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  1. Default SF, CA -> MD: I80 vs. I40 summit passes, permits, etc?

    Hey, all!

    Hoping some of the road-trippin' veterans here have some first hand knowledge for a newb!

    Short version:

    I've done some Googling and (surprisingly?) haven't found a definitive answer to this:

    How do the high mountain passes on I-80 compare to I-40?

    Is it worth detouring down to I-40 to avoid Blue Canyon / Tahoe?

    How about permits? Is it easier (administratively? cost? etc?) to get wide load permits (8'10", dammit... missed it by that -> 4" <- much!) to go one or the other?

    Long version:

    I'll be towing a boat (30', <5000# total weight) with a new-to-me F250 turbo-diesel from San Francisco to my new home in Maryland. That's a challenge and anxiety-inducer enough on its own, so I'm trying to find the "easiest" way across the country. Really don't want to strain the truck, the trailer, me, etc any more than I have to!

    In the years I've lived in SF, I've made many, many (MANY! could pro'ly do it in my sleep... hell, may have!) trips to Tahoe, via 80, 50 and 89. The grade on I-80 at Blue Canyon (I think? regardless - the big steep drag up, not to mention the drop into Reno) make me very nervous about towing a trailer up and over it. Maybe I worry too much, but that's me.

    So, I'm thinking of going down to LA and out I-40, clipping the corner at Bakersfield to avoid the Tejon Pass, Google has it at only a few hundred miles more, and time isn't that critical, but I can't find any solid comparison of the passes / grades / difficulty of the two routes... haven't driven that route, so I have no first-hand knowledge... help!

    Further, as I understand it, I-70 is Right Out - steep, windy, etc. Sounds beautiful, and one of those "some day, before I die!" things to do, but not right for this trip.

    I admit I've never driven east of Reno or LA (err, been to a lot of the country, just not gotten there on my own four wheels... unfortunately, there's not enough leg room in coach for a sailboat! ; ) )... I'm actually looking forward to the trip, but hopin' to get some first hand comparisons of the two options?

    Obviously, if it were winter, I-40 makes more sense. Since snow isn't an issue in June (I HOPE!), that's not an issue.

    So - thoughts? Help? Wisdom? Facts?

    Much thanks in advance!

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Green County, Wisconsin

    Default not so obvious

    Welcome to the RTA Forum!

    Actually, your assumption that I-40 would be the obvious choice in winter isn't really that true. Because of the higher risk of ice in the southern plains, along with the risk of snow in Arizona and New Mexico, plus winter abilities of road crews in Wyoming and Nebraska vs. Texas and Oklahoma, many people would easily pick I-80 as their preferred winter route.

    I'll also say that its a big overstatement that I-70 is really steep and windy, but its also probably not the best choice for this trip either.

    I-80 does have the issue getting across the Sierra, and it is true that crossing at Tehachapi is pretty easy going, there are some downsides to I-40. Basically, you're still crossing some significant elevation and seeing some significant elevation changes through AZ and NM. This is a great visual look at how much up and down there is on this route.

    I'd say that I-80 is probably your best choice. As you can see, there just is no way that you can completely avoid the mountains, and I just don't think you'd really be gaining anything other than a couple hundred miles by traveling all the way down to I-40.

  3. Default Thanks!

    Thanks for the info - and the great link re: elevations and such on 66. I guess I got it stuck in my head that Tahoe was going to be worse than the alternatives...

    Appreciate your thoughts and your vote for I-80... pro'ly end up going that way... any one have a counter-argument?

    If I go, it may well be a solo run... if so, perhaps I'll keep myself occupied by stopping and taking pictures / etc for the forum!

    Thanks again!

    p.s... now to try to keep an eye out for questions from out-of-staters travelling through CA to try to return the wisdom-provision favor!

  4. #4
    Join Date
    May 2006
    Albuquerque, New Mexico


    I havenít been on I-80 anywhere except Nebraska, so I canít help with first-hand comparisons, but here are elevation profiles of each highway (not drawn to the same scale).

