It seems like on any given weekend we're pulling a boat to some lake, river or reservoir to "test" or photograph something for our magazine. The life of an editorial staff member keeps us on our toes and we wouldn't have it any other way.
For obvious reasons we tend to focus a good portion of our editorial content on the boats. In this issue we also take a look at boat trailers, but what about the tow vehicles that we depend on to get us to the water?
Earlier this summer we came up with an idea to create the ultimate tow vehicle for our needs. Unfortunately, our publisher wasted no time in shooting down our dreams of purchasing a brand new 2012 company truck. We figured the receipt for a new $60K diesel pickup could just be slipped into his next expense report, but he didn't see it that way.
But that didn't discourage us. In fact, it actually gave us the motivation we needed since a lot of boaters are in a similar position and would rather modify an older vehicle instead of be stuck with a hefty truck payment.
We started off with a completely stock 2003 GMC LB7 Crew Cab Short Bed. The great thing about pontoon and deck boats is that you don't need a diesel engine to tow them. This is especially true for pontoon boats. Even though they look big on the trailer, most `toons are around the third of the weight when compared to similar-sized boats.
So we didn't actually need a diesel engine, but to be considered the ultimate tow vehicle we wanted a diesel engine and the truck we selected to modify is powered by a 6.6L Duramax.
Suck it in, spin it up and spit it out. When it comes to diesel engines, air flow plays a huge role. So we started by adding an S&B cold air intake from MKM Customs, a Diamond Eye Off-Road Dual 4-inch exhaust that was installed by SBS Diesel Performance in Salt Lake City, Utah, and a Insight CTS from Edge Products. One of the features we like the most about this Edge unit is you can upgrade to a backup camera, which makes hooking up to your trailer a breeze. We figured if this truck is going to represent us as boating magazine it needs to have those little touches like a backup camera to truly be considered a great tow vehicle.
Edge offers products with tuning already included, but in this case we wanted to do our own custom tune for the truck. We went with EFI Live tuning, but we're still using the Insight for the gauges, plus it will control the EFI Live power levels on the fly. When towing a pontoon or deck boat, especially through the mountains, it's nice to be able to adjust the amount of horsepower to either improve our fuel economy or be able to pass others on steep upgrades. We'll take any advantage we can gain when it comes to towing to our favorie lakes.
Need A Lift?
The majority of the work was done by Moonlight Diesel shop owner Terry Thain and his crew in Logan, Utah. Moonlight has quickly developed a reputation for being the best place to take your diesel truck in northern Utah, and we knew they'd take good care of our truck. Since the truck was stock, we had some ideas to help with the towing capabilities that included adding Superlift's 6-inch lift. Superlift's bracket lift method, first developed in 1999, is still known as the GM system to have. Lowering the factory upper and lower control arms in relation to the frame brings ride height up. By utilizing the factory control arms and torsion bars, we are able to retain stock alignment geometry and ride quality. We also included front and rear sway bars from Hellwig to complete the lift. Sway bars help reduce body roll so you benefit from better vehicle control, which is even more important when you're towing, even a lightweight pontoon. They also greatly improve cornering traction for safer driving and cornering capabilities by distributing weight evenly.
Some trucks handle loads better than others, but we were concerned once we hooked up our boat trailer the GMC might squat a little from the load. So while we were at it we included the Ride-Rite Air Helper Spring Kit from Firestone. Having airbags will help keep our truck level, regardless of the load.
We couldn't just throw the old tires and wheels back on after giving it a lift, right? Even though our accounting department wanted to consider it cosmetic, we able to successfully argue otherwise. Our first call was to American Force Wheels and after a tough decision process we agreed on the polished Burst SS 20-inch wheels. These were a huge upgrade from stock and it instantly gives us credibility.
We matched the new wheels with a set of tires from Mickey Thompson. We picked the Baja ATZ Radial 35x12.50 tires not only for the look, but for the longevity it will give us on our trips back and forth to the lake.
When we were done we couldn't believe the night and day difference between what we started with and what we have now. It truly looks like a whole different truck. But before we could hook up the trailer for a test run, we realized we needed a new hitch, since our old one didn't drop down nearly far enough. For this we contacted Andersen Manufacturing and they recommended the 6-inch drop combo hitch. The greaseless AlumiBall means there's no need to lubricate the tow ball or receiver, which we love. It has a towing capacity of 6,000 pounds with the 2-inch ball and 8,000 pounds with the 2 and 5/16-inch ball and that's plenty for our needs.
With the PDB ultimate tow vehicle now complete, it was time to hook up the trailer and head to the lake, but this time we're riding in style thanks to our upgrade.