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2006 Ford Explorer and 2005 Frontier SUV

Ford 2006 Explorer, 2005 Frontier, Xterra, SUV’s and Trailers

Flying into Lake Placid New York reminds me of home, where there is no tower, no radar, just taking turns landing on an air strip hoping deer are somewhere else. But the scenery there was a great place to drive the new 2006 Ford Explorer. It’s always amazed me how many #1’s Ford has. The Explorer was born in 1991 and has been the #1 selling SUV ever since. That makes 15 years straight, even through some bumpy years, nobody has taken the title. Explorer is also a popular tow vehicle with trailer capacity increased 10% to 7300#’s  for 2006. The nose is different with some resemblance to it’s cousin Range Rover. A new 6-speed automatic transmission and a variable cam 3-valve 4.6L V-8 adds 53 horse power and improves fuel economy by 10%. 2006 Ford Explorer and 2005 Frontier SUV


The new boxed frame is 55% stiffer, which allows more suspension tuning options as well as strength. Ford has done a better job of a clean undercarriage, with nothing hanging below the frame. Two receiver hitches are offered, a class II and Class III/VI, both welded to the frame. With the stiffer, stronger boxed frame, more squeaks and rattles are eliminated, contributing to the quietest Explorer ever. The new mirrors look better, are larger and deflect noise better. Better insulation and air flow management in and out the engine all lower noise.

Ford sponsored the Ironman Triathlon in Lake Placid in July. We saw some of the cyclist practicing on the winding roads in the Adirondack mountain range. A lot like driving to Estes Park CO on the weekend, weaving around the bikes on the two lane winding road. The new 06 Explorer has a better ride, quieter, more powerful and a cheaper sticker price than the 05 by $1750. The latest strategy to wean us off rebates, is lowering the sticker price to get you closer where you’d be by negotiating hard. Less markup, less profit for dealers, I guess we’re heading for “one price” again. The 4.0L V-6 base engine mated to a 5-speed auto, is a champion for low emissions. 74% lower emissions than last years V-6, equals the emissions rating of the Ford Hybrid Escape.

The 4.6L V-8 3-valve has aluminum heads and cast block producing 292 horsepower and 300 lb-ft of torque. It comes with the new 6-speed automatic transmission with double overdrives and a wide range of gear ratios which the computer controls for performance or fuel efficiency depending on the load it senses. The only axle ratio offered is 3.55. As someone who tows trailers, I was happy to see the 3.73 and sometimes 4.10 axle ratios in the past, but with $2 gas it’s easy to see what compromises have to be made in this trend. Another trend is sealed transmissions, once again I’m not a fan. I like dipsticks and being able to check tranny oil level myself. But not with the new Explorer, like many newer cars, you’ll have to take it in for service when your owners manual says it needs checked. Then your mechanic will have to pull the plug on the tranny next to the catalytic converter and stick his/her dipstick in while the engine is running. Oh well, I suspect some consumers don’t check the tranny oil anyway, probably the ones in the Ford focus group.

Ford is ahead of the curve on safety. Which is where buying Volvo is paying off. The “in accident” collapsible steering wheel is from the Volvo SC90 which with seat sensors decides your size, if your seat belt is on, crash severity and how to protect you with the right amount of impact from the air bag.  10 standard safety features includes Roll Stability Control from Volvo to prevent accidents, just one of the long list of safety features making the Explorer meet known Federal safety requirements through 2010. Ford has designed the 06 Explorer to protect your whole body, what a concept. There is a 4″ thick foam in the door to protect your hips and side to side railing under the floor as well as frame inside of frame to keep you surrounded in a steel cage. Even the arm rest and door trim have a targeted part of your body they protect.

The Explorer first had an independent rear suspension in 2002. This is what allowed the room for a 3rd row seat with the differential bolted to the frame and the half-shafts going through the frame for a lower profile. Trailing arms control the rear suspension, replacing the wishbone style of last year. Independent Rear Suspension gives a softer ride and better traction but also allows more movement with a trailer. Another good reason for using a weight distributing hitch. I’ll have more towing info this fall.

