Tow Vehicle Saga (sort of) Ends (hopefully)…

I am now the proud owner of a FORD Expedition that can tow. It is hooked up to my trailer and ALL THE LIGHTS WORK!!! Oh Boy! Almost ready to go!

It is a great relief that everything seems to be working Just Fine.

Still to go is to put insurance on both the truck and the trailer, and get plates for each / register them with the State. I hope to get that done Monday (and maybe be “on the road” as early as Tuesday).

The truck is a 2006 ( I think… I’ve looked at several…) so things are fairly simple. No “Fob” required to run it, just a metal key (unlike the similar era Jeeps & Dodge Durango & Chrysler Aspen that can refuse to start when the ‘anti-theft’ system looses its mind OR your fob dies…) The trailer wiring it, well, wires. (No “hind brain” nor SAM nor Car Area Network issues as with the Mercedes ML.) So I’m hoping that anything that goes wrong (if any) when on the road can be much more easily fixed.

There are a couple of minor issues.

First off, the trailer presently sits a bit “nose high”. The rear edge is about 11 inches off the ground, the front of the box is 15. So about 4 inches over 12 feet (or 4 in 144 or 1:38).

So a couple of questions. Does this matter? Do I need to get a “drop hitch” and lower the front about 2 inches?

Second, the rear tires on the truck (at least, I didn’t find this on the fronts, but didn’t do a full circle test on them…) have a couple of “flat spots”. One Each that I found. I’ve not measured them with my tread gauge (yet), but they eyeball at about 2/32 or 3/32 of an inch of shallower tread, of about a foot length, blending smoothly back to the round of the rest of the tire. I suspect they were locked up and slid at some point. Alternatively, the tires my be out of balance and some offset wear happened.

This causes a noise a bit like a small Rumble Strip as you pass through about 42 to 45 MPH, and it lasts about a second. Ride is fine both below and above that speed, and it doesn’t always do it. I suspect it only happens when both tires line up their flat spots. So:

Does this matter? They are nice Michelins, and I’d be happy to just wear them for the next 18,000 miles and not bother with it until the move is done.

Does “Tire Shaving” aka “Tire Truing” fix this? Is there anyone between Tampa and Orlando that does this? Is it a waste of time and just go buy new tires?

Is there something else I ought to look at that might have caused it? (I’m planning to visit some tire store anyway and get their opinion; but I’m sure it will be “Buy 4 new tires”… it’s a 4 x 4 BTW).

I’m very hopeful that this will end the Towing Vehicle Saga and I can just let the ML be a Grocery Getter Station Wagon for now. “Someday” I might get back to debugging “whatever” is wrong with the trailer brake line from it; but for now, I’m giving up. I’m also hopeful that the FORD will both “work fine” and not die any time soon. Then again, that was how I felt when I bought the ML…

Any other suggestions and advice, happily appreciated! This is the first time I’ve towed anything in about 50 years. OTOH, I’ve already successfully backed up, pulled forward, and hitched up (not in that order! 8-) so it looks like the Skilz are still there. I do have the directions for the Brake Controller (built in! no adapters needed!), so at some point need to learn how it works. OTOH, I’m trained in the Old Ways of driving without trailer brakes at all, so tend to be very conservative about speeds and slowing down.

It is a surprising relief to finally have a rig that works.

So “watch this space” for when the Road Trip is on the cards.

Between now and then, I’m going to put insurance on the Truck & Trailer, hit up the Reg office for plates, and take the truck to a Tire Place for “evaluation and advice”. Hopefully all that will be done by next Tuesday.

So there you have it.

Oh, and the truck has working cruise control, A/C, radio, etc. etc. “Everything works”. I have no idea how effective cruise control is for trailers, or if it is usable on hills. IF it has trouble holding speed (up or down hill), I’ll just shut it off and drive…


About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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47 Responses to Tow Vehicle Saga (sort of) Ends (hopefully)…

  1. H.R. says:

    E.M. – The only thing I didn’t see you mention is setting your brake controller.

    There are how-to videos or articles online and it’s no biggie to do. If your road is quiet, you can do it in front of the house. In CA, you can do it in the aisles of the storage place.

    The ’empty trailer’ setting will be different from the ‘full trailer’ setting. If you tow the same thing with the same weight all the time (boat, camper, e.g.), you just set it and forget it or if it zeros out when the tow vehicle is turned off, you set it back to the same setting.

  2. Clay Marley says:

    With an older vehicle your electrical connections between the SUV and trailer are likely to have some corrosion and oxidation. This can result in intermittent connections. I’ve gotten an ominous warning in my dash that the electric brakes on the trailer are no longer working, for example. Get a can of DeoxitD5 (Caig Labs), squirt it in there before the trip, and keep a can with you.

  3. E.M.Smith says:


    Yeah, but what do you set them to? I have the directions from the manufacturer in the truck. That will tell me what each control does, but why do you set it to what?

    I’m thinking that I’ll set it to about 1/2 total braking and see what that does empty. IF a brake at a light causes some kind of noise from the trailer (i.e. wheels locking up) I’ll cut the setting in half, otherwise I’ll call it good.

    For a full trailer I’m thinking I’ll start out at about 3/4 braking and see what that does. IF it stops fine at stop lights, I’ll call it done. If things make noise, back down 1/4. IF it doesn’t stop near fast enough, up it to full and see what happens. Then adjust by 1/8ths.

    All this assumes there’s some kind of 0% to 100% indication on the controller (no, I’ve not read the directions yet…).

  4. H.R. says:

    Watch the videos, E.M.

