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Old 03-19-2004, 11:35 AM   #1
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Suburban or Van with a 350 or 454...which do you prefer?

Greeting to all,

My wife and I are new to this web site and new to towing a camper trailer. We recently purchased a 1987 34 Avion triple axle (I know not AS but she is in great shape, was not too expensive and resembles an AS). We are now researching towing vehicles. I have a few questions concerning the Suburban. If you have owned one, towed with one, or know anyone who has, please give us your feedback.

Due to the size and weight (when loaded) of our camper, I wonder is the GMC 1500 is sufficient as our puller? Is anyone here pulling with a 1500 350? If you do, do you think the 350 is adequate? Those of you with the 1500/350, what mileage do you get when you tow and what weight are you towing? What is the gear ratio in your rear end? How does it perform on grades? Do you add any aftermarket products to your Suburban to increase performance?

I am leaning towards buying a 99ish 2500 (3/4 ton) 4X4 with a 454 engine in it. I feel that it is better to have more than enough engine than to overburden a smaller power plant. My wife is concerned about the mileage we will get with the larger engine. I am making a guess that the 454 2500 will get about 9-10MPG towing and the 1500 350 will get about 11-13. Am I way off mark here? I would try to find a unit that has the 4.10 gear ratio. Do you think that the 3.73 would be better/just as good?

When we travel will have both LP tanks full and plan to carry at least 1/3 a tank of fresh water. Along with bikes, food and other gear I project our trailer to weight about 9000 pounds ready to camp. Empty weight is 6650. With this in mind, does anyone feel a 1500 will do the job nicely? Would you feel better in the 2500?

We live in the DFW area and plan on towing through the mountains of Arkansas sometimes but mostly will be Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana. The reason I add this bit of info is so you will know we will not be towing on major grades as often.

My wife has also suggested we consider a ton van. Any feedback here from Van users? I know most only have the small block. Does anyone have an opinion here?

If you have or know of a clean tow vehicle that would be great for a family with young children, please let us know about it. We are shopping now and hope to find that perfect vehicle within the next 30-40 days.

I want to thank you for taking the time to respond.

Philip, Pamela, Marshall & ??? (trying for number 2 now, wish us luck)
And a few dogs

phildickson@nas-cargo.com
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Old 03-19-2004, 12:24 PM   #2
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I would suggest that with a tri-axle being as large as it is, a 454 might be a better engine for such a large coach. When we were kids, our fam had an '85 454 and it towed 6k lbs like it wasn't even there.

I have a 350 and I can tell you that it does strain a bit. Solid engine, but I am only towing between 19 and 25'. I'd think with a 34' the 454 would do a better job than a 350 might. I think that the 3.73s would be fine. If you happened across one with 4.10s great, but the 3.73s are more than up to the task. Sure the 4.10s are a bit better, but they also lower fuel economy a bit as they really are not great highway gears...not that the 3.73s are much better, but as for having enough grunt to do it, a 454 with 3.73s would be just fine.
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Old 03-19-2004, 01:13 PM   #3
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Suburban or Van with a 350 or 454...which do you prefer?

Greetings Phillip and Pamela!

Welcom to the Forums!

Quote:
When we travel will have both LP tanks full and plan to carry at least 1/3 a tank of fresh water. Along with bikes, food and other gear I project our trailer to weight about 9000 pounds ready to camp. Empty weight is 6650. With this in mind, does anyone feel a 1500 will do the job nicely?
Your coach's empty weight tells the story. The C/K 1500 (1999 and before) series Suburban when equipped with the highest rated trailer towing package didn't have ratings higher than 6,800 pounds - - so even empty, your trailer would put a 1500 series Suburban over its trailer tow rating as well as its GCVWR. You will need at least a C/K 2500 with 7400 VORTEC and 4.10 differential gearing to achieve the 10,000 pound trailer towing capacity that you will need with your projected 9,000 pound trailer weight. My '99 K2500 Suburban with the 7400 VORTEC and 4.10 gears has a 10,000 pound trailer tow rating (3.73 differentials reduced the maximum trailer tow rating of the K2500/7400 VORTEC by 2,000 pounds in '99).

