Towing with a 2006 Vortec Max

Discussion in 'Chevy Silverado Forum (GMC Sierra)' started by Skippy, Jul 12, 2012.

  1. Skippy

    Skippy New Member

    Hey everyone,

    I joined the forum to add some data to the 2006 Silverado Vortec Max information found on the web. While there are many arguments going around about whether or not the 1/2 truck "should" be used to tow long vehicles, there's a big difference between the 1/2 Silverado, and the 1/2 ton Vortec Max.

    Please note. This is a PERSONAL REVIEW OF THIS VEHICLE. I do not believe, nor advocate that my personal viewpoint is the "end-all" or replaces anyone else's opinion or experience. My experience should not be taken as fact for YOUR vehicle. Conditions are different, vehicles are different, driving habits are different, modifications are different... and most importantly, your personal feeling of safety and what you will tolerate is different! I'm posting this review to add to the wealth of information and opinion this forum provides.


    Most of you will know this, but I'll point out some major differences for folks who come in from the web looking for the 2006 Vortec Max package differences.

    Vortec Max package includes:
    6.0L VHO engine (this is different than the 6.0L HD engine... it provides a touch more power)
    9.5" Semi-Floating 14-bolt Differential
    10,000lb towing capacity (give or take a few depending on your specific configuration)

    I tow a 30-foot Starcraft 309BHU. This thing is 7000lbs dry, and with the 96 gallons of water and loaded with gear, it hangs out right around 9000lbs. It's 33-feet long with the hitch.

    I use a Draw-tite 1200lbs tongue weight weight distribution system (round bar), and use the Draw-tite Dual-cam sway control.

    I was scared spitless when I bought the trailerr. 9000lbs is a LOT of weight. I was very concerned that I would need a new truck if one of two things would occur:

    1) I wouldn't be able to handle the grades (up to 7.5%) in the local mountain range, which is required to be crossed before you get anywhere decent to camp/hunt.
    2) The length of the trailer would be a huge liability for safety, due to the sail-like nature of 30 feet of siding!


    First off, I need to say, not everyone will ever be comfortable towing this length, or weight with a vortec max. If you're that concerned, go buy a bigger truck or a smaller camper.

    Second, my truck is NOT a stock vehicle. It's been modified to add an additional 49 HP, and 80 ft.lbs of torque (Dyno tested). It's got a cold-air intake, cat-back exhaust, performance tune, and more importantly in my book, a fully built transmission (the 4L70e was gutted and all parts were upgraded. The transmission now can handle 600+HP in preparation for a potential supercharger in the future). I've also got a 35,000lb GVWR transmission cooler added to the front of the vehicle (adding almost 2 quarts of additional fluid and significant cooling).

    MY EXPERIENCE:

    1) Power. ZERO problems with power. Yeah, it's a 4 speed transmission, but man that thing is a beast. When I tow, I carry 2 adults, 2 kids, snacks, and I carry a generator and canned gasoline (butted against the cab in the bed) and the trailer. I'm about 1000lbs less than the combined weight rating for the truck/trailer combo. (GVCWR is 16,000 on my truck). When I hit the 6% grade, it's zero problems to maintain a 55MPH speed (right around 4000RPM). The engine temp climbs to about 235 and stays there pretty much permanently up the long grade (3-4 miles). Since the transmission is in the radiator core as well (I added the aftermarket cooler in-line), this is a good gauge of whether or not the transmission temp is continuing to climb. I'll eventually add a transmission temp gauge, but not this year. So.. it's 55MPH up on the 6% grade (the speed limit). The last half-mile of the grade is 7.5% and by the time I get to the top, the speed has dropped to 52MPH (still right around 4000RPM). I imagine if the grade were longer, I'd continue to slow, until it had to drop gears again.