    You should be able to manually apply the trailer brakes with the controller. Yeah, choose the ‘5’ setting. The two controllers are set #1 through #10. BTW, #11 is reserved for OHHH SH!T! ;o)

    This is where you watch videos. The one I chose advised going about 20-25 mph and then manually applying the trailer brakes only. The trailer brakes should bring you to a slow stop. Adjust + or – from there and try again.

    Also, the setting should hold the tow vehicle and trailer still when the tow vehicle brake is released, and the rig would normally begin to idle creep. The brake controller is manually activated when checking this.

    But… the brake controller has to work with the vehicle brakes you are stuck with. So now, get going 25-30 mph and apply the brakes, letting the brake controller do its thing.

    Now it’s ‘feelz’ time. If you seem to be getting shoved from the rear and the vehicle brakes are doing most of the work, bump the setting up.

    If you feel a jerk like the trailer brakes are grabbing and doing too much, decrease the controller setting.

    You’ve hit the sweet spot when you feel like both the vehicle brakes and the trailer brakes are working together for a smooth stop and the trailer won’t jerk you to a stop nor rearend you.

    That’s my understanding and how I set mine.

    Still, search a few videos. I am by no means the expert on the very best setting.

  5. John S Howard Jr says:

    Safe trip…

  6. another ian says:


    “Is there a looming trash crisis?”

    You could add a few things that weren’t mentioned there but it does paint a grim EV picture

  7. another ian says:


    I have to wonder how long this “electronic backbone” has been in German cars. In 1990 we had a huge flood which totally sank our local pharmacist’s weeks old $A100,000 + BMW.

    Flood assessors told him that they would rebuild it “good as new”. Till they discovered that there were 7 computers in it that would cost $A 57,000.

    He got a new one.

    That sound like what you are dealing with?

  8. E.M.Smith says:

    @Another Ian:

    It looks like it got started about 2001, but really took off after the 2005 EU law requiring “anti-theft” devices built in to cars (the clicker-fob that showed up everywhere and so now a duplicate “key” costs you $300 instead of $3… )

    It has even started to hit 4 x 4 off road gear. “Matt’s Offroad Recovery” has had a couple of pickup trucks (one Toyota) that tried to ford a small river (creek?) and got water inside about an inch over the floor. Fried some engine computer and made the truck into junk.

    When learning to sort out the LED trailer lights incompatibility with the Mercedes “lamp out detection”, I found that the same “adapter” I needed is needed for newer FORD trucks. Which means those FORD trucks also have computers and lamp out detection issues… Part of why I went looking for an older FORD for this duty.

    I really really don’t like the idea of a car that destroys its ability to run if you have an emergency need to traverse water that gets some into the cabin. By all means, stay out of fast moving water; but there is often stagnant water in a flood situation, and being able to “load up and drive out” becomes critical after a few days. (Not a problem I’ll have here as the place is sand that drains fast; but…)

    But to do that to TRUCKS? Vehicles that are expected to work in adverse conditions?? To deal with floods and fording creeks? Just nuts.

  9. E.M.Smith says:

    @per EV trash issue:

    I first ran into the limited life cycle issue with Natural Gas Cars. I really really wanted one, but the new ones were very expensive. At the time I was doing IT consulting and did a LOT of “around the S.F. Bay Area” short runs; frequently driving past the airports where CNG filling stations were plentiful. So the 120 or so mile range was not an issue for me. Yeah, I’d likely fill up daily, or every other day, but the cost was (then) about 1/2 to 1/3 of gasoline.

    Once they were on the used market, and prices came WAY down, I looked again…

    What I found was that, at that time, tanks were certified for 5 years, and a 4 year old car was facing a re-test / certification or replacement cost. Tanks had to be removed, hydro-statically tested, then replaced or reinstalled and a new cert issued. Cost was measured in $Thousands for the test and reinstall to the $10’s $Thousands for replace. Needless to say I didn’t buy the cars or trucks…

    Now the CNG Car market is almost dead. Taxi fleets that had bought them learned the resale value was near nil. Fleet managers learned the periodic maintenance / re-certification was a nightmare. The industry learned it had a problem… so increased testing interval to 10 years, then 15 (beyond the life of most fleet cars); but the customers, once burned, tended to stay away anyway.

    Similar thing happened with the Methanol fueled cars program run by the State Of California. Almost bought one of them (FORD and VW both had nice compacts with tri-fuel engines. ANY mix of methanol, ethanol, and gasoline.) BUT, when I looked into buying fuel, the ONE local gas station with methanol explained that I had to get a special card from The State, and they would track ALL my fuel buys and vehicle use.

    Well, not interested in being tracked by The State, I passed on the idea. Apparently a lot of other folks felt the same, ’cause a few years later the cars were no longer available; then a couple after that, the methanol pump disappeared from the ’76 station.

    BTW, the needed engine changes for Methanol were more stainless steel fuel system parts, and then a special motor oil was used to prevent corrosion from blow by.

    When EVs came out, having had a few laptops with dead batteries… I figured out Right Quick that when the battery pack died, you would be in the same situation as the CNG cars. Cost to repair exceeding value of vehicle = junk.

    Between the EV car battery issue and the Electronics Short Life issue, I expect that the 20 year car life will come to an end (perhaps even the 15 or 10 year too…)

    Is that by design, or just poor foresight? Um…

    I just know that it will not be my car. I have a “fleet” of a few too many, but it is the newest ones that are likely to be retired / trashed. The older ones are slated for “fixing up good as new” and keeping as long as I can drive. Yeah, they will have Antique Plates on them, and folks may think it is a hobby car. But it will be my Daily Driver.