Quote:
My wife is concerned about the mileage we will get with the larger engine. I am making a guess that the 454 2500 will get about 9-10MPG towing and the 1500 350 will get about 11-13. Am I way off mark here?
My Suburban was special ordered for me by my local dealer, and in 125,000 miles I can verify the following about my fuel economy: solo highway is 14 to 15 MPG (cruise set 3 MPH below posted maximum); solo mixed driving 11 to 12 MPG; towing (6,100 pound Overlander) highway 11 to 12 MPG (cruise set no higher than 55 MPH); towing mixed driving 9 to 10 MPG; and towing Rocky Mountains 9 MPG. With the weight involved with your coach, it would be ill-advised to consider the 5700 VORTEC - - my previous tow vehicle for the Overlander was a 5.7 Liter K1500 Z-71 pickup (3.73 differential) and it struggled under most conditions and was deplorably under-powered in the mountains. I will admit to being very partial to Suburbans after having owned a pickup as well as a van - - the Suburban (or the pre-1991 Jeep Grand Wagoneer) is my ideal trailer towing and travel vehicle since the full-size Cadillac DeVille Convertibles of 1970.

Quote:
Any feedback here from Van users?
In a '99 or earlier van, you would likely be looking at a one-ton series in order to get adequate trailer towing capacity for your coach. This would mean a rather long search as most one-ton vans were typically the commercial variety.

One thing to consider with a van, especially if you are not a do-it-yourselfer, is the additional cost for routine maintenance. I know that the two short years that I used a G20 GMC Vandura for towing my 4,000 pound Brand X trailer, my dealer charged an additional 1/2-hour labor to both remove and then again to re-install the doghouse cover during service calls - - this amounted to every oil-change as the doghouse had to be removed to check the condition of the air filter.

Another thing that I realized during the period that I owned the van is that you either love or hate the driving position in a van - - I am afraid that I fell into the category of those who despise the driving position in a van. Even with convex spot mirrors on the passenger side, I still never felt like I knew what was beside the van with any certainty - - especially in heavy city traffic - - the high window line meant that most cars (especially subcompacts) were not visible through the side-windows when they approached on the passenger side - - had a number of scares when driving in heavy California traffic. I will admit that my van was a compromise as I wanted a Suburban even then, but it (the van) seemed like a much better buy and there wasn't a two-year waiting list for a new van as there was for a new Suburban at that time - - but then again it (the G20 Vandura) hit the used market early after only two years and 45,000 miles.

Good luck with your tow vehicle decision!

Kevin
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Old 03-19-2004, 01:27 PM   #4
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I'm a chevy guy by nature and that big of coach I'd start looking at Turbo Diesel tow rig like a F250 with a 7.4 liter Power stroke, Duramax chevy or a Dodge with a Cummings. I would also look for a stick. That sort of weight is rough on a auto transmission.

Towing on the flat most of those will get 14mpg. Hills and mountains you would be around 11-12. Empty you would be getting 20.

Like I said, I'm a Chevy guy. If I had the option of any tow rig this side of $50k I'd be looking at a F250 7.4 Powerstroke, Crew cab short bed ford with a stick shift. I have several friends with them. Most of them tow heavy loads and by heavy I mean double car trailers with two heavy 4x4's and cross counter from Atlanta to Moab. We are talking about 14,000 lb.
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Old 03-19-2004, 01:44 PM   #5
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You guys are awesome. I am very happy to have found this web site. Your replies give me much to think about and reconsider. I will check back often to see what others have to say. I want to thank each of you who replied.

59toaster
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Silvertwinkie

Great information!

Pam & I will both be reading your replies and will check back in often.

Have a great weekend!

Philip
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Old 04-05-2004, 05:30 PM   #6
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texasphilter,

I have an older 5.7L in a station wagon, (not vortec) with 200 horses... and it struggles towing anything around 5000 lbs at high way speeds. The rpms are higher than I like. The MPG is abysmal, about 10-12. (Usually at least 20). I don't even know the tranny temp.

34' triple axle puts you in the 3/4 to 1 ton truck territory, with a big block engine, either gas or diesel. I think you can get away with higher gears, like 3.55 or 3.73, but 4.10 will definitely help in the mountains.

I don't use my tow vehicle for anything else but towing. Too much for a daily driver, too big and doesn't even get 10 mpg in mixed driving, and only 11 at best on highway. But, I accept that.
A/S (Or Avion) membership has its price.

I suggest getting your next TV on ebay.
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Old 04-05-2004, 08:54 PM   #7
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I've had several tow vehicles over 30+ years of towing Airstreams, starting with cars [In the early seventies the Chrysler New Yorker with big V8 was great], then a van and three Suburbans.

With a trailer as large as yours, you will find that with a 1500 series of any tow vehicle, you will have to replace it in a relatively short time if you do much towing for any great distance. They just aren't built for heavy loads and the transmission will likely fail first.

