How To Make A Ford Explorer 4x4 Dinghy Ready

 
Living as an fulltime RVer while traveling around in a 45 foot, Class A motorcoach, pretty much requires the use of a dinghy (towed) vehicle. Since I already owned a 2003 Ford Explorer 4x4 that was paid-off, I began to inquire if it could be towed with four wheels down. My Explorer's 4x4 system has 3 buttons on the dash labeled 4x4 Auto, 4x4 High, and 4x4 Low; thus my vehicle is an All-Wheel Drive (AWD) since it does not have 4x2 as a selectable option. When I searched on the internet, I found many fulltime RVers that used an Explorer as their towed vehicle. I also found this vehicle was listed in the Ford 2003 Towing Guide as a vehicle that could be towed with all four wheels down as long as I installed a Ford Neutral Towing Kit (part no. 1L2J7H332-AA). I then started calling several Ford dealerships in my area to schedule my vehicle for an install of the neutral towing kit. The first five Ford dealerships I called told me this part number does not exist in their system anymore (quit making them in Nov. 2009) and several of the dealerships even told me that a Ford 4x4 SUV with an automatic transmission can never be towed with four wheels down. I then went to the REMCO website and it "incorrectly" states that my vehicle can not be used for towing four wheels down. Finally, the National Sales Coordinator for RoadMaster, Inc. told me of a Ford dealership, near them in WA state, that had the Ford Neutral Towing Kits in stock and that they would sell me one for $350.00 plus $30.00 for shipping and handling. Also please note that this is just the cost of the part with shipping and does not include installation.
 
After posting about my dilemma on three different RV discussion boards, several fulltime RVers told me that a Ford Explorer, 4x4, V8 or V6, automatic transmission makes a great dinghy vehicle that can be easily be towed with four wheels down, and that many RVers had been towing one for several years; in fact, I have since found out it is one of the most popular dinghy vehicles that can be towed with all four wheels down. This made me very determined to keep this vehicle and to find a way to get it ready for towing without spending $380.00 plus labor costs for installation. This article is about how easy it is to actually make a Ford Explorer 4x4 with auto transmission dinghy ready.
 
Making a Home Made Ford Neutral Towing Kit
 
A few years ago the Ford Neutral Towing Kits were selling for $30.00 each so I thought it was highway robbery to now have a Ford dealership charging $350.00 plus $30.00 S&H for these same kits. I was then contacted by Nick Russell from The Gypsy Journal, and he told me the entire kit consists of nothing more than a 12v LED light bulb with two wires, and a few stickers. It was hard for me to believe this Ford dealership was charging a total of $380.00 for their kits when this is all they truly consisted of. Nick then sent me a copy of the Ford Neutral Tow Indicator Installation Instructions which showed me that he was telling me the truth about what the kit consisted of. He went on to tell me that I could find a 12v LED light bulb with two wires at Radio Shack, which I did for a total cost of $2.00. I chose a small, red light so it would be easy to mount and easy to see during the day or night. Nick told me if I wanted the stickers that come with the original kit, I can print them out from the installation instructions, laminate them, and put them on my vehicle as shown in the instructions.
 
Installing the Home Made Ford Neutral Towing Kit
 
First, you must remove the piece of plastic dashboard underneath the steering column which is held in place by a few small screws. Then look for a Green Plug (with two wires) under the right side of the steering column. Simply cut the Green Plug off and throw it away. Next, you mount the small 12v LED light somewhere on the dash or steering column so that you can see it. Then you simply complete the circuit (where you cut off the Green Plug) by using the two short wires from the LED light. Attach one wire from the light to one cut wire and then attach the second wire from the light to the other cut wire. You have now completed the circuit for the Ford Neutral Towing Kit.
 
Programming the Home Made Ford Neutral Towing Kit
 
Once you have completed the installation shown above, you must then find a mechanic shop to flash your vehicle's computer. I went to Freedom Automotive in Hesperia, CA and had Roy Jameson do the computer flash. It consisted of plugging in a diagnostic laptop computer and simply choosing one of the three below listed steps (depending on which diagnostic equipment your mechanic uses) to allow your vehicle's transfer case to be put into neutral tow.
 