    I was really looking for a late ’70s FORD for my tow vehicle, but not enough of them available in Florida to get what I wanted. The one I got is “fit for purpose” and we’ll see how “perpetually repairable” it is. But when in California, I’m likely to look for any All Mechanical No Electronics alternative…


    So FORD, Mercedes and a couple of others have said basically “All Electric in a couple of years”. Call it the 2025 model year. That makes it about 2030 to 2035 when EV Trash Mountain becomes an issue. Maybe someone can figure out a good recycle method for the batteries by then…

  10. catweazle666 says:

    Concerning your flat-spotted tyres, in my experience with just about every motor vehicle from pre-WWII Morgan 3-wheelers to Scammel 6×6 tank recovery vehicles this is quite unusual.
    Have you checked the brake drums for ovality?

  11. E.M.Smith says:

    @ Catweazle666:

    Guess I’ve been around more folks who abused tires, ’cause I’ve seen wear like this before ;-) Even had it on a car I drove in high school after some of us did some brake slides… Every so often, driving on the freeway, you will see somebody with a wheel hopping up and down due to imbalance… My Mechanic in California mentioned a Porsche owner who did an emergency stop; and brought in his car for a new set of tires (despite having almost new on the car) just because they were slightly flat spotted and the ride wasn’t glass smooth anymore…

    Irregular out of round wear can start with just locking up the brakes and sliding to a halt. Then the imbalance leads to irregular wear that can slowly make the problem worse, not better.

    It can also just be a bad balancing job, or throwing a tire weight, then they start to wear more out of round as the forces on the tire are out of round…

    No, I’ve basically not checked anything that could not be seen from the outside without turning any fastener. It looked good enough I was willing to risk it on my diagnosis.

    Now the nature of the vibration from the suspension is very odd. It only shows up sometimes, and only in a very narrow speed range (about 1 mph or less wide). And it doesn’t always show up.

    It sounds and sort of feels like a weak Rumble Strip. That Brrrp sound.

    The narrow speed range leads me to think it is a harmonic motion that can only build up energy at one speed where things oscillate, making a tire bounce. That it isn’t always happening makes me think it is an interaction that takes both tires to be in a particular position relative to each other (i.e. both flat spots aligned, or both offset 180 degrees to each other so they can swap energy through the axel…).

    I’m not particularly worried about it, since I won’t be running at that sensitive speed for more than a second or two getting on/off the freeway for gas. At speed it is relatively smooth. There’s also pretty good odds that when fully loaded and heavy with trailer the problem gets dampened out anyway.

    I haven”t decided yet if I’m going to just buy a set of new tires, get these “shaved” (turns out “tire truing” is the new phrase for it…) and balanced, or what. No idea how you find a shop that does Tire Truing but I figure “ask the mechanic”… but it IS a thing:

    FWIW, due to some timing issues involving Monday being a holiday and New Mexico having high winds after that, I’m going to make a fast run to deal with some California & Tax issues in the ML. Trying to get the Ford ready to go in time is just pushing too much and doesn’t leave enough time to fix and evaluate and prove up the truck. So….

    Likely in about a week I’ll be doing the work to figure out if my guess as to what this is, is right, and fix it whatever it is. Then when all is satisfactory, I’ll do a run with the trailer…

    I do need to find a good FORD Mechanic somewhere between Tampa and Orlando; and / or a good tire and suspension shop. I know the truck had been professionally maintained, but whoever he was is an hour+ drive away …

  12. E.M.Smith says:

    Oh, and I’m thinking it might be fun to buy a set of Rims & Tires that are just cheap rims like you would use with snow tires; but have on them some sort of off-road adjacent tires ;-) Like Geolanders or Grabbers or something. Whatever might work best in sand when fishing down a dirt road…

    Then just swapping them on would diagnose “Tires or something suspension?”…

    Since Tire Rack will send you 4 mounted, balanced and ready to go, it would be relatively easy… (note to self: Pick up floor jack from storage when doing ML run…)

    The Best All-Terrain Bargain: General Grabber AT/X

    General has been building off-road capable tires for decades, and it’s been able to incorporate many of the lessons learned from its more focused mud and rock-crawling rubber into the versatile Grabber AT/X. Multi-angle traction edges and notches on its five-row tread pattern ensure plenty of ground-grabbing grip, but the tire is not aggressive to the point where it compromises handling or braking on the street. The Grabber AT/X is also notable for its all-weather capability, bearing the three mountain peak snowflake symbol on its sidewall that clears it for cold-weather use, and it does it all at a very affordable price. Tire Rack customers have collectively given the General Grabber AT/X a 4.5 out of 5 star rating.

    “We have a cattle ranch and the truck will go anywhere it’s supposed to,” writes the owner of a Ford F-150, who follows up with “on the road it handles like a car.” A Nissan Titan pickup driver states that “these Generals are the best tires I’ve ever driven on, hands down. Wet, dry, mud, sand, ice, snow, and everything in between, they just shine.” A Nissan Frontier owner notes that the Grabber AT/X doesn’t come with any compromises: “If you need an all-year tire that will get you where you need to go regardless of the terrain, this is the tire for you.” This opinion is shared by a Chevrolet Suburban driver, who adds the tire’s “on-road manners are faultless.”

    So for probably about $600 + rims I could have a full set of them, and then worry about the Michelins and tire shaving later…

  13. Josh from Sedona says:

    @ the brakes
    Sounds like HR got it pretty well covered as far as the controllers go, only thing I would add is that if drum brakes you check the adjustment of the actual shoes on the trailer and the tow vehicle

  14. Ossqss says:


    IMHO, the last thing I would skimp on is tires I need to work perfectly for thousands of miles.

