Tow Rig Mods, Part 2: Wheels, Tires, Exhaust, Springs, Storage

Trucks have to handle a lot of demands. Big and burly form the outside, the interior has to keep its occupants comfortable and able to handle long drives without stopping for any mishap or breakdown. The way it works is that having the right equipment goes a long way toward making this goal achievable.

For our 2018 Chevrolet 2500HD, going with the right equipment meant having to reach out to our friends in the aftermarket: Toyo Tires, Mayhem wheels, Firestone Ride-Rite, aFe Power, and B&W Trailer Hitches. Each of these companies is a leader in its field, and gave us the opportunity to see how their products help a diesel truck get from Point A to Point B, and then C, D, and so on down the line.

Our 2500HD is back for more upgrades, this time including Toyo Tires, Mayhem Wheels, Firestone Ride-Rite, and aFe Power.

Our goal for this truck is to have it become a potent diesel truck worthy of carrying trailers and cargo in the bed, and not have any serious complaints or mishaps along the way. Tires, wheels, and exhaust go a long way toward making that goal happen; so too did B&W Trailer Hitches, with a small but worthwhile contribution to the build. Let’s dive in and see what all we got.

Background of the Parts

For the wheels and tires, it was essential that we had products that ran for the long haul, and could handle themselves in the rough stuff if the need arose. Therefore, for the wheels, we went with Hatchet 8106s (PN 8106-2976BM) which had a look like they could handle arduous situations and still come out looking fantastic.

“We use 356-T6 aluminum for all of our cast wheels,” said Joe Podlovits of The Wheel Group, Mayhem’s parent company. “It’s a resilient alloy with excellent mechanical and thermal properties and is also the most widely used alloy for one-piece cast-aluminum wheels.”

These wheels were a 20×9 size and came in a scintillating gloss black finish. Machined edges on the spokes gave the wheels an extra bit of shine that would show off when the install was complete.

As for the tires, we were excited to see how they performed. These were Toyo’s Open Country A/T IIs (PN 351510), storied all-terrains that have been around for years and years. In fact, yours truly runs these same tires on his humble 2001 Ford Explorer. The tires boast a high degree of off-road traction thanks to an aggressive sidewall, stone-ejecting blocks, and a wear-resistant tread compound. What’s more, the tires are equipped to deal with snow due to polygonal tread blocks and zig-zagging sipes.

“The Open Country A/T II was developed to provide excellent on and off-road traction in all-terrains,” said Toyo’s Todd Bergeson.  “This ‘Jack-of-all-trades’ tire offers a very aggressive appearance and impressive wear life.”

It’s good to have tires like this on any truck, especially a 4×4 like our Duramax. There may be situations when the driver feels like taking the road less traveled, or a snow-laden path to a destination requires something more grippy than a bog-standard highway or touring tire.

Next, we come to the cat-back aFe exhaust (PN 49-44089-B). aFe Power knows exhaust systems like a Marseilles sommelier knows wine. They produce countless axle-back, cat-back, and full exhaust systems for a wide variety of applications, and stand as one of the few companies offering quality exhaust products for the diesel market.

aFe’s Tyler Carrington shared some details on the makeup of the exhaust kit. “This kit is made out of 409 stainless steel. It’s a higher-grade exhaust, it’s a more premium material that won’t rust over time. It’s good for trucks that live in the snow or near beaches where oxidation can occur.”

For our truck, aFe’s cat-back exhaust is not so much a performance upgrade as it is an aesthetic upgrade, plus the peace of mind that comes with it. “They enhance the look of the vehicle from the rearend without sacrificing the CARB legality,” said Carrington. “You don’t have to worry about passing emissions tests and your truck looks good.”

The four-inch diameter tubing splits into two five-inch exits. The tips bear a set of awesome stainless steel aFe badges and are intercooled, too.

On the suspension side, we had to bolster the ride capabilities of the truck. Everyday driving is fine in the vehicle, but towing is another matter. Firestone’s Ride-Rite kit (PN 2596) would be just the ticket.

“We cater to customers that need to work hard and play hard,” said Firestone’s Paul Fessel. “Our product levels out the vehicle and improves its handling, braking, and suspension travel, bringing it back to the ride comfort our customers want. With the Ride-Rite product, you regain the five or six inches in travel lost from loading down the bed.”