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Joplin MO


    A turbodiesel pickup will pull that boat like there's nothing back there. Just make sure you put the transmission in the tow mode. Keep it under 65 mph due to trailer tire restrictions, and note that some states still have a 55 mph limit when towing.

    A couple years ago, I was in Colorado. I have a short bed short cab F-150 with a V-6 and 5 speed manual. I was completely unloaded except for a couple suitcases - I was pulling a long upgrade on US-24 at around the 9000 foot level. I was flat on the floor in 4th with the A/C off, speed was slowly dropping from 70 to 65. I was passed by a crew cab Dodge 2500 diesel pulling a beefy 2 axle double car trailer with a Ford Escape sitting on it. He was probably doing about 80.

    I would go ahead and take 80 - but if you want to avoid Parleys, you can take I-15 north out of SLC to Ogden and pick up 84. I would also bail before Chicago to avoid all the toll roads. I'd probably take I-280 to I-74 at Davenport and take that to Indy and pick up I-70. To avoid the PA Turnpike you can take I-79 to I-68. The hills on I-68 will be a piece of cake compared to what you went through already.

  6. #6

    Default Towin' n blowin'

    Howdy sailor,

    Here's a hearty second (third?) to taking I-80 from SF well into the midwest. Adding miles at approx 10 mpg towing just makes no sense, plus the added distance is its own hazard, as every mile towing heavy has a certain generic risk.

    Some details and an additional routing suggestion:

    As glc said, you can avoid that huge spike in the I-80 profile between Salt Lake City and Evanston by heading up to Ogden off of I-80. The minor clarification is you'll want to take the I-215 beltway exit immediately E of the SLC airport and connect to I-15 a little N of downtown SLC, as I-80 joins I-15 essentially in downtown SLC--something to be avolded with your situation. Further as noted, then go north to Ogden, take I-84 east to where it joins I-80, and you're back on the route intended, having avoided urban congestion in SLC and Parley's Summit at a cost of a handful of miles.

    If I were you, I'd look at dropping down to I-70 from eastern NE by taking the NE-2 shortcut at Lincoln, before Omaha, thence I-29 and a beltway running E of KC.

    For the last 5 years I've run a version of your new truck: mine's an 02 F350 longbed crewcab 7.3 single rear wheel turbodiesel w/auto transmission. While I am aware of major improvements to the auto transmissions and the transmission fluid cooling systems since 02, heat buildup in the auto tranny is still your principal concern. I tow a 24' power boat with a total boat, motor, trailer, and misc gear weight of around 8,500 lbs. I can easily imagine your rig topping 10,000 lbs (and, by the way, do you know your total towed weight?). Diesel or not, let me assure you, you'll know it's back there. It is, quite simply, a major handful. Anyway, I'd give strong consideration to installation of a aftermarket transmission temp gauge and my eyes would be on that bad boy every few minutes, like a hawk. The factory trans temp gauge on mine primarily warns you immediately AFTER you've cooked the transmission--useless. Seeing the truck is "new to me", ie pre-owned, I'd absolutely insist on a full transmission fluid flushout (a procedure where all of the old fluid is pumped out of the system, in contrast to a regular ATF change, which leaves around 50% of the old fluid in the internal pumps and lines), new internal filter, add a Magnefine in-line filter, and replace with top, top quality synthetic ATF before the trip. If you're planning on keeping the big diesel and towing more on this side of the country, I'd have a pyrometer installed, too. That measures the exhaust gas temprature (EGT) at the turbocharger and elevated EGT is the first sign of things about to go BOOM in the diesel. Especially on long grades, one eye on the road ahead, one in the mirrors for approaching traffic (flashers on, right lane only), and a third eye on the trans temp and pyrometer is my MO. Do yourself and your truck another big favor and avoid immediate shut-down when you pull off for a nature stop or fuel, etc. Three reasons for that: your turbocharger is lubricated by engine oil, so pulling it off the highway after a long run and shutting it off has the effect of leaving oil in the turbo when it's still very hot from the higher EGTs experienced during the run. Such can badly compromise the oil and can even form an abrasive "coke" compound. Second is your transmission cooler runs a circuit through the transmission to a radiator and is forced by fluid pumps. Shut-down stops that process right when it's the hottest. Third is the overall engine cooling system stops at shutdown, right when it's the hottest. This is actually when many hoses and gaskets blow--the heat "soak" from shutting down a hot system rather than letting it idle for a few minutes to cool and equilbrate a bit. My own MO is I simply do not shut mine down whatsoever on a summer day's RoadTrip, not unless I plan to stop for > 15-20 minutes, and then only after a good 5-10min idle period following a hard run. I keep a spare set of keys on me and just lock her up, idling and out of the way once fueled. A diesel engine burns very little fuel at idle, so don't worry about that.