    My buddy with a 1-ton Ford E350 (albiet with the smaller engine) doesn't climb this grade well. He's got the same trailer setup and weight. I lose him after the first mile and he takes an addition 6-8 minutes to get up the 4 miles. This shows that just because you've got a 1-ton, it doesn't mean you have power. If you go with a bigger truck, you might consider a stronger engine, too! The power of the 1/2 Vortec Max makes it easy to pull things. That's only half the story, though.

    2) Towing Safety. I would NEVER want to tow this long of a trailer without sway control. The dual-cam sway control is absolutely amazing. I would also consider it a requirement to tow safely regardless of the truck type. 30 feet is a lot of sail! My buddy is towing his trailer with weight distribution only, and there's a HUGE difference. We went down a stretch of 15 miles with 15-20MPH cross winds. We were traveling 65MPH. (My Vortec Max was on cruise control, no problems, btw) I didn't realize it was windy till we stopped at the gas station at the end of it. He told me he was white-knuckling and had a hard time keeping his trailer in his lane (it would be in one, while he was in the other). With the dual-cam setup (about $200 and about an hour of your time to install), I one handed the steering wheel and had zero noticeable sway. It is simply an amazing experience. Big rigs come by, buses will pass, and the rig is just straight as an arrow. In fact, it tows better than the 19-footer that I had only with weight distribution. The dual cam sway control is a definite for me, for the rest of my life. It's such a huge safety advantage, and just takes the fear out of towing something so long. That and dual sway control also enables me to back-up without having to disengage anything!

    MPG: I average about 9-10MPG towing at rated speeds (never above about 66mph) on the highway, in the mountains, etc. Up the hideous grade, I averaged 6.7MPG (according to the dash readout, which has always been accurate).

    I get 13.5 around town in the winter, and 14.5 in the summer. Two weeks ago, I drove from Boise to Portland, oregon, at highway speeds (no speeding) and got 18.2 MPG, with a family of 4, and 4 suitcases in the bed. Oregon has 65MPH speeds. If I travel 55MPH (lots of highways around here like that) I usually clear 20MPG (around 20.4). If I TOTALLY baby the thing, and lay off the gas whenever possible (and the air conditioner) I can get better than 22MPG at 55 (up and down hills included).

    Ride Control: Lastly, I love the ride control button in the cab. When towing a heavy trailer, the ride-control takes out the bounce. Very nifty feature. Didn't seem to help any until I got over 6000lbs towing, though!

    Summary: This is a VERY capable 1/2 ton truck. I have ZERO personal issues towing 9000lbs (33 feet long) with my truck, but I'd NEVER want to do it without dual-cam sway control. I love the 6.0L engine and the fact it's got a cast-iron bottom (looking forward to adding a supercharger someday). For a truck of this power, the mileage is outstanding, and when towing a heavy load, 9-10MPG is reasonable!

    Cheers,

    Skippy
  2. Skippy

    Skippy New Member

    My most recent trip was with 15,540 pounds (according to the scales). That's 460lbs shy of the max rated combined weight rating. Towed it up a 7% grade at 55MPH on cruise control. LOVE this truck. The fact the powerband is at 4000 RPM makes it possible to tow at higher speeds. I love passing the diesel rigs that are towing similar setups at 35 MPH because their power band is at 1800RPM. ;)

    Cheers!

    _Skippy.
  3. Jimmeh

    Jimmeh New Member

    Very interesting read. What makes that VHO different that the HD version of the 6.0? Maybe I missed it, but is this a crew cab short bed or an extended cab? Is the trailer you're towing a 5th wheel or tongue pull?
  4. ntbush83

    ntbush83 New Member

    Yeah very good write up!! Looks like you have very good success! I'm guessing that built tranny helps a ton
  5. Skippy

    Skippy New Member

    Stock, the VHO has a few extra horsepower, a higher compression and is actually a different engine completely, despite the fact they both displace 6.0 liters. It was pulled out of the Cadillac escapade and first introduced around 2004 in the Silverado line. It's flat top pistols provide a bit extra juice and the iron engine body makes it ideal for super charging (a bit stronger).