Utilizing the same technology that goes into semi-truck-trailers, the kit uses convoluted airbags to hold air at a set air pressure for long drives. They help keep leaf springs from sagging and reduce body sway and tire wear as well.

B&W Trailer Hitches is a company we have worked with several times in the past, supplying hitches to get our rigs ready for towing. However, since this Duramax already had a gooseneck hitch from the factory, we felt our towing needs were satisfied. But after looking through B&W’s catalog, we spotted a useful tool in the form of its OEM ball and safety chain kit (PN GNXA2061).

“For customers that already have a gooseneck setup in their bed, our ball and safety chain kit complements that setup,” explained B&W’s Beth Barlow. “The storage kit will fit neatly underneath the backseat and contains the essentials needed for hitching the trailer up.”

The kit supplies a new tow ball for a gooseneck hitch, but it’s different than what you’ll find from an OE. B&W rigs theirs with a locking handle that can deploy or stow away whenever you need it to, and thanks to that, you’ll never have to touch a greasy ball. When stowed away, it goes in a handy plastic case that also stores safety chain anchors, which will help with rigging up a trailer safely.

Installation

We started our install with the Firestone air springs. With it raised off of the ground and secured with jack stands, we removed the rear wheels and looked for the bump stops. We took them off and assembled the upper bracket, checking to see if the U-bolt went too far into the travel of the leaf spring.

Satisfied that it didn’t, we went on to the air spring and lower bracket. These went together with a flat head bolt on the bottom. We took the assembly to the truck and lined it up with the upper bracket and then installed the two pieces together, putting on the air fitting as we did so.

With these two parts made whole, we bolted on the bail clamp that would hold the spring up against the leaf spring and U-bolts. We then installed the carriage bolts and the axle strap bracket, and that took care of driver’s side spring for now. Over on the passenger side, we repeated the process almost the same way, except for the addition of the heat shield that blocks exhaust heat from damaging the spring.

Now that the springs were installed, it was time to line out the air tubing. We opted to put the inflation valves in the bumper and routed them through the same holes as the license plate mounts to. Next, we took the airline tubing and cut it in the middle with a clean snip. We ran the tubing along the frame rail and tied the lines up and out of open-air, using thermal sleeves to protect against sharp surfaces or heat sources.

After this, we tested the lines by inflating the springs to 70psi and spraying soapy water at the inflation valves and air fittings. We saw no evidence of leaks, so we moved on to the exhaust.

The exhaust would be fairly easy, as we knew the DPF didn’t have to come off. We started by detaching the NOx and other sensors, and then measured the prescribed distance for a cut – three inches behind the DPF. After cutting and removing the excess piping, we installed the over-axle pipe and reinserted all of the sensors.

We then installed the tailpipe turnout onto the over-axle pipe and installed the exhaust tips. We had them stick just a smidge past the body, to where they’d be noticeable, but not overexposed. All that was left was tightening down the exhaust, and we were through.

The tires and wheels were little more than the TPMS sensors and bolts. So that left us with the B&W ball and storage kit, which proved to be a working wonder. All it took was a simple lift on the tow ball’s lever, and we could lock or remove or the tow ball with ease. The storage box fit neatly under the back seat, making the changeover and stow-away a breeze.

Testing It All Out

While we didn’t have a trailer ready to test out the Firestone kit, everything else about the truck was performing perfectly. The A/T IIs made little road noise at low or high speed, and getting the truck into the rough stuff was no issue at all.

We took the truck out to a nearby off-road spot to see if the A/T IIs lived up to the name. We left them at full pressure and did some light driving around on dirt roads, and never felt a slip in traction or loss of control. Taking the truck back to check up at the shop, we retested for leaks or rattles in the undercarriage and found everything to be in working order. The bags were still holding pressure and providing awesome stability to the truck’s ride characteristics.

This concluded the second phase of installs on our 2018 Chevy 2500HD. We were supremely happy with how everything turned out, and we think you will too. Do yourself a favor and go check out more from these companies with the provided contact info below.

Article Sources

About the author

David Chick

David Chick comes to us ready for adventure. With passions that span clean and fast Corvettes all the way to down and dirty off-road vehicles (just ask him about his dream Jurassic Park Explorer), David's eclectic tastes lend well to his multiple automotive writing passions.
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