Pushed To The Break, or Just Over Built?November 20th, 2009
I, like most people that read mags like this, would do anything to build my hauler into the ultimate tow rig. I’d even give up a good living to have a job where I would be exposed to inventive tips and parts. I was so happy when I got the call to become a full-time staffer on a truck publication that I jumped up and screamed, “I got the job,” right in the middle of my old boss’s office. And yes, it went over like a lead zeppelin. In the first three weeks of having the job, I offered my truck as the editorial guinea pig every week. My new boss and good friend Kevin Wilson said, “Be careful of what you ask for or like a kid in a candy store, you’ll be aching when you get a belly full.” He was always good with catch phrases. “Even a blind Squirrel gets a nut,” is yet another example of Heavy K’s pathway to a higher plain of existence.
Of course he knew when he hired me that I had a great zeal for the land of aftermarket parts. Then one day his warning came to bear fruit, although it was more like prostate removal surgery than it was a belly ache! I had built my LB7 to make more than 450 horsepower and over 1000 lb-ft of torque. All on Diesel. And it just ran damn good!
My better half, Marisa and I loaded up our Toy Hauler for a fun-filled weekend at our favorite OHV Park. On the other side of the trailer was a Class A motor home buried to the frame rails in the sand.
You know the old saying, “No Man Left Behind?” So I disconnected my truck and backed up to the coach. I wrapped a tow-strap to the motor home’s straight axle and fished my receiver hitch through the strap’s eye. With a couple feet slacked on the tow strap I hit it. Just as the back end started to pull down the turbo kicked in, yanking the buried hulk from its sand pit.
Feeling like I had paid my dues in karma, I pushed a little harder on my limits that weekend. I had a great time and even shot a feature, coincidently this month’s cover. This job consumes you. The concept of time off is any time spent not thinking or doing something for the job. Of course all things come to an end, so Monday rolled around and we packed up for home.
About 50 miles from home the sound of a helicopter filled the cab, but the sound was resonating from under the truck. I didn’t recall running over any helicopters; it was about then the “belly ache” started to set in.
It didn’t take long for the news of my Duramax failure to quickly make its way through the grapevine. Kevin Wilson’s words of wisdom burrowed in my mind with bitter hint of, “I told you so.” My list of solutions wasn’t exactly a lengthy one either. Take my truck to the dealer? Ha, not a chance; they’d laugh me right to the curb. It didn’t take long to realize my only option was to rip the truck apart. So I ignored the image in my mind of Kevin’s head on my mother’s body saying, “You realize that’s a $40,000 truck you’re tearing apart!”
After pulling the motor and tearing it down I found some rather odd things. The entire two-section oil pan was full of bearing material. The fact that the truck didn’t bend a rod or blow a head gasket (which is the normal course of failure with too much power and a stock Duramax bottom end) was an indicator alone that something other than the norm was going on inside.
I purchased the truck used and I wanted to know the truck’s history. I called a friend that worked at a dealership and found the truck had made at least two trips to the service department for water in the oil! On one occasion the dealer had the truck for about a month and it appears that the heads were taken off. Many other odd parts were on the warranty worksheet, one of which was a water pump. After some research I found that this may have been a common problem amongst the first gen LB7 Duramax engines. My conclusion is that the engine was run – maybe while towing – with water in the oil for some duration in time. That caused major wear on the bearings, the same bearings brought to an early demise from the power mods I made.
I know this whole story is going to spark some interest in whether or not I would have done the modifications knowing the end result. Would you speed on the highway if you knew you were going to get a ticket? Would you spend the money on 26-inch wheels with 35 series tires on a 7,000 lbs truck if you knew hitting the cement lip on a driveway at seven miles an hour would break the tire bead and bend the rim?
So when do you stop modifying your truck? Should you worry about breaking parts? What’s the limit on a daily driver? My father in law drives a quad cab long bed 4X4 with a supercharged 454 gas engine. Some would say that’s a gas pig and it costs too much to run, but he drives it every day. Of course his commute to work is only six miles. That and he drives like a grandma.
Let’s face it, the percentages of performance, luxury, and style are all subjective terms. Other than the human factor, measuring these elements is also subjected to variance; who you are, where you live, and what you do are a few of the factors that would have an effect on what’s comfortable, fun and intolerable. The answer is different for everyone. As far as Kevin’s advice is concerned, I’m sorry Heavy K, but I’m just an enthusiast at heart. I’ll pull out some old engine builder tricks and be back on the road, this time with more power and a fresh engine to boot!
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