    it's an extended cab short bed, pulling a travel trailer. Even with the stronger back end provided with the Vortex Max towing package, it's not really designed for 5th wheels... It IS still just a 1500 after all!
  6. Skippy

    Skippy New Member

    It definitely helps me NEVER with about it being he weak link!. Enabled me to really not worry about upping the horses either. Its now rated for 600 hp if I ever choose to go that route.

    mostly for towing, its the tranny cooler that gets it done.. The firm shifts are very smooth though with the load. That was unexpected bonus.
  7. Skippy

    Skippy New Member

    OK, all. 2nd year towing nearly 10,000 lbs with the 2006 VortecMax package. The Dual Cam Sway Control absolutely is a dream. Drove from Mountain Home, Idaho, to Boise, Idaho (about 45 miles) in nearly 25 mph cross winds and NEVER had the trailer sway. I watched quite a few lighter vehicles get blown around (minivans were scary sights after they'd pass me and the wind would hit them again!) The only time I'd notice a difference was when the wind profile would change as a result of tractor trailers driving by. It took less "correction" on the wheel to go straight. Still, though, when the trailer and vehicle move in a line, it's a very easy control (one handed was the normal driving style... no tight gripping required!) A slight adjustment on the steering wheel was all that was necessary to keep things nice and smooth the whole ride in. For those that know the road, it's a long uphill drive, and I kept the vehicle at right around 62MPH (that was the sweet spot for MPG). The road is 75MPH, which I can go, no problem, but the MPG drops to around 4.9 at that speed... not worth it.

    Running to and from on a 2.5 hour road trip each way, towing nearly 10,000lbs, I averaged 9.2 MPG. That's excellent for the vehicle, and is only .2MPG lower off what the MPG was when towing a 5000lbs 19' trailer (which I generally towed at lower speeds, because of sway issues). I suspect once I'm at speed, really the only thing is wind resistance, which with the same rough front profile, isn't that different! Most of the trip through the mountain passes was at 65 MPH (was in a caravan and didn't want to hold folks up), but the truck had zero issues with that speed, even up some minor grades.

    I've particularly enjoyed the fact the dual-cams allow you to back up without disengaging anything. The cams simply slide out from the load leveling roundbars during cornering. I've put that trailer into some mighty tight spaces on the first try, and love the setup.

    If you've got a similar rig, tow with confidence. I love my VortecMax!

    Cheers, all!

    Skippy
  8. GuyGene

    GuyGene New Member

    Wow, Skip, love that! I tow a lightweight travel trailer, my third, and will definitely get the antisway bars again. Had them on a bigger trailer, mine now is only 3,200 lbs empty, but going to get those bars again!

    about your transmission build up - can you tell us exactly you told the shop to do? Take it apart and put in stronger parts? I've burned enough transmissions in my day, it always seems to be the weak link in towing! And, I use big coolers too. Thanks!

    oh, and what differential ratio you have?
    Last edited: May 23, 2013
  9. Skippy

    Skippy New Member

    Had them put in Red Eagle Clutches (50% larger friction space and more of them in the tranny), Kolene steels, upgraded sun shell, hardened splines, and a host of other things that they recommended. Basically, I went to the transmission shop and asked for a transmission that could handle 550+HP. They went with a 600HP transmission build. The total cost installed was $3200, which seemed about right for the components and work. Included in the build was a shift kit and corvette servos (which really "pop" the transmission into each gear and definitely provide some additional holding power to the clutches).

    The transmission shifting was initially a bit harsher than I wanted, and I ended up lowering the fluid line pressure (in the tune) down to the recommended limit to keep it from jarring my teeth. Even with the lowered line pressure, its still hefty as a daily driver. Punch it and you'll know when it shifts. :) Cruising though, it's only "noticeable" and definitely not "uncomfortable". My wife doesn't mind driving it or riding in it, and that's the key for me. When I put the trailer behind it, the transmission shifts are butter smooth, with zero jarring. That's expected, though, with the added weight holding everything in line.

