Rough Traveling... wife isn't happy...
We drove back down to San Diego from northern california and for the sake of speed, drove down that highly interesting interstate, I-5. In spite of all the beautiful scenery, I couldn't figure out why my wife wasn't very happy until we got home.
The ride was too rough for her. So I began to pry for more details.
- The SMB seats, just not comfortable. I agree too.. hour 5 into it, my back wanted to die. This might be the first real thing I should upgrade. We're not going to get very far if my wife boycotts all the trips.
- the ride is a bit harsh. kinda reminiscent of my 78 CJ. Not at all like my wife's 04 lexus - but all things considering, of course it isn't. I've got those Adjustable Rancho shocks on it. I wonder if tweaking the settings will make it ride a bit better.
- I had my BFG 285's running at 50~55PSI. Will dropping the pressure make the ride easier?
Any other thoughts on how I can make the ride a bit better. I'd hate to make my wife not want to travel in it.
Looks like you are starting out on the right track by adjusting the shocks and tire pressure. Don't forget about the rear pressure.....
The E-series is a truck, and correspondingly, rides like a truck. I don't doubt better springs (e.g. Deavers) and better shocks (e.g. Bilsteins) can improve the ride, as can an air bag setup like Buji has, but then it will ride like a smoother truck. It's a truck, and agruably, an overloaded truck.
Be very careful about lower the tirer pressure too much. The tire pressure should be determined by the loaded weight of the SMB. Lowering the tire pressure allows the tire sidewalls to flex more, improving the tire's ability to absorb bumps, but the increased flexing of the sidewall builds heat which can have devasting effects on a tire.
I'd recommend adjusting the shocks you have. If that doesn't work, there are a number of options to consider (in no particular order)
1) New shocks
2) New springs
3) Air bag setup
4) Sway bars
5) New seats
6) Seat heaters (I've found seat heaters great on long trips)
7) Sound deadening material (makes a big difference in the overall comfort level)
We might have the same shocks. Do you have the ones with the 9 setting positions? When I picked up the Sportsmobile after Salem Kroger did the 4x4 conversion, they had it set on 7. Craig suggested 7 or so for highway use and lower for dirt roads and fire roads and suggested that we just experiment and see what fits our needs best. The first few outings I would set them on 7 for highway use and 2 or 3 for back roads, then back to 7 when we got back to the pavement. Once I got lazy and just left them on 2. It handles well enough on the highway and it certainly is smoother than on setting number 7. I have since left them on 2 all the time. You have to pay attention with your driving but it gives a better ride.
All that said, it is still basically a one ton truck. If you ride in a half ton pickup it rides like a car. A three quarter ton pickup rides like a sports car. A one ton pickup rides like a truck. My wife picked up a wire and wicker contraption that goes behind her back like a pillow would and she says it makes the seat much more comfortable for her.
My wife also hates the stock seats. She says the side bolsters 'roll' her hips in. She uses a pillow to flatten the seat bottom. And she sits sideways - one foot under the dash and one foot behind the doghouse.
I have back problems and the old stock seats in my F250 make the van seats seem luxurious. I had them replaced long before I got the van- the current truck seats are super soft leather and have a 3-way back insert that does heat, massage and lower back support with an air pillow. It's the only thing I sit in that I don't use a pillow for.
I'd like to find a source for the seat inserts that do heat, massage and support but I looked around back in Tucson and none of the upholstery places knew what I was talking about and online there are only external type additions.
The #1 most major improvement in our van has been the Deaver Springs. My wife absolutely loves them. I keep my Ranchos on 5 in the front and 7 or 9 in the back, but the real difference is the springs. Before any bumps like railroad tracks at speed or a minor chuckhole were literally bone jarring. Now with the Deavers the bounce is still there, but the jarring crash is not.
And then there's the lack of passenger legroom because the engine is offset several inches right of center in the Ford E-series. My wife often rides with her legs propped up on the dashboard. Let's not talk about what happens if the airbags go off.
Would larger tires help?
What about larger tires? They could provide more sidewall flex, right?
Does anyone have personal experience with the ride improving when they upgraded from the 285s to larger tires?
(I'm still running a similar setup, with BFG 285s at 50-55 PSI and the Rancho shocks set to 7 front, 9 rear. The ride can be pretty punishing on poor highways. I'm quick to air down whenever I can on backroads.)
Larger tires can provide more 'balloon' to the overall ride, but will also add to the weight at each wheel, which increases the amount of Noise/Vibration Harshness (I think I'm using that term correctly)
Even with the airbag suspension on it's lowest setting, and my adjustable shocks turned down, the biggest difference in my ride comes from adjusting tire pressure. Everything else just seems to adjust the amount of pitch and porpoising that the van does.
Now, NVH can be a tricky thing, especially in a van with two fridges, non fabric blinds, a sink with dog toys, and all the various other things we have in the van. Just the sound of everything rattling around magnifies any bumps you may actually be feeling a lot.
My ride is relatively smooth, but all those small vibrations make everything in the van sound much worse than it actually is, and wears on the occupants as badly as anything else.
I made a HUGE improvement in this aspect by weather stripping all of my cabinets and drawers, as well as making sure my fridges are always full, or have tension bars in place to hold the contents still.
Also, I adjusted the tension on a few of my blinds so they wouldn't rattle against the window so much.
These steps actually went a lot further for me than airing down the tires to less than optimal air pressure. I still keep my rear tires at 70 and fronts at 65 for daily driving, but will air down to 45 for washboards.
It compares favorably to my memory of driving a smb 4x4 setup 9 months before I got my van, but that could very much be rose colored lenses.
When I get off the dirt though, and before I air back up, the ride is a little like an older caddy :D
I will say this is the thing I look forward to most whenever a get together can happen that I can attend. I would very much like to compare my ride side by side with some of the other vans, because I get quite a few questions about it. Also it would be nice to compare turning radii, stopping distances, and maybe even a little articulation, but now I'm asking for a mini-olympics. Maybe at the next forum rally?
I will say that the airbags are super nice for adjusting the ride when we get extra passengers, primitive leveling when camping, and it is nice to be able to adjust the spring rate on the fly if I get on a road that makes the van want to bounce a lot. (yolo causeway, for example)
I still think most of the suspension work is being done by the springs, and I could even totally lose pressure on the bags and it would ride safely. (this was a design target from S&K). They added a leaf to the rears and those front springs are pretty burly. In theory I could reduce my spring rate by going with smaller springs and removing that one leaf, but then if I had a failure on my air springs I would be a sad panda.
Yes, I think that's the basic problem. No amount of suspension improvement is going to help the fact that so much unsprung weight is below the van, with heavy tires wheels and axles.
Except in my case it's a Lincoln:
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