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Old 05-29-2015, 09:47 AM   #1
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1985 34' Excella
Durham , North Carolina
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Sufficient infrequent towing vehicle

We're looking at a 5.3 L 1500 suburban from the early 2000s… We have a 34 foot XL a trailer from 1985… Manual says it's GVWR is 8900 pounds. The dealer was saying that towing with the vehicle every now and then would be fine. Our primary use of the trailer is to actually live in it for 18 months, and not drive around much with it. But we would like to take it to a music festival here and there, or maybe for a week or two you across the country. But certainly not more than once every year or every two or three years. Anybody have comments about whether this vehicle would work? Perfect four-wheel-drive vehicle for our four kids one dog family, on a 12% grade farm driveway, just need to be able to pull the Airstream every now and then.

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Old 05-29-2015, 09:51 AM   #2
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Check the manual for the GCWR, which is more pertinent than the GVWR.

GCWR minus actual weight of the Suburban (not the GVWR) is your allowable trailer weight.

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Old 05-29-2015, 10:09 AM   #3
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You really need to run the numbers yourself. Dealers really can't be trusted to know anything about towing with your specific rig.

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Old 05-29-2015, 10:18 AM   #4
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Unless the dealer looked up the numbers on your vehicle and showed you how to do the calculations, you will be best served to spend a little time working it out yourself.

Start with the sticker on the door jam of your vehicle, it will list all the weights that you need. Write those numbers down. Look up the weights for your trailer, these may be on a sticker or some documentation you have, otherwise make a full note of the year, model and size of your trailer and ask here for help.
Mad Astrophysicist turned sales guy that works to fund his dirty snowbaording habbit, mwah-ha-ha . . .
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Old 05-29-2015, 10:19 AM   #5
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1985 34' Excella
Durham , North Carolina
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True. Though this guy has the exact same vehicle, and has pulled racing trailers (10k lbs) for decades, and he's a reputable repeat seller we've used before. But good point...i'm hoping to hear from folks on here, for example, "I've been pulling my trailer with one of those for years and I've never had a problem…" Or, "I thought I could do that and we did for a while, but it really didn't work out as well as I'd hoped, so we've gotten another vehicle now…" Or something like that.
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Old 05-29-2015, 10:47 AM   #6
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1984 31' Sovereign
Kingwood , Texas
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We had a 1994 c1500 suburban that we used on a 1984 31 ft airstream. It did ok for short trips but it didn't like the long hauls. The transmission was the weak link (turbo350?). It would start slipping after a long day. Then the rear main seal started leaking. Moved up to a 1999 C2500 suburban and is still pulling strong after 16 years.
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Old 05-29-2015, 11:07 AM   #7
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Vehicle condition means more.

Ordinarily Id say yes, easily, but as I live in mine I know how fast I can add weight. Thus TT GVWR might be close. At that point the 3/4T has an easier time of it.
1990 35' Silver Streak Sterling; 9k GVWR.
2004 DODGE Cummins 305/555; 6-manual; 9k GVWR.
Hensley Arrow. 12-cpm solo, 19-cpm towing (fuel)
Sold: Silver Streak Model 3411
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Old 05-29-2015, 11:34 AM   #8
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To give you an idea,, for years when I was a young farm boy we would load our farm trucks rated 15,000 gvw with 24,000 lbs of wheat... All of them only had 230 to 280 cu. in 6 cyl. engines.. We did not go fast and we could not pass anyone,, but we hauled our crops to town..

Its a lot like hot rodding as the faster you want to go the more you have to pay..

2012 Ram 1500 Tradesman Hemi, 4x4, 6 speed

20mpg empty, 14 mpg with 27' Overlander.

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Old 05-29-2015, 12:05 PM   #9
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2014 25' FB International
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I also had an older vehicle (2005 Ford Expedition, only 100k miles, "rated" to tow 9,200 lbs) and was assured by the A/S dealer it would be "great" for towing the 2014 Int'l 25FB I was interested in buying (with a gross weight of 7,300 lbs). After just 2 short trips pulling my newly-purchased trailer the transmission failed. I bit the bullet; replaced the transmission and "traded up" to a Ram 2500 w/Cummins diesel. Though this essentially doubled the costs for my new "RV Lifestyle," I did not want to have to worry about another transmission issue - ever! And I couldn't be happier. The new truck/trailer combo is amazing. Hope this helps.
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Old 05-29-2015, 12:09 PM   #10
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We have a 2004 Yukon with the 5.3. Our driveway is 100yds of >15% with compound turns. It pulls our 31 Sovereign without grunting. It is the most difficult part of the trip. Our truck has the manual differential lock, and it is a nice feature on the older GMCs. My driving preferences allow a little less of a TV. Also, the 5.3L can be recammed to make over 400HP and remain civilized, so there is room for growth.
There seems to be a generalized fear of not having enough truck to pull an Airstream. I use my J Deere 750 (22HP) w/3 cyl yanmar as a tugboat on top of the hill, and it doesn't even break a sweat in 4 low. Bigger is always better, but the turtle did win the race......
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Old 05-29-2015, 12:24 PM   #11
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1996 25' Excella
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The 5.3 will struggle a bit on 6-7% grades but so does my Dodge 4.7 and I have no intention of trading for a bigger unit. These engines just lack a bit of torque and what they do have only comes on fully over 3500 RPM which usually means a full down shift to second gear. Both Engines are pretty smooth at 4500 rpm.
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Old 05-29-2015, 12:43 PM   #12
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IMHO.....This is a pretty common topic and not an unusual way to look at it, however, being completely safe for yourself and others on the road is a big responsibility and a full-time job. Sometimes people find a way to rationalize a "sub-standard" or "out of spec" vehicle to pull a trailer "occasionally" but it is like walking on thin ice just a few times a year, and by the way, with your children, their friends, your spouse, pet and grandchildren along side of you. Give it some serious thought my friend, your life and that of others may depend on your decision. Also, sometimes these decisions are made due to finances. Perhaps a smaller trailer will fit into the specs and then all is good with the world.