Somebody said “free Adirondack Root Beer float” and all the Explorers magically stopped. My first time to New York and it’s all trees and lakes. Some of the interior such as the pole shifter, are similar to the new F150 which introduced the 3-valve variable cam timing engine.

 Great views in Lake Placid, the Explores are taking it in.

 Heavier control arms  05 mirror on left, 06 right.

Does it look a little like a range rover?


05 Nissan Frontier and Xterra

In the Texas hill country near Austin, I climbed rocks with the redesigned more powerful Nissan Frontier mid-size truck and Xterra SUV. During the rainy season you can take your chopper or your Frontier to pull the cows out of the river. I figured out why the trees didn’t grow very tall, rocks, rocks and rocks. Which is good with the November flood season filling in the low spots in the roads. Even drove through Luckenbach Texas, but didn’t see Willie Nelson. Did see a bunch of bats in Austin flying out of a bridge on the (Texas) Colorado River. Back to trucks, Nissan gave both the Frontier and Xterra a larger 4.0L V-6 with more room and longer wheel bases. The Frontier is now more like big brother the Titan, sharing its boxed frame rails. You will see boxed frames in all trucks someday. The nose of the Frontier is more refined and balanced than the Titan. I hope the future Titans have less nose chrome. The previous Frontiers had plastic cladding and looked like a transformer toy. Great improvement all around here.

All new from the frame up. The Frontier is over engineered, using the Titan 5-speed automatic transmission, Dana 44 rear axle and frame rails. With the most horsepower in the midsize class, the Frontier sits low with great off-road capability. You can get 16″ or 17″ tires. Another technical advancement, you will see more of, is the variable intake cam on the Frontier and Xterra 4.0L for more torque and better emissions. I like the folding passenger seat for my laptop. And you think people driving using cell phones are dangerous, wait till you see me driving and reading email.

Awesome off road Nismo package with electronic locking rear differential, 4-wheel limited slip, Hill Descent Control, Hill Start Assist, Bilstein shocks and Dual throttle mapping when using low range. Vehicle Dynamic Control keeps you going in the intended direction when the road has other ideas. Transfer case and driveline is tucked up above the frame for great protection. Hill Descent Control uses ABS, torque converter lockup and controls throttle to keep truck at 3.5 mph without input from you. You can speed it up, great for rock climbing. Hill Start Assist  will hold the truck still when you stop for a couple seconds.

Wishbone front suspension instead of the strut that’s common to this size of truck, allows more room in the engine compartment. Longer rear leaf springs and longer wheelbase improve the ride over last years model.

Big improvement over the previous model in size, power and looks with the 4.0L 265 HP 284 torque on both Frontier and Xterra, 6500#’s towing with Frontier, 5000# towing with Xterra.  5-speed automatic or 6-speed manual. Wheelbase for the Frontier is 125.9″. The bed on King Cab is 6.1″ and Crew Cab is 5′.

Cargo Management, don’t loose your load when I’m following you.

Utili-Track bed channels, sides, front and floor are great. The adjustable cleats adjust to cargo size. With small fines for cargo blowing out of trucks, a lot of folks don’t tie their cargo down. I’m glad to see Nissan address this issue on the Titan in 04 and now the Frontier. The bottom rail comes with a plastic cover when you don’t need it. I tried it on several size cargos and they stayed put. The cleats loosen up easily with a thumb roller.

With over 70 SUV’s to choose from, the loyal group of Xterra owners will be happy to see the changes for the 2005 Xterra. It’s still small enough for the true off-roading with some electronic help as described above on the Frontier. Both the Xterra and Frontier are quieter this year with less wind noise. The lockable lid in roof rack is new too. The step on the rear bumper corner makes loading the roof rack easier. The Xterra is made for camping and off-road exploring with 10 hooks to tie everything down. Utili-Trak on the rear vinyl floor with 2 channels and adjustable cleats.The recognizable bump on the rear tailgate as before is for the first aid kit. The second row seats back pops out, you know, they tell you on airlines that your seat cushion is a flotation device. During the Austin flood season, it might come in handy. With the front folding passenger seat, you have 9 ft inside for your ladder so you can measure the water crossing the road on Thanksgiving.. The double doors on the glove box is unique, gives the kids something to do.