    Lastly, have a good long read about your truck at for other operational tips.

    Good luck and please post a report about your big tow!

    Last edited by Foy; 05-29-2009 at 05:08 AM. Reason: More transmission stuff

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jan 1998
    Las Vegas, Nevada

    Default Superb Tips about Transmission


    Excellent tips about keeping your truck engines running. I'll add this note -- just in case someone reads this in the winter months.... I rarely, if ever shut down the engine when I stop for groceries or other similar short-run stop once the temperature sinks below 20 F. I keep a set of keys in my pocket and just let her keep on idling --


  8. #8
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Joplin MO


    It depends what year your F-250 is - Foy, I believe your 02 may have the old 4 speed 4R100, which needs constant attention. The newer ones have the 5 speed TorqShift, which is a brute and has the tow mode. The older 7.3 is actually a better towing motor than the later 6.0, and the verdict is still out on the new 6.4. I believe you can plug something like a "Scangauge" into the OBD-2 port to read out the tranny temp. What heats up the tranny more than anything is operating with the torque converter unlocked, which is why you need to be mindful of not using overdrive if it keeps unlocking and downshifting. I believe the tow mode on the 5 speed locks out OD and tries to keep the converter locked as much as possible. The highest quality synthetic fluid is Amsoil, in my opinion. You might consider a top quality synthetic diesel oil in the engine too. A fuel additive will help keep things in better shape with today's ULSD fuel. The lack of sulfur is causing injector pump lubrication problems on the pre-07 engines. Something that can really help is when you stop and let it idle after a hard pull, open the hood to let the heat escape better.

    The reason I suggested I-74 instead of going via KC is STL can be difficult to get through due to a major construction project on I-64. This is increasing the traffic on I-70 and I-270 considerably. It also keeps you on the Interstates - not that NE-2 is bad but state highways are not always as wide load friendly.

    EDIT: I just looked it up - all the 7.3's used the 4R100, the TorqShift was introduced in 03 with the 6.0.

  9. Default New favorite site!

    Ok, this is now officially my new favorite site.

    You guys are awesome.

    The elevation maps are fantastic, and gave me great pause about considering 80... right up until all the great detailed route tips and reassurances!

    Really appreciate the votes of confidence re: taking 80. Think I'm just gonna man-up and do it. Here goes nothin'! : )

    Definitely digging out my old / buying a new road atlas and comparing/taking the cutovers described here -- particularly appreciate the tips re: missing the highest pass and skipping downtown SLC. Fantastic.

    Fortunately, one of my truck-shopping criteria was "no slushboxes" - I've finally learned my lesson (after having to replace 2? 3? of them over the years... slow learner...)... the "magic happens here, just accept it" between "spinning crankshaft" and "pushing wheels" is too unsettling for my doubtful/untrusting self. My new-to-me rig is a manual, with receipts for a relatively new clutch, so good there (*knock*wood*).

