The Truth About Cars » suburban The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 23 Jul 2014 18:25:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » suburban Piston Slap: Is The 2WD ‘Burb Ready for The Snow? Mon, 09 Dec 2013 13:00:28 +0000

Jay writes:

Professor Mehta,

I have some friends that are moving to Colorado from native South Florida. They’ve never lived in a 4 season climate let alone driven in snow. They own outright a 2007 2WD Suburban (80k miles) L33/LS1 FTW. The other car is an Acura TL he drives for work.

Since I’m the resident car guy, they’ve asked for advice. Should they trade the Suburban and get her a CPO X5 (her dream car)? Or buy an MDX, RX350 AWD?

My thought is they should keep the Suburban, at least for the first winter, and put a really nice set of Blizzaks on it. That way they can learn to drive in snow, and get a feel for what kind of vehicle would thrive in their new town (commute, traffic, snow etc).

After all, if it’s horrible, they can always mosey down to the dealer and trade out. It’s also my concern that AWD would be seen as a cure all and/or bring overconfidence on the road. I told them AWD doesn’t do squat with braking. Am I giving proper advice? What do you think?

Don’t let Sanjeev anywhere near this Piston Slap!

Sajeev answers:

When I was a wannabe-car designer in Detroit, a friend (rural Ohio native) explained why he almost never used four-wheel drive in his Blazer.  He liked the control of a RWD power train, eliminating understeer with tail wagging oversteer as needed. Because, as you mentioned, AWD can inspire overconfidence…and understeer into something unforgiving.

That said, Detroit did plow/salt the roads when needed. And when it really, really snowed, you didn’t want to go outside until the plow could keep up. Such is metropolitan city life: there’s a chance your friends don’t need a 4×4/AWD SUV…unless they live on a real steep hill. Or they live in a suburb with less frequent plowing. Or…

Take it from me: your advice only goes so far with others (especially when that advice is horrible – Sanjeev) so if they either want OR need an AWD vehicle, they should test drive the X5 and some others, and let them buy whatever they want.

See if they’ll put Blizzaks (or similar) on the ‘burb, because it’s the smart use of their money.  That might be enough to make them believers.

Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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Piston Slap: Lifespan of the Suburban Tranny? Wed, 28 Nov 2012 12:55:15 +0000 Duncan writes:

Hi Sajeev,
I have a question about a 4L60-E transmission in a 2001 Chevy Suburban K1500. The truck has 159k miles. The previous owner purchased the truck 7 years ago with 90k miles and hasn’t changed any fluids in that time other than oil – I don’t know anything about the truck’s early history.

The transmission feels fine, but the fluid is dark and doesn’t smell great. The pan looks like a deep (vs shallow) pan and has a drain plug – my internet research leads me to believe these trucks came without a drain plug, but it’s a recommended upgrade – does this mean the transmission has been serviced at least once in its lifetime and the pan swapped with an aftermarket one, or did Chevy deliver some trucks with and some trucks without plugs?

Onto the meat of the question – I’d like the transmission to last forever – what can I do to ensure that? Can I change the transmission filter and replace the Dexron III that I drain out of the pan with Dexron VI? Should I do another drain and fill soon after to increase the ratio of fresh fluid to old fluid? Will I do damage by drain, filter, Dexron VI? Are $50 electronic shift kits that program the transmission to be a little more aggressive worth anything for longevity/fuel economy on a transmission that already has so many miles?

I won’t be driving the vehicle much, so I don’t want to go overboard on maintenance/upgrades, but it’s really a nice truck and I don’t want its life to be cut short by neglect.

Thanks for the advice,

Sajeev answers:

Not being an expert in Mr. Goodwrench related products, I poked around to see what tranny pans are available for this rig.  Sure enough, the cheapo part has no drain plug, but there are several alternatives that are deeper with a drain plug.  Gotta love the aftermarket. YOU LOVE IT RIGHT NOW!!! (shakes fist)

I say this as I put on my flame suit: this ‘burb either has a factory towing package that mandates a better oil pan (possible) or its been serviced once before. And serviced quite well, considering it takes forethought to feel the need for an upgraded pan.

Your question: what can you do to make a transmission last forever?  Answer: Nothing. It will normally be the weakest link in a powertrain. I suspect more older vehicles wind up in the junkyard from a bad tranny (i.e. a $2000 repair on a $1000 car) than any other automotive malady.