SUV’s and Trailers

SUV’s aren’t my first choice as a tow vehicle, but I do understand the economics. Not everyone can afford a truck and a car. And the size, weight and height of a SUV gives you the feeling of safety in traffic. You want that same safety towing a horse trailer by making the right choice matching your trailer and SUV. SUV’s are becoming more popular each year. Recently the smallest Hummer. 2006 H3 Hummer (size similar to GM Trail Blazer) was unveiled at California Auto show in Oct. Who do you think this is targeted at ladies?

SUV’s have such variety and now more diesels are coming. The reason I have a soft spot for diesel SUV’s for a tow vehicle, is the torque that translates to towing power, more so than from a gas engine. That’s why all over the road semi trucks are diesels. And the diesel engine itself weights 600 to 800#’s more than a gas engine, giving a SUV, already hampered by a shorter wheelbase, some leverage. Pickup truck configurations generally have a longer wheelbase than SUV’s, a longer wheelbase can leverage your SUV for better controlling your trailer. For example a Ford Excursion has a wheelbase of 137 inches. and a Ford F250 crew cab long bed has a wheelbase of 172 inches.

Get the biggest and longest SUV is the short answer. The full-size SUV’s have similar frames to trucks and a lot of them are boxed frames instead of C-frame, so they are strong. But you’ve got to get as much wheelbase as you can find. So to pull a trailer similar to a ½ ton truck, (GM, 1500, Dodge 1500, Ford F150, Toyota Tundra,) you need a SUV with a similar weight to a ½ ton truck. This would include Dodge Durango, Ford Expedition, Chevy Tahoe, GMC Yukon, Toyota Sequoia and others. These SUV’s have a “Body on Frame” construction like trucks.

Always look at the vehicles trailer towing limits from the manufacture. Most factory brochures and manufacture web sites will give you the brake down of weight limits and hitch weight limits according to engine size, transmission, and rear axle ratio. For the highest trailer capacity, usually a weight-distributing hitch is required with a receiver hitch, at least class 3 or higher. This is different from a weight carrying hitch, which is just a drawbar inserted into the receiver hitch. The weight-distributing hitch attaches to the trailer tongue with adjustments usually with chain links to transfer weight forward to the SUV, putting weight on all the axles. Yes I have pictures of these hitches, at In cases where the weight distributing hitch adjustment doesn’t take all the sway away when pulling the trailer, a sway bar can be added to the weight-distributing hitch. All this will help you pull level, with weight on all of the axles of the SUV and trailer and less swaying from a bumper pull trailer.

1/2 ton SUV’s have rear coil springs designed to give you a better ride, but this also gives you more rear movement. You don’t want extra movement when pulling a trailer. So it’s even more important to have a weight-distributing hitch on SUV’s with rear coil springs and especially SUV’s with independent rear axles. Independent rear axles are similar to front axle of a front wheel drive car. Each side can move independently of the other. And once again this is to improve the ride and traction with more movement, not necessarily a good thing when pulling a trailer. These independent rear axles need the weight-distributing hitch. Some of the SUV’s with independent rear axle are Mercedes, ML320 and bigger, 2002 plus Ford Explorer, 2003 plus Ford Expedition and more. Always get the factory tow package with your SUV, which should include a class 3 or higher receiver hitch, an external automatic transmission cooler, anti-roll bars or anti-sway bars and a wiring harness. Also make sure both of your trailer axles have brakes and have a good trailer brake controller added to your SUV.

The largest SUV’s are the longest ones that are available in 3/4 tons, which are the Chevy Suburban, GMC Yukon XL and Ford Excursion. These newer models all have leaf springs on the rear axle, which makes them, more stable than smaller SUV’s with rear coil springs. These larger SUV’s will pull similarly to ¾ ton trucks, (Dodge 2500, Ford F250, GM 2500,) they generally don’t have as long a wheelbase as a truck. So once again depending on the total weight of your loaded trailer, a weight-distributing hitch might be necessary. One advantage of the Ford Excursion is the diesel engine option, which will add another 800#’s on the front for stability and balance when pulling a trailer.

Hummers make a surprisingly good tow vehicle, more.