    As indicated, flat spots are there for some reason, and I doubt it was from skidding. Most likely from bouncing at speed from being out of balance. There could be some belt separation also.

    Best bet is to get it to a shop (check their reviews) and on a rack to inspect the underside, and also in an effort to identify if there is any suspension or steering issues making the rumble (tie rod ends, ball joints, shocks, struts etc.). You simply can’t see some of this stuff properly unless the vehicle is off the ground. The vehicle is telling you something that needs translated.

    Tire issues will show themselves clearly on the balancing machine including bent rims (remember it is an old off road capable 4×4).

    My supplemental short list of to-dos (in particular with a new purchase) would be:
    -inspect all belts or belt if serpentine
    -inspect all filters and the gas cap
    -inspect wipers and washer fluid functionality
    -inspect oil, tranny, steering, brake fluid and coolant
    -inspect brakes (done on a rack while checking tire balance)
    -buy some extra fuses
    -fully inspect trailer tires, bearings and wiring and get a good trailer hitch lock.
    -Fill it up and drive it for an hour or so on the highway at high speed to see if anything else talks to you.

    The last thing I would want is to be on the side of the road 3 hours from nowhere due to something I could have proactively identified and preempted.

    BTW, I would hesitate to drive a loaded trailer nose up even with a properly balanced load. That can lead to some very unpleasant physics at high speeds. I witnessed this too many times on the highways.

    Good Luck!

  15. E.M.Smith says:


    The car has been professionally serviced recently (notes provided) and all the usual engine stuff looks fine.

    Trailer is brand new, so tires, bearings, etc. also new. And I bought a new spare. This does mean very frequent air pressure and lug nut torque checking the first few hundred miles… and likely every new day morning start.

    I bought a hitch lock and door locks (matching keys ;-) the first day it was home…

    Now, the “biggie”:

    The trailer is presently empty, as is the truck. The trailer is slightly “nose up” (4 inches from front corner to rear corner of the box) due to hitch height, not load balance. So it isn’t rearward weight distribution lifting the hitch.

    I’m expecting that to lower some as both the truck and trailer get a load in them.

    So the question I have is about utility of a drop hitch on an EMPTY trailer? Does it need to be dead flat as long as hitch down force is right (about 600 to 700 lbs loaded, but maybe 200 lbs empty)?

    Do people worry about nose up on empty trailers from tow vehicle hitch height? Ought I do that anyway? Is it a “Hit up Tractor supply and drop the $50″‘ thing, or a pita and $200?

    I am quite happy to buy one of those drop hitch gizmos that plugs in the draw bar socket and provides a movable draw bar socket to the trailer side. Mostly I’m just trying to not buy a dozen things that look cool but are a waste of time and money. My inclination is to just “buy them all”…

    But this is a dual axle trailer, so any nose lift also reduces load on the first axle, increases it on the 2nd. But when empty that “load lift” moving toward the rear is trivial. And when full I think the ride height will shift downward. But by 4 inches?…

    Am I worrying about nothing, or is it just “Shut up and go buy the drop hitch toy anyway. Always good to have one..” ?

  16. mkelly says:

    It is a “shut up and buy the drop hitch” situation. Depending on speed the upward force on the trailer from the air would put some extra stress on the ball and hitch.

    Level is better.

  17. NickF says:

    You probably remember this from previous trailer experiences. Please ensure that:

    1. Appreciably more than half your cargo weight is forward of the trailer’s axle.

    2. The trailer’s load is bottom-heavy. This tends to occur anyway since you don’t want heavy items to crush lighter ones.

    Unfavorable weight distribution leave the trailer unstable while in motion. It will start swinging like a pendulum behind your vehicle. Bad things ensue.

  18. Ossqss says:

    A 4″ drop hitch/ball mount is pretty inexpensive, $50ish. An adjustable one is not so cheap.

    Make sure you have a large enough Crescent wrench or standard wrench to loosen/tighten that nut. I think I bought a 1 and 1/8″ or 1 and 1/4″ box end wrench. It worked much better than the Crescent I had (was longer for leverage).

  19. E.M.Smith says:

    OK, so “just go buy it” it is… wonder if Harbor Freight is open …

  20. Ossqss says:

    Lowes, Walmart, Home Depot all carry them EM.

  21. E.M.Smith says:

    Also looks like Amazon has a dozen different kinds. Though I’ll likely get one at Harbor Freight or Northern Tool. I’m looking for one of those LED Light things that tells you the tow vehicle wiring is right (anywhere from about $10 to $100 on Amazon) so that the ML diagnostics become easier ( I’m going to still try to fix it, just not quickly…). So I’ll be visiting them anyway. Oh, and Tractor Supply too ;-)

    More “toys & tools” ;-)

  22. H.R. says:

    @Ossqss – Was that a metric or SAE Crescent wrench?

    @E.M. – Check the load and speed rating on your tires. There’s a reason those Y’all Hauls have 55 mph max speed; cheap-@$$ tires not rated over 55 mph.

  23. E.M.Smith says:

    Side Note: Put the Expedition in 4×4 high and 4×4 low modes. Backed it up a dozen feet in 4 low with the trailer on. All seems to work. It has a 4 All Wheel mode too; probably for cruising in the rain ;-) and snow… Interesting that you change modes via a rotary switch on the dash. I presume some big actuator motor is moving mechanical linkages on the transfer case…

    The “rig” is now on a flatter bit of lawn. Still has the rise in front. There was a small chance some of it was the truck on higher dirt than the trailer. So now I can get a second, somewhat better, measure on the “tilt” of the trailer. I’ll either put it all on flat asphalt to measure before I buy a fixed drop, or I’ll just get an adjustable drop hitch and ball.