USING NGS SERVICE (GREEN) CARD
CONNECT TO VEHICLE VIA THE DIAGNOSTIC CONNECTOR
SELECT “SERVICE BAY FUNCTIONS”
SELECT “4X4 CONTROL MODULE”
SELECT “NEUTRAL TOW FUNCTION”
SELECT “EXPLORER”
PRESS TRIGGER AND SCROLL TO ENABLE OR DISABLE
PRESS TRIGGER AGAIN AFTER HIGHLIGHTING THE DESIRED STATE
PRESS “DONE”

USING NGS+
SELECT PROPER VEHICLE AND MODEL YEAR
SELECT DIAGNOSTIC DATA LINK
SELECT 4X4 MODULE
SELECT FUNCTION TESTS
SELECT NEUTRAL TOW ENABLE
SCROLL TO ENABLE OR DISABLE NTF AND PRESS TRIGGER

USING WDS
CONNECT TO VEHICLE VIA THE DIAGNOSTIC CONNECTOR
FOLLOW HOOK UP SCREEN
AFTER WDS DISPLAYS VEHICLE INFO, SELECT TOOL BOX ON TOP OF SCREEN
FROM ON SCREEN MENU SELECT “MODULE PROGRAMMING”
SELECT “PROGRAMMABLE PARAMETTERS”
SELECT “NEUTRAL TOW FUNCTION”
FOLLOW INSTRUCTIONS ON THE WDS TO COMPLETE OPERATION

Roy only charged me $45.00 for hooking up the diagnostic machine and flashing the computer. It took a total of 30 minutes to flash the computer and that was only because he installed all of the computer updates for my vehicle; if he had not done the extra stuff, it would have taken only 20 minutes.

 
Using the Home Made Ford Neutral Towing Kit
 
Now that the 12v LED light is installed and the computer has been flashed to allow neutral towing, here are the sequence of steps to follow to put the transfer case into tow neutral. Since the vehicle will be placed into neutral, make sure the vehicle is secured (won't roll away) while going through the below listed steps. Since I hook up my Explorer to my motorcoach with the tow bar first, I do not have to worry about my Explorer rolling away while putting it into tow neutral.

1. have the engine running
2. put the shift lever into neutral
3. turn the key back two positions (off but not locked)
4. 12v indicator light will come on and then turn off
5. press the brake and the 4X4 auto button for about 5 seconds
6. the 12v indicator light will flash several times and then stay on
7. release the brake and the 4X4 button
8. transfer case is now in neutral

Please note that the 12v LED light will eventually go out after several minutes, but as long as you keep the vehicle's shift lever in neutral, both your transmission and the transfer case will remain in tow neutral. We have now towed our Ford Explorer for several miles and love how quickly we can hook it up and how great our Ford Explorer tows behind the motorcoach.

In summary, I am now very happy with my 2003 Ford Explorer XLT 4x4, AWD, 4-Door, with V8, and automatic transmission as a dinghy vehicle. The Ford Explorer is a nice size vehicle to tow behind a Class A motorcoach. It is a mid-size SUV so you can tow it without any problems; not too long, not too big, not too small, not too heavy. We have a great SUV with a 239 HP, 4.6L, SOHC V8 with 4750 rpm and 282 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm. (powerful but not a gas hog), with 4x4 AWD (great for snow, mud, & rainy road conditions), and a nice amount of room inside the vehicle for both us and extra gear. We haul around a Sea Eagle inflatable boat with a 4-stroke outboard motor, and still have a place to stow our towing equipment when using the vehicle as a runaround vehicle. Since our SUV is a 4-door, we have plenty of room for a couple of extra passengers and room to put the groceries. Our Explorer has a roof-mounted, luggage rack and a tow package, so we can also install a roof mounted cargo carrier as well as an ultra large cargo carrier or bike rack in the Explorer's hitch receiver for even more storage capacity. As far as I can tell from all of the RV discussion board topics, all Ford Explorer's whether 2x2 or 4x4, whether V6 or V8, whether 2 door or 4 door can be quickly made tow ready by using this same procedure. In my opinion, a Ford Explorer is definitely in the top 5 list of best, all-time, vehicles for use as a towed vehicle behind a Class A motorcoach.

2003 Ford Explorer Specifications
2003 Ford Explorer Owner's Guide
2003 Ford Universal Service Information


Our Articles
D & D World Travel