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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
My daily is an 87 Chevy 1/2 ton 2wd. It has a decently built 350 with a Ford 9” and discs all the way around. With trucks as high as they are right now - and myself needing a tow rig, I considered just beefing up the 87 into 3/4 ton territory.

Since I already have the 9”, I think some 3/4 ton springs should get me close. Maybe a trans cooler? Open to ideas - never done a lot of towing in the past.
 

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Yup!
An auxillery trans cooler helps.
‘My old 84 sb had a set of air bags on it when I bought it. Helped with loads and didn’t effect the ride.
Air it up for towing, air it down for cruising.
like this.



 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Yup!
An auxillery trans cooler helps.
‘My old 84 sb had a set of air bags on it when I bought it. Helped with loads and didn’t effect the ride.
Air it up for towing, air it down for cruising.
like this.



Nice! Does the front suspension matter? I certainly wouldn’t mind stiffer springs in the front - just not sure if it matters one way or the other.
 

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i've "fantasized" about this too, and for mainly economic/frugality reasons also.

1) i don't know (or care) about ford rears, but i'm ASSuming the 9" is a semi-floater design? To me the stress in towing isn't so much at the gears---the center section/pumpkin/whatever you want to call it. The REAL stress is at the axle bearings and axles. Think about all that weight especially when you go over bumps. i don't think 12 bolts, 9" were really designed for heavy, long-term towing. They are great for what they do, but not for towing.

The 14bolt SF, while still a semi-float, or better yet the 14 bolt FF full floater WERE designed for towing.

2) As i said, i too have fantasied about this even going as far as thinking about installing a 14 bolt with dual wheels and 1 ton springs. New spring pads would have to be welded in the correct positions. i don't consider this a major problem. The REAL problem is that the frame is still not 3/4 or 1 ton territory. i think we are looking at added flex, not comfortable/confident handling, more stress on the frame and eventual possible frame damage. 3/4 and 1ton frames are thicker and heavier for a reason....

Then brakes: It's not all about being able to CARRY the weight, but more importantly to STOP IT.

3) This may be the most important aspect: Insurance:
i hope it doesn't happen, but IF something were to happen and it's found out you're towing above the manufacturer's GCWR, THIS COULD BE A BIIIIIIIIIG PROBLEM

Insurance may not pay. You could be on the hook for millions and millions of dollars etc........all because you wanted to save a few thousands..........

Anyone thinking about doing this needs to get the truck's GVWR/GCWR recertified at the DMV. i don't know what kind of hassle this entails? But it's a hassle that must be dealt with. Any other way is TOO MUCH RISK.

i still think about this strategy. A beefed up 1/2 ton could technically do it, in small doses, i suppose. But i would rather have a truck that has a comfortable reserve rather than a truck that i would have to push near it's limits everytime i tow.

So, another strategy i've been thinking about is to look for a used '14 and up silverado; These newer 1/2 tons came with the 14bolt SF if equipped with v-8. Also 14' and up suburbans and yukons.
This, to me, is a much safer, easier, although possibly not cheaper way. Although if you look at the amount of work it may take to have something that still isn't really as good as an original 3/4 ton truck, it MAY actually be cheaper.
 

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Yeah, really i forgot to add. How much weight are we talking about here that you want to tow?

Also, there are a lot of used, very recent, like 2017-2019 1 ton vans for sale very cheap. i don't know why vans are so cheap? And these aren't the creepy window-less vans, these are the passenger versions.
 

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I take it the OP truck is a short bed. Keep the hitch point as far forward as possible w/ no hitch adaptors or extenders other than maybe a spring bar set if you use one. The rear end is not just about ultimate strength but also durability. A 14 bolt floating axle rear has a huge gearset that can pull long hills without overheating, large brakes and of-course much tougher bearings. With that you also get 8 lug wheels and would figure on just pulling the whole crossmember out of a 3/4-ton truck for the front to match and get bigger brakes there too. If you don't want to go that far the "semi-float" 14 bolts from some '90's trucks will fit and have wheel mounting flanges that have six or eight lugs but could theoretically accommodate your five- or six-lug wheels with work. Finally, the 9" is still better than the failure-prone-under-heavy-use half-ton rear...maybe just keep a eye on it (and clean oil in it) and don't ever run without a good trailer brake system. Don't skimp on rear tires either, a rear blowout on the highway can have you jack-knifed before you know what happened. E-rated tires are available in a lot of sizes these days.