A guy told me once that living within the specs is mostly important in crisis situations and when the oddity happens where the systems are fully tested for their safety. That's when you know you made the right decision for yourself and the public as well.

Safe travels my friend!!
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Old 05-29-2015, 01:04 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by Stefrobrts View Post
You really need to run the numbers yourself. Dealers really can't be trusted to know anything about towing with your specific rig.
What Steph said IN CAPS, emphasized, bottled in bond!

Sales people have ONE priority - making quota and commission. And almost every sales person who is any good lives by this mantra, "People buy based on EMOTION, and justify it logically after the fact". (Can you imagine how happy your family will be Airstreaming with this beautiful red Suburban?) will get far more drool and money flowing than any and all of the facts about weight capacity, torque, brakes, transmission coolers, ad nauseum.

Most sales people don't have a CLUE about anything technical. Test this: Ask any car salesman on the lot in a "dumb blond" way, "What do GCWR and GVWR mean? Why is that important when towing." You'll get a blank look followed by some kind of shuck & jive that says "don't worry this vehicle is more than enough to tow anything you'll ever own.

They won't deliberately LIE to you, they just have no real idea whether what they said was totally right.

My 2 cents: A professional carpenter can safely use a crappy tool, an amateur will injure himself without a good tool.

If you're only going to tow once or twice a year... you will be rusty and unsure of yourself a lot of the time you are towing. I've been towing for nine years but I spend most of my time parked, and while I've done mountains (EASTERN USA) and curvy roads... I'm going to lessen the deficit by supplying gold bricks when I cross the Rockies for the first time. I look forward to Towing up the switchbacks in Arizona like I would to having quadruplets without anesthetic. (neither are ever gonna happen thank you! Day trips without the trailer sure, overnight stay in a hotel, no problemo!)

What you should consider when purchasing a vehicle:
Four KIDS - soccer team, dating (A Burb's back seats fold flat, truck? NO)
One Dog - farts? cage in the bed!
FARM Driveway 12% grade - truck more clearance
34 Foot Trailer - Least important consideration
What you need for a FARM and FOUR KIDS is probably 3/4 ton something, They stopped making the Burb in a 2500 in 2008 or 2009, and I don't know about the Excursion, but it deserves a look-see.

You don't mention pickups but you gotta look at a full double cab in Ford, Chevy & Dodge before you say no. They are far more car like in their comforts than they used to be AND in a 3/4 or 1 ton model they have bigger brakes, stronger springs, better transmissions AND tranny cooling, better torque for hills.

I had and LIKED a 2500 gas guzzling Burb but as a daily driver 10-12 MPG eeeeeeeh! I fulltime and two vehicles only makes sense if one is a bicycle.

RE any truck that seats six adults in total comfort - don't go for the longest bed, get the medium one. The long bed will carry 4x8 sheets of plywood flat, or 2 coffins, but the turning radius is so big a U-turn requires an 8 lane highway when NOT towing. Add a trailer and you hate life. The six foot bed has a lot of carrying capacity for carrying animal feed, fertilizer, weed chemicals, crops, etc. (I delivered 700 lbs of Goat Chow and a bunch of stockade fence sections in mine to friends last week. They paid me in hard cider. )

DO GET 4 WHEEL Drive - you need it about 3 times a year - more in mud or wet grass than snow actually - but it's a godsend to have it when the other choice is "wait for the tow truck".

There are LOTS of good used trucks with towing mirrors already installed.

Go in peace, the mess has ended. Paula
Today is a gift, that's why they call it the present.
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Old 05-29-2015, 02:33 PM   #14
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The best tow vehicle is the one that best suits solo duty and can also pull the trailer. The one with the lowest center of gravity is the usual winner.

What delineates these arguments is in how to set up the hitch. Painstaking, but it is why most think trading to a bigger vehicle is necessary since they've not ever driven a good setup.

Working a tow vehicle hard is no big deal. This is also outside the experience of too many people. It's a machine, and how to use it is acquired skill. I guarantee the men towing these trailers in the 1950 s had to apply skill and solve the problems of time, distance and available power. It's a satisfying challenge.

1990 35' Silver Streak Sterling; 9k GVWR.
2004 DODGE Cummins 305/555; 6-manual; 9k GVWR.
Hensley Arrow. 12-cpm solo, 19-cpm towing (fuel)
Sold: Silver Streak Model 3411
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