So what’s my advice to improve the life of the tranny?  If you can electronically speed up the shifts for $50, do it.  Slow shifting is the worst enemy to a transmission’s lifespan, and its never too late to fix that. Now about the fluid: go to Dextron VI if you believe GM’s recommendation. I believe in a fully synthetic fluid from any big name manufacturer that’s reverse compatable with Dextron III. Read the bottle’s label thoroughly and buy the brand you want…

And finally, the $64,000 Question: change the fluid at this mileage or not?  Who knows if the fluid’s been changed on a regular basis, but from your assessment, I suspect its been changed at least once.  If so, another fluid service will extend the life of the tranny, not shorten it. Should you trust my suspicions?  That’s a very expensive question that only YOU can answer.

Good luck with that.

Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.


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Piston Slap: LSX-FTL??? Wed, 08 Aug 2012 11:34:28 +0000


Adam writes:

I have been on your site for a couple years now and don’t remember ever seeing this topic. Our issue is we have a 2007 Suburban with a 5.3 AFM (Active fuel management) motor that was burning 1 quart of oil per 600 miles.

We bought the truck with 65k miles on it, now has 75k miles on it. After doing much reading, I found this is a very common problem with 2007 and 2008 models with the 5.3 AFM. My dealer has been more than perfect on getting it “fixed”. They did not request any service docs, instead they just verified the problem by doing a oil consumption test. Once verified, they went straight to replacing all pistons, rebuilt one head, replaced intake, and replaced the valve covers. The truck has since had about 2k miles put on it and all seems well. The oil looks new, before it would be black within 5 miles.

My main concern now is it really fixed? Or is it just patched up for another 30k to 60k miles. (from what I read this is the typical mileage when the problem starts). My dealer told me they had a production run where intakes for non-afm motors were put on the early afm motors in error. This is the first I have heard of this, and cannot find much online about it. The main theory online is that when the AFM shuts off 4 cylinders, they cool, allow small amounts of oil to pass by the rings. Over time this gums the up and they lose their spring tension.

So any insight from you guys or the members would be great. Not sure if I should keep the truck or sell it.

PS: Sorry for any typo’s, did this while at work. Also hopefully this is a good discussion for your piston slap.

Sajeev Answers:

Very interesting!  I was not aware of this particular problem with the LS Motor…I mean, I knew about LS-series Piston Slap and my love of this motor made me name this column after it…

But I digress.  It sounds like the dealer did the right thing and replaced all the offending parts as per GM’s guidelines, so good for them.  But, I know, that’s cold comfort to you. And honestly, I know of nothing that can make you feel better.

Except the automotive aftermarket! Hooray for the aftermarket!  I suggest you turn off the AFM system and forget about ever running on 4 cylinders.  All you need is a computer reflash from just about any GM tune shop, and there are plenty to choose from.  Not only does this almost guarantee that AFM will be history, you get a free performance tune for multiple fuel octane levels, no more torque management, quicker transmission action, and far livelier performance.

Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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Sales Chart: Chevrolet Suburban Versus Chevrolet Tahoe 1995-2009 Fri, 07 May 2010 20:55:26 +0000

We live to serve here at TTAC, so when our faithful commentators requested a comparative graph of Chevy Suburban and Tahoe Sales from the heart of the SUV boom, who were we to say no? And sure enough, there are some interest lessons to be learned from the exercise. In 1999, as the SUV boom headed for the stratosphere, the ‘burban actually passed the Tahoe in terms of volume for one year. But the fad wouldn’t last: Suburban sales peaked in 2001, a year before the Tahoe topped out at nearly 209k units. The Suburban also fell further, suffering big year-over-year losses until a pre-gas-shock uptick in 2007, a year after the Tahoe recorded its first post-peak upswing. Counter-intuitively, the 2008 gas shock actually hurt Tahoe volumes even worse than Suburban, shedding over 50k units (or about 60 percent) compared to 2007 levels. Over the same period, the Suburban “only” lost 30k units of volume (about 55 percent).

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The Rise And Fall Of The Suburban Fri, 07 May 2010 18:56:27 +0000

Considering the Suburban so essentially captures the tenuous line between myth and reality in American life, it’s a pity we don’t have 75 years of sales data to put some hard numbers behind the nameplate’s 75 years of history. Luckily, our data does go back to 1995, when America’s whirlwind romance with the SUV was just beginning to get serious. Given that, as Paul points out in today’s history, Suburbans didn’t become popular as family haulers until sometime in the early eighties, it’s safe to assume that 1996-2004 represents the absolute high-water mark for the nameplate’s volume. And ye gods has that volume dropped off ever since.