I have done a lot of towing with believe-it-or-not an El Camino, once scaled over 12k lbs total and that was not my heaviest load, but no matter how careful I was it was still very risky. Have a properly set-up truck. I had one very-near accident while towing once with a guy who couldn't decide if he wanted to turn in front of me or not...we were a finger-snap away from somebody getting killed, either him or some innocent people coming the other way. The one thing that saved it, w/ me on the brakes and cranking the wheel one way then the other with the trailer fish-tailing behind me, was that I was driving a proper, heavy-duty 3/4-ton longbed truck.
 

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Your gonna kill the engine and trans before you kill the 9".
Goose or 5th wheel is better than a bumper pull.
Getting it going is the only problem. Getting it stopped is the other.

We need the what, when, how much, how often, and type of trailer.
 

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Squarebody frame is the same on 3/4 ton and 1/2 ton, so no need to upgrade. Most have 52” long springs, but a few 1 ton’s and 3/4 ton’s have 56” springs. You may want to move up to higher rated springs, but don’t get carried away if it’s just for towing. Carrying more load in the bed needs more springs , but for towing you can go more mid range GVW. Long WB truck would be more stable for towing than a SWB.

An axle swap to a 14 bolt FF will get you a much stronger axle, usually 4.10 gears, probably 13” rear drum brakes, and in most cases 9 leaf springs that are a big upgrade from 1/2 ton springs. Just make sure you plan for the u-joint connection, since it might be different. Rear disc brake conversions are also available.

You can upgrade front brakes to the HD brakes from the 3/4 ton, and you could also install 8 bolt hubs to match the 14 bolt FF rear. Many 3/4 trucks had a front stabilizer bar, and the rear stabilizer bar was an (uncommon) option for trailer special and camper special trucks.

You probably have a 700R4, and that newer vintage should be more reliable than the earlier ones. A stacked plate transmission cooler is a must, and make sure the TV cable is properly adjusted.
 

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Yes a 3/4 ton does alot more then just the axles.
A one ton takes that a step further.
Then you have cab and chassis that can take it still a step further.
Then you get into air brakes. Note that insuring a cab and chassis for personal use can be tricky before you buy one.


Your limited by that little sticker on the door. Some times this is in the vin through a numbered braking option.

My 94 heavily modified s10 is a hotrod thats not meant to hold more then a extra set of tires or fat passenger.

My 91 s10 I would not put more then 500lbs in the bed or 300lbs on a hitch. I picked up a 80's beast of snowblower yesterday that weighs around 300lbs. 200 mile round trip. Drove it right up into the low bed and unloaded it from the bed just as easily.

My 87 V10 not more then 1000lbs in the bed or 500lbs on the hitch. I dont tow more then 1000lbs with this truck.

My 01 2500 HD not more then 1000lbs in the bed or 800lbs on the tounge. Tows a 3000 to 5500 vechical nice using a rented trailer. Tows 500lbs to 3500lbs using a 8×18 tilt trailer from the 60's(no brakes/suspension) nice.

My 91 R30(squarebody) cab and chassis with 8x10 flatbed not more then 1500lbs on the flatbed or 800 on the tounge. Tows a 3000 to 7000 vechicle nice with rented trailer.

Much more then that and I just pay for a tow truck or drive it.
I had to pay to have the R30 towed(still need to weigh it) guessing 6800lbs. It was 12 miles down a paved backroad. But the cost of renting a trailer and pulling it myself was only $150 less the cost of the tow bill. So the flatbed was able to recover and deliver it without me messing with picking up, loading, unloading, and returning a trailer.

It is more then your axles. You need to think about the suspension. I have broken leafs and shackles on worn suspensions. To get the V10 to tow the same as the 2500HD I would need to not only upgrade the frame and suspension but also the brakes, axles, motor, transmission, rims, and tires.

Cheaper to buy a diffrent truck so I bought the 2500HD as a tow pig.

For mileage (25+) or 500lb things like engines etc the s10 works just fine.

In the middle is the v10 which is a "auction and plywood" truck having a expanded metal bed that allows me to hook anywhere for loading unique items. I also just enjoy driving the rust bucket.

The R30 is the 2500HD's replacment with its bigger bed and increased capacity. The drivetrain is very simple and bulletproof.
 