    Both truck and trailer still need to be insured and registered and a plate put on them, so it will be a while before I do any road testing with them 8-{ as I need to get the Tax Papers Run / Load out of the way on a fast schedule.

    Oh Well. Is what it is. OTOH, I get to have my old West Coast Mechanic take a look at the ML electrical and see if he can fix it.

    I think I need to make a “Trailer Kit Box”… I’ve got not one, but 2 draw bars with balls (one I found in the spare tire area of the ML. UHaul brand and one ball of some size. Then the solid bar / 3 ball I bought for about $100 at Tractor Supply w/ 16000 lb capacity … as a “forever” buy). Then there’s both the flat 4 and round 7 RV LED Bypass adapters, and the BlueTooth (Echo?) Brake Controller in round 7 RV. Add a circuit tester and yet another hitch in the drop hitch, and it’s starting to be a lot… and could use a box… or 2…

    I suspect that when I get a small fishing boat, their will be another thing or three to add to such a box.

  24. E.M.Smith says:


    Yeah, noticed that all trailer tires were only 55 rated. Then you see all these trailers doing 70+ and it makes a fella wonder.

    So I’m going to look up these tires before I hit the road.

    Not really worried as I’m intending to stay 65 or below just for fuel cost issues anyway (and it isn’t like I’m going through Death Valley in August on the heat load…).

    I did also get a spare tire with the trailer. Need to make sure my lug wrench fits it…

    Going out empty will be a non-issue anyway due to very low heat load; but the coming back loaded through the desert could “have issues”.

    When I was a kid, we just put old car or pickup tires on the farm trailers. The idea of dedicated trailer tires with a 55 limit is just odd… IF it turns out to be “an issue”, I’ll likely just get new car / truck tires put on it on the 2nd or 3rd load… OTOH, as I’m hoping to be done in 3 max, maybe I’ll just keep it slow and not sweat the extra time. 54 hours vs 43. Call it 11 hours each way, or one driving day. Three total (hopefully max…) Then, in California all trailers are 55 limit anyway, so 800 miles of the trip is stuck at 55 anyhow.


    I’m hoping to just dawdle along and enjoy the ride. The only “time pressure” is the tax year docs, and that will be done in the ML at 85 MPH crossing Texas ( a full 1/3 of the trip and with 80 MPH speed limits 8-0 ! ). With the trailer and 55, I’m thinking scenic route on back 2 lane highways… like maybe highway 90? that goes from near El Paso to Florida… Otherwise I’m on I-10 with semi-trucks passing me at 90 while I’m doing 60 or less… But “We’ll see”. I may find I don’t mind going slow on I-10 on cruise control, but that the stop / start through small towns is killing me…

  25. E.M.Smith says:

    Oh, and H.R.:

    I have both an S.A.E. and a Metric Crescent Wrench. One very old. The metric one newer… I also have both S.A.E. and Metric screw drivers! Again, old and new… Pliers too, now that I think about it. Some about 50 years old and S.A.E. …

  26. E.M.Smith says:

    I have corrected an error in the posting. I’d talked about 2/10 ths inch flat spot on the tire. Using my tire tread gauge today, I was reminded that metric goes in 1/10 but the American units side goes by 1/32 inch. So that was 2/32 to 3/32.

  27. H.R. says:

    @E.M. – The tires on my 5th wheel are 10-ply speed rated to 70 mph. I only drive at 65 mph and stick to the right.

    On the old travel trailer, I started replacing the factory tires with 10-ply load and speed rated tires (then sold the rig, dammit!). IIRC, they were about $40-ish more, so I looked at it as $160 for peace of mind.

    BTW, you wouldn’t be the only one in Florida with two sets of tires. I see lots of lifted trucks with highway tires on for daily driving, and it is obvious the set-up is for wide, low-pressure tires for beach duty. Said tires are presumably back home in the garage. I’m pretty sure you’ve seen your share of that.

    So don’t go with some hybrid, multi-purpose tires if you are going with two sets. Go with some grabbers and then some highway tires, eh?

  28. Carmichael, J. says:

    RE: flat-spotted tires & harmonics…how old are the truck shocks? If they’re OEM, they’re probably weak enough on damping to allow wheel hop, and wheels can hop from harmonics without it being visible. That usually occurs at speeds a great deal higher than those found on highways, but…. And, if the shocks came on the truck they almost certainly need to be replaced by now anyway..

    Preps for a long road trip should, probably, include balancing all 5, if for no other reason that knowing they’re balanced. Whatever you replace them with whenever you do it, be ruthless on “balance and rotate every 5K” and follow the same 5-tire rotate configuration each time. makes a big difference on how long the set will last.

    RE: General Grabbers. I’ve got a set, only have about 4K on them but I like them. Only slightly noisier than the Michelin M/S that were on it. Haven’t tried them yet in Deep Goo (we have high clay content here) but they perform well in heavy rain and loose dirt. As to how long they’ll last, I’ll find that out over time.

