Nov 182010

I have had a very frustrating couple of days, and if I had any hair left, I’d probably be pulling it out about now.

Our Ford van has 163,000 miles on the odometer, not counting many thousands more being towed behind our motorhome, and behind our bus conversion before that. It’s reached the point where it’s beginning to nickel and dime us to death. So we have been shopping around for something to replace it.

We found an absolutely beautiful low mileage 2005 Ford Explorer Limited 4×4 at a nearby dealer, and according to Motorhome magazine’s 2005 Dinghy Towing Guide,  the Explorer can be flat towed after the installation of a Neutral Tow Kit, which is about a $30 part. Cool, let’s do it!


Before we signed the papers, I wanted to double check on the procedure for setting up the vehicle for towing. Since the dealer selling the Explorer is not a Ford dealer, I went down the road to the Ford garage and told them what I wanted to do. They told me that basically the dealer plugs the Neutral Tow Kit into a socket under the dashboard, and then they ”flash” the vehicle’s computer to tell the 4 wheel drive transfer case to shift into neutral when I step on the brake pedal and push the 4×4 button, with the transmission in neutral.

However (you knew there was a “however” coming, didn’t you?), it’s not quite that simple. Ford no longer carries the Neutral Tow Kit, and the dealer can’t order one. I found one dealer in Oregon who has several of them in stock, for $375 each plus $30 shipping, and I found one on eBay for $500. Several websites list them, but nobody actually has one, they all want to take your money and put it on backorder.

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From what I understand, the tow kit is nothing more than an LED light, a plug, a template for mounting the gizmo, and three safety stickers.

I have spent the last two days online and on the phone, calling dealers all over the country, talking to a Ford district rep, and getting a different story from everybody I talk to. Some insist that I have to have the tow kit to make things work, some say all a dealer has to do is flash the computer program with or without the tow kit, and some say they have made their own replacement for the tow kit by simply wiring a 12 volt LED light into the circuit where the other tow kit would go. If you can find a dealer to flash it with a homebuilt replacement. Many won’t do it for liability reasons.

It’s a pain, but I understand the liability part of things. Years ago, when we first went on the road, we bought a new Toyota pickup to pull, and Toyota insisted it could not be towed. It was a manual transmission 4×4, so all I did was put the transmission and transfer case in neutral and we towed it for years with no problems. But the bean counters are all programmed to say no to anything, because “what if?”

Now, I think that Ford builds some very fine automobiles and trucks, and I also think that they have some very dumb and/or greedy employees. Three dealers immediately wanted to sell me a new vehicle, and when I told them I wasn’t going to do that, they had no time for me. Several service departments told me that an Explorer can’t be towed in any configuration, and others just scratched their heads and had no advice at all.

The very nice folks at Camper Connection pointed me toward a local Ford dealer’s garage, and the service manager agreed that the tow kit is nothing more than an LED light, a plug, a template for mounting the gizmo, and the safety stickers. Yesterday, the selling dealer let me take the vehicle to the Ford dealer, so he could try flashing the computer without the LED light in place. It didn’t work, so he told me to get an LED light, and we’re going to try again this morning.

Keep your fingers crossed for us. We love the Explorer, it meets all of our needs, the price is right, the financing is in place, but for want of a silly $30 part, the whole deal may fall through. Can you say frustrating?

UPDATE: We’re in luck! Jarrett Gordon Ford installed the LED light I got, and everything works fine for towing!

Thought For The Day – Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.

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Nick Russell

World-Famous, New York Times Best Selling Author, and All-Around Nice Guy!

  20 Responses to “Can You Say Frustrating?”

  1. WE have a Ford F-250 1997 that has a little over 200,000 miles on it. Last year, we took it to a Ford dealer in Alabama to get the oil changed. They refused to do it, saying that the vehicle was too old for them to work on. ??? But, they did offer to sell us a new truck. We went elsewhere, but it was the first time since we owned the truck that the work was not performed by a Ford dealer.

  2. When we found our Explorer Sport Trac and talked with the dealer about the Neutral Tow Kit, they were clueless. Tried to tell me that the NTK (which is actually a short wiring harness) was a driveshaft disconnect which would require extensive installation. I told them that we had two previous vehicles on which we installed the driveshaft disconnect and that is not what this little 18″ wiring harness was. They told me that the Sport Trac was NOT towable. . . in fact, NO Fords were towable. I asked what they normally did when someone came in and wanted to buy a Ford to tow. They told me they send them to the Chevy dealer. They actually were the ones who ordered and installed the NTK, but they probably are still thinking it would never work. . . even now after 55,000 towing miles.