    The key to longevity, as I understand is keeping the temps down. By making shift times shorter, having more friction area (which will keep things cooler in the long run), larger capacity, and stronger components, I'm certain the temps are lower. This is not just anecdotal. I don't have a transmission temp gauge, but the radiator core has the transmission lines going through it (the newer models all do, to help keep the temps down). Basically, with the new transmission my engine runs around 205 normal operating temperature and I just don't see the engine temp climbing above about 212 (steepest grade). Given that it would spike quickly if my transmission temps were climbing, I'm safely assuming I just don't have temp problems. Before the transmission build, the steepest grade (same road) would cause my engine to spike to about 220-225. Given that I'm now towing about 4500lbs MORE and my temps are 15-20 degrees LOWER, I'm making the assumption something is working properly!

    Eventually I'll drill a port for a transmission temperature gauge, but I'm not going to do that until I have to service the tranny (which may more than 10 years from now at my current mileage of about 2500 miles a year).

    In short, I went to the shop and asked the experts what I should get. They gave me options, I looked at them and said "I'll take those upgrades please." It was pricey, but I'm happy.

    -Skippy.

    Coupled with the fact its a four speed and I control the shifting (no hunting gears), the larger cooler (1.5 quarts in fact), and the transmission upgrade I think my current weak link is actually my u-joint. If I ever go with a super-charger (planned for the future), I'll probably have to upgrade that. The rear diff is plenty strong as is.

    - - - Updated - - -

    BTW, these aren't "Anti-sway" bars. These are in-line cams. BIG difference! Maybe this is what you meant, but on the off chance you're thinking friction control bars, there's definitely a huge difference in both the technology and the actual control.
    http://www.reese-hitches.com/products/Dual_Cam_High_Performance_Sway_Control,26102

    The dual cams are in addition to the weight distribution bars. The distribution bars are nice (and totally level things), but the cams that sit underneath them are what actually prevent the sway. Unlike anti-sway bars, which are generally friction plates, these prevent the sway in the first place, wherease the sway bars only help control the effect.

    Hope this is making sense... When I made the switch I was astonished at the difference. I'll never go back to sway control of any other type.
  10. GuyGene

    GuyGene New Member

    Thanks a lot, Skip. Yeah, those are different than the friction things I had on my bigger travel trailer. Looks great! And, the transmission! YES! That's the ticket for sure. I wish you could order one that strong from GM. Man, in trucks, we need a strong transmission! That always seems to be the weakest link to me. Paranoid I guess. U joints are sure a lot easier to deal with!

    Oh, forgot again, what differential ratio?
  11. Skippy

    Skippy New Member

    4.10. Love it. :)

    - - - Updated - - -

    This is my rig towing the beast of a trailer. My wife towed it two days ago (finally got her to try it), and her comment was "Wow! This is SO much easier than the Expedition towing that 19' trailer!" NO kidding. Love those dual cams... The power is nice, too. Just toss it in 2nd gear and go up and down the mountains all day long without shifting.

    [​IMG]

    This last trip, I got 8.9 MPG, but it included the nastiest grade within 200 miles. Up and down I went with the flow of traffic... the CAR traffic. I just chuckle when I, at 60-65 MPH, pass those big diesels running at 40MPH up that hill.

    The picture is deceiving too. I actually still have quite a bit of play in the rear suspension. I've thought about timbrens, but the ride stabilizer button works wonders if any bouncing starts. Every time I drive this truck, I'm ticked to death to have gotten so lucky to have found it. Blessed even. :)
  12. GuyGene

    GuyGene New Member

    Nice indeed! I'm liking that 6.2 more and more! And the beefed up transmission! For my little trailer, about a 3.73 differential should be good, it only weighs 3,200 empty.
  13. nonnieselman

    nonnieselman New Member

    Have you ever thought about a rear axle temperature gauge? Ive seen them on 3500 and larger trucks but never anybody with a 1500.