Of course, those number don’t represent the whole picture. The GMC brand added volume to the Suburban nameplate until GMC renamed its version “Yukon XL” for the 2000 model-year GMT800 machines.

Looking at the data, it appears that the name change didn’t help the GMC version initially. Apparently GM’s logic that

Yukon is a name that clearly means “GMC,” and GMC means “trucks that deliver”

didn’t quite pan out. Launching late in 1999, the un-Suburban didn’t see dramatic sales improvements until SUV mania hit a fever pitch in 2001. Like its Chevy-branded twin though, the bloom was off the Yukon XL by 2005 albeit in slightly less dramatic fashion. This 2004-2006 decline in Suburban/Yukon XL sales roughly coincides with GM’s first major assault on the crossover segment (the Aztek having died out by 2005). Equinox was introduced in 2004, and by 2005 was pulling in over 130k units. Saturn’s Vue was introduced even earlier, and recorded its best-ever volume in 2005 with 0ver 90k units. On the other end of the spectrum, the HUMMER brand was introduced in 2000 and hit its best-ever sales numbers in 2006 (71,524 units), before dropping like a stone ever since.

Nor can we blame the 2004-2006 declines in GM’s full-size SUVs on cannibalism alone, although direct competition wasn’t as big a factor as one might expect. GM’s main competition in the über-SUV segment, the Ford Excursion, peaked at just under 50k units in 2000 (though smaller, the Expedition also peaked in 2000 at 233,125 and has plummeted ever since). Intriguingly though, Ford’s Freestyle saw its best numbers ever in 2005 (76,739), providing more evidence for the theory that crossovers played a major role in this period of Suburban sales declines. That the granddaddy of crossovers, the Lexus RX, crested the 100k unit annual volume mark in 2004 seems to confirm this suspicion. If we take this theory one step further, and accept that the SUV boom was caused by buyers who might otherwise have bought a sedan, it’s possible that record volume for the just-introduced Ford 500 (just under 108k units), Chrysler 300 (144k units) and Buick LaCrosse (92,669 units) played a role in the 2005 Suburban flight as well.

Whatever caused the Suburban bubble to burst shortly after soaring to record highs, a gas price spike in 2005 clearly delineates the beginning of the end.

Already played out as a cultural icon, and under attack from a new breed of crossover competitors, 2008′s gas price shock emphatically ended the Suburban and Yukon XL’s brief tenure as a mainstream transportation option. With gas prices higher than pre-2005 levels and trending upwards, the Suburban would be a lot less popular even if CAFE increases weren’t looming. If GM is going to keep the “longest running continually-built vehicle in America” around much longer, one has to assume that a “if you can’t beat them, join them” strategy is in order. GM has said that the Suburban likely won’t change until 2013. From there, the question is simple: does the Suburban stay body-on-frame and return to its historic commercial-duty volumes, or does Chevy adapt the once-dominant nameplate to the unibody times in order to preserve it as a mainstream model?

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GM’s Suburbans: Celebrating Seventy Five Years Of Myth And Reality Fri, 07 May 2010 15:03:25 +0000

The Suburban long ago achieved iconic status. It may the most American vehicle ever; in what other country would so many folks drive a vehicle so much larger than necessary? Yes, that’s the uglier side of the Suburban, like my former neighbor who terrorized the neighborhood with her driving antics while babbling unceasingly on her cell phone on the way to her Botox injection appointments. The other side has its roots as a practical hauler of eight or more; a sturdy hybrid of pickup truck and station wagon. The Suburban most perfectly reflects America’s two faces. And which is this one?

If you think the photo above is a real vintage 1935 shot, I have a great deal on Botox for you. It’s a staged and less than convincing attempt at reproducing a scene that wouldn’t have likely ever existed. Families of four didn’t buy Suburbans back then. Their poses are too fake. The patina and useless pup tent are other clues. Most of all, the shiny whitewalls are the obvious giveaway. It’s as realistic as seeing a shiny black new Suburban with big chrome dubs at this lake, or even less so.