I prefer the 2500 Suburban, with a large V8. The 2500's are built for towing a good load, built on a heavier frame, with heavy duty suspension, stronger transmissions, and with the extras that help with transmission and oil temperatures. The smaller V8 [which I once had] with the proper rear end ratio will do a good job, even in the mountains [though not at the speed you will get with the larger engines].

I've always been happiest when I had an AS and a 'burb with a big V8. . . But I just bought a 2500 Avalanche with an 8.1L V8, because I've always wanted a truck, and my sweet wife did not want to part with the inside 'look and feel' of the Suburban, and she likes it!

Good hunting,
Bud
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Old 04-05-2004, 10:34 PM   #8
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Phillip,
I had a '92 Chevy Z71 4X4 with 350 and 5 sp. manual transmission. The rear end ratio was a 3.42 and it sure could have used a 3.73 or 4.10 rear end ratio. The Vortec 350s of '95 and later picked up more horsepower but were plagued with a 2 piece intake manifold that had a tendency to leak antifreeze. I towed a '77 31' Excella 500 from AZ. back to TN. and hills were a problem. No overheating but I had to shift all the way down to 2nd on the steep ones. While the higher numerical rear end ratios would have helped, the '01 2500hd with 8.1 litre engine with 3.73 rear end ratio made this combination liveable. I could not imagine towing a 34' Airstream with a 1500 powered by a 350. You will be nothing short of miserable. Go with the 2500 with 454 or find a used diesel powered truck and you will be happy.
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Old 04-05-2004, 11:13 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by texasphilter
Greeting to all,


My wife has also suggested we consider a ton van. Any feedback here from Van users? I know most only have the small block. Does anyone have an opinion here?
I've got a 2003 3/4 ton GMC Savana passenger van. Vortec 6000 engine and 4.10 rear axle. Maximum tow capacity is 9,900 lbs. Mileage looks to be about 10 mpg towing.

The van cuts a big swath of air and has a big wheel base. A very stable tow vehicle.

Jack
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Old 04-06-2004, 08:42 AM   #10
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the last suburban i drove was a 81 or 82 diesel and was quite impressed...guess that was the start of my"diesel fever"...i now have a ford e-350 diesel passenger van with a 3.55 rear end...it has enough power to pull my 30' excella...another plus is the gear ratio doesnt eat the fuel as much and is good for solo driving when it isnt towing...i prefer vans becuz you are higher up then a burb,and can see the traffic up ahead better. good luck with your search..
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Old 04-06-2004, 11:16 AM   #11
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Purchased a 2500 Suburban with 454 & 3.73

Greetings to all,

I want to thank each of you for your thoughts and suggestions. After reviewing the posts on this thread, we decided to purchase a 1994 2500 Chevy Suburban with 454 & 3.73 gear ratio with 77K on her. I bought her from a WW2 fighter pilot and retired engineer (Dow Chemical) named Harold Wolf living in Lake Jackson, TX. He special ordered her new and used her to pull his 88 34' Avion. I got about 16 MPG driving back to Arlington from Lake Jackson.

He had added a few things such as a transmission cooler, tow hooks, CB, top of the line trailer brakes & real nice running boards. He ordered this truck with no third row seat and used the cargo area for tool boxes and storage. The color is a silver metallic and it looks real good next to my camper. I have not had the chance to hook her up yet. I am still searching for a hitch and sway bars for my unit. Strange but my trailer did not include these things when I bought it.

I can not afford the Hensley hitch at this time, but am looking for a good weight distributing hitch in the ball park of 300-400 dollars. If you have any suggestions, please let me know. Once again I want to thank each of you for your suggestions. I hope the truck we purchased will meet all of our needs.

Philip Dickson
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Old 04-06-2004, 03:00 PM   #12
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Think that will take care of you just fine!

When we had the Bambi we spent something like $775 installed for the entire Reese setup (with friction sway control and weight distribution) and electrical stuff (brakes, lights, etc).

When we went to the Safari, we were able to keep everything as it still exceeded what we needed. The only upgrade I did was to go from friction sway to dual cam which was a $159 upgrade. I took the coach out for the first ride a few weekends ago with a slight Chicago breeze (20mph)....towed like a rock!

Eric
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Old 04-06-2004, 04:05 PM   #13
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Philip,

I have the Reese Hitch, adjustable ball height, dual cam equalizing bars and all, that I removed when I switched to the Hensley acouple of years ago. If you are interested I would be glad to part with them for a VERY reasonable price, plus shipping (probably about $25-30 for each of the two packages it would take to get them there by UPS Ground). Send me a personal message if you want to discuss it.

Bud Peterson
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