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Square body trucks had a lot different between 1/2 and 3/4 than just the things we're discussing. The frame was boxed and made of thicker steel from what I recall. Having said that, you can likely go snag control arms, spindles, and brakes from a 3/4 ton and swap them on. You'll have to get some 8 lug wheels as well.

Keep in mind that an old truck like that will never do as well as a newer truck. Even if you put a brand new steering box, new bushings, new springs, and completely restore the chassis to brand new status, it will still be a big noodle. I just don't want you thinking that you can upgrade your OBS with 3/4 goodies and have it tow well by today's standards. A 1988-up GMT400 1/2 ton would do better than the old truck upgraded with goodies, and I imagine you can find a clean example of one of those for less money than upgrading what you have.

Heck, for years I towed with a 78 chevy 1-ton and an 84 chevy 3/4 ton. When I went to an 88 heavy half, it was such a monumental difference. I couldn't tow as much as the 1-ton on paper, but the way it handled weight was light years ahead of the 78.

Keep in mind, I have towed my whole driving life and lived for 7 years in a 10,000 lb travel trailer. I've had a CDL for almost 30 years and have towed everything from little boats up to 65,000 lbs. I totally applaud your idea and it's not a bad idea just for the sake of beefiness, but I wouldn't do it to tow more. I think if you found a Vortec (96-98) 1/2 ton or 3/4 ton, you would be far ahead in the towing game for less money than the upgrades you would need to do on the 87.
 

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Towing ability comes from multiple factors:
  • Suspension capacity (obviously)
  • frame rigidity and capacity
  • steering rigidity
  • tires (huge factor)
  • axle capacity
  • vehicle wheelbase (longer is better)
  • vehicle weight
  • transmission capacity
  • cooling capacity
  • braking torque
  • type of hitch (gooseneck and 5er are better than bumper)
So, until you buy control arms, four springs, spindles, brakes, bearings and seals, beefier steering components, upgrade the frame, E-range tires (don't forget to make sure the wheel weight rating is adequate), TH400 trans and associated parts, driveshaft, kickdown, etc, 14 bolt rear, bigger radiator, trans cooler, yadda yadda, you're looking at a serious investment in both money and time.... and you still have a 1/2 ton frame and haven't addressed the wheelbase issue (if yours is a short wheelbase). You also (as some have mentioned) haven't legally increased the rated towing capacity and it could (unlikely) cause headaches if something happens.

Take a look at the frame on your truck and then take a look on a newer 1/2 ton frame. That alone might convince you to just trade up.

Now... if we're talking stepping up from 3500 lbs to 5000 lbs, that's one thing. But your current truck isn't bad at towing because it doesn't have enough capacity, it's bad at towing because it's not a very good tow vehicle from the ground up.
 

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The most important aspect of this all is legality/insurance. Any other way is stupid. Let's get that out of the way first.

1) i thought 1/2 and 3/4-ton frames were different on a squarebody truck, but ok.

2) i looked at '14 and up silverados and yes, strictly numbers-wise/financially, on paper at least, this is a bad plan compared to trying to "doctor-up" a 1/2 ton to act like a 3/4 ton truck..... We are talking 22- 28K for a 7 yr old truck. Still recent IMO with in a lot of cases less than 100K miles, but what i consider the "bad" part is the high initial cost to satisfy the goal of having something that can tow. Also remember, these are still 1/2 ton trucks......that can technically, but just barely do the job of a 3/4 ton truck?

HOWEVER, if we consider the convenience factor---these trucks need nothing and are ready to go, most importantly the SAFETY/LEGAL factor, and most of these trucks are pretty nice---most have A/C, other convienences and very nice interiors, then having a monthly payment of $400-500 per month maybe isn't such a bad deal? How much time and money will it take to refurbish a much older 3/4 ton truck?

3) i'm not sure how to post facebook links, but for an example i saw a 94 chev 1-ton van for $1500 which runs. Now, even if it needs everything, then engine/trans are pretty simple and cheap to replace. Everything else is kinda nickle and dime. Something like this could be refurbished to like new status for a fraction of the buy new/er route.


So for me it boils down to buy or build? It's a time thing. Things, for me, ALWAYS take longer and cost a little more money than i think. Your situation may differ. When you buy new/er, you can just sign on the dotted line and BOOM you're in business.

