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Old 07-23-2010, 07:58 AM
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Towing with a Van

Hi all.
First of all I'm not a mechanic, retired with limited income. I have a 1990 GMC G3500 Vandura (one ton) with a new crate 350 (bought it that way) with about 20k miles on it. I also have a 27 ft travel trailer weight about 7500 lbs loaded. As you can guess my current engine setup will not pull this TT very well at all.

When I retire in about a year my wife and I plan on traveling some with the RV. Like, travel to destination - maybe a couple of days drive - then staying for 30 days each month. The same routine each month - travel and then stay a month.

Options 1 - swap the 350 out for a 454 - what kind of problems would I have doing that and about how much would it cost me. Is this the best option

Options 2 - have someone rebuild my 350 into a 383 stroker for towing. What all would I need to do and about how much would this cost. Is this the better option and would the 383 stroker be strong enough.

Will the 383 last as long as the 454?

Thanks -

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Old 07-23-2010, 08:03 AM
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that van should be able to pull 7,500 lbs just the way it is.. check the 350 to make sure everythings in order before just doing an engine swap..
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Old 07-23-2010, 11:57 AM
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A 1 ton van with a 350 should to that trailer reasonably well though an empty 27 foot travel trailer quite possibly doesn't weigh that much empty.

There are several considerations that you will also have to look at - cooling - both engine and transmission, suspension condition, tires of at least a 'D' rating on both TT and van. Then of course, the final drive ratio. If indeed the trailer weighs that much, fully loaded (clothes, water, food, propane, toys) you will need, in my opinion, at least a 3.73 with a 4.11 being even better for hills. Then of course there's the load leveling hitch.........

Here's pretty good RV forum that I belong to that will be better suited to answer these kinds questions: http://www.irv2.com/forums/ . I do have a heavy tho mid size fifth wheel trailer(34 feet/~10,000#) that I pull with an F350 with a V10 gas engine.

Dave W
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Old 07-23-2010, 12:01 PM
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Do not mess with the engine at all..the answer is in the gears..typically those vans have a tall gearset for fuel economy and what you need is a set of 4.11 or 4.56 and if the budget runs to it install an overdrive for when you are running light.. I tow on a regular basis at 10,000 plus GVW with a stock 351 ford but I have the gearset that allows the truck to pull..part of the trick of towing is to keep the RPM up in the power band..specially important if you are traversing a pass like Lookout pass between Idaho and Montana or coming out of the gorge at Vantage westbound on I-90..

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Old 07-23-2010, 02:15 PM
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Thanks all

All your answers seem very logical and less expensive. How about if I put an Edlebrock intake manifold and a better TBI as well as headers? Will that help with the 4:11 rear end? How much do you think all that would cost and do you have any recommendations for the intake manifold and TBI as well as headers?

Thanks all very much
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Old 07-23-2010, 03:03 PM
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You can go to summit or jegs online catalogs and price parts if you like..If you have injection now then stick with it..more efficient than a carb. You may wish to post in the engine forum as to best 350 setup for towing..

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Old 07-23-2010, 04:03 PM
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I have a 2003 Chevy Express 1 ton van that I pull my travel trailer with. Guessing the trailer's loaded weight is about the same as yours or a bit less. The van has a 6.0L engine, and a 3.73 rear end ratio. The van struggles if I get on anything more than a mild grade. I think youi'd be better off to leave the engine as is, and go to a 4.11 or 4.56 rear ratio. True, your fuel economy will suffer a bit, but at least when you are towing, your engine won't be straining it's guts out trying to negotiate a hill. I was going to change the rear ratio on my van, but the trailer is now set up at a campground as a seasonal unit, so I won't need to tow much anymore.
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Old 07-23-2010, 05:21 PM
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rpo albel

check the RPO Label this stands for Regular Production Option.It probably say service parts identification on it. There will be 4 rows of letter number combinations ( reading from left to right of course) they will be like JB8 for instance. The Identify the equiptment or "Options" your van was assembled with such a rear end gear ratio. The second line has the gear ID in it. It will be the 7th position.A code of GN9 is a 4.11, GH0 is a 3.54. any other gear is too high for your purpose.Better that you SBC winds up a little than trys to GRUNT like a big block.
I think they put that sticker on one of the back doors oddly enough,but look around just in case. Post whatever "G Options you have in the 7 an 8 position and I will decode them for you. as far as getting involved in an engine swap it would probably be easier ( and cheaper ) to buy a used tow vehichle.Especially with the price of gas and the economy. Please dont buy anything until you have a auto technician check it over well for you.My personal opinion ( just my opinion) if you have a 4.11 and a 350 engine it should do the job quite well. I had a 79 1/2 ton with a 350 and a 3.73 and pulled a 21 foot proline ( boat) with it and it did real well.
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Old 07-23-2010, 08:51 PM
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we used to pull a 28' enclosed race car trailer around the mid and southeast weighing close to 10K with a 3500 series extended van with a 350 and 4:11's and did pretty well , it had TBI and a edelbrock tbi manifold and we put the eldelbrock tubular headers on there to let it breath a little better with a set of50 series flowmasters and a 2.5" dual exaust , if you go the header route go with the ceramic coated ones or the stainless and ceramic ones as it will keep the heat down in ,the engine compartment and the headers will last longer. also get a big trans cooler with a electric fan and mount it under the body to help cool it that way your not pumping the heat into the engine .
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Old 07-24-2010, 08:32 AM
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thanks Stimpy

That's the route I'm considering. It will be expensive as I have a th400 tranny and looking to upgrade to a th700 4r to give me the overdrive gear i need when not towing but everything else sounds perfect. I would go out and buy a new truck but being retired i can't afford the payments and would rather put some money in what I have paid for then getting into more debt.

Thanks
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Old 07-24-2010, 08:47 PM
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I think i'd leave the engine alone. My old 72 did pretty good with a 16ft trailer with a car on it, a carbed 350 and some 3.73 gears. Some 3.73 or 4.10s are bound to be alot better with your setup.
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Old 07-24-2010, 10:21 PM
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we had a 700r4 in the van from the factory , make sure you get one thats been purposely built and made for towing , our first one(oem) gave up the ghost at 10k due to the pressure not being up and converter slipping( AKA HEAT , GMC said it was abused so no coverage ) ,So we had a guy who specializes in HD racing /towing transes build ours and made the convertor ( it was a little tighter and had a better clutch in it) , it was $2200 out the door and guarenteed for 5/60 , we installed it , that trans was in the van when we sold it @ over 250K and the guy we sold it to is still driving on it with the second engine in the van @over 300K and 20 years later and he loads the snot out of it as he uses it for contracting the body is ready to fall off but it still runs around . .

as for the cooler routing we routed the trans fluid to the air cooler which we mounted by the passenger doors have the fan on top blowing down and keep it away from the cat convertor if you have one . , and then to the cooler in the radiator to keep the fluid at its proper operating temp . they reccomended a thermostatic valve to help control the flow ( we had to as it gets cold up here . )

Last edited by stimpy; 07-24-2010 at 10:26 PM.
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