Hummers make a surprisingly good tow vehicle. The H2 with the 4.10 axle ratio, 6.0L High Output gas engine and it’s rear axle so close to the rear bumper, makes a stable towing machine. I’ve towed 7000# trailers with an H2 through high country snowy passes and was impressed. The H1 Hummer called Alpha for 2005.5 now has the GM Duramax diesel and the Allison automatic. This could make a nice expensive SUV towing vehicle.

On shorter wheel based tow vehicles, having some steering weight on the SUV’s front axle, transferred from the trailer with a weight distributing hitch will give you better control and less work on your part.  The newer SUV’s have 4-wheel disc brakes, which can be an advantage slowing down a trailer. And of course you need brakes on the trailer and a brake control in your SUV.  Folks have been pulling horse trailers successfully for decades with the oldest SUV, the Suburban.

If you have to pull with a smaller SUV than mentioned above, in my opinion the Chevy Trail Blazer, Dodge Durango, Toyota 4Runner and Ford Explorer and so on are better choices for a tow vehicle with a lighter trailers properly equipped, like 4000#’s and smaller. These SUV’s are also “Body on Frame” design similar to trucks. The Durango and Explorer 2001 and older have leaf springs also. These SUV’s are heavier than the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Toyota Highlander, and smaller SUV’s like Suzuki and Kia.

I get asked my opinion about the Jeep Cherokee pulling trailers quite often. I do see them pulling trailers and it has with the V-8 option the power to pull trailers that out weigh it, but its’ chassis is like a car with a “Unibody” undercarriage. With framed chassis vehicles, “Body on Frame,” the receiver hitch bolts directly to the frame, as do the front and rear axles. The frame takes the stress from the trailer directly and gives you more weight at the bottom of your SUV, a good place to have weight on a SUV. And a weight-distributing hitch can easier transfer some of weight forward to your front axle thru leverage on the frame. On the Jeep “Unibody”, it has sub frames at each axle, which bolt to the floor pan, which is just corrugated sheet metal, so the axles are not tied together with a frame but separated by the floor pan.

The last series of Jeep Cherokee does have some square formed sheet metal welded to the floor pan for added strength but it’s still not a framed chassis with a body bolted to it, as is the “Body on Frame” design. If you notice on the Cherokee you step over the threshold to get in and your feet go down in a hole instead of a flat floor. The floor has to be corrugated, wavy like a barn roof to make it strong since the floor is not bolted to a full frame. Car companies do this “ Unibody” construction to lighten up the vehicles for gas mileage and save money. To add a receiver hitch to the Cherokee, the hitch, bolts to the rear axle sub frame, which in turn bolts to the floor pan sheet metal. So the stress from the trailer goes just to the rear axle sub-frame and the bolts and rubber bushings that connect the axle to sheet metal floor instead of a frame. So as far as I can figure using a weight distribution hitch, (which I strongly recommend,) to distribute weight, (which is what they do) to the front axle, has to leverage the floor pan between the axles.

This is also how the new Honda Ridgeline crossover truck, is built very similar to the frame on the Jeep Grand Cherokee.

The smallest class of SUV’s, such as Ford Escape, Toyota RAV4, and so on, are “Front Wheel Drive” SUV’s. These fall into the same towing category as “Front Wheel Drive” mini- vans. Special receiver hitches are required with any FWD to transfer weight as far forward as possible to the driving axles for traction.

A Unique SUV for towing, which will take another article, is the Suburban 2500 and Yukon XL Quadrasteer. This system changes the pivot point from the rear axle to the middle of the vehicle to dramatically reduce the sway that can come from a trailer. It’s like having a steering axle on your trailer. More details at

The bottom line is you can safely tow the right horse trailer with a properly equipped SUV when it’s matched properly with a receiver hitch, weight distributing hitch, engine, transmission and rear axle ratio, within the weight limit capacity set my the manufacture.

SUV’s fun function and even a safe towing machine when equipped right. Excursion diesel, Hemi Grand Cherokee, Touareg diesel, and the GM Quadrasteers are all bringing excitement to the SUV towing world.

Below is an Equalizer weight distributing hitch. Some horse trailer manufactures come with a place for the wdh in the tongue


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