    Also your transmission has a plug above the shift shaft on the driver side. You can remove that plug and thread in a Autometer temp sensor thats 1/8" NPT and its a pretty accurate reading. ~ 10* of the OEM sensor in the bottom of the pan.
  14. Skippy

    Skippy New Member

    Nope... never even considered a rear axle temp gauge. I change the fluid every other year, though, as I do some boat towing, and I'm always paranoid the differential may have been submerged by someone borrowing the truck (family campouts) to pull the boat out. It's unlikely, given the trailer goes in while only the tires hit the water, but I'd rather be safe. Every two years, though, means the fluid is being changed every 4000-4500 miles (I typically drive less than 2K miles a year on this thing), so I'm unconcerned about fluid breakdown overall... Since towing-axle failure is almost always due to lubricant failure from heat, and it's a cumulative effect (much like average temps in a tranny), I'm fairly certain that my maintenance cycle is more than adequate. Since the longest tow I make is about 2.2 hours (117 miles), AND given the fact my family can't seem to make it more than 45 minutes on the road without needing a "Break time!" or "Popcorn from the convenience store!" I'm definitely not concerned that I have massive heat problems back there. A temp gauge in the rear diff would just be a toy for me. :)

    Additionally, a vast majority rear-axle heat increases come from torque spikes, which are incredibly commonly while doing 4x4ing (think everytime you're in a low gear and BAM you hammer the thing to climb over something), they're not very common in a towing environment. Sure, the temps can climb... But not nearly as likely unless you're doing very very long hauls.

    That being said, I'm still planning on getting an expanded capacity differential plate, with fins, at the next change (due this fall). This'll add an extra quart or so of fluid, and lower the temps... But I'm only getting it, because they look cool from behind. LOL

    The Autometer plug is definitely an interesting option. Thanks for pointing that out!

    Cheers!

    Skippy
    Last edited: Jun 6, 2013
  15. nonnieselman

    nonnieselman New Member

    Ive got the aluminum girdle for my 8.6" 10 bolt and noticed it has a 1/8" npt plug on the bottom and it dawned on me it was either a drain or for a temp sensor. i changed my fluid about ever 5 years and thats alot of towing and racing. Gears have 285,000 miles on them and just changed the pinion bearings 3 months ago. Eaton LSD has 130,000 miles on it and just did first fluid change when i put the new bearings in haha.
  16. Skippy

    Skippy New Member

    Compare that to the guy driving a Bronco (old 80's model) in the middle of town two moths ago... I was behind him at a light, and I saw he couldn't get it in gear... then he would go forward a bit, then stop, he'd throw it in reverse and then it would rock and then he'd go... I was turning right (him left), and had a quick errand. 5 minutes later I drive through the SAME intersection and he's standing outside of his vehicle... BOTH REAR WHEELS WERE DISCONNECTED FROM THE REAR DIFF! Funniest thing I think I've ever seen on the road. Clearly the rear diff just blew up (literally) and the wheels popped out from under the vehicle. The butt of that bronco was on the ground. Absolutely hilarious! made me glad I at least change my fluid frequently enough to look at the gears once in a while. LOL

    Bet his day was a lot worse than he thought!
  17. nonnieselman

    nonnieselman New Member

    Wow ive never seen that on the road. Ive seen it alot at the mud and dirt races.

    My ring gear has metal flowing from the valleys of the teeth. Pretty sure that was when the pinion bearings had some slack. But then again ive pulled some heavy loads and was heavy on the throttle ha.
    12, 000# wet sand was fun. 16, 000# ditch witch was quite a fun one too.

    I put a class v hitch on it after I bent the rear frame some with a cheap reese class nothin hitch.

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