  3. ford explorer is a piece of crap ,.. run!

  4. It may be fate’s way of telling you to look for another type of vehicle. Explorer doesn’t seem to have a great rating, but what do I know.

  5. I know it will all work out the way it’s supposed to…keeping my fingers crossed for you!

  6. Sorry for your frustration, Nick. But don’t you usually store tons of newspapers, bikes, and kayaks, etc. in your van? How can all that stuff (even with the new inflatable kayaks presumably replacing the others) fit into an Explorer?

  7. Do you have to leave the Neutral Tow Kit (NTK) installed, or is it only for the “flashing” process ? If only to flash, maybe someone could loan you one for the process ? If required all the time, what happens if you lose connection with the home made “light” ? Just trying to understand the risks if something goes wrong. Would love to tow a Jetta TDI Wagon (40 MPG) but VW will not warranty it. Seems like there’s few manufacturers who understand and support this niche market with good towable models.

  8. Nick go buy a used Chevy Trailblazer 4×4. It tows like a dream and extremely comfy ride. Its on a truck chassis.
    We love it! Need more info call Charles. He’s a truck Guy

  9. Nick, we towed a 2000 Explorer behind our motorhome for about a year with no problems. We did have the neutral tow kit ($11) installed by our local Ford dealership ($40). Their phone number in Laurel, MT is 406-628-5880–the service department is awesome. You could at least call them and see if they have a kit. One other thing, this Ford dealership did tell us that ONLY V-6 Explorers were towable, not

  10. Good luck Nick. Buying a vehicle is one of the most frustrating experiences ever! I hate the whole experience. As you have said in the past, if a sales person’s lips are moving they are lieing. Our experience with car sales people is that they only want to sell you what they need to get off the lot, not what you want/need to buy.

  11. My 2000 Blazer has 155 thou on it and has been towed an additional 70,000 miles and continues to give good service. Just push two buttons on the dash and pull one fuse. No problem ever. Towed it to Alaska and back two years ago. Good luck. Enjoy your blogs – well, most of them anyway! Happy and safe travels always.

  12. Something tell me that if it’s that much trouble you might need to find a different tow vehicle. Good luck

  13. Don’t you just love the people at Camper Connection? I always deal with them when i am in the Orlando area. They have always been very helpful and the work I have had done by them has been first rate. The bottom line is they are top notch people to deal with.

  14. Looks like a good buy. But Nick did you have to buy a PINK one.
    Come on Nick…man up.

  15. This is the second time in a month that I’ve read that someone is being told that Ford is no longer making the NTK. What’s going on? Is Ford not making the kits or are the dealers not wanting to do the job?

  16. You’re looking at the world through bloodshot eyes, Chris. It’s tan, not pink.

    Terry M – The company that made them for Ford went out of business. One Ford dealer, in Oregon, bought up all of the existing stock and is sticking to to anybody who wants one. The $2 LED light I got does the exact same job.

  17. Hope things work out for you. Our toads have been Jeeps. Had a 1999 Jeep Sport and now have 2005 Jeep Laredo. Easiest set up ever. Put gear shift in neutral, press transfer case to neutral, place gear shift in Park! (believe it or not). Go…90 second procedure.

  18. I have a 1996 Explorer with the neutral tow kit and have towed it over 60,000 miles with no problems. It’s a great setup. I especially like having a capable 4wd vehicle available for backroad excursions. It handles the lesser used roads of the Kofa wildife refuge near Yuma extremely well. Once, when my motorhome broke down in traffic, I used the Explorer to push it off the road.

    Ford says not to exceed 55 mph while towing, but I’ve always towed at the speed limit, up to 75 mph on I-8. My usual cruising speed is between 60-65.

    The LED is to alert you that the neutral tow was successfully engaged. When you engage neutral tow, it blinks once to let you know it works, then stays on when you are in neutral tow. I wouldn’t tow without that light installed.

  19. When we bought our 2004 Ford Explorer used, I read in the small print about a chip that would make it towable. I checked with Remco and they said it could be towed 4 wheels down. So I went back to the Ford dealership and showed them the small print. For about $50 they installed the chip and we have been successfully towing it ever since. We love the fact it is a 7-passenger vehicle which we can only haul 4 people in because the rest of it is used as a “pickup”. It takes us about 10 minutes to hook up for towing and I can do it by myself.

  20. Nick; I have a 2003 Ford Explorer XLT 4×4 and need to find Neutral Tow Kit (part no. 1L2J7H332-AA). Can you send me any leads on finding one of these kits. I am will also be looking for an installer since my Ford dealer no longer does the installs either. Thanks!

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