This carefully crafted reenactment is designed to sell the the modern SUV myth in a historical context: that for 75 years, the Suburban has been the key to escape from the hum drum of suburban life. Never mind that 99% percent of them will never leave the pavement. And how many will actually ever leave suburbia?

The truth is that’s not how Suburbans were typically sold or used in 1935. The Suburban was a true utility vehicle, for hauling large groups of folks or cargo, most typically in a commercial setting. Families bought sedans.

My apologies to those that already know this, but the origins of the station wagon were the horse-drawn wagons that hotels sent down to the train station to pick up arriving guests. Or more accurately, to compete for them. And of course, they evolved into the well loved woody station wagons of the horseless era. The Suburban was nothing new; it was just Chevy’s station wagon of the era, with a new name. And the picture above this one reflects how they were typically used, not the lakeside one.

Enough of the history and myths. Chevrolet (like most other manufacturers) didn’t offer a distinct passenger car-based station wagon until 1939. The Suburban was just the latest in the line of station wagons based on the commercial/light truck version of Chevrolet chassis. But the new name was concocted in 1935, probably the result of GM’s nascent marketing department of the time.  And that’s what we’re celebrating: a new name on an old idea.

The first Suburban generation went through 1940. This 1942 was its successor, and carries the chrome grille and trim of the last pre-war model.

The Suburban was put to good use in WW2, like everything else practical and useful made at the time. Perhaps a Suburban historian can explain why these two similar vintage trucks have different rear bodies? The upper one has more side windows. Probably it was a custom job, and not the standard factory body. Woodies were also available in this period.

The new Chevy trucks that arrived in 1947 were the cat’s meow: handsome, roomier, more comfortable. And the Suburban was the hard-working jack of all trades that could haul cargo, human or otherwise.

Its timeless good looks have made it a favorite with restorers, and of course, it inspired Chevy’s HHR.

Chevy went for a double hit with its successor in 1955. Especially the first couple of years with the single headlights and tasteful eggcrate grille are about as good looking of trucks of this vintage for sure.

We’ve covered the 1959 – 1966 generation in today’s Curbside Classic. They were the last to ride on the shorter wheelbase and have only two passenger doors.

And its successor is also featured in today’s other CC. The longer 1967 – 1972 generation had three doors to facilitate entry to the rear.

The next generation was the definitive modern Suburban. It was built practically forever, from 1973 through 1991, by which time it was a rolling dinosaur. The optional wood grain vinyl on the side of this one speaks to the role the Suburban was now increasingly finding itself in. The SUV era snuck up on us, and before we knew it, the Suburban had become the official soccer-mommy-mobile of Texas. A business trip to Huston in the early eighties confirmed it: the soccer field next to my hotel had a long line of these all in a row: I had never seen anything like it. The future was here.

The Suburban was a rolling celebration of that state’s primary product: cheap oil. In Texas the stuff is available for the picking, right on the beach even.

GM finally saw fit to bestow a new Suburban in 1992. Why did it take so long? The old version sold so well, they just didn’t want to spend the bucks, even though this generation of pickups had been out for years. But it was worth the wait! It was a fairly handsome beast, in the clean idiom of eighties GM styling. And by now the transformation into one of GM’s most successful cash cows was complete: the interior was as plush as the plushest GM sedans. All vestiges of old truckiness was rinsed away. And the soccer mommies loved it more than ever.

2000 ushered in a new GM truck chassis and a new Suburban to sit on it. This is the beast that my neighbor scared us all with. She literally would drive down the wrong side of the street. One time I followed her to the free way, and she drove for about a mile with over one half of her big dark blue Suburban in the shoulder. Most folks have a hard time muti-tasking, but some just shouldn’t try. And why do they drive big tanks like this?

The home stretch. I think its wonderful that the Suburban exists. Undoubtedly, there are a handful of folks out there that put them to good use. But then just a couple of days ago, I was at Lowes, and a big, shiny new black Suburban (or was it a Denali?) like this pulled up next to me, and a suburban family of four tumbled out; cheerful, well dressed, and all of them grossly overweight. And I thought to myself: what is this country America, and why do I have these moments where I feel like a freshly arrived foreigner in awe and confusion? After fifty years here, you’d think I wouldn’t still have experiences like that. Oh well; maybe I’ll get it and the Suburban eventually. Happy 75th Birthday, Suburban! Will you make it to 100?

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