Ice Driving School with Trailers

Hemi Durango, Ice Driving School and Red Rocks

Coming down into Steamboat Springs over Rabbit Ears pass in January, down the 7% grade in 2nd gear on snow packed pavement, is like dropping into a snow globe that you shake and see it snow on the tiny village. A true “winter wonderland” with heavy snow on all the pine trees and 8 inches of snow on all the rooftops, makes me glad I don’t have to shovel snow every morning in Denver!

My middle of the night drive from Denver to Steamboat, in the all new, larger 04 Durango with a Hemi was fun. Taking on the curves of the Colorado construction zones and ice patches at -2 degrees tested the new handling abilities of the improved coil spring, rear suspension. With the Hemi option, horsepower is 335, 10 less than the Hemi in the Ram and torque drops 5 to 370. Which is plenty of power for the new Durango, though this Hemi is the quiet one. Shifting was very smooth with the 545RFE 5-speed auto. The new Durango is 7″ longer, 4″ wider and 3″ taller as compared with the old model below.

The rear doors open 84 degrees, as shown below. This makes access to the third row of seats easy. The C pillar on the passenger side (behind the second door) is large like on a Hummer, so look twice when turning to the right. The only other negative observation I had on the larger Durango, is the weight of the hood. It doesn’t have struts, so you have to use the  metal “stick” to hold up the hood after you use both hand to lift it. Dodge in general has the lead on cup holders and gadgets. Which as an “on the go writer” I appreciate the bigger deeper armrest/console with a 12 volt outlet inside and the long open console that will hold my phone, camera, coffee, flashlight, etc. Even the ignition key is different with the key FOB built in. I do like Dodges map lights, with the whole lens as a on-off button, instead of searching for the little button to turn the light on.

The Durango taillights remind me of GM trucks starting 03.

This Durango came with Goodyear Wrangler All-Terrain tires with wavy siping that held snowy mountain roads and the Durango was surprisingly stable on dry curves that appear from nowhere in the early morning darkness after winds have blown over the construction cones. With that close call I used the fog lights, which were great at finding dangers and deer that might be wearing snow shoes to cross the road.

The center console is large with a 12V outlet and in front of the console are cup holders, dividers and compartments, we road warriors appreciate. Click on the picture and see it grow.
SUV’s are multifunction, like the mini-vans they sometimes replace. Many SUV’s have 7 and 8 seats like a mini-van, now with three rows of seats. The Durango is fairly easy to access the third row.

The Bridgestone Winter Driving School at Steamboat Springs, CO, is something everyone who pulls a trailer over mountain passes, should take. In December my son and I pulled a 34′ travel trailer with a Hummer H2 through Flagstaff and Rotan Pass in a snowstorm. Being able to look at ice and snow on the road and find the best track for traction and safety, takes some practice. And practice is what you get at the Bridgestone Winter Driving School along with SafetyOne’s Snow Operations Ice Driving and Trailering Course.

I only made it to day two of the course, but was impressed by the trailer training in the morning of how to properly load and secure cargo on a trailer, calculating and adjusting tongue weight, hitches, brake controllers and more. The inside class was taught by Carl Maxey of Maxey Truck Equipment in Ft. Collins for the 3rd year. Maxey talked about commercial vehicles which start at 10,000 GVWR. Being commercial, used in business, makes pulling trailers with pickup trucks follow some of the same rules as over-the-road semi-trucks. Such as carrying flares or reflector triangles, fire extinguisher, chains in the winter, medical card, and log books for interstate travel or if over 150 miles radius from your business. You also need to know what grade of safety chain to use,  their hooks and crossing them under the hitch.

There are commercial rules for reflectors on your trailers such as reflective tape along 50% of the side and 100% of the rear. Your emergency breakaway brake system on the trailer needs to be able to stop your trailer on a 7% grade for 15 minutes when disconnected from the truck. Along with the inspection of truck and trailer that needs done each time you use them, the trailer emergency breakaway needs to be tested. Maxey cautions to unplug the trailer electrical plug from the truck when testing the breakaway brake, to prevent burning up the diodes in your brake controller.  Carl Maxey, also gave a presentation on the Tekonsha Prodigy brake controller, reviewing the benefits of motion sensing brake controllers which adjust brake pressure fast and proportional, verses time actuated “full brake only”  with slower brake activation. Learning to use your trailer brakes separately with the hand control, can be a tool in winter driving to keep your trailer behind you. Surge brakes, as used on most boats are not legal for commercial use.

Magnesium Chloride, that is replacing salt on icy roads, can be corrosive to your safety chains and the exterior components of your axles, springs and hitches. Another reason for inspecting your trailer often. Commercial use may not apply to all businesses such as farms. But if you are a business and have employees pulling trailers, you do need to know about the commercial aspect. Things like proper tire tread, and air pressure, tying cargo down, crossing chains and adjusting trailer brakes needs to be done properly and legally. Some trailer axles now have self-adjusting brakes, which I wish I had.

