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Old 02-17-2013, 05:35 PM   #1
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2016 19' International
Beautiful , Colorado
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Teach Me About Suburbans

Hi Everyone-

We've decided to get a Suburban as our tow vehicle for the interior room it offers and all the stuff we take with us when we travel, and when we wouldn't be towing.

We probably won't buy new, but can anyone offer things to look for, options to look for, engine choices, transmissions, model year, etc? What should I be looking for, positive or negative?

Thanks for any advice you can offer. Our Bambi is about 5500# loaded.

Thanks again.

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Old 02-17-2013, 06:06 PM   #2
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I started with a 1992 1/2 ton Suburban with a 350 engine. The transmission gave up at about 120,000 miles. No trouble until I started towing with it. Did towing lead to it meeting it's demise? Don't know. In 2003 went to a 1999 3/4 ton with a 454 engine and a stronger transmission. Runs great...still have it. Downside is 10 MPG towing or not. Great vehicles!

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Old 02-17-2013, 07:05 PM   #3
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I've just climbed off the Suburban safari. And wound up ordering a new 3/4 ton 2500.

I see you're starting small (Bambi). Chances are, you're going to grow the size of your camper sooner rather than later.

I would suggest the 3/4 ton Suburban 2500 as opposed to the 1500. Get it and save yourself a lot of trouble; if you follow the route that most of us do.

Used 2500's are generally hard to come by, and don't have the equipment you want. My suggestion is, if you find a vehicle you want, jump on it!

Good luck in your search!
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Old 02-17-2013, 09:24 PM   #4
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Does a truck best meet your needs solo? That is the real question.

Now, if you move to a larger TT, and have a number of people, then the Sub is the generic tow favorite going back to the 1980's (only because cars became so weak as TV's). But cars today (or minivans, etc) are more than viable with an A/S.

FWIW, I'd more closely consider a full-size van than a Sub . . the shorter rear overhang (distance from rear axle center to rear bumper) is far better than the Sub for better TT control.

And, Andrew Thomson, the hitch guru, makes the case that a Tahoe can be set up for better towing performance than the Sub despite it's shorter wheelbase.

Take your time. Talk to CAN AM RV (as many others have done), and understand that there is no one size fits all TV.

The TT is the important choice. The TV can be any of quite a few choices, and the pickup truck-based TV's are lowest on the list for road performance and solo duties.

A Bambi ain't much of a load.

Good luck.

1990 35' Silver Streak Sterling; 9k GVWR.
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Old 02-18-2013, 09:42 PM   #5
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We have a 30 footer, and our 1995 suburban has a 454, and seems to just have enough poop to get the job done out here in the north west. 30 mph up the many passes here and 6-8 mpg with the trailer and 10-12 without it. Our last trip to the cascade mountain range, we pulled 30 and 40 mph on the grades... But we had a fully loaded trailer for boon docking and 8 people, and all their gear. We do ok, but everyone with a diesel blows by us like we are standing still.
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Old 02-18-2013, 11:52 PM   #6
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Do Suburban owners have to use strap on extension mirrors? Used 3/4 tons of newer vintage are kinda scarce?

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Old 02-19-2013, 01:09 AM   #7
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1973 31' Sovereign
Milton , Delaware
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My Suburban is the quintessential tow vehicle.
Because it has the big block 454, 3500 series transmission and springs, and a 411 rear.
A transmission cooler and "E" rated Michelin tires completes the package.
It gets 14 mpg around town, and 8 towing.
It's a 90 w/ 160k and available for 1200.
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Old 02-19-2013, 05:41 AM   #8
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2004 28' Classic
Midland , Texas
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Sold on Yukon