    FYI, AlGore’s InterTubes are your friend on tire prices; I found the Grabbers super cheap on The Zon, and there’s a hyper link on Discount Tires’ web site for “have you found a cheaper price.” Filled in the form, they responded within an hour to match the price, which was $45 each less than their posted price for the Grabbers. (there’s a DT place 2 miles away and if there was a problem, resolving it F2F is better than begging for relief with emails). I don’t know what other tire places may have the price match thing, check the websites. Pro Tip: If you find a real deal, buy 6 – 4+spare+one more, they won’t get cheaper over time, and maybe not even available at all. I’m still trying to figure how to include #6 in the 5-tire rotate config, I’ll probably just add whichever one is #6 as the spare and move one of the rears to the garage to await its turn in the rotate schedule. Pro Tip: deflate mounted tires to about 4 PSI for storage, and extra points for using N2 instead of “wet air”.

    My 4WD truck came with alloy wheels on the ground and a steel spare, few years back I bought 2 more alloys and a few steels to make a set of 4 steels, the 6th Grabber is on an alloy ready to go if needed; the used Michelins went on the steel wheels (they were 11 years old but only half worn) and 2 of them got snow chains. Those sit in the garage aired-up and ready in case we get ice or really bad snow because I can swap wheels in <5 minutes with a cordless 1/2" impact and a floor jack, toss the unchained pair in the bed.

    RE: chains – many years ago I discovered on the grandparents' farm that a 2WD pickup with V-bar chains works fairly well in Deep Goo, and a set of wider cheapo tires on spare rims – that fast swap thing again – can be real handy. Drive the streets to the gate, swap for the chained mudders, etc. FYI, chains that fit the street size correctly will fit a wider but same diameter tire, the "retaining ring" of chain just rides higher on the tire, and in the Goo 25 MPH is about as fast as I ever went. The wide tire helps to lessen the sinking in and the chains provide the bite. Never hurts to A) leave an extra 2 links when fitting chains for the street tires, and B) make up a set of "extension links with S hooks" for the chains to accommodate temporary use on larger diameter tires.

    Find a jack that will pick up the truck fully loaded and stash it onboard somewhere, almost certainly the jack that came with the truck won't do it. I keep a glued-together double 3/4" plywood "jack plate" under the passenger seat (used to live in Florida where jacking a truck just pushes the jack into the sand) and a 2.5 ton low-profile scissors jack (my truck weighs 4600 empty but I'm figuring I have to jack up only one corner at a time) because when a tire is flat the truck sits lower (duh). Round the cornes on the jack plate so it slied under the seat easier and drill 13/32 holes about 1.25" in from each corner for 3/8" dia 12" long landscape spikes to anchor the plate if needed. If you have a High Lift, drill corresponding holes in the plate to anchor it and carry bolts and wing nuts.

    Carry the usual road gear on trips – 30 ft 10K tow strap (I use a 30 ft Bubba Rope), shovel (GI folding shovels work fine), a tree saver strap (use on trees or around axles if there's no other hookup point). I keep a shackle hitch receiver with a D-ring on it in the hitch most of the time, and put it behind the seat when I'm towing, the truck has a pair of hooks on the front. FYI, differentials are a lot weaker in reverse than forward, so pulling someone out, or having them pull you out, in reverse can blow the diff.

  29. E.M.Smith says:

    Well, that was a surprise…

    Tire Rack looks like it is no longer a Low Cost Seller.

    The local Tire Kingdom had better prices on a set of Grabbers. They also can do a full brake and suspension evaluation. So that’s on the cards for about 2 weeks from now.

    Very Surprising. I guess Tire Rack got too popular and started to exploit it.

    Rims were a fright too. Like over $150 each for the cheap ones. (Not that I want to “go cheap”, but was looking for simple iron and they had fancy aluminum… Walmart had a variety of iron rims at prices as low as $85 ) So that flags Walmart as low price provider and Tire Rack as just not. NOTE: I’m not using this to plan nor buy cheap ass tires or rims. I am only using it to find the low cost provider of products. Tire Rack also had a lot of “Ugly” “Designer” complicated rims for showing off, not simple rims for chains in the snow …

    It also looks like the rims are shared between F150 pickups, Lincoln Navigator, and an E-something van. 6 hole rims. (The F250 looks like 8 hole). So I could also just find someone selling off some old F150 rims / tires if I wanted.

    That’s curiously comforting. The idea that any old hole in the wall town with Ford Pickups is a source of parts… It’s been a long time of driving the Mercedes and dealing with unobtainium parts…

    Now I need to find out what is the biggest tire that fits on the body. Since once the freeway time is done, I intend to take the Expedition fishing down dirt roads or on sand beaches, I want tires that have lots of extra volume / capacity and can be aired down so as to not sink into the sand… and with nice luggy tread. I’m fond of the General Grabber A/TX as an idea, but the Tire Kingdom guy asserted the NITTO equivalent was best at not getting stuck in sand. So some more research needed.

    Experience stories appreciated.

    I had something like 3 sets of rims in excess of those on my Mercedes. Found a lot of convenience in being able to swap sets of tires. ( I also had 3 cars that took the same rims, so lots of tires that could be swapped around…) One of them steel rims for rough use. I think I’m down to just one spare set in storage now.


    Here in Florida, things rust. While easy to keep steel painted off the car: I’m thinking some non-designer aluminum rims in “sturdy not pretty” design goal might be better for off road use / storage. Is that true, or self deluding?

    So, as of now, I’m thinking of getting a set of “simple sturdy lower cost Aluminum rims” for the Expedition and a set of “very good in sand” tires on them. Price looks like between $170 and $200 a tire. Rims TBD but low end about $100, maybe up to $180. Probably have Tire Kingdom do the deed. No idea when, but after some more looking around at options and suppliers.

  30. Ossqss says:

    You will find lots of cheap rims at junkyards, Craigs list, and probably on the Facebook marketplace thing.

