fluid and all tire pressures (35psi for the car, 60 for the trailer) every time before i tow.
  • changing the transmission fluid at 160K miles.
    you could argue that i'm chancing it a bit by doing this, but i have strong reasons and ways to show that i maybe/probably don't even have to do it then.  at my current mileage rate (which may go up), i'll have to do this flush in about three years (which would also be well ahead of my next powertrain inspection).  i'll have to make a decision further out about what my next change schedule would be, but i might make it 100K miles from there.
  • idling in neutral when stopped while towing.
  • cooling down for three minutes before every shut down.
    this is two minutes short of their OM five, BUT the trailer is very light AND the trailer tires are rated at 55mph anyway (not forgetting that CA law is 55mph for cars towing trailers).  it's not like chrysler would ever be able to know whether i was doing the cool down procedure or not anyway (not to mention that even if i did fry my turbo by not cooling, it would still be covered by the powertrain warranty).  the funny thing is that doing this will probably end up making the towing of a kayak trailer with my car actually be better than normal driving ... because i'll be driving slower on the highway AND cooling down afterward.
i'm also going to keep track of the number of miles i tow in the side bar ... more out of curiosity than anything else.

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