After owning many pickups, a Toyota Sequoia, An Expedition, and 5 different vans, we now have an 07 Yukon XL 2500 with 6.0 engine 4.11 rearend 4 speed transmission (wish it was a 6 speed). The original owner ordered it with the full tow package. It works great for our 28' Classic. About 10 mpg towing 15 mpg empty if I watch my speed. The 7 passenger seating is great. When we go camping with the kids and grandkids we fold down the extra seats and go looking around. I really like the security of the closed interior as opposed to the bed of a pickup. Downside, it is not the greatest for a daily driver, a little longer, bumpy ride, poor economy. The good clean 2500 Suburban an Yukons are hard to find in our part of the country. If I was pulling your Bambi I probably would look for a low mileage 1500 GMC Denali available with the 6.2 engine and 6 speed trans. A standard Yukon or 1500 Tahoe that is rigged out right might also work. My son pulled a 30' Jayco many miles with a his 08 Tahoe. There are a lot of those to choose from and could be a great daily driver. Happy hunting!
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Old 02-19-2013, 05:54 AM   #9
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Midland , Texas
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Look up this recent post from Kyle401 on 2/16/2013, looks like he did his homework
We got a 1500 with the 6.2L and 6-speed with 3.42 axles. I am expecting that my towing mileage will be similar to yours @ 10-12 mpg. We were getting 12 mpg with our 04 Silverado 5.3L with 3.73 axles.
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Old 02-19-2013, 05:59 AM   #10
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2011 30' Flying Cloud
Arvada , Colorado
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Our experience with our '08 2500 Suburban has been great. We ordered it in the fall of 2007 so we "built" it for Airstream towing. Towing package, 4.10 rear, extendable outside mirrors, etc. Vehicle has been great. Low mileage to date - 63K, but we expect to begin extended trips this summer (when i retire). No issues whatsoever. We will do brakes, tires, and full service before we purchase it from my employer this June. We'll pull out the rear buckets and with folded second row seats, we should have plenty of room for our gear. Only downside is that we get 9-10 mpg towing and only about 18 mpg highway when not towing.
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Old 02-19-2013, 08:46 AM   #11
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With the 6-speed trans you NEED the 3.42 gears and HD tow package (3.08 only rated to tow 5000lbs).
With the 4-speed you would be better off with 4.10 gears for towing through the mountains, possible with 3.42 or 3.73 gears just not fun.

Surprisingly the Tahoe does have a slightly higher tow rating then the 1500 Suburban (same combined weight rating and the Tahoe weighs less).
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Old 02-19-2013, 09:29 AM   #12
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I have an 03 Tahoe z71. Which I use to tow our 72 Overlander 27ft 4500 pounds. Be haves very well.
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Old 02-19-2013, 10:21 AM   #13
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Originally Posted by muskypicker View Post
We've decided to get a Suburban as our tow vehicle for the interior room it offers and all the stuff we take with us when we travel, and when we wouldn't be towing.

We probably won't buy new, but can anyone offer things to look for, options to look for, engine choices, transmissions, model year, etc? What should I be looking for, positive or negative?

Thanks for any advice you can offer. Our Bambi is about 5500# loaded.
I have a 'burb and like it for the reasons you state.

There are three eras to consider:
Old body style - 1992-1999
New body style - 2000-2006
New new body style - 2007 up

Old body style is a long way back. If you're going back that far, be very picky about condition. The best towing configuration was the 2500 model with the 7.4 liter engine and 4.10 gears.

With the new body style they switched from a 7.4 to the 8.1. Lots of minor improvements everywhere but functionally very similar trucks. The 8.1 with 4.10 gears is best for towing although the 6.0 liter engine is passable as long as you have the 2500 chassis.

I don't know much about the new new body style.

There a several reasons you want the 2500 (3/4 ton) model for towing. Main reason is that you get the 4L80e transmission which is much more durable than the 4L60e transmission used in the 1500 models. There are also better brakes and heavier axles and steering components, and heavier wheels and tires. When towing with a 1500 with a full load of people and gear, it's easy to go over the rear axle weight rating.

The main advantage of the 1500s is that they're easier to find since about 3x as many of them were made. The used prices are roughly similar. You give up a little bit of fuel economy and ride quality with the 2500 but the tradeoff is well worth it if you're going to tow.

The 'burbs are made with a number of interior seating configurations. Most people prefer the 7-passenger configuration which has two rows of bucket seats and a rear bench. The rear bench is crowded for 3 adults so it's really more of a 6-passenger configuration. The other common configuration has all bench seats, which provides another useful seating position in the middle row, and a marginal one in the front row. That's fine if you need the room but then you have to fold part of the middle seat down to get to the rear seat, which isn't as convenient.

Most 'burbs are made with rear heat and A/C, avoid any that aren't if you're using the 3rd row seat for people.

OBS burbs had "barn doors" - two rear doors that swing to the side. A hatchback became available as an option and was later standard, and is much more convenient. It allows you to open just the window and get at cargo without having everything fall out, and when you do open the whole hatch it takes fewer motions and is less likely to get in the way when open.

On most if not all 'burbs the rear seat can be removed, and the middle row folded down, to make more room for cargo.

The factory hitch was a weak point for some years, inspect for cracks in the receiver area and if any are found replace it.

Most older 'burbs will require replacement of the driver's seat bottom if this hasn't already been done.

Originally Posted by Tony S View Post
Do Suburban owners have to use strap on extension mirrors?
There were several towing mirror options over the years. I have the power towing mirrors, which are convenient, but which don't extend out quite as far as the manual mirrors which were also available.