  31. E.M.Smith says:

    Well that’s at least part of the problem…

    Just doing a quick tread depth check, not fully complete yet. The two rear tires have at least a 1/32 variation with 7/32 and 8/32 around the outer perimeter tread gully. I’ll need to come back and do the rest of the tread bar valleys.

    The Passenger Rear looks to be a “leaker”. Pressure is down from when I parked it.

    Then the Driver Side Front has one spot where inside valley is 6/32 and then the two coming toward the outside next to it are a short 9/32 and then a tall 9/32 (so about a 1/64 variation between them).

    Have not checked the other front, nor across all the ribs on the rears. BUT, it’s pretty clear that at least the Driver Front “has issues” and is likely junk.

    I would suspect an incipient tread separation since it looks like a locally contained small rise (bubble?) but I need to measure the whole round to know for sure; BUT at 90 degrees to the 6/32 spot, it is 8/32 in the same groove…

    So, OK, I’d allowed ‘About $1000 for “tire issues” when I bought it’. So “new tires it is”. These are 265 / 70 / 17 so not usable on any other car I’ve got. The implication being that all 4 must be tossed even if just the one is screwed up. It is possible the other 4 are “OK”. Then I also need to inspect the spare. (Not checked date codes yet either, so there’s that…) As this is a 4 x 4 (though not an all wheel all the time) I ought to have all 4 matched diameter. I suppose I could just administratively leave it in 2 wheel all the time and run 1 or 2 / 32 inch difference tires unless I’m in snow; but… not liking that idea.

    So now the “question” comes down to “new tires on these rims” or just “get a set of offroad rims with rugged tires”… and deal with these rims / tires later. I suspect that will be left for a couple of weeks from now at the Tire Kingdom dealer inspection…

    Basically, as I figured, some combo of Tires, Alignment, Balance, Steering & Suspension work needed. (Perhaps spindle / bearings but I doubt it, steering feels tight and determinant – i.e. no wander or wobble).

    I’m voting for “Tires, balance & alignment”, but if other stuff is needed; it will get done too.

    That 3/32 difference over about 2 inches is, I think, pretty definitive for a “tire problem”…

  32. E.M.Smith says:


    Just hitting Craig’s List the top posting was 4 rims w/ tires (1/2 tread) for $200.

    That’s without any further looking at all, BTW. So a pretty easy find.

    I think 4 rims with tires for the price of one new rim (that looked lousy IMHO, lots of spindly spiky aluminum “decorative” in the spokes…) would be fine with me. Even if the tires were junk. (And yes, I’d look for rim rash and or bent lips and other indications of a BUNG! in their past…)

    But that’s for a couple of weeks from now. Since LOTS of folks buy aftermarket “show” rims and dump their stock rims, I figure a lot will be floating around.

  33. E.M.Smith says:

    Ah, good news! The trailer tires are speed rating “L” (that I’d never seen before) and good for 75 MPH. Nice to see that! And radials, not bias ply.

    Ridgeway Sport ST: ST205/75 R 15 6PR/101 – 97L LH001 Load Rating C
    Single 1820 lbs
    Dual 1810 lbs
    @50 PSI.

    I think that 6PR is 6 Ply Radial. Then the 97L ought to be speed rating L. I think.

    So 3640 per axle
    and 7280 per set of 2 axles. Trailer rated to 7000 lbs, so 280 margin on the tires.

    So, OK, the trailer tires are keepers. I’m not interested in towing a trailer over 75 MPH and not going to load it 280 lbs over the trailer rated capacity anyway.

    OK, I think the tires are “sorted” ;-) New shoes for the Expedition, the trailer is OK as is.

  34. Josh from Sedona says:

    Steel rims are a lot more forgiving off-road, catch a rock just right you can take a chip out of an aluminum rim lip, you’ll just bend a steel one and you can bang a steal one back in shape with that sledgehammer ,aluminum not so much

  35. Ossqss says:

    Nice find EM. Looks like one of the tires is fairly new of the 3 different type tires there.

  36. E.M.Smith says:

    Well, the surprises keep on coming… but none of them too bad.

    I lowered the trailer to level after measuring to the hitch frame. It’s about a 4 inch drop to level (within maybe 1/2 inch given grass variation issues…).

    Visiting Tractor Supply, ACE, Lowe’s & Home Depot:

    LOTS of 5000 lb 2″ receiver, 2″ to 4″ drop bars. 7000+ not so much, they were ALL 2 1/2″ receiver IIRC…
    Except one 7500# CURT 2″ receiver at ACE… that was a 2 inch drop. Sigh.

    So, OK. I have time to order from Amazon or eTrailer or some such.

    Next up, went to get a key duplicated. Turns out that despite not having a “clicker”, the key has a “chip”… Neither Lowe’s ($75), nor Home Depot (didn’t ask) had the blank. ACE had the blank ($99) but said they needed the car there to program it. So no key for me today…

    FWIW, I don’t like to drive cross country without a spare key…

    So a couple of steps forward (in terms of knowing what will not work) and closer to “what to get to make it work”…

  37. Paul Maeder says:

    E.M., I’m guessing that since you found out that your key has a chip, you now realize you do have an anti-theft lockout system. In case you haven’t, here’s a Wiki link:

    I found out the hard way that my 2004 Ford Ranger has that system. Went bad while I was at the local dump with a full load of trash in the back.

