Improving Towing Capability with Hellwig and Bilstein Part One

Improving Towing Capability with Hellwig and Bilstein Part One

by Mike Kojima

There has been a war brewing in the past few years, not in the Middle East, but in the half ton truck market. In the past, a half ton truck was just that, a lightweight truck, one up from a mini truck that was capable of towing an open trailer with a little bit of stuff in the bed. A towing capacity of 5000 to 7000 pounds was the norm and old half tons were barely adequate for the upper ranges of that weight limit.

Then Nissan introduced the Titan which had more power than anything else in the class and it was on.  Toyota responded with a powered up Tundra then the Domestics replied with hot trucks of their own.  Now you can get a Chevy Silverado with a 420 hp direct injection LS variant that can tow 12,000 lbs and the others are not far behind.  

Recently we've been using a 2014 Silverado for some serious towing.  We were using it for short range towing of a Pro Formula Drift car to local tracks for testing.  Our particular truck had a rated towing capacity of 9500 lbs.  Add a car, 30 spare tires with wheels, a bunch of parts and tools in a 30 foot enclosed trailer and we were right on or above the truck's rated tow capacity.

Although we were using a stabilizer bar tow hitch and the trailer had excellent brakes, towing right on the truck's maximum capability would often get a little hairy.  Undulations in the road would bottom out the truck's rear suspension. That combined with a nose high attitude and the messed up front alignment caused  as a result would sometimes see the the truck doing tank slappers down the road. That would definitely get your attention!  A white knuckle death grip on the steering wheel and a high level of concentration was needed to keep things safe and in the same lane.

This was not fun and with an ambitious testing schedule prior to the start of the FD season, something had to be done about it.  The rear suspension had to be greatly improved to handle the weight.  We got help with some parts from the folks at Hellwig because their parts had made a huge difference with our Project Tundra.  We also got some shocks from Bilstein to help control what was going on back there.  Since many of us tow race cars frequently, often with overloaded trucks and SUV's, check out what we did to tame this tow beast!  It probably applies for a lot of you as well.


To help our truck cope with a lot of tongue weight, we used these Hellwig Big Wig air springs. The air springs have a capacity for as much as 5200 additional lbs over the stock leaf springs. They have double pleats to give more bag stability over a wider range of travel with the ability to offer more travel than unpleated bags. The pleats also help reduce the chances of internal chaffing and damage compared to air springs that are just a single bag. 
The Big Wig system comes with all the bracketing and hardware needed for a easy bolt in installation. 
To make things more convenient and easier to use on the fly with changing weights, we got Hellwig's compressor kit with the optional heavy duty compressor.  Having an internal compressor makes adjustments to the truck's suspension super easy, even on the fly. It's well worth the added expense vs. just having a schrader valve and using a gas station compressor out on the road. 
The Hellwig heavy duty pump has a 33% duty cycle and can be used a lot or even left on all the time on trips for frequent adjustments.  The main reason why we like it is because it can adjust the air bags quickly in just a few seconds.  Having a regular pump and then trying the HD pump, we feel that it is well worth the extra expense.

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