    As for the turbos and cool down - great advice, and something I'll have to remember. I'm not new to turbocharging, but my previous examples have all had built-in cool down pumps (something, I bet, I can add to my truck once she's in 'er new home... off to google that, too!). Turn off the key, pumps ran 10-15 minutes until the CPU decided everything was cool (with the added benefit of freaking out the passengers). And they were janky old tuned Audis, at that, so I'm used to keepin' an eye on all the right gauges. I'll have to remember to leave the truck idling -- and get an extra set of keys before I leave!

    Total dry weight of the boat is 3300# (she's an ultralight racer, so light for a 30'er)... I figure that, plus trailer, plus "correction for weight claimed by the marketing people" plus sails/crap, I'm still inside 5,000#... so shouldn't be *too* bad. She sits real low (lifting keel) and trailers really nicely -- her maiden voyage with me was up the 5 from south of LA to SF, over the Tejon and Altamont passes, behind a 25y/o Full Size Jeep, in the blazing heat of summer, and it wasn't too bad - right lane, flashers blinkin', just to be safe, but we made it just fine. So, I am "guardedly optimistic" for the long haul - we'll see!

    Thanks for all the tips and advice - and the routing that has likely saved me much heartache, stress and time -- *awesome*.

    Given that I'm solo, and intending not too push myself too hard, I'll try to create a trip thread with updates and such - record, for the annals of history, just what's involved in a newb jumpin' in to a long haul with both feet!

    Thanks again for the advice -- still open to more, should anyone have any!

  10. #10

    Default It's all good

    Mark- Isn't it surprising how quickly that 1,200 lb mass of cast iron and steel cools down in <20 deg F temps? Mine runs whenever stopped for a few in winter, too.

    glc- You're dead on with the trans and model years. My 02 is the last year with the finicky, unreliable R4100 auto trans. I can't believe it's still delivering torque at 176,000 mi. That said, I do baby the trans to an extreme degree. In fact, tomorrow's the annual full trans flush/fill/filter change in the driveway. I'd have done as Sailor did and bought a used manual trans truck if they weren't rarer than hen's teeth back East.

    Sailor- There is a device which is part of a pyrometer setup and wires into the ignition switch. It monitors EGTs and when the EGT has fallen to a specified, safe level, it shuts your truck down. I don't know how that squares with a manual trans, however. Me, I'd chock the wheels and use it anyway. And wow, at 30' and + 8.5' beam, that IS a light blowboat. I still say you'll know it's back there, but you're < half the weight I was guessing first off. You'll surely experience the wonder I did when first towing my 8,500# boat: when the need arises, you can ACCELERATE uphill. Astounding! I don't know if you're returning to familiar waters in MD, but having spent many an enjoyable hour on the Severn R, the Magothy, the Patapsco, the open Bay, and especially over at Kent Narrows (Harris' Crab House + Red Eyes Dock Bar Summer Sundays are the TICKET), I have to say you're in for some fun when you get that racer up there. I once served as "navigator" on an Annapolis buddie's go-fast on a speed run from Round Bay on the Severn to Lynnhaven Inlet down by the mouth of the bay. We did it in 2 hrs, 50 minutes, with two short stops for Mother Nature. Cruising down the Bay with two big-blocks singing (502 ci/525hp), averaging 58 mph, was wonderful. Glad I didn't have to pay for the fuel, though.

    Howard- Thanks for the profiles. I'd LOVE to see a "same vertical scale", side by side profile from, say, the junction of I-215 & I-80 to the junction of I-84 and I-80 at Echo Canyon, using I-80 one way and I-215/15/84 the other. Using "same horizontal scale" would graphically depict the distance difference, too, which I think is nominal. It's got to be a striking difference in profile. It still surprises me to see so many tractor-trailers crawling up Parley's headed E on I-80, especially in January when I normally visit UT.

    Looking forward to reading your Trip Report, Sailors and Fools.


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