Maxey said the first place to check for adjusting trailer brakes, is the switch on your truck’s brake pedal. This switch activates brake lights and trailer brakes and can be loose or improperly adjusted. Carl Maxey explained adjusting trailer brakes. A well adjusted trailer brake pulls 3 amps each. So using an amp meter can help you dial in the trailer brakes as well as skid testing the trailer. For trouble free axles bearings, Maxey recommends using a double lip oil seal instead of a single lip grease seal to keep your trailer axle bearings clean. 

Tire pressure for  trailer capacity is rated at 65 mph now, says Maxey. So faster speed lowers your trailers weight capacity. Lowering your trailer tire pressure below the recommend PSI for a softer ride, can cause uneven tire wear and lowered cargo capacity and tires can heat up from more sidewall flexing. Trailer tires can lose 2 PSI per month just sitting still.  And this reporter thinks that incorrect tire pressure is one a leading cause of trailering problems. I’ve learned that it’s important to get a professional truck tire air gauge, like the truckers use for an accurate reading. With all the test vehicles I review and I check their tire pressure, I have found many of the cheap short tire gauges to be 10 to 20 PSI off. Something else that needs inspected, is cold weather can crack or break axle leaf springs if they have an impact like a pot hole before they warm up from use.

In the afternoon, Art Seely of SafetyOne and the professional drivers of the Bridgestone Winter Driving School, took us up to the snow track for controlled trailer jack-knifing and weight mis-distributing of a truck on a slick oval. All the trucks had Bridgestone’s Blizzak snow tires, that I tried earlier on the Avalanche Ice Rink at the Pepsi Center on SUV’s, compared with All-Terrain tires. For more on Blizzak snow tires, click…  The jack-knife trailer was a flat bed that SafetyOne had modified with a spring loaded device chained to a special rear bumper on a Ford F250 that kept the two units from colliding as we were taught to control a trailer as it tried to pass the truck.

I’ve been in a jack-knife situation before with my 33′ flatbed trailer and one-ton dually. I was bouncing threw small snowdrifts on the way to load hay when my front tire missed the track threw the snowdrift and did a 90 degree turn into the trailer. I didn’t think about accelerating to put the truck back in the lead as counter steering by itself did nothing as I watched my trailer neck deck push threw my mirror and door. It was cold on the way home, but I was lucky and only lost a door. The Ice Driving and Trailering Course taught me to control, with throttle and steering, a truck going sideways, being pushed by the trailer or a trailer trying to go sideways and pass the truck.

My last day with the Durango, I pulled a 4-horse slant miniature horse aluminum Hart trailer from Transwest Truck and Trailer of Longmont, up to Red Rocks. I’ve not been to a concert at Red Rocks, but just the drive up through the red hole, Creation Rock, Stage Rock and seeing the stadium was a treat. There is a restaurant and gift shop there, with plenty of bicyclist whizzing around the many bike paths. Of course this was not a hard pull for the Hemi. The Durango has a 3.55 rear axle ratio, but like the Dodge Ram truck Hemi, pulling a trailer needs the overdrive shut-off, to prevent a lot of gear hunting with the 545RFE 5-speed automatic. 4th and 5th gear are both overdrives so by pushing the tow-haul mode button on the end of the shifter lever, it locks you out of 5th and will hold each gear longer before shifting. Which is what you want when pulling a trailer.

The Durango gauges are large with a nice dash layout. Overall I was impressed by the new Durango, it may take me longer to get used to the new look as with all new models. The ride was comfortable with the new rear coil springs, extended wheelbase and using tow mode in the mountains, made coming down the 6 and 7% grades controlled the way I like. This larger class SUV has a body-on-frame construction like a truck which makes it a good trailer tower within it’s factory weight limits. The frame is boxed hydroformed, being 150% stiffer than the old frame. Max tow capacity is 8950#, which is getting into the 1/2 ton truck class. Gas mileage was good and bad with as high as 20 mpg on the highway, 17.4 mpg in the mountains and dropped to 10.3 pulling the trailer to Red Rocks.

The picture below shows the Hart miniature horse trailer rear and side ramps. It’s low profile and very aerodynamic, not giving the Hemi much resistance.

Transwest Truck and Trailers of Longmont CO, is the # 1 Hart horse trailer dealer in the country. Andrew Lyons lets me sneak off with trailers. I even bring them back occasionally.

A four-horse miniature horse trailer, nice straight shot in from the side above. My next farm is going to be small, with miniature horses and carts, Lowline cattle, miniature Herefords and Brahma’s, Pigmy goats, and Southdown sheep. I’ll be a small rancher.

Dressing and tack room below.

Red Rocks near Morrison Colorado, is famous for it’s outside music concerts. I enjoy just driving up to the top and humming.

Almost a tunnel.

Creation Rock side one

View the rocks or rock stars

Thanks to Daimler-Chrysler for the Durango, Carl Maxey,  Andrew Lyons, , Art Seely of and Bridgestone Winter Driving School,

Come by for a visit at

© Copyright 2004 H. Kent Sundling and All rights reserved including digital rights.

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