  38. catweazle666 says:

    When fitting tyres on used steel rims, instead of using the customary soapy water I found it advantageous to apply a coat of paint on the rim where the tyre seats before inflation.
    Not only does it preclude the common tendency for minor irregularities to lead to slight leakage, it also prevents the the rim rusting onto the bead, thus making bead breaking less of a pain when the tyre needs to come off again, there may be slight adhesion due to the paint but not close to that caused by a rusty rim.

  39. Terry Jackson says:

    The trailer needs to be level, perhaps a bit nose down, and Never nose high. Try an RV dealer for the 2 inch drawbar with the right drop, or a trailer shop, and have them install the correct ball. They will have the right tools.

    Loading the trailer, you likely have a 3500lb capacity tongue jack.. Do Not overload the front of the trailer to exceed the capacity of the jack. 7,000lb trainer should ne around 2,000lb tongue weight, or less. Pay attention to the angles at the rear of the truck, headlights pointing to the sky will make driving a challenge. Have a great trip.

  40. H.R. says:

    Yeah, go ahead and get an offroad set of tires for the beach, E.M. ;o)

  41. jim2 says:

    The NWS is calling for an epic snow storm out west and to the north.

  42. Ed Forbes says:

    I will NEVER go with light weight alloy rims anymore.
    I purchased a car with alloy rims and was being towed within 3 hrs of driving off the lot.
    Hit a pot hole that steel wheels would sneer at and dented the wheel to the point of a blowout. Immediately ordered a set of steel wheels and matching tires to replace.
    Tires and rims are not safety items to scrimp on.

  43. another ian says:

    A friend had a neighbour who bought a new Ford Falcon ute with fancy wheels and low profile tyres. His first trip home cost him a wheel and tyre and about $A1000.

  44. barkerjim says:

    May want to take a snow shovel on the trip. Maybe buy a bunch and sell them?

  45. E.M.Smith says:

    After a marathon drive back, I’m home and the ML is unloaded.

    I’ve had a real home cooked meal, and a night in a real bed. Heaven!

    Still having a bit of “sleep deprivation hangover”. Some long time ago (decade+) I learned that I got more miserable for each day “on the road” crossing the country. Largely this was due to a combination of “The Hotel Horrors” and that over time, “Oh Bother” becomes “Oh Crap”.

    Now for most folks, a hotel is a welcome relief. For me, it’s rolling the dice on misery. I react badly so some cleaners (especially the scented stinky ones) and often end up with bright red itchy and even mild pain in the eyes at 4 AM… and for the next day. Needless to say, after a few dozen of those at $50 to $150 each: you can sour on hotels…. Not to mention the potential for noises and more…

    In general, I found that for each day removed from the Cross Continent Run, the quality of life improved.
    5 days of Ham Sandwiches was worse than just 3.
    5 days of no internet was worse than just 3.
    5 days stuck on the freeway was worse than just 3. Etc.

    So it goes.

    Now I do a marathon 3 1/2 day run, then a recovery day. Only the last 1/2 day tends to be a hardship. But by then you have the anticipation of The End Soon.

    More when I get more awake ;-0

    I’ve done a quick scan of the comment queues, and need to respond to several, but now I have internet … so a bit of coffee and a news cycle and I’ll get to it.

    In general, this run was enlightening in a few ways. Mostly that the escape from California definitely was A Good Thing. It was a tiny bit of “nostalgia” being back, but a big serving of “I want to be home in Florida fast”.

    Listening to NPR / BBC (often the only “news” on in middle of nowhere) was a mix of fascination and OMG. I spent hours ticking off the propaganda techniques in use. Omitting key counter points. Stating a small (sometimes microscopic) truth as proving an entire ocean of On Side Belief.. For example: One “story” asserted that J6 was clearly all about The Return Of The Confederacy & Segregation. (This on a story about why it was imperative to erase all Confederate Names from military bases). No mention at all of the need to bind the nation together again (the original reason for the names & more) by recognizing each other as Americans. No mention of Federalism vs Con-Federation issues (also the original issue leading to the split. Yes, slavery was AN example of States Rights, but it ran deeper and wider). So NPR & BBC have clearly gone 100% “Woke Crazy”. We have to abuse people based on race to eliminate racial injustice? OK… We have to forget our history in order to render the present pure… OK… We have to eliminate discussion of nuance, detail, and historical context to improve our understanding… OK…

    Oh Well. Stupid is as stupid does.

    There’s hope that the ML will now diagnose easier. The Turbo cut-out reached near 100% of the time on the trip back. It worked for about 3 minutes after each fresh start. Sometimes just one accelerate up the ramp. The good news is that the car would cruise at 85 without it. The bad news is that on any hill it was a struggle like driving a ’70s VW Microbus. So I’d downshift with the paddle shifters… and on some hills got down to 60… or 50… and one was 45 MPH up the hill.

    It will now be relegated to “Grocery Wagon” and local use only. At least until a fix is found. It did get between 24 and 27+ MPG (this for a 3000 lb car loaded with another maybe 1000 lbs of stuff doing 70 to 85 MPH), so there’s that.

    The FORD will get “new shoes” and a visit to the shop for inspection and any needed repairs. Likely a couple of weeks and I can try another trip, with trailer in tow.

    And yes, I’m aware (now) that it has a ‘security system’ in it. My Bad for thinking what looked like a regular key was one, when it was not. But it looks like the “chip” is entirely passive (no button or battery in a fob) which were the major failings in the Mercedes key / fob. Also not a lot of postings saying how to rip it out (like the horror stories of the Jeep / Dodge module bricking cars…); so I’m not too worried. But I’ll be more careful “next time” to not make assumptions about keys.

    Well, that’s enough for now. Time to find that coffee pot ;-)

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