It boils down to time vs. money in my case. Either way is winning. Either way is also losing.:(
 

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4) Another factor i've considered is can we tone-down our hobbies:

It's too late for me, but for an example: Can i leave my suspension stock so as to be able to flat tow or dolly tow my car to the track vs. having to get an enclosed trailer---which means more weight----which means needing a larger truck to tow the larger trailer etc. etc. etc.

i have ladder bars and coilovers on my rear suspension and struts on the front, plus i have a lot of fiberglass parts; i want, and really need an enclosed trailer. Had i done it the right way and started off with a more stock-ish car, i could simply tow bar the car. Would have to drop the driveshaft and switch to slicks at the track, but this only takes a few mins. And this way i could use my smaller truck. Even another car could tow it.

Can we start off with a smaller boat? Could we maybe get into Karting or motorcycles?

THEN when we are financially more able, THEN we can get the 4 door dually crewcab and tow what we originally always wanted.

The guy at the track running a 468 big block camaro with 32 ft fifth wheel trailer and dodge ram 1-ton dually. He may just be smarter(i say may....because anyone who spends this much money to go racing....), luckier and has a higher paying gig than you or he may have started, or more likely, be in involved in an existing family business. Or his wife may come from a rich family. He may have had a big inheritance....

Perhaps tone down the hobby to fit your situation rather than to try to alter your situation to fit the hobby?

Speaking for myself, i likely need to learn to walk before i can run..........
 

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I have a 87 v10. It is a fun truck that may get a 5.3 and some 8 bolt axles later.
I built a bed for it made out of expanded metal and 1.5" square stock to let me hook anywhere.
But the thing is in no way designed to tow anything more then 3000lbs on a 2000lb trailer.

For towing I bought a 01 2500hd. The thing is meant for towing and tows a 7000lb truck and 2000lb trailer easily.

But the 2500 is 4wd with around 320k. So I bought a 89 (square) cab and chassis c30 flatbed that was used for moving sod around. Thats getting a LS, overdrive for the sm465, and a few other small upgrades. I only expect 8mpg out of the thing and a 0-60 when towing of around 20 seconds. But I really like c30 trucks so am ok with it being a bit slower.

With modern trucks around 2006/8 you get into DEF(big exhaust) and cylinder deactivation. That and everything is more expensive to maintain , rebuild, and replace.

Another factor is insurance. My 91 s10 and my 87 v10 cost less to insure then just my 2500. The c/c 91 c30 is the most expensive to insure and register.
But if you only use them off and on you can turn insurance on or off with a phone call.

Find out what you need then buy a truck to do that.
 

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i just remembered another thing: IF you get the GVWR to 8600 lbs. or over, (and 8600 is really "real" 3/4 ton territory) , now you have to put in the 5 amber cab lights AND five red rear facing lights. i don't know if the rear can be on the bumper or if they have to be on the tailgate? Federal law.
 

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Really, the most important aspect is:

1) Ask your DMV what the process is to re-certify truck weights? What criteria do they use? Will they even do it at all?

2) Ask your insurance if they will modify/re-write the policy for the increased GVWR?

If either says no, then there's no point in continuing. If you want to go ahead anyways and roll the dice, then this is being as STUPID as a certain kid who's first name begins with a K. Yes, I AM going there....

i've been seeing a lot of 80's 1ton duallys and 3/4,1ton vans on Facebook marketplace lately. All chevy (i'll admit, that i don't give a crap about ford or mopar. Not hating just putting it on the table). Most under $5K. Many around $1500-3000. Yes, they need work, but putting a SBC into a truck at this point is kinda like hotrodding 101. Even for someone like me......

Yes, the interiors, in most cases, are.......less than appealing let's just say compared to current trucks.

But, this may be the best way; Even after refurbishing, it will still be way cheaper than buying a newer truck.
 

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AFAIK, the law on clearance lights is based on truck width, not GVW. If it’s over 80” wide (usually dual rear tires) it needs lights.

Squarebody trucks are fun to work on because they are upgradable, but don’t get carried away. For example, I am confident that (despite other comments here) for many years of production the 1/2 ton 2WD frame is nearly identical to the 3/4 ton 2WD frame, so if you have a good donor 3/4 ton vehicle you could upgrade a 1/2 ton truck. However, it would require a swap of all suspension, brakes, axles, wheels, and many other parts. It’s a big project, and not worth the effort when it’s so much easier to just buy a 3/4 ton truck. And I don’t even want to get into titling, insurance and other issues.
 
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