Exhaust Brake - Modern pickups feature integrated exhaust brake systems, typically controlled through the position schedule of a variable geometry turbocharger. In such vehicles, exhaust braking is accomplished by closing the turbine vanes, effectively choking the engine and increasing exhaust backpressure. For those who own trucks that do not have a factory integrated exhaust brake, it’s an addition that you may want to consider if you tow regularly. Aftermarket exhaust brakes utilize a butterfly valve to reduce the area of the turbine outlet, increasing exhaust backpressure and effectively using the pressure to work against the engine. Exhaust brakes extend the life of your standard vehicle brakes, increase the overall braking force available, and help maintain safe speeds during long, steep descents. For their convenience, safety factor, and relatively low cost, they’re a great modification for tow rigs.
Aftermarket Exhaust System - A free-flowing, aftermarket exhaust system for your diesel will increase the responsiveness of your turbo, reducing lag and increasing torque under many conditions. In addition, a free flowing exhaust system can help reduce exhaust gas temperatures, which tend to spike on the high side while towing. Upgrading your factory exhaust system is a simple, cost effective modification that is easily justifiable for anyone who tows a trailer.
Air Intake System & Aftermarket Plenum/Air Horn - Towing isn't necessarily all about power, but upgrading your air intake system reduces pumping losses and improves overall performance. Additionally, installing an aftermarket air intake system and upgrading the factory air horn/intake plenum can reduce exhaust gas temperatures and improve turbocharger response. As an added benefit, many aftermarket filter assemblies are reusable, possibly saving money on disposable filters in the long run.
Air Bags/Air Ride Suspension - Air bags are a must-have modification for those who travel down the road at or close to their pickup’s GCWR. Positioned between the frame and rear leaf springs, the air bags allow the spring rate to be adjusted by inflating or deflating the airbag. This allows the vehicle to remain level once loaded, improves ride quality while towing, and allows the spring rate to be adjusted accordingly to accommodate different loads. These setups range from economical, where airbags are inflated manually using an external source, to self-contained systems in which airbag pressure is controlled by vehicle mounted equipment.
Increase Differential & Transmission Fluid Capacity - Heat is your drivetrain’s worst enemy. Exposure to high temperature over extended periods will cause oil to break down and lose its material properties. One answer to combating heat in transmissions and differentials is the installation of larger pans. A larger or “deep” pan increases fluid capacity, and in many instances these products use materials that more efficiently dissipate heat, potentially saving your drivetrain and protecting it from the extreme environments experienced while towing.
Mild Tow Tunes - Modern diesels have an extremely high performance potential with the addition of a tuner/programmer. However, for an all-out tow rig, it’s best to err on the conservative side. Many tuners don’t recommend towing using their “Extreme”, “Performance”, or “Race” tunes, but there are many devices centered around providing a safe increase in horsepower and torque for those who’d like a little extra grunt while towing. In addition, fuel economy can often be increased while towing when using a proper tune.
Water Injection - EGTs often reach levels that can make drivers nervous while towing long steep grades. One cure is water injection, which sprays water into the intake of the engine to cool the intake air charge. Water injection essentially acts as a secondary intercooler available at the push of a button or per-programmed to activate as needed. Intercooling the intake charge reduces EGTs, allowing you to stay on the accelerator on long grades. For towing applications, it is typically advised to avoid methanol injection, which may have a greater tendency to detonate under load; stick to pure distilled water just to be safe.
Monitor Vitals with Pillar/Dash Gauges - It’s anyone’s guess why diesel pickups do not come factory equipped with a pyrometer. A set of aftermarket gauges, or at the very least a pyrometer, is a must have item for those who tow frequently. Many will find that a boost and transmission temperature gauge (if not factory equipped) are well worth the investment as well. Having the ability to monitor engine vitals may help identify problems before they compound.
Aftermarket Lift Pump w/ Integrated Auxiliary Filter - A lift pump delivers fuel from the tank to the injection or high pressure pump. Many model year diesel pickups have problematic factory lift pumps, which can leave you stranded and even cause damage to an injection pump due to fuel starvation. The answer is an aftermarket lift pump, and there are no shortage of high quality, OEM alternatives on the market that feature an integrated auxiliary fuel filter/fuel-water separator. Such pumps add an unrivaled layer of protection and reliability.
Switch to Synthetic Oils & Fluids - Synthetic fluids and oils are far superior to conventional, petroleum based fluids. Synthetic oil features superior protection against thermal, mechanical, and chemical breakdown in addition to providing greater properties as a lubricant. If you tow frequently, consider synthetic oils and fluids for your transmission, differentials, and engine.