For 'burbs built without towing mirrors, there are aftermarket slip-on mirrors available, or you can use the strap on ones.

Used 3/4 tons of newer vintage are kinda scarce?
You do have to look around. I bought my 2004 two years ago and though it took some phone calls I was able to find it more or less the same day I started looking. Availability does vary regionally.

In general prices are the same for all configurations and models of the burb of any given year except for the low-cost configurations used by government agencies, which are cheaper. They have steel wheels, no bling, and no creature comforts inside, and are usually 1500 models.
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Old 02-19-2013, 12:10 PM   #14
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Teach Me About Suburbans

The Suburban was my tow vehicle of choice in 1998 after my second miserable experience with a pickup (it rode like a farm wagon and was underpowered for my 6,100 pound Airstream . . . 5.7 Liter V8 with 3.73 differentials). The pickup taught me about one option that would not be ordered on my new Suburban . . . Z71 Off Road Equipment Package . . . the suspension included in that package on my 1995 K1500 pickup beat-up my Airstream . . . many popped rivets and a crack in the interior skin above the door. My K2500 Suburban with the base suspension package has served as an excellent tow vehicle . . . if I were to order today, I would not check the 4-wheel-drive option box . . . it has proven to be nearly useless and terribly expensive to maintain over the past 198,000 miles. My Suburban included the following among its options:
  • 7400 VORTEC V8
  • Heavy Duty Turbohydramatic 4-speed with overdrive
  • 4.10 Limited Slip Differential
  • Heavy Duty Cooling . . . external transmission fluid cooler, external power steering fluid cooler, and external motor oil cooler
  • Heavy Duty Trailer Towing Equipment . . . Class IV receiver hitch, trailer wiring package, and heavy duty turn signal flasher
  • Heavy Duty E Rated tires
  • Dual (front/rear) Heaters and Air Conditioners
  • Full Instrumentation Package
  • Cold Weather Preparation Package (mainly electric block heater and heated side mirrors)
  • Tailgate Body Style
  • Power Windows, Power Door Locks, Key FOB remote locking, courtesy lights, reading lamps, compass/thermometer, 8-Way Power Seats w/passenger recline, heated front seats, and Leather seating surfaces (Luxury Equipment Group)
  • Running Boards
Based upon my 1995 Chevrolet K1500 Z71 and now my '99 GMC K2500 Suburban (both purchased new as special order vehicles), I would not order another with the four-wheel-drive option. In the three years that I owned the 1995 Chevrolet, my records show that it cost an additional $4,000 in maintenance and repairs on the four-wheel-drive mechanism. The '99 Suburban has been much worse than that with over $10,000 in additional repairs and maintenance on the four-wheel-drive mechanism . . . and it is currently awaiting approximately $3,000 worth of rebuilding the transfer case and replacement of the Lucas Electronics electronic transfer case controls. Other than the recurring issues with the four-wheel-drive transfer case and controls, the '99 GMC Suburban has been trouble-free and a pleasure to drive. Its solo fuel economy is 14 to 16 MPG on the Interstate and 10 to 12 MPG around town. Towing typically averages 12 MPG at a steady 55 MPH.

The biggest key to my satisfaction with the Suburban is the brute power of its 7.4 Liter V8. I was terribly disappointed in the lack of power displayed by my Chevrolet pickup with the 5.7 Liter V8. The test of my tow vehicles has always been how they handled the steep grades in the Rocky Mountains while towing . . . particularly the grades on either side of the Eisenhower Tunnel along I-70 in Colorado . . . the 7.4 Liter Suburban passed that test with verve towing the fully loaded Overlander on its first outing to the WBCCI International Rally in Boise, ID in 1998.

Good luck with your search!


P.S.: I utilize McKesh trailer towing mirrors with all of my tow vehicles. Later model Suburbans had electric extension towin mirrors available as options, but from what I have observed, the option is rather rare. I have been impressed by the manufacturer support available for older models of the McKesh mirrors . . . both pairs that I own are more than 20 years old, and the company has been able to provide any replacement parts that I have needed for either pair at a very reasonable cost.

Kevin D. Allen
WBCCI (Lifetime Member)/VAC/Free Wheelers #6359
AIR #827
1964 Overlander International/1999 GMC K2500 Suburban (7400 VORTEC/4.11 Differentials)
1978 Argosy Minuet 6.0 Metre/1975 Cadillac Eldorado Convertible (8.2 Liter V8